I had too many friends anyway

I have been horrified by the enthusiasm with which about half my friends have jumped onto the anti-Putin bandwagon. (One ex-friend actually went as far as “Exterminate the brutes!”) What just happened is a disaster in every way and I don’t think that we’ll recover during my lifetime. The war promo and propaganda are the same slick product we’ve seen so many times before – the heroic grandmother with the machine gun, the spunky dead Ukrainians. Now that Osama and Saddam are no longer with us, Putin is the new evilest man in the universe.

“But this time it’s different”. People have been so happy to takes sides against pure evil, zing the tankies, and be on the victorious side of an important American political issue for once in their lives. Some probably feel that if we put our shoulders to the wheel, the centrist Democrats will start treating us with more respect, but they don’t need us and it never works that way. We’re still scum.

Our nation can’t respond effectively to global warming, or COVID, or the poor state of American education or healthcare or infrastructure, or the criminal state of American policing and corrections. But BY GOD we can do something about the Ukraine invasion. (Though probably we won’t, really).

This will strengthen the worst elements within the Democratic Party, but without necessarily helping them defeat the even-worse Republicans. (The Democratic Party has always been a war party: the 50s and 60s were military pork barrel Keynesianism). War is really serious and trumps everything else, and military and geopolitical issues (along with finance issues, of course) will increase their dominance of American politics. From here on progressives will have to keep trying to prove that they are not tankies, and domestic issues (the progressive ones at least) will be put on the back burner for awhile — a temporary postponement which will be routinely renewed. As they showed in 2001 and in 2008, the war party and the neoliberals know how to take advantage of disaster.

If the sanctions are at all serious they will lead to another economic downturn, though we have just barely recovered from the 2008 downturn and are still in the midst of the COVID downturn. The stability and decency of today’s world, such as they are, depend on a healthy economy, and people who are hurt economically tend to express their pain in ways that that will do no good and a lot of harm — for example, as anti-immigrant hatred. But then, since the dollar is everything, I expect the sanctions to be pretty much token . “Solidarity with Ukraine” costs us nothing and we can afford that. Only Ukrainians and Russians will be killed. and since Ukrainians are white people, so I suppose we might even take in some refugees.

I would feel more uneasy about heartless position if I thought that the Ukrainians were going to benefit from our help. (How much good did we do the Libyans, Somalis, Iraqis, or Afghans?) Ukraine was never going to be admitted to NATO and probably not to the EU either, and they wouldn’t have benefited as much they hoped even if they had been . Ukraine has been privileged to become the next battleground in the American war against Russia. “We” (in the sense of our political masters) are hoping that they will bleed the Russians nicely, the way the Afghans did more than four decades ago, and we’ll send them weapons so that they can kill a lot of Russians before they themselves are killed. (Oddly, our policy of peace through arms sales has somehow never been very effective, not on the terms stated at least).

NATO is a military alliance, and military alliances aren’t supper clubs. They are organized against enemies, and NATO’s enemy is Russia (and also Serbia, it seems). For many years we’ve been working to surround Russia with enemies, with great success, and it shouldn’t be hard to understand why Putin takes badly to this. People are talking as though it a member of NATO and we are obliged to intervene, but they are not. The whole purpose of alliances is to define a perimeter, and Ukraine was outside it when the Russians invaded — but the American defense line is now everywhere. For decades I have been hoping for the US to recognize some limit to its military ambitions, but I have finally come to realize that without defeat or collapse that won’t happen. (For the record, the only positive suggestion I ever might have made on the Ukraine issue was Finlandization, an agreement to stay neutral, but that’s a dead issue now).

One group that is gleeful today, of course, and that is the war party, which is an international assemblage of weasels and the enemy of everyone else in the world. Many of them are willing to play either side in any conflict, and they all know that this year’s enemy can be next year’s friend. The worst are just political opportunists and profiteers, but among them there is a healthy contingent of wise, sadistic philosophers and theologians who will gladly explain to the world that any given war is Godly and necessary, and that only unserious, evil people could possibly oppose it.

