The Coming Battle: ‘Who Lost Ukraine?’
An effort to rewrite history is happening in real time.
As it becomes more and more difficult to deny what is happening on the battlefield in Ukraine, a grinding war with hundreds of thousands of casualties, establishment media continue to present a picture of the war designed to rally the public, should its enthusiasm for this latest American overseas adventure begin to flag in the face of long and hard realities.
In June, the Atlantic published a cover story by Anne Applebaum and Jeffery Goldberg which asserted that “The future of the democratic world will be determined by whether the Ukrainian military can break a stalemate with Russia and drive the country backwards—perhaps even out of Crimea for good.”
On July 12, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicolas Kristof informed his reader(s) that “The Ukrainians are sacrificing for us. They’re the ones doing us a favor, by degrading the Russian military and reducing the risk of a war in Europe that would cost the lives of our troops.”
National Review put it even more starkly. Two days later, July 14, senior editor Jay Nordlinger wrote, “The nationalists among us, as much as anyone, ought to be inspired by what the Ukrainians are doing: fighting for their national survival, trying to fend off a behemoth neighbor that seeks to re-subjugate them.”
As Gore Vidal quipped, “There is little respite for a people so routinely—so fiercely—disinformed.”
Yet the above examples also appear to be part of an effort by these individual writers to decontextualize the Ukraine War, to wipe away its messy history and present it in its most simplistic form: as a battle between good and evil. It is a strategy that seeks to avoid a substantive conversation about how and why Russia and the West arrived at this, the most dangerous point since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
These sorts of pieces are an elite project designed to shrink the parameters of permissible thought with regard to the war in Ukraine. And it serves to purposely confuse and infantilize Americans’ understanding of what is actually happening in Ukraine—and why. But that, one might suppose, is the point: Applebaum and the rest are laying the foundation for what is to come, once it becomes undeniable that Ukraine has lost the war.
In the nearly ten years since the Maidan Revolution, a handful of us have been sounding the alarm over the possibility of war breaking out between Russia and the West. For nearly ten years, a small minority of writers and thinkers have relentlessly advocated for a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis, and in the process have, at various times, been smeared, mocked, marginalized, denied employment opportunities, branded “terrorist” sympathizers, and placed on a Ukrainian kill-lists for the crime of telling the truth about what has been happening in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
And as the war in Ukraine grinds on to its disastrous denouement, we can reasonably expect those who are responsible for helping set off this conflagration—along with those who cheered this ludicrous and unnecessary war from the beginning—to pay about as severe a price as that paid by the architects and cheerleaders of the Iraq fiasco: none at all.
Advocates of a restrained and sensible foreign policy ought to prepare for an even nastier period of recrimination and finger-pointing that will make the Russiagate years (2016-2021) look like a time of national serenity. Indeed, it is all too easy to imagine that 2024 and the years following will be dominated by a “Who lost Ukraine?” crusade not unlike the poisonous “Who lost China?” debate that midwifed the McCarthy period of the 1950s. The coming campaign will no doubt consist of a litany of accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty leveled against American opponents of the war by a parade of Eastern Europeans and their vocal and powerful lobby in Washington.
The corporate media and their many progressive and liberal allies in Congress will, with great enthusiasm, link arms with their neocon friends in order to cast blame and further shrink the bounds of the sayable and the thinkable. They will continue to police the parameters of public discourse with the same sadistic efficiency with which they treated critics of the now discredited idea of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
The tragedy that of course they fail to see is that Ukraine need not have been lost. Moreover, it would have been helpful if there had been a wider understanding that it was not ours to lose in the first place. Had the advice proffered by a small minority of us, that neutrality was the best course of action for Ukraine to survive, been heeded, the horrible ordeal that the Ukrainian people are now going through would have been avoided.
A simple declaration by the U.S. and NATO withdrawing its pledge, made in Bucharest in 2008, that Ukraine and Georgia “shall become” members of the alliance, would have gone a long way toward establishing a peaceful way forward between Russia and Ukraine. But no. For the past four U.S. administrations (Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden) the ideologues were at the wheel. And the idea that Ukraine had “a right to choose its own alliances,” and we had a duty to enable it, came to be treated as holy writ.
A Ukrainian defeat will reinforce the narrative, so painstakingly built up over the past decade by the very same people who drove this country to disaster in Iraq, that American interests are inseparable from the welfare of an ethno-nationalist kleptocracy 4,000 miles from our shores.
Two centuries ago, the British statesman John Bright warned against “following visionary phantoms in all parts of the world while your own country is becoming rotten within.” Yet for these people, visionary phantoms are all they see. To these people (many only very recently arrived in the country for which they presume to speak) a “good” American is one who disclaims any responsibility or care for their fellow citizens in favor of a feverish identification with a foreign country.
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And if that becomes the baseline measure of what a good American is, then the future of our country will be a dark one. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.
In the coming year the voting public will have an opportunity to send a message to the administration regarding its handling of the war. There are alternatives, however imperfect, to the claque of liberal and progressive war hawks now in power, and who for years have not only given Ukrainian leaders wondrously bad and reckless advice, but have serially misled the American people about the extent of the dangers involved.
Remember at the polls, the choice between war and peace is too important to leave to those whose mistakes got us here in the first place.