Ukraine: Once More, Into The Breach
I don’t have a lot to add to the discussion over what the US should do if Russia attacks Ukraine. My basic beliefs have not changed:
- Russia should not launch a war on Ukraine
- Russia’s demand that NATO exclude membership to Ukraine and Georgia is legitimate and sensible
- The US would be foolish to involve itself militarily in any conflict between Russia and Ukraine
Here’s an analysis that flopped across the transom this morning from John Schindler, the former National Security Agency analyst and former Naval War College professor, who published it on his Substack newsletter. I found these excerpts to be especially interesting. Schindler really lays in to Western politicians and national security elites who claim to be flabbergasted by Putin’s hostile moves against Ukraine:
Moreover, the Kremlin strongman has been admirably forthright about his aims regarding Ukraine. For years, Putin’s public statements have indicated that he does not consider Russia’s neighbor to be a bona fide country, rather an extension of Russia, no more than a “region,” while his comments last summer, including a detailed pseudo-historical tract complete with Orthodox mysticism expounding Putin’s view that Russia and Ukraine are inextricably linked, left no doubt to anyone paying attention that the Kremlin was prepared to act by any means necessary to keep Kyiv far away from NATO and the West.
The signs have been there 15 years, flashing brightly. Putin’s anger at NATO and especially the United States over Alliance expansion into the post-Soviet space burst into the public domain at the Munich Security Conference in early 2007 where the Russian leader unleashed a broadside aimed at the West. Putin’s fiery speech attacked NATO expansion, accusing the Alliance of putting “its frontline forces on our borders,” criticizing America’s “unipolar” dominance over the world, while condemning Washington’s “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations.”
… In September 2013, Putin made his feelings towards the West transparent in his speech to the Valdai Club in Moscow, including the reminder, “Russia’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity are unconditional. These are red lines no one is allowed to cross,” while casting Russia’s rising conflict with the West in spiritual as much as political terms. Putin portrayed himself and his regime as conservatives trying to protect Russia from the West’s progressive cultural pollution. As he stated:
Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.
Putin’s describing the postmodern West as the enemies of God, in league with the Devil, got less attention abroad than it merited, no doubt in part because Western elites are highly secular and feel uncomfortable discussing religious matters of any kind. Western experts, however, could not ignore it when, at virtually the same time as Putin’s unleashed his Valdai Club speech, Obama abandoned his own “red line” in Syria, offering a needless gift to Moscow. It’s never a good idea to show weakness towards a career Chekist, and the Kremlin took Obama’s move as a green light elsewhere, as I predicted at the time, with a colleague. Just a few months later, Putin unleashed his aggressive war against Ukraine, of which the current crisis is merely an extension. Again, Western experts acted shocked and disappointed by such brazen Russian smash-and-grab behavior.
Why on earth such “experts” are surprised, in 2022, after a decade-and a-half of Putin’s angry rhetoric aimed at the West, followed by his repeated acts of aggression against Russia’s neighbors, constitutes an important question. Answering it is relatively simple if you possess the fortitude to face depressing answers.
To such elites, all of whom fall on the spectrum of Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic, WEIRD for short, Putin represents an atavism whose motivations they cannot understand. The Kremlin strongman adheres to a distinctly throwback view of international relations where the use of force is normal, and countries protect their national interests unapologetically, with all the instruments of national power. Putin’s wholehearted embrace of religiously-infused nationalism, which boasts a venerable history in Russia, leaves WEIRDs befuddled yet has real resonance among average Russians. Western doubts that the former KGB man has “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” miss the point, but then the West has never understood Russian Orthodoxy very well. No matter what Putin really believes, his public embrace of religiously-grounded national conservatism provides his regime with an ideological anchor, one which happens to view Ukraine’s subservience to Russia as a spiritual as well as geostrategic necessity.
As you know, I am an Orthodox Christian, one with friends from Ukraine, and friends from Russia. I see the Russia-Ukraine crisis as a horrible, and avoidable, fraternal catastrophe. Let me make it clear: I do NOT believe that Russia should invade Ukraine, nor do I believe that Ukraine should be in NATO. But if Russia does invade Ukraine, this is something that we in the West are going to have to live with. Why?
The most obvious answer is because it would be insane to go to war with Russia on behalf of a nation that is on Russia’s border, and has only been an independent country since the collapse of the USSR.
Another reason: because we have depleted ourselves with these foolish wars of choice in Iraq and Afghanistan. What would we fight them with? And where is the popular enthusiasm to wage another war, this one with an actual superpower?
A reason that Schindler gets, but many WEIRD Americans don’t: the religious nationalism angle. Russians see Ukraine as the cradle of Russian Orthodoxy. Russia dates its Christianity to the year 988, when Prince Vladimir, the ruler of Kievan Rus, accepted baptism. I cannot think of an analogy from American history, including American religious history, that can convey to American observers the emotional, psychological, and spiritual importance of Ukraine to Russians.
