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Zelensky Taking US To The Nuclear Brink

He's a Ukrainian national hero working for his country's best interest. But it's not America's
Screen Shot 2022-10-07 at 6.46.58 PM

Look, I understand why Volodymyr Zelensky is doing what he's doing. His nation is fighting for its life against Russia. It is in his best interest to draw the US and Europe into maximally committing to Ukraine's defense.

But it is emphatically not in our best interest -- especially as we may be barreling towards Armageddon (as no lesser authority than POTUS said on Thursday). Josh Hammer has it right in his new column. Excerpt:

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At this juncture, the fighting—and in Russia's case, the recent (likely sham) annexations—is taking place in four far-eastern subregions of Ukraine, and, to a lesser extent, Crimea. Those are the disputed lands that the Biden administration, and "liberal Western democracy" types more broadly, have deemed to be so existentially important to Ukraine and the integrity of "the West" that reconquering them is worth seemingly any military, economic, and humanitarian cost—up to, and very much including, the harrowing specter of open nuclear warfare between NATO and Russia.

Even worse, when it comes to the disputed lands themselves, reputable Gallup polling from 2014—the year Putin first marched into Crimea—showed that 73.9% of Crimeans thought becoming a part of Russia would improve their lives and their families' lives (only 5.5% disagreed). As for the various enclaves of the Donbas, such as Luhansk and Donetsk, they are very much divided between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians; Luhansk, for instance, has a nearly even, 50-50 demographic split.

Let's be as clear as possible: The median American citizen does not, and should not, care whether an ethnically divided, strategically unimportant, historically contested Slavic subregion or two in eastern Ukraine ultimately takes orders from Kyiv or Moscow.

Amen! Let the Russians have Crimea and far eastern Ukraine, which based on past voting patterns is more oriented towards Russia anyway, and let's have peace.

Ukraine fought bravely, and drove the Russians back when no one expected them to last more than a few days. Zelensky will go down in Ukrainian history as a strong, even heroic leader who had a gift for rallying powerful Western allies to the cause. But Zelensky maximalism has reached its sell-by date.

It's extremely frustrating to see the ruling class swooning for Zelensky and his cause. Nobody can question his bravery, and I completely understand sympathizing with Ukraine. I do too, to some extent; Russia had no business invading that country. But our ruling class seems bound and determined to project its own hopes and dreams onto Zelensky, in the same way it did with Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. David Brooks writes today:

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The war in Ukraine is not only a military event, it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops. They are winning because they are fighting for a superior idea — an idea that inspires Ukrainians to fight so doggedly, an idea that inspires people across the West to stand behind Ukraine and back it to the hilt.

That idea is actually two ideas jammed together. The first is liberalism, which promotes democracy, individual dignity, a rule-based international order.

The second idea is nationalism. Volodymyr Zelensky is a nationalist. He is fighting not just for democracy but also for Ukraine — Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian land, the Ukrainian people and tongue. The symbol of this war is the Ukrainian flag, a nationalist symbol.

Of course Zelensky is fighting for nationalism, as is every Ukrainian. But liberalism? Really?

Zelensky banned 11 political parties. Liberal?

In 2021 -- a year before war broke out -- Zelensky banned pro-Russian media outlets. Liberal?

Zelensky passed laws curtailing school instruction in the Russian language -- this, to boost Ukrainian identity. He also restricts education in other languages. This is one reason why the Hungarians have been cool to him all along: ethnic Hungarians living in far western Ukraine are being told that they have only limited rights to educate their children in their own language. Liberal?

Zelensky has made peace with, and boosted, the Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, as well as admirers of Stepan Bandera, the World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist, fascist, anti-Semite, and Nazi collaborator. This is understandable, under the circumstances. When the Germans invaded France, royalists and communists made common cause to expel the Nazi invaders. Churchill himself said, "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons." A war of national survival compels such things. Nevertheless, shouldn't one be careful about saying that Zelensky, and the Ukrainians, are fighting for liberalism? Not the Banderists or the Azov Battalionistas.

In 2021 -- again, before the war -- the Pandora Papers disclosure revealed that Zelensky, despite having campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption, actually had a fortune stashed away in overseas bank accounts, as did his cronies. One thing you learn from living in the former Soviet bloc is that politics are heavily corrupt, on all sides. This is regrettable, to put it mildly, but it's the way they do it in this part of the world. Zelensky is no different from anybody else -- but do we really want to celebrate him as a liberal?

Zelensky has said he would consider legalizing same-sex partnerships -- this, in response to a big push from his Western backers to grant gay marriage rights. This is almost certainly propaganda meant to mollify Western liberals. In 2013, 79 percent of Ukrainians polled opposed gay marriage. That number cannot have declined much in the past decade. Whatever Zelensky thinks privately, gay marriage is not coming to Ukraine anytime soon, because the Ukrainians are not Western liberals.

