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Ukraine War: Seems Like Old Times

In Europe, skeptics of NATO policy are silenced and cut off by friends, family
Screen Shot 2022-12-01 at 10.50.52 AM

In Bratislava earlier this week, I had dinner with some Slovak friends, and heard them talking about how old friendships are ending because of the Ukraine war. Those ending the friendships are people who support the war, and who will not tolerate being friends with those who are skeptical of NATO policy -- this, even though none of the skeptics believe Russia was right to invade.

Last night at a dinner in Budapest, I mentioned this sad fact to a Czech and a Hungarian with whom I was speaking. The Czech identified himself to me as a skeptic about the war -- meaning not that he supports Russia (he emphatically does not), but that he questions NATO policy. He told me that he has lost many old friends because of his views, and that this is quite common across Czechia today.

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The Hungarian chimed in to say the same thing is happening here, and has even split families she knows.

All of it is awfully familiar. I told my interlocutors that in the period between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq War, conservatives like me were so gung-ho for war that we did not want to hear from anybody who questioned its wisdom. The Right excommunicated conservatives like Patrick Buchanan and Bob Novak, both of whom objected to the plans for war. Our collective refusal to listen to them, and to despise them for their treason to the cause (remember "unpatriotic conservatives"?), helped lead the United States, and the Middle East, into catastrophe.

This is what you get when dissenters are silenced. Maybe the Ukraine war policy skeptics are wrong. But maybe they see something the crowd does not. They should be listened to as friends. But that's not happening. Back in Washington, the Republicans are just as committed as the Democrats to handing Kyiv an open wallet, and not pressing for peace negotiations. That Russia started this evil war cannot be disputed. But we desperately need to figure out a way to a cease fire and peace negotiations. There was a woman at dinner last night who recently returned from Ukraine, where she had gone to deliver humanitarian relief supplies with the charity she works for. She reported incredible suffering from ordinary people, and a deep desire among them for the damn thing to end.

When I got home last night, I shared all this with a Czech immigrant friend back in the US. His response: "Mark my words. There will be [wider] war. That's the Zeitgeist."

Look at this. If you want this war to end before it destroys even more lives and economies, and perhaps even spreads, you are therefore a Bad Person:

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UPDATE: John Mearsheimer talking sense. "There is a non-trivial chance of nuclear war."

UPDATE: A reader sends me Philippe Lemoine's essay from a couple of days ago, critical of "liberal imperialism." Lemoine begins like this:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unleashed a wave of what I call “liberal imperialism” in the West, which I think is a very unfortunate development, so I want to explain in this essay what I mean by that and why I think it’s such a bad thing. In some ways, this phenomenon is reminiscent of what happened at the end of the Cold War, but it’s also very different. As in 1989, Western elites see the events that are unfolding as validating their worldview and proving that history is on their side. However, today’s liberal triumphalism is very different from the post-1989 enthusiasm, when people assumed that, now that the main alternative to this model had ended in failure, the rest of the world would convert to liberal democracy on its own. Since that didn’t happen, they no longer want to engage with non-liberal regimes and instead advocate aggressive containment, consequences be damned. In the US, Biden claims that a “battle in the world between autocracy and democracy” is currently ongoing and, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he’d called the defense of democracy the “defining challenge of our time”. In what follows, I will argue that dividing the world into democracies and autocracies and seeing the main goal of foreign policy as the defense of the former against the latter is a mistake, which will make the world less safe and less prosperous.

It's a very long essay. His basic point is that the West is run by "liberal imperalists" -- "liberal" in the sense that everyone in the West favors classical liberal values (free markets, liberal democracy, and the rest) -- and that this causes major blind spots that lead us into serious risks in dealing with autocratic regimes. Lemoine points out that liberal democracies are highly subject to idealism in foreign policy, and to undertaking crusading foreign policy initiatives, like war, that are not in the interest of the war-making nation, or of security and stability. The West's demonization of Russia over its Ukraine invasion is an example. Lemoine writes:

