In case I haven’t made this clear, I take the Ukraine situation very, very seriously. Not that I deem war inevitable or even probable. (There’s too much smoke ‘n mirror stuff here for anyone to call with justifiable confidence. 1 ) Just that, given both the stakes and military capacities of the real adversaries, the fact that war is possible at all should so horrify us as to want the fullest and most accurate picture available of what is happening and why.
Here’s Anne, a Facebook friend in Cairo who’s scathing of US Empire, posting four days ago:
NATO/US cannot understand why Russia is building up troops on its border to Ukraine. Do not know if I should laugh or cry.
Anne has another FB pal, Donna, east of NYC on Long Island. Donna is critical of US wars but, like many patriotic but mildly left/pacifist Americans (I’m inferring this from our exchanges and a brief scan at her FB output) sees Russia as at least as bad.
Donna’s response to Anne of Cairo was this:
Maybe if Russia hadn’t annexed Crimea just a few years ago, and built up 100k+ troops at the Ukrainian border, NATO wouldn’t be so nervous.
Which had me wading in with a three-worder, then an image which visitors to this site have seen a dozen times:
Maps are good …
Which drew this from Donna:
Philip Roddis are you suggesting that NATO invaded or annexed these countries? Or they joined NATO against the people’s will?
I of course replied that smoke gets in your eyes:
Donna – here’s what I am suggesting. Let me know what you think, once you’ve read it.
I can’t be sure she actually did read it but respond she did, an hour or so later:
Philip Roddis this article is one-sided. Please present a corresponding article showing the lies, posturing, and proxy wars conducted by Russia. What, there are none? Russia is a saint? I call BS.
A few words on such a response. One, it reflects the lazy assumption that, given two mutually exclusive claims, the truth will lie “in the middle”. As tentative hypothesis this has its admirers – back in the day, systems engineers and programmers called it the “binary chop”. But as a final position it smacks of the obdurately idle: what I call the “Hitler-was-bad-but-the-Jews-were-no-angels” gambit. Though at root idiotic, it offers those who deploy it a great excuse for throwing hands in the air to declare a plague on all their houses. As when the SWP had the cold war strap line, “neither Washington nor Moscow”. As when an expensively educated man of letters wrote a few weeks ago to let me know that “China is far from blameless”.
Wow! Who’d of thunk it?
ONE nation is circling the planet with hundreds of military bases, waging endless wars that killed millions and displaced tens of millions in this century alone, and works to destroy any nation disobeying its dictates. That nation isn’t China. Unbelievable that this needs to be explained – Caitlin Johnstone
Two, I’ve been blogging too long to be caught out this way. In the early days I’d cheerfully do all the legwork while my critics, below the line or on social media, sniped and threw red herrings till I’d run myself ragged. These days I’ll still put in the hours if I deem an interlocutor serious – but now I require a token of their preparedness to do likewise. Donna’s demand that I “present a corresponding article showing the lies, posturing, and proxy wars conducted by Russia” is at the absurd end of specious. That, surely, is her job!
Three, as with that China-not-blameless non sequitur, a strawman argument is being advanced. Neither in my comments on that FB thread, nor anywhere on this site, do I credit Russia – or Mr Putin – with sainthood.
Back to my exchanges with Donna. I replied:
I’m used to being called ‘biased’ and ‘extremist’ by people who hurl these generalisations rather than engage me on the specifics of what I say. I try to leave room for the possibility that you are different, and capable of engaging me at that level. Want another shot? Show me on which points in that piece (or any of the others I’ve written on this subject) I got it wrong.
A day later, to her credit, she came back with this:
Philip Roddis I will get back to you as any serious conversation on the subject would take quite a bit of research on my part. However, I did not call you “biased” nor “extremist”, rather that the article was One-sided. This does not mean that the article is false. Since this kind of research seems to be your wheelhouse, I also requested the same in depth research on the Russian government- which you are leaving me to do. An unwillingness to explore both sides of an issue definitely shows a bias in my not-so-humble opinion.
It took me close to two days to come back with a summary of my stance on this subject:
Donna that’s a reasoned and reasonable reply. Thank you. It’s taken me a while to get back because this crisis in Ukraine has seen me both writing further posts – you can check my most recent ones on the steel city scribblings site you’ve already accessed – and engaging others on the subject.
In a nutshell my minority view on all this is informed by the following. One, few of my interlocutors know the first thing about Ukraine’s history or of how the break up of the USSR stacked up massive future problems not only in Ukraine (even before the US backed Maidan coup unleashed fascist currents which make the far right of my country and yours look like boy scouts) but in Georgia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian Republics whose ethnic Russian majority in discrete areas (Donbas/Donetsk and Crimea in post 1990 Ukraine, Ossetia in post 1990 Georgia and similarly besieged groups in the “stans” of Central Asia).