This war in Ukraine is just the first battle of the new Cold War which will shape our lives for the foreseeable future, though it will not always be cold, any more than the first one was. (Recently the World Affairs Council posted a shopping list of 27 conflict zones ranked in terms of the possibilities for American intervention, so we know what we can look forward to. A group called Crisis Watch has its own list).

OK, now comes the “whataboutism”. (Horrors! Beat the drums!) Something that initially seems obviously justified (or unjustified) often looks quite different when put into a larger context, and the most important political arguments are all about deciding the context. The US spends more on the military than the next eight or so countries combined, and we have troops in half the countries of the world usually always invited, but often invited by governments we have installed . We have a long history of forcing regime change by a combination of covert action, public measures such as sanctions, and outright invasion. Some of these interventions, notably in Central America but also in the Middle East, have been remarkably brutal. Our two closest allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have similar records, and Saudi Arabia is monstrous in every way. Our response to the Ukraine invasion is not isolated, but is part of our overall policy, and this policy is not an admirable one. And while yes, this invasion is brutal and unjustified (There! I finally said it!), it’s in the normal range of great-power actions, including our own, and the present furious righteousness is hard to justify. Realpolitik is the rule for great powers like Russia and the US, and realpolitik doesn’t allow for moral indignation except as a cynical form of PR.

The realpolitik argument for intervention is, in fact, probably the best one. Since WWII, European states have agreed not to invade other European states and occupy their territory, and if Putin gets away with the conquest of the Ukraine it will set a dangerous precedent. (Israel occupying parts of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria doesn’t count. Not Europe). Some also believe that Putin is the new Hitler and won’t stop with Ukraine but will conquer one country after another, but I don’t believe that he has that capacity or even that intention. (If I am wrong about that, I’m wrong, and we are in an even worse hell than I think already).

For decades I been trying to get people to care about attacks, massacres, burned out buildings, or politically induced famines here, there, and everywhere — Vietnam, Central America, Palestine, Congo, Sudan — but eventually I quit, because people didn’t seem interested. Until now. This time the Ukrainian PR campaign has been effective, the war party is on board, and the media have fallen dutifully into line. So people now care deeply about Ukraine

For the record, I have not involved myself in the details of Ukrainian history and politics, and I did not predict this invasion, and rather doubted it. I was immediately skeptical about the pronouncements coming from official and semi-official sources, but based on past performance that was an entirely reasonable suspicion . (“Let’s make fools of them! This one time let’s tell the truth!” They got me). I also have never praised or justified Putin but I have denied and do deny that he’s the evilest man in the universe or that he’s insane — an allegation I’ve recently seen made, which in the past has been used to justify otherwise unjustifiable actions. (It’s remarkable the way that otherwise intelligent people have boiled this down to one man’s evil, so they can feel good about denouncing him). From the beginning I looked at what was happening in the context of realpolitik, the likely long term outcomes, American foreign and military policy, and American politics ( I am after all an American), and the more I thought about it the more appalled I became.

Reality is not binary, but political decisions often are. After considering all the factors you’re aware of, you choose Yes or No and start minimizing the inevitable ill effects of your choice. If you say No today, you are at risk of being a Putin enabler and are sure to be called one. But if you say yes, you are agreeing to have war and sanctions take over American life again for many years, while everything else continues the decline which began in 1968 or so.

Two serious health crises recently made me aware that the world is phasing me out, and over the years I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m politically irrelevant in today’s world. “Ha ha hippie boomer, always reliving the Vietnam War!” I don’t expect to see anything good happen politically during my remaining years, which are unlikely to be as many as ten, and my pessimism makes me useless to whatever positive forces there still are in the world. But the recognition of my irrelevance does not amount to a surrender, but just the acknowledgment that the world has decided to bite the bullet and be wrong.

P.S. No, I’m not depressed. Day to day and here and now, I feel OK. But the larger contexts do weigh on me.

P.P.S. You might ask, “Why haven’t you more clear that you think that Putin is to blame?” But if there’s one job that we can count on being done, it’s putting the blame on Putin. And in any case, it’s been my experience that America doesn’t give a shit what I think, so who cares?

P.P.P.S. Many of my friends are probably asking “Is this about me?” And the answer is: it might very well be, for many of you are eligible. You are allowed to take this personally.