So when David Brooks writes:

Ukraine’s tenacity shows how powerful liberal nationalism can be in the face of an authoritarian threat. It shows how liberal nationalism can mobilize a society and inspire it to fantastic achievements. 

... I think he's projecting what he wants to see onto Zelensky. Ukraine's tenacity shows how powerful nationalism is. Liberalism has nothing to do with it. The Azov Battalion defending Mariupol fought with incredible courage. They are also fascists. Both things are true.

The Brooks column brings to mind something an American diplomat once told me: Americans come to this region and see what they want to see, according to their political views back home. It's something I've tried to keep in mind when I look around at politics in this part of the world. As regular readers know, I like Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and his government, and have said that in some general ways, their approach is a model for American conservatives. But I don't think of Orban as some kind of saint, nor do I believe that Hungarian conservatism is, or has to be, the same as American conservatism. The character of the Hungarian people is rather different from the American character, after all -- and that's fine. Celebrate diversity, and all that. Point is, I try to assess Orban while resisting projection onto him the kinds of things I would like to see happen in the US. I'm sure I fall short, but I try. I have found that when I meet European fans of Donald Trump -- they do exist! -- they often have created an idealized version of him, based on the kind of man they want him to be.

But neither Viktor Orban nor Donald Trump is trying to drag the US into a war that is moving closer to becoming nuclear. Zelensky is -- and he has powerful voices in the US who valorize him and the Ukrainian cause beyond what the record, and reality, can support. The man loves his country, and that is an admirable thing. But we Americans who love our country should not let that Ukrainian patriot lead us by the nose to the brink of nuclear war.

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Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
You are right. Ukrainians are nationalist. They aren't liberal. They are a barbarian nation. So, whatever "liberalism" they seem to have, comes from their barbarism.
I don't mean "barbarian" in a negative sense. I simply mean that Ukraine is not an entirely civilized country yet.
Neither is Russia, of course. But Ukraine used to be the periphery of a barbarian empire, so it's even more barbaric. There are tiny civilized enclaves, such as Odessa, where the echo of Italian and Jewish civilization still lingers, and the more Polish-Lituanian areas in the West. But the rest is definitely Cossack and Sarmatian at heart. Even if ethnically Slav.
So, David Brooks' is just wishful thinking.
However, I'm a staunch supporter of Ukraine in this war. Russia shouldn't get to steal Ukrainian land. Russia agreed to let Ukraine be in exchange for their nuclear arsenal, so they have no right to steal their territory. We can't let this pass, even if it means risking a nuclear war.
I'm pained to say this, because I'm enamoured of Russian culture. I owe my return to Christianity to Russian literaure, which showed me the unparalleled beauty and truth of our faith. This is a debt that can't be paid back.
I think that the only reasonable platform for peace would be leaving Crimea to Russia and granting Donetsk and Lugansk ample autonomy within the Ukrainian state. Any other outcome will mean a long, Ulster-styl, civil war.
On the other hand, Russia will never - never - give back Crimea. Rod, if you see the Ukrainian army entering Crimea, board the first flight to the US because this mean nuclear war.
So, Russia has to lose and Crimea has to win. But Westerners wanting to crush Russia are moved by ideology, not rationality, and they will make us all pay for that.
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    Jonesy
    Jonesy
    If China put troops in Canada and Mexico we would never stand for it. This whole thing could’ve been resolved back in April and Biden and Johnson put a stop to negotiations. These people are insufferably stupid because they never learn lessons. No one in charge ever paid for the mistakes in Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan. They are free to screw up yet again.
    schedule 2 months ago
      Giuseppe Scalas
      Giuseppe Scalas
      The only comfort I get from this situation is that this is the umpteenth confirmation that, without saving grace, we humans are irredeemably stupid and evil.
      There is never moral progress, only technical progress.
      schedule 2 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    On this I am in full agreement with you Giuseppe. I just wish Rod would return to the island of sanity where he initially stood when this war started.
    schedule 2 months ago
Michael Cole
Michael Cole
Rod. You are an amazing fool about this. NOBODY is pressing anybody to a nuclear brink other than Putin. He is a fool, and a jackass, and he fancies himself Peter the Great the Second. The failure of the abysmally awful Russian armies to steal Lukhansk and Donetsk and Zapirozhzhie and Kherson is NOT, repeatedly NOT, an existential threat to the nation of Russia. The only appropriate response to Russia is to tell Putin to eff off. Don’t take the attitude, that Putin has a delicate ego so we must coddle him.
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Bogdán Emil
Bogdán Emil
Liberalism being fundamentally relativist, you must admit that Zelensky could easily qualify as one, given some of the choices offered by Ukraine. Relatively speaking, he's liberal enough. Overall, however, you pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Euromaidan was hardly all that liberal in the classical sense, for example. It was a revolution to topple government from the streets, by literally attacking parliament and other institutions. It was their own January 6th, in a way, but it worked. They chased out a government by force of arms and riots instead of convincing their fellow citizens to vote more sensibly.