Schindler links to this must-read essay by Nikolas Gvosdev about the role that Russian Orthodoxy plays in Russian geopolitical thinking. Consider:
Yet I remain concerned that the U.S. national security establishment still lacks the comfort level for appreciating the role of religion, especially in its collective aspect, in matters of war and peace. This is nothing new—as this was a problem Robert Jervis identified as one of the principal reasons the U.S. intelligence community was blindsided by the Iranian revolution forty years ago. Academia largely views the question of religion through secularization theory and Marxist thought—religion as a “cover” for other political or economic motives. The American approach to religious matters, best epitomized by the various Evangelical denominations, stresses the primacy of the individual’s choice and relationship to the divine, and assumes that in the absence of individual commitment (e.g. if every Russian officer and scientist does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) then there is no religious factor at play—because the notion of adhering to a religious community and tradition as part of communal affiliation even in the absence of personal commitment is alien to the U.S. religious experience. Beyond these two general points, there are further blind spots when it comes to Russian Orthodoxy—and these are usually papered over by assuming that Orthodoxy is Protestantism with icons or Catholicism without the Pope.
Gvosdev discusses how Putin has recapitulated a very old religious-nationalist ideology that regards the State as the protector of Christianity. He concludes:
This pattern fits into the ideological tone of the Putin administration, in which pre-Soviet, imperial and Soviet legacies are all blended into a single narrative, where Reds and Whites, Orthodox and atheist, are all part of the same team, and whose goal is the preservation of the Russian state as a guardian of a critical spiritual and civilizational legacy which cannot be allowed to perish from the earth. The Russian defense establishment now has a clear purpose and a way to motivate its personnel. If we have truly entered a new era of great-power competition, every Russian has been given a clear rationale for why he fights—and if the narrative charted by Adamsky continues to gain strength and resilience, it will provide the Russian state with the justification for why it asks its people to bear new burdens.
This alarms me as an Orthodox believer, for the same reason Christian nationalism in the US does: because I fear it compromises the mission of the Church by making it a handmaiden to state power. Nevertheless, Gvosdev and Schindler are correct that Westerners — WEIRDoes — are incapable of imagining that other peoples are motivated by things that do not motivate them.
Besides, in the passage Schindler cites above, condemning the moral decadence of the West, I agree with Putin, and I am sure a lot of you do too. Yesterday, Military.com reported:
The Defense Department has quietly begun looking into how it can allow troops whose gender identity is nonbinary to serve openly in the military, three advocates familiar with the situation told Military.com.
The Pentagon has asked the Institute for Defense Analyses, or IDA, which operates federally funded research centers, to study the issue, said the advocates, one of whom requested anonymity to disclose a sensitive topic.
Someone who is nonbinary identifies as neither male nor female, often using “they” and “them” as their pronouns and marking their gender as “X” on forms that have that option.
It is unclear exactly how long the research has been going on, but SPARTA, an advocacy group for transgender troops, put researchers in touch with several nonbinary service members this month.
SPARTA President Bree Fram, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, likened the effort to the study the Pentagon asked Rand Corp. to conduct in 2015 before lifting the ban on transgender people serving in the military.
“Speaking with non-binary troops and defense officials to understand what regulation changes may be necessary is a great first step,” Fram said in a statement to Military.com. “We are hopeful this will allow non-binary individuals to serve authentically and realize their full potential in the military.”
Yeah, send those non-binary soldiers in to free Kiev from Russian troops. Good luck with that.
Many Russians, and many people in what we used to call Eastern Europe, look to the West as hopelessly decadent, and collapsing in on itself. They’re right. You don’t have to believe that Vladimir Putin is a good guy, or any kind of savior, or that Russia represents a model for the future, to recognize that Putin has correctly taken the measure of us. Do you want your son to fight to make Kyiv safe for Blue’s Clues Pride Parades? I didn’t think so. This kind of thing is what Western liberal democracy has degenerated into (“Blue’s Clues Pride Parades” being a condensed symbol for what the post-Christian globalist West has become). As Schindler writes:
Putin’s broader aim with the Ukraine crisis isn’t about Kyiv, it’s about showing NATO’s impotence while revealing America’s paralysis and decadence.
America’s elites, in both government and the private sphere, are making war on their own people who are insufficiently woke. Again, talk to conservatives in the military right now, or who have recently left the military, and ask them about their morale. Forgive this diversion, but it’s important: a reader e-mailed me this the other day:
A few days ago, I noticed a disturbing tweet by Representative Dan Crenshaw about preferential treatment and lowered standards in the Air Force Special Tactics selection course. Having sufficient background to be fairly confident in my understanding of the matter, I’ll place links to many of my sources here, here, here, here, and here.
The gist of the story is that the Air Force Special Tactics community encountered wokeness, but resistance in the lower ranks sparked a backlash.
In 2018, a Female Special Tactics Officer entered training for Special Tactics training, where she quit in the first week of dive training. She was then not selected for continued training. In 2019, she returned and re-took the course, did not pass again, but higher leadership dictated her selection for Special Tactics Officer training. She then went through more training while continuing to quit. She quit in Dive training, but the leadership had her retake a more relaxed version of the course. She then quit in the solo land navigation portion of her tactical training.