Kiev respecting the Minsk Treaty 2 would help in respect of East Ukraine!
Two, few know the nature of the coup – George Soros money and Victoria “fuck the EU” Nuland’s incitements – which ousted Yanukovych to install Poroshenko’s cabinet of Russophobic, anti-semitic (it’s rare I back Israel but she is right on this) Bandera idolisers. For the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea (which voted in 2014, 2015 AND 2019 to secede to Russia) Kiev had declared war on half of a nation whose current borders make little sense historically or logically. As in other parts of the former USSR (and for that matter in the Six Counties of ‘Northern Ireland’ 3 ) an artificial state has been a recipe for seething resentment.
Bloody Sunday protest in Derry 1972
Pro-Russian demonstration in Donetsk, March 2014 (a month after the Maidan coup)
Three, neither your country nor mine gives a flying fuck about Ukraine. A bigger game is being played out here.
Four, repeated promises were made in 1990/91 to Gorbachev that NATO would expand “not one inch eastwards”. (This is one of the reasons I posted that [NATO expansion] map in an earlier comment on this thread.) It’s one thing to provoke a weak power. But Russia, with hypersonic missiles to which NATO has no answer, is no longer weak.
Five, for reasons given [here] corporate media – though they do have subjectively honest journalists and editors – are systemically unable to tell us the truth on matters of core importance to those who rule. The game being played out on Russia’s Western border, I’m afraid, falls into that category.
Other points – most importantly that the US would not for a second tolerate comparable ‘containment’ on its own borders by a hostile alliance – have already been made on this thread.
As Donna has not replied, since I made that last comment two days ago, I deem our exchanges closed – but leave room for the possibility of her delivering on her promise to get back to me.
Let me finish with a general observation. It’s now getting to be a habit with me of using more or less adversarial exchanges (by email, on social media or in below-the-line debate here) to make my points. I find it an efficient way of clarifying my thinking on an issue. As always, comments from those whose take differs are welcome.
* * *
- One thing clouding the picture is the tendency for Western leaders to grandstand on what they say are Russia’s aims and intent. Is this ignorance? Or do they attribute to Moscow an intent to invade Ukraine purely in order, when no such thing happens, to claim a victory for “our tough stance in the face of the Russian bully”?
(As a baby boomer I grew up with the nightmare scenario of such bluster leading by accident and miscalculation to a very short WW3.)
One of the many under-reported factors here is that Ukraine President Zelensky has berated NATO and US for said grandstanding. Such talk has, he says, wiped $50bn off the value of the Ukraine economy.
- I refer here to the article in the Minsk Accord pertaining to self determination. Where a breakaway state (like Ukraine) houses a minority in a sizeable and well delineated region (like Donbass) and that minority constitutes a clear majority within said region, autonomy and freedom to choose its destiny should follow. The Accord was signed in September 2014, seven months after the Maidan ‘colour revolution’ that February, but has not been honoured by Kiev.
- I’ve been so engrossed by the Ukraine crisis that an intention to write a piece marking the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday has slipped by. I’ve missed that bus now. Back in the eighties, my branch of the Trotskyist sect, Workers Power, tasked me with leading on Ireland, and though I’ve let my attention slide, the subject still exercises me. Especially now, with BoJo’s spatchcock Brexit raising spectres hitherto assumed laid to rest by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Thursdays phone conversation between Biden and Zelensky, along with the related positions and statements from both the US and UKraine, seem like something you’d encounter in a Marx Brothers film.
Ukraine is now basically pleading with the West to STFU with the bellicose rhetoric whilst at the same time poring scorn on the narrative of imminent invasion. An invasion which has, according to the Parish Guardians of the narrative, been due to take place every day for the past eight years.
The only narrative I can recall which has been going longer with a similar result of less than zero is the Iraqi WMD’s. Whilst foggy bottom has long since abandoned that terrain you can still find armchair warriors out there prepared to die and ditch convinced they will be found any day.
The smart money seems to be on the US having Zelensky removed for standing in the way of the war the chickenhawks are desperate to start.
Here’s MoA two days ago;
Moon of Alabama @MoonofA – 8:16 UTC · Jan 27, 2022
White House urges Zelensky to attack south-east rebels but he declined?
Julia Ioffe @juliaioffe · Jan 25
Inside the Biden-Putin Chess Match
Having plenty of evidence of the way this playbook has been used in the past it’s reasonable to anticipate Zelensky’s only hope of personal survival is to use the Minsk Accord talks process to ask the RF for assistance to save what’s left of 404.