The other thing the Hungarians and Slavs talk about a lot is Kosovo. How come what's good for the goose is not good for the gander? By punishing Serbs and rewarding Albanian Kosovars, America supported self-determination, or secession. We supported independence and justice, or, we supported an outrage -- however you wanna put it.

The point is, we did it, and we did it under liberal pretexts. The Russians and Serbs are still fuming about it, and will fume forever, unless they get something in return. Serbia needs to be in the EU, for example. Hungary has been clamoring for this, and it's slowly coming about.

For Russia, the fate of the contested regions in Ukraine should be decided democratically and "liberally," by internationally administered referenda following a cease-fire. It's time for the United States to be a responsible international party, and stop looking at Ukraine as a client-state, or seek to use it as an eternal wedge against Mother Russia.

Imperial Russia has been significantly weakened in the last 30 years. The fall of the USSR is their Trianon. Putin called it the century's greatest geopolitical catastrophe. They lost big, while the West incorporated a huge chunk of the former Eastern Block. We gained talent and manpower by the millions, the Russians, meanwhile, continue to bleed out, relatively speaking.

Per Sir Halford Makinder, we took the most vital pivot point on Earth from the Russian sphere of influence, and made it ours. This geopolitically crucial zone is basically called Eastern Europe these days, home to about 100 million people.

The West won such a massive victory over Russia in 1989 that it's hard to overstate. What we're doing to the poor, crazy, stressed-out and humiliated Russians right now is basically bouncing on the rubble. They CANNOT take it for much longer.

This is why Putin and the hardliners are threatening nukes and existential war. It's not like they have zero domestic support. A government to a great degree is the expression of a people's national character. We aren't just facing Putin and his clique, as repressive and hard-line as they are. We're facing Russia, we are facing the guilt, folly, and frustration of Russians. President Putin, were he to simply disappear, would certainly be followed by yet another Russian nationalist.

We're at the precipice of a new frozen conflict with Russia that could last for decades, if history is any guide. Except this time, the Russians are a lot weaker than they were in 1945. Their sense of panic and fear will only increase, the more they feel we truly are at war.

America must recognize its dominant position of power, its overwhelming advantages against a weakened, flailing Russia, and act accordingly.

Stop demonizing the Russians while valorizing the Ukrainians. We all know they're brothers, and really not that dissimilar. I know a few examples from real life. But why do I even have to make this point? Isn't it self-evident?

They ARE brothers. Everybody knows it. So, one is the evil conservative autocratic brother, while the other one is the good liberal democratic brother? That's too neat of a dichotomy. It belongs in a fairy tale.

What does NOT belong in a fairy tale is the possibility of a wounded, angry leader of a wounded, angry nation detonating nuclear weapons. That could be a reality if we don't find a way to get the belligerents to talk.
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    Bogdán Emil
    Bogdán Emil
    Sir Halford Mackinder, excuse me.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Geographical_Pivot_of_History
    schedule 2 months ago
    Michael Cole
    Michael Cole
    If Russians and Ukrainians are “brothers” they should express their animosity by engaging in heated arguments about who makes better borscht. Instead they are Cain and Abel.
    schedule 2 months ago
      Bogdán Emil
      Bogdán Emil
      They do that as well. In peacetime. But you've never heard of sibling rivalry? It can ruin families, or even nations.
      schedule 2 months ago
    WillLongfield
    WillLongfield
    I spent a lot of time in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia is immeasurably stronger than it was in the 1990's when it was weak and humiliated and broken. I was astonished at the transformation I saw when I returned in the late 2000's. The people had changed immeasurably. Most of the young had no memory of the Soviet era, although they remembered the deprivations of the 90's and many felt the West had deceived and used them in their time of weakness.
    Those naiive commentators in the West who believe that Russia will simply surrender and walk away from this conflict with NATO (because that's what it is now) are foolish. Russia knows that, despite donations of weapons from the West to her enemy, she is secure under her nuclear umbrella. She knows that NATO doesn't have the courage to face her openly in the field. She knows her strength is, as yet, concealed and mostly untapped, and it vastly outmatches her foe. Putin's confidence makes sense in this light.
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rksyrus
rksyrus
So... a frumpy neo-con lunatic Victoria Nuland picks a pan-sexual comedian Zelensky to be President of Ukraine (over the much manlier Klitschko) and a few short years later... people are seriously discussing a nuclear exchange?

If only SNL was still funny, they'd have an infinitely rich trove of satire material.

Here's a question: why are American citizens being made poorer and put at risk to back NATO expansion right up to Russia's border, Ukraine and Georgia? Putin is not Saddam and Russia is not Iraq. You'll be finding that out this winter.

Good luck America!
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