The truth is that, both right now and in the foreseeable future, the West is simply too powerful to be seriously threatened by anyone unless we go looking for trouble. This qualification is important because, as powerful as the US and its allies are, they are not omnipotent and, by failing to correctly appreciate the limits of their power, they risk adopting policies that would endanger their safety or prosperity. Paradoxically, while in some respects liberal imperialists underestimate the West’s power, they also overestimate it precisely in that way. For instance, while Russia is far too weak to pose a serious threat to NATO (something that is now uncontroversial but wasn’t always so), it still has considerable spoiling power and humiliating it could have serious repercussions. Unfortunately, liberal imperialists clearly don’t realize that, so they think that we don’t risk anything by pushing the Russians against the wall. The problem is that people have such a cartoonish view of Russia that they think it’s already as bad as it can be, but unfortunately I fear they might soon realize how wrong they are. Indeed, there are a lot of things Russia is currently doing that we like, but that it won't be doing anymore if we turn it into a pariah state. Conversely, there are a lot of things it's not currently doing that it might start doing, which we won’t like at all. For instance, Russia has refrained from selling certain advanced weapon systems to geopolitical adversaries of the West in the past, not just because it deemed that it would threaten its own security but also because it wanted to preserve good relations with the West. If we turn it into a pariah state, it will have less reasons to do so and might change this policy in some cases. Similarly, Russia has cooperated a lot with the West on the non-proliferation agenda in the past, but it might no longer do so. Are we sure that we are ready for that? Maybe it’s worth the risk and we don’t need to change anything in our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but liberal imperialists are in no position to be confident of that, because they think about the question in simplistic moral terms and that kind of possibility clearly isn’t part of their calculation.

Lemoine goes on:

Liberal imperialism wasn’t always so dominant in the West and I don’t think we should give up the hope that it can be rolled back in the long-run, though it will probably take a disaster or generational replacement for that to happen. If we are lucky and liberal imperialism doesn’t cause any disaster, a return to a more restrained form of foreign policy will have to result from the rejection of liberal imperialism by a new generation of political and intellectual elites, but this is not going to happen unless some people make the case against it.

Good for him for doing so, but I am very pessimistic that this will change. Why? Because the elites in charge of our institutions, and the coming generation (Generation Z), are so driven by moral idealism that they no longer believe in fundamental liberal values and practices (e.g., freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and so forth). What "liberalism" means to them is total support for LGBT+, allowing the NGO class to determine governance priorities, and total support to the designs of Western oligarchs as long as they all fall on the left side of the political spectrum (George Soros and Jeff Bezos good; Elon Musk bad.)

That Europe is risking a far wider war, and immiserating its people for the sake of pursuing this proxy war with Russia, is an obvious reason for trying to figure out how to reach a cease fire and peace settlement between Russia and Ukraine. But that is unacceptable to elites in government, the military, and the media. So they demonize anyone who questions the pro-war status quo as Putin's bitches, despite the protests of the dissidents that they have no love for Putin or Russia, but just want to stop the bleeding and prevent an even worse catastrophe.

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Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
I think there's a different attitude in the East and the West. The East used to be under the paw of the Bear, and they don't want to go there again. So, whoever shows any weakness with Russia is considered a traitor. I can't blame them.
On the other hand, while in the West the media have generally toed the party line and duly thrown accusations of being Russian fifth columns to those who doubted the Western strategy, the discussion was generally open and the public opinion divided.
However, after long and painful reflection, I have come to the conclusion that we cannot yield to the Russians.
A settlement could be reached and, in my opinion, this could only happen when both parties see no advantage in ending the war.
A way out could be holding a referendum, under international supervision and security, in the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, to confirm or reject the Russian annexation.
For Russia the compensation could be the international acknowledgement of the status quo in Crimea.
But this step cannot be undertaken without the agreement of both parties, and it would be immoral for the West to withdraw its support to Ukraine.
So, we're basically stuck in a situation where attrition war is the only possible outcome in the short term.
schedule 10 months ago
    Fran Macadam
    Fran Macadam
    The Bear's people were under the yoke of communism too, before they revolted and threw it off. That's not nothing. I recall opposing the Soviet Union, in what I believed was a struggle against Godless communism. But Russia has officially embraced Christianity as much as 1950s America ever did. Solzhenitsyn is taught in all Russian schools. At home, aren't we American Christians most threatened by a virulent strain of godless Americanism? Certainly it is utter nonsense that we are threatened with a Russian invasion.
    schedule 10 months ago
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Fran, I was commenting about Europe.
      You are right that Russia got rid of Communism. But not of its imperial ambitions.
      On the other hand, to many Eastern European, Communism = Russian rule.
      schedule 10 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Again, you and I are in compete agreement. Probably there are some nuances where we don't agree but at the top level this is certainly the very essence of common sense.
    schedule 10 months ago
    Bogdán Emil
    Bogdán Emil
    Everything you suggested is a betrayal of Ukraine, according to Ukraine's current philosophical position. You think they should reward the aggressor by giving them land?