What most thinking people likely struggle with in terms of the narrative being pushed is the question as to why in 2008 did the ‘Evil Putin’ not invade and occupy Georgia rather than pulling back?
Similarly, the action in 2014 of not recognising the Donbass Republics and refusing point blank to invade Ukraine don’t fit the narrative.
Lets face – and thanks to Scott Ritter for the analysis – they could take Europe any time they wanted to. The question arises WTF are they waiting for?
Perhaps someone, Anne maybe?, could provide some kind of rational answer as to why the facts don’t fit the narrative?
Re your final sentence, Anne of Cairo – I don’t think I made this clear – is in our camp on this.
It seems simple enough to me, Dave. The Eurasian bloc, led by China and Russia, and spreading far beyond Eurasia across a world sick and tired of being pushed around by the States, is on the verge of victory. Peace and human solidarity are at hand. The End may yet be postponed.
The only way to stop it, and ensure that Europe, starting with Germany and France, does not drop out of the US led hysteria and make prosperous peace with the East, is to start wars, to increase the tension and stop people from thinking rationally.
US hegemony, and the post Columbian empire has run out of time, the only way to preserve its semblance is to stop time and embrace Armageddon.
I do so wish more people would get this, bevin. The liberal mindset labours under the delusion that some outcomes are too shockingly inhuman to be allowed. This because the liberal mindset pays too much attention to idealist narratives and too little to the lessons of history.
The narrative does not add up and is falling apart.
Which, leaving aside the more obvious risk issues of the present moment in the unfolding process, presents problematic issues of its own.
One of the recent articles up on the Saker site analyses, at least in part, the predominant Western mindset and how it views what it regards as the ‘Other.’ (https://thesaker.is/the-great-western-wall-vs-snow-niggers/)
The other element of that analysis is how the collective Western mindset views itself.
And herein lies an interesting and problematic aspect worth further consideration.
We have not just a set of elites but also whole populations at multiple levels who for generation after generation for hundreds of years have been instilled with the notion that regardless of their position and status (or otherwise) in the hierarchical pyramid, they are part of a society and people which is, and always will be, the biggest, baddest and bestest.
There’s a dialogue at the end of the late Terry Prachett’s novel ‘Hogfather’ where its argued that children are taught from an early age to believe the little lies (Father Christmas; Tooth Fairy etc) so they can learn to believe the big lies when they grow up. An, arguably, cynical but nonetheless realistic appraisal of a systemic process.
The Saker poses the question, focusing on the Western elites:
“Why are our beloved (or maybe not so beloved) leaders so freaked out and clueless about what to do?”
“Could it be that reality is gradually achieving what scientists call “first contact” with the Western rulers and the serfs they rule over?”
Question is: If/when [delete whichever is inapplicable] the elites are freaking out what kind of outcomes will ensue when/if [again, delete whichever is inapplicable] the general populace are placed in a position in which there is no sand to stick their heads in and, to paraphrase the recent film ‘Don’t Look Up’, they have no choice but to look up?
What are the potential psychological effects likely to be across a society and people/groups at levels within it having to come to terms with the reality that not only are they not the biggest, baddest and bestest but they have been left behind, for all practical purposes for the foreseeable future?
This is good. Today’s Doctorow: https://gilbertdoctorow.com/
Just read it. Useful piece.
As mentioned before, its not about who is bad, good or indifferent. It is about INTERESTS. Russia have theirs, the Ukraine another set, the US yet another, and so on. Everybody is trying to further their particular interests. Rather than focus on goodies and baddies, try to understand what the interests are and how certain actions further them. Also, the interests are multifaceted and differ between and within government departments, corporations, and those with power and influence in the same country. They are not monolithic.
There is a view that all this posturing is actually to stop the Nordstream 2 pipeline undermining US shale gas. In this scenario the US does not want a war with Russia. Instead they want a reason to impose more sanctions and a running sore in East Ukraine to justify maintaining them, and to damage the Russian economy further. They also want to push NATO into buying more arms from them by upping anxiety. And to undermine the EU and French efforts to create an independent military bloc based on it. A further interest is Biden needs something to appeal to voters, and foreign policy is possibly his only avenue. Ditto Johnson. So, think distraction. I think claiming that the US is looking for armageddon is bordering on paranoid. How would that benefit big business or win votes? The USA has two drivers – profit and control, but the first is the prime one. Control means guaranteed profits. Nuclear annihilation does not.