She encountered the physical difference between highly athletic men and women tested to their limits. In one event, “She just physically couldn’t flip the tire,” the instructor said. “The team handed her a kettlebell and she just kind of walked behind the team for the rest of the iteration.” The officer herself reportedly wrote “ I believe the change in standards invalidated me with a majority of my team, . . . the cadre ‘rioted’ when they found out the PT test was changing back to lesser standards.” Despite her repeated desire to quit – Air Force Special Operations leadership would not allow her to find a different career path. Instead, she began working directly for the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command –where she wrote a report and Equal Opportunity Complaint resulting in investigation of everyone who interacted with her. Now, according to the memo, she will return again to re-take the Special Operations Course, with instructions from above, that she will graduate, whether or not she meets standards. As of now, an investigation into this matter is being conducted by the Air Force Inspector General.
What I want to elucidate, is how this episode is representative of how Wokeness often works, and how it was resisted.
First, the project to bring women into Air Force Special Tactics is a luxury project, not a pressing need. The raids that killed terrorist leaders Bin-Laden and Al-Bagdadi demonstrate the maturity and fine-tuned edge that Special Operations has honed, with countless unheralded missions successfully accomplished in our lifetime. There are no public examples of a failed mission that would only have succeeded had a female Air Force Special Tactics Officer been present. In other words, this is fixing what ain’t broke. That said, there is an argument to be made for women in Special Operations – South Korea has a female unit for low-profile operations, and women were needed to search and question women during raids in Muslim countries. That is not, however, the role of Air Force Special Tactics.
Second, this is a top-down project years in the making through both Democrat and Republican administrations. In 2013, the Obama-era Defense Department set a timeline of 2016 for women to join ground special operations forces. A female officer, who was not a special tactics officer, was placed second in command of most Special Tactics airmen. She was placed there “for the first wave of female operators”. The top general for Air Force Special Operations has clearly demonstrated by his actions that he is aware and pushing for this person to pass the special operations course.
Third, the project relies on lack of transparency and lies or near-lies about the nature of reality and objective facts. The first lie or obfuscation of reality is that standards will be gender-neutral and will not be lowered to accommodate women. In fact, the physical standards were lowered just before the female officer arrived at the course. Her instructors all knew that her passing scores were failing scores before she arrived. The high physical standards for special operations are based on the objective needs of the mission – the need to carry heavy loads over rough terrain, the need to drag the wounded to safety, the need to swim long distances in rough seas. Lowering the passing scores does not change that. This is analogous to those failing schools where everyone graduates, but half the graduates cannot read – the scores are changed, not the underlying reality. Inherent physical performance differences between men and women mean that a standard lowered enough for sufficient women to pass may not be challenging for men. It risks turning Special Operations into Just Above Average Operations.
Fourth, the ramifications of such a project could result in serious damage to the national treasure that is SpecOps. Imagine the small community of rank and file Special Tactics Airmen knowing that their leader cannot physically lead from the front, and that she was willing to charge her instructors with discrimination. In other words, what should be a trusting, close-knit family forged from shared experience will become a unit without trust or mutual respect where it’s best to watch what you say and think. The rank and file must imagine if this is the lengths to which leadership is willing to take to get the demographic results wanted, how much further will this trend go? Will selection mostly be a matter of quota and not a measure of individual character?
Most importantly, however, a few people have been willing to not live by lies. The memo writer was willing to blow the whistle, knowing that in all likelihood he would be discovered and his career ended. This story, with its overtones of double standards, favoritism, and wokeness, appeals to a sense of injustice – and more importantly, the discussion is still based in objective reality. It was championed by a politician, Dan Crenshaw, with a stake in that community. News organizations have not stifled the issue – with the Air ForceTimes in particular, being able to find sources and credible information to back up the whistleblower. Quite simply, regardless of the outcome, it is important to stand up for reality.
The WEIRDoes who run the show — including at the Pentagon — believe that America is so strong that it can bend reality to fit WEIRD dogmas. They are about to learn the limits of American and Western power, in Ukraine. I hope and pray that the Russians will stand down, and will not invade Ukraine. I suspect that Finlandization of Ukraine is the best real-world outcome we can hope for: one in which Ukraine maintains most of its independence, but cannot allow itself to be drawn into a pro-NATO, anti-Russia stance.
To wrap up, I find it so difficult to grasp why so many liberals and conservatives are eager to fight with nuclear-armed Russia over Ukraine. Ukraine, which is adjacent to Russia, vital to the Russian nation’s sense of itself, and which has been part of Greater Russia for centuries. What is our vital national interest in this conflict, such that we risk war with Russia? I cannot stand this idea that if you don’t favor war with Putin’s Russia, then you must be a pro-Putin appeaser (rather than someone who tries to examine soberly American strengths, weaknesses, and interests). Have we Americans learned nothing from the last twenty years?
Do you people not remember how the government and the media manufactured consent for this pointless war on Iraq? I remember what it was like twenty years ago, in January 2022, when the Cathedral was building support for an American war on Iraq. I honestly thought that the only reason anybody would be opposed to that was that they were ignorant, or cowardly. I was a fool. There is no excuse at all for any of us Americans to be fools for war today.