    The whole world knows that's what is going to happen, in order for Russia to save face. So, the task right now is to bring Ukrainians around to seeing common sense.

    Yes, Ukraine has to give up territory. You yourself are saying this, Giuseppe. This is not a pro-Ukrainian position, it's a pro-Russian position.

    The entire mission of the peacemaking world currently is to get _Ukraine_ to see common sense, to let them down gently, so to speak. We never should have offered them or Georgia NATO membership. Dubya did that in 2008 and got the ball rolling.
    schedule 10 months ago
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Giuseppe Scalas
      What I'm saying is that, realistically, Russia will never leave Crimea under any condition excepted its complete destruction.
      About the other territories, I think that they would choose Ukraine over Russia, if they ever get to vote.
      So, yes, I think Ukraine will never get Crimea back, and that any attempt to recapture Crimea will end with nukes.
      schedule 10 months ago
      Fran Macadam
      Fran Macadam
      Just who are the people on that land? Who decided to foment a civil war and gain a hold on the land of those people, to put nuclear weapons there, for the purpose of geopolitical military advantage? Surely, you must have heard of Full Spectrum Dominance, an official U.S. stance that since the nineties has sought the eventual dismemberment of Russia into U.S. administered satrapies, expanding control of military occupation of Europe. This is voracity masquerading as security.
      schedule 10 months ago
    Siluan
    Siluan
    There have already been multiple referenda in the Donbas. Russia just didn't like the results.
    schedule 10 months ago
Fran Macadam
Fran Macadam
Quite honestly, Nuland admitted that contrary to European interests, the United States funded the coup that overthrew the Ukraine's legitimately elected compromise government, which plunged an ethnically divided country into civil war in 2014. Cynically, our country's political elites pretended to support the Minsk agreements that would bring peace, but made sure that was sabotaged and never implemented. It's tragic that a nation that was largely founded to escape from Europe's interminable wars should seek domination there, and to hubristically try to destroy Russia, to succeed where French and German imperial efforts failed. Looking at the demented state of elite delusion, those whom the gods will watch destroyed have first made themselves mad. It is a self destructive (and destroying innocents too) attempt at a fools based international order.
schedule 10 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    If Putin had not started this war Russia would be in better shape today (much as would have been true of the US without the Forever Wars in Middle East) and would be in no real danger from the West whatsoever. No one was planning to march on Moscow like Napoleon or fight to death at Stalingrad. Russia had nukes and that alone rendered it immune from any such perils. The war is Putin's way of LARPing Catherine the Great without the seamy but entertaining sexcapades, and of using the excuse of a public emergency to silence critics and take absolutist dictatorial power.
    schedule 10 months ago
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Agreed. Putin invaded Ukraine for the usual reason why tyrants wage war: to increase their own power at home.
      schedule 10 months ago
        Fran Macadam
        Fran Macadam
        I would have thought you would be more skeptical of propaganda, and not get fooled again.
        schedule 10 months ago
      Fran Macadam
      Fran Macadam
      Recall how Kennedy withdrew nuclear missiles from Turkey aimed at the Soviets, to obtain withdrawal of similar missiles in Cuba. We were lied to about that at the time. I was involved in the Cold War. Some folks were against Soviet communism, but there were and are those who see complete conquest as the answer - sometimes even for economic reasons. It is well documented that the United States sought Ukraine's territory to place missiles in the far east of Ukraine to gain strategic nuclear advantage, at the same time abandoning nuclear weapon treaties. It is amazing how folks intentionally ignore that in meetings in late 2021 the Biden team thumbed their nose at all Russian concerns and specifically reserved the right to deploy missiles as close to Moscow as possible. Same idiots who think Sam Brinton queering the DoD is a great idea - and I suppose, reserve that fate for Russia too.
      schedule 10 months ago
Siluan
Siluan
Too many people in the West have a real lack of understanding regarding this invasion. Putin will not accept a negotiated solution, for one thing. Second, this was always the first stage of a larger conflict with the West in Russia's eyes. Beyond that, trading land for peace doesn't really achieve peace. In practice it usually just encourages further aggression, and Putin has long wanted to rebuild the old USSR. I would say the most likely end to this is another Russian coup replacing Putin and the hard-liners.
schedule 10 months ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Oh, wow, so your ideas is to do the same thing to Russia as what NATO did to Ukraine for the sake of child rape. NATO's interest is solely in the globalization of child rape - coup and replace anyone against child rape. Let's be real.
    schedule 10 months ago