I think you miss important aspects, Zoltan. First, the exhortation to stop focusing on “goodies and baddies” fails to acknowledge Caitlin’s point. Here it is again:
I sense an excessive attribution of rationality to a US ruling class containing powerful elements I see as criminally insane. And history offers no precedent for a superpower, with the means to destroy all life on earth, passively watching its inexorable eclipse by rising powers. Especially when there are those voices on the Beltway which still, despite Russia’s recent missile advances, say a nuclear war can be won.
This leads me to your remark that:
Here too I fear you may be assuming too much rationality – or to be more accurate, that the rational voices within the US ruling class must necessarily prevail. At this point we can’t know, and I’ve already voiced my own view – FWIW – that the greater likelihood is of brinksmanship triggering nuclear war by miscalculation. But is it paranoid to leave room for the fanatics gaining the upper hand? I think not. And I note with some concern the likelihood of Pompeo running – with powerful support – for the Oval Office in 2024.
It’s not the prospect of POTUS 47 being Mike Pompeo that worries me so much as what that would reveal about the balance of forces within the deep state.
(As for profits, should the crazies be right and a nuclear war winnable, history shows over and over that the destruction of capital in war is, objectively speaking, a tried and tested means of rejuvenating the accumulation cycle.)
But when all is said and done, I have to leave a lot of room for the possibility I have this situation all wrong. I welcome divergent voices. How do you feel about writing your own assessment of what is happening in Ukraine? I’ll gladly host it on this site.
PS – at a more general level, the blandly armchair generality of …
… helps not one whit. Israel is advancing its interests when the IDF bulldozes Palestinian homes to make way for settlers newly arrived under the racist Law of Return. Hitler advanced his lebensraum interests when his tanks rolled into half of Europe. To offer “advancement of interests” as a way of bypassing moral judgment is to assume geopolitics to be one gigantic board game. It isn’t.
It might be a bland armchair generality, but it is also true. More importantly, in any situation of conflict, concentrating on who is in the wrong generally doesn’t help resolve anything. In a neighbour dispute, trying to force one to admit they have behaved unreasonably probably won’t make the situation better. You have to understand what both sides want in order to start to work towards some sort of solution. I appreciate that in this scenario there is no neutral mediator, but until we analyse what each agent wants, i.e. what motivates them, we can’t really understand the why of what is happening, and so what is likely to happen.
Also, I am surprised that you claim I offer advancement of interests as a way of bypassing moral judgement. I don’t. One is a tool for analysing events, by establishing the motives of the actors involved. The other a way of weighing the nature of the actions taken during those events.
In this instance we have an evolving situation. A long series of events have led to this, and are continuing to unfold. If we wish to understand these events, we need to look at what is behind them and then work out what is most likely to happen next. Whether what is being done is right or wrong, justifiable or not is a separate issue which may not further our understanding of the drivers of the events. It isn’t unimportant, but it isn’t necessarily helpful in our aim of trying to work out what might happen, and how best to ensure a peaceful outcome.
Well my offer stands, Zoltan
I am flattered by the offer but I can’t claim to be an expert in the subject. I have some idea of what some of the motives might be, but nothing that can’t be gleaned by reading and listening to a variety of sources. A lot would be speculation.
What I will say is that I understand the need to point the finger at blame and to refute the framing that we are usually presented with. Namely the idea that “the West”, meaning America and its “allies”, are invariably the good guys because uniquely “we” wish to make the world better, while “they” (insert name here) want to make it worse – or at least, don’t care so long as they get their way. An alternative analysis is that this is precisely the wrong way around. This is where you and I differ in that I think a truly objective analysis shows that both “sides” are out to get their way and don’t really care who suffers as a result. Any positive outcome for others depends on the calculation of self-interest by the main actors. In other words, nobody is out to make the world better per se, they want to make it better for them. If it is generally better, or worse, for others is incidental (unless they calculate otherwise).
This doesn’t mean that everything is planned, rational and carefully weighted. We are talking about people, after all. So a lot is instinctive, reactive or mistaken. People can be biased, deluded, misinformed and reckless. But the underlying goal for any geopolitical actor is one of trying to get what they believe to be the best for them.
Of which two systemic approaches present.
One based on the zero sum, operating to its own subjective reality (as per the well known quote attributed to Karl Rove), regularly producing outcomes which are less than the sum of its parts – ask anyone from Chile to Palestine, Indonesia and Vietnam to Yeman and Libya.
The other based on the non- zero sum, operating to objective reality, producing outcomes which are more than the sum of their parts.
Two systemic approaches which in no way can be compared as equivalents in this way.
One recognising only the narrow and unlimited interests of a tiny elite at the top a hierarchical pyramid – who can never ever have enough of anything; the other recognising common reciprocal shared interests outside of artificially constructed boundaries of the other approach.
