Every argument that the US is in danger of losing out to China, that the US needs more weapons to deter China, that the US can’t afford to help arm Ukraine, and many others, should be required to begin with these two graphs.
Data for the first graph is from the International Monetary Fund, for the second from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The graphs appear in this article.
Bill Clinton has joined the chorus of “If Ukraine had kept its nuclear weapons, Russia would never have invaded.” Bill never was good at foreign policy. He was right in 1994, and he’s wrong now.
What people mean when they make that claim is “If Ukraine in January 2022 (or January 2014) had nuclear weapons that could be used against Russia, then Russia would never have invaded.” This claim is based on two big assumptions: that a Ukraine that retained the nuclear weapons on its territory in 1994 would have followed the same path as the Ukraine that signed the Budapest Memorandum, and that Ukraine could have repurposed those weapons into a defensive stand against Russia. I’ve written about this in the past.
For a history of what actually happened, check out Mariana Budjeryn’s “Inheriting the Bomb: The Collapse of the USSR and the Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine.” It’s the most complete history of these events. Let’s consider how Ukraine might have developed if it had kept those nuclear weapons.
Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s National Security Advisor, has been in contact with Vladimir Putin’s advisors over the past several months. This is no surprise, because contact is particularly important in times of conflict. The US maintained contact with the USSR, and has maintained contact with Russia in regard to both countries’ activities in Syria. This is diplomacy.
The Biden administration is also urging Ukraine to signal willingness to talk to Russia. That would mean dropping or softening insistence that diplomacy can talke place only after Putin is no longer in power. This is diplomacy.
A New York Times reporter responded to the WSJ news by saying that The Letter – the one that Dan and Rob have written about – made a difference. I am sorry to see that a reporter from the Paper Of Record has such a naïve view of how things work. I’ve lost the tweet.
If the administration leaked this news, it is because diplomacy has been going on for weeks to months and has some stability. A too-early leak of such information can damage or end the connection. So all this diplomacy was in progress before The Letter.
In its excellent article on the lead-up to the war, the Washington Post describes some of the diplomatic contacts in the attempt to avert the war. The bottom line is that Russia wasn’t having any.
June 16, 2021: Biden meets with Putin. No indication that Putin plans a war, but two weeks later, his screed on Ukraine’s rightful place in the Russian Empire is released.
End of October: Biden meets leaders of Britain, France, and Germany at the side of the G20 meeting.
November 2: CIA Director William Burns meets with Putin, Yuri Ushakov, and Nikolai Patrushev (Putin advisors).
There seemed to be no room for meaningful engagement, and it left the CIA director to wonder if Putin and his tight circle of aides had formed their own echo chamber. Putin had not made an irreversible decision to go to war, but his views on Ukraine had hardened, his appetite for risk had grown, and the Russian leader believed his moment of opportunity would soon pass.
The US information war slowed down a couple of weeks ago, and Russia hastened to fill the space with claims about Ukrainian laboratories developing chemical and biological weapons. This dovetailed with some of the many claims made by the Q cult and also those pushing the idea that SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from a laboratory. All that was needed was to transferthe claim from China to Ukraine.
It was a good choice for Russia and almost took off. Glenn Greenwald and Tulsi Gabbard are still pushing it. But it’s been refuted a number of times, including in the United Nations Security Council, and seems to be dying down.
US government sources are speculating that Russia was pumping the biolabs story in preparation for a chemical weapons attack of their own that they would attribute to the Ukrainians, which may well be true. But chemical weapons are marginally useful in war; biological weapons have never been developed to that point. Speaking of them, however, can damage civilian morale.
A certain amount of shelling is not unusual in Donbas, but given current tensions, this is ominous. In 2008, Russian shelling provoked a response from the Georgian army, which Russia then claimed as a justification for war. The Ukrainian army has been strictly instructed not to respond to Russian shelling.
Ukrainian President Zelensky is visiting the front.
Last week, AP diplomatic reporter Matt Lee badgered State Department spokesman Ned Price about sources for intelligence information. I’m seeing others make similar points to Matt’s on Twitter and in the comments on my latest post at Lawyers, Guns & Money.
The concern is whether the intelligence is accurate, often expressed in a context of the runup to the Iraq war of 2003, implying that the US government might be lying to achieve a particular point. This misses the point of releasing the intelligence and the structure of the situation.
Colin Powell’s testimony to the United Nations was intended to justify an incipient attack by the United States on Iraq. The US intelligence releases are intended to delay or avoid a Russian attack on Ukraine.
Anne Applebaum wants to school American and European diplomats in Russian thinking. Her short op-ed gets a number of things wrong and provides an opportunity to point out how gendered thinking about diplomacy and war can undermine analysis.
The headline and subhead are probably not Applebaum’s, but they are of a piece with the text. “Why the West’s Diplomacy With Russia Keeps Failing: A profound failure of the Western imagination has brought Europe to the brink of war.”
In fact, what has brought Europe to the brink of war are Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine and their demands for, among other things, a radical restructuring of NATO. None of this has to do with the “Western imagination.” The headline places the blame squarely upon the failures of failing diplomacy.
War and diplomacy have long been gendered masculine and feminine, respectively. War is physically active, destructive, a display of strength in which one side will dominate the other. Diplomacy has to do with words and has little public display of its actions, which are physical primarily in body language. Masculinity is valued over femininity and thus war over diplomacy. It’s easy, then, to say that diplomacy is a loser and at fault.
The Q people have developed a fantasy that children are being sex trafficked by the hundreds of thousands, and they must find ways to save them. This fits tactically with Republican goals of fear and disruption. I’ll leave most of the psychological side to others, but there’s an outcome to this alleged concern for children that I haven’t seen noted before.
The loonies have focused on the National Butterfly Center in their zeal to end their imagined evil, and it has had to close down because of their threats of violence.
One of the great joys a child can learn is the close observation of nature. It’s one of my great joys to find a new tiny cactus in my yard, the kind of observation I learned from my mother from the time I was a toddler. The Butterfly Center was a destination for school trips, where kids could see butterflies up close and personal.
In the name of protection, Q and their Republican allies deprive kids of growing up with joy. Teaching them that the world is a horrible place with no relief, just as they believe for themselves.
It’s not just the National Butterfly Center. The Comet Ping Pong attacked by a Q gunman in Washington, DC, was one of those silly places where kids can eat pizza and be entertained. Schools, of course, have become places of terror with regular physically enacted reminders that kids can be gunned down at any moment, now compounded with the fear of deadly disease. Some want to introduce constant surveillance in schools.
In the name of protecting children, they are destroying the joy and freedom of childhood so that children will grow up as twisted as they are.