Arguably the most succinct version of this stark contrast can be found in Matthew 7.12.
A classic example of which was presented last week by RF Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov relating the the shrug of the shoulders response from his opposite number representing the zero sum approach upon being faced with the objective facts represented by two sets of signed documents from that approach from two decades ago which agreed to recognise the principle in Matthew 7.12
It seems worth observing the interesting phenomena of an approach which consistently pushes the virtue of “thinking outside the envelope” whilst at the same time consistently producing arguments from within it demonstrating the exact opposite. As seen here.
Funny old world.
… ain’t it just …
A further problematic aspect of the debate concerns assumptions about rational actors acting in good faith.
A rational actor, one example being Paul Craig Roberts (to make the point) would point out, as has been the case on this discussion thread, above, that if during the Reagan years the Soviets had come to them expressing these concerns the recommendation would be to take them seriously. Explicitly as well as implicitly recognising an equal right on the part of another Country and it’s people’s to have interests, security or otherwise.
And Roberts has done so.
So far, so good.
Unfortunately, that is not the scenario – rational actors, acting in good faith, recognising the interests of others and accepting others have the same rights as themselves.
The evidence trail is extensive and needs no detailed elaboration here. The US which PCR inhabited no longer exists. There is no recognition of the interests of anyone else on the planet. No acceptance that anyone else has any rights, never mind parity in terms of general principles to be applied equally to anyone, never mind all.
That is, objectively, the context of exceptionalism which exists. By passing a UN with at least some semblance of operating to such general principles to build its own ‘rules based order’ in which those taking the exceptionalist position make the rules to suit themselves whilst everyone else obeys the orders.
Such a mindset tolerates no boundaries on its insatiable requirements. As with the individual sociopaths it has no friends, only opportunities to be used and discarded at convenience.
The very idea that someone else has any kind of rights and interests does not enter into the present equation. That is the operational practicality of the present context.
And right on cue we get billionaire Mr Soras proclaiming the ‘need’, yet again, for more regime change. On this occasion China.
As observed in one recent Saker article by a Fred Reed, the US operates on the basis of a reverse socialism. Under socialism the Government controls the means of production. In the US it the reverse. The means of production controls the Government.
This is not so much ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, more grown ups and children.
In fact it’s little different to the mindset most people have encountered and experienced in a work environment totally overun by a Borg like management ideology. Adding credence to another observation recently encountered which, comparing the US military with most others, observed that the inability of its military/MIC to operate effectively is, in essence, down to it’s officer corps and cadre from top to bottom being organisational CEO’s rather than actual military.
My word is just going to have be taken that there is a significant difference, having operated in both types of organisation.
In such a context the RF and Chinese have little option but to operate from the position and approach they have taken. Simply because, as others, many of them former Cold War veterans, have noticed (and they are not alone) they are the only grown ups in the room right now.
A further factor which occurs is that of projection. Which comes in many forms and guises.
A thought generated by this threads debate to date.
Specifically in this instance; the predominant competitive zero sum culture which exists across the Western system has a tendency to produce a narrowing of thinking which assesses every other State, Western or otherwise, on the same narrow basis using the same narrow bar.
For example; the same selfish zero sum competitive behaviours, approaches and attitudes which provide the driving criteria of Western policy is projected onto others.
It comes as no surprise to see this line argument presented on this thread which clearly cannot envisage that anyone else would do things any differently by opting for non-zero sum behaviours and approaches not based on self serving self interest but instead on maximising and spreading benefits rather than hogging them.
I suppose the notion that everyone else operates to the same playbook as ourselves provides a convenient comfort blanket when faced with the stark contrast of a failed half millennium model of Western imperialism and its well recorded results – not forgetting the accompanying self serving cant – faced with a model predicated on a different, non-zero sum, approach, principles and criteria like the Belt and Road along with its related projects.
It seems that Hungary also has problems with Ukraine due to having ethnic Hungarians incorporated in the rogue state, and the effort to impose the Ukrainian language only for all regions. If this sort of thing keeps up, everybody will be threatening to invade Ukraine! 🙂
I’m assembling an expeditionary force of my own, Jams
You’ll need people with military experience!
I had you down for Field Marshall, Dave
The usual first step is setting up the Propaganda Dept. After that, I’m for the Catering Corps.
Looks like that’s already been taken care of:
Don’t think I’ve broad enough shoulders for all those pips.
You know the gig is up when you are being trolled by people who actually sat on The Committee for the Present Danger:
“An unwillingness to explore both sides of an issue definitely shows a bias in my not-so-humble opinion.”
This ignores the possibility that it has been explored but nothing was found.