JEA: I do not necessarily agree with everything that Scott Horton has written here, but much of what he has said about the history behind the Russia/Ukraine conflict is absolutely true. Horton’s article is quite long, but it is necessary because it meticulously details why Russia is essentially resisting NATO’s aggressive expansion in the region. Historically, Russia’s position is perfectly rational.
Just to get this out of the way first real quick: Whenever someone dares to differ with the common government and TV narrative about Russia and their role in the world, that person is usually instantly condemned as spouting “Russian talking points,” or being “paid by Putin.” This is probably especially the case this week as Russia is waging an aggressive invasion against their neighbor Ukraine as we speak.
But that is still nonsense. Where would a Texan obtain these talking points? Are they true?
Back in the days of the Communist Soviet Union, there were some Americans, many fewer than supposed, and no true danger, but still, there were some Americans who shared an ideological affinity and loyalty to Communism and the Soviet government. But there just is nothing whatsoever comparable to that in the United States today. A cult of Putin? Where? Certainly not in either major party, or within liberalism, progressivism, socialism, conservatism, populism, libertarianism, or any other broad-based political movement in America.
Putin is no charismatic Communist leader of the 4th International. He’s a center-right Republican, essentially, tied closely to certain business oligarchs. His flag is red, white, and blue. His religion is Christian. We’ve already got all of that. Why would we need a cult of a foreign power or leader to find some conservatives to worship? And he speaks quietly. There is not one single faction of any significance, or maybe at all anywhere in this country, that favors Russia or puts Russian interests first. It just doesn’t exist. The people who claim that do so in order to avoid having to deal with the other side of the story at all. Or they’re just dumb.
And so why would we contradict the common narrative? Because our government lies, and the truth is important. Twenty years ago began the push to lie us into war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The most important aspect of it was the way they tried to controversial critical thinking. Those who contradicted the received wisdom were accused of being “objectively pro-Saddam” and his government. But the critics were 100% right and the war party was lying the whole time. The lesson should have been that we will never let our government and media do that to us ever again. But it keeps happening.
As Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University and leader of the so-called “realist” school of foreign policy wrote earlier this week, “‘strategic empathy’ isn’t about agreeing with an adversary’s position. It is about understanding it so you can fashion an appropriate response.”
Now, on February 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the supposed independence of the Donbass, the two breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in far-eastern Ukraine, and then sent so-called “peacekeeping forces” into that territory.
The next day Russia launched a massive invasion of the rest of Ukraine. As of this morning, it is not clear if they intend to conquer all of the land east of the Dnieper River, though stretching all the way to Odesa in the southwest or all of Ukraine, including the city of Lviv in the far west and all the land to the borders of Romania and Poland. There are some indications that Putin may agree to pull back to the Donbass if he can get the Ukrainian government to bend to his terms.
In his speech on the 22nd, Putin’s argument about the dangers of Ukraine’s independence went far enough to justify taking over the entire country permanently.
To be perfectly clear, I condemn all of this. Even considering what I am about to tell you about the U.S. government’s role in precipitating this conflict, and taking into account Putin’s legitimate concerns about the Donbass region, I think absorbing the Donbass in this way, much less conquering the rest of the country, was totally unnecessary and could end up leading to a wider war in Europe and worse reactions from nations all around.
I think it was not just unconscionable, but completely unreasonable. I have a Twitter friend who’s sister’s life is in danger from the war right now. But the American hawks say this is all happening because Russian President Vladimir Putin is a megalomaniac dictator bent on imperial expansion and becoming the next great Russian Czar.
No. It was unreasonable. But it was rational. A reaction. Understandable not in the sympathetic sense, but in the strictly literal one.
The responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia belongs to Putin, but the new Cold War it takes place within is primarily the responsibility of the U.S. government and its leaders over the last 30 years.
And when I say 30 years, I mean it. Just this last Christmas day was the 30th anniversary of the last day of the USSR. The Communists’ red flag came down, the Red, White, and Blue Russian standard went up in its place. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was over. The evil empire was dead.
But then the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden ruined our great peace and victory at the end of the last Cold War. Instead, they got us into this mess.
This was primarily due to the policies of NATO expansion, tearing up important nuclear treaties, the installation of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, overthrowing multiple governments friendly to Russia, including Ukraine twice in 10 years, spending the last 5 years sending sophisticated arms to Ukraine and increasing harassment by American Navy ships and Air Force planes in the Black, Baltic, and Okhotsk seas. They were warned. They thought it would be fine. It wasn’t.
The George Bush Sr. Years
But let’s go back to the beginning. President Ronald Reagan had negotiated an end to the Cold War with the old Soviet Union beginning in 1988. But then, under president H.W. Bush, the American foreign policy community, led by the neoconservatives, adopted a doctrine of global dominance.
This was, as Charles Krauthammer put it in Foreign Affairs in 1990, the U.S.’s “Unipolar Moment” and opportunity to remake the world our way and keep it that way. They call it leadership, hegemony, preeminence, predominance, or even Full Spectrum Dominance. It’s a world empire. No really, it’s all for their own good though. Keeping the peace; protecting the sea lanes; enforcing the global rules-based liberal international order.
Dick Cheney’s Defense Department’s post-Iraq War I, “Defense Planning Guidance” from 1992, defined the doctrine for the new decade and into the new millennium: The U.S. must remain the single dominant power on the planet and must maintain enough military power to prevent any possible strategic rivals, such as Germany, Japan, Russia or China, from even considering an attempt to challenge U.S. power. As those same neoconservatives wrote in their 1998 Project for a New American Century study, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” expanding the U.S. presence in the Middle East and the NATO alliance in Europe was at the core of the doctrine.
But there was a problem. On February 9, 1990, President George H.W. Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker, promised Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev that if the Soviet Union would withdraw their troops and allow German reunification under America’s NATO military alliance, they would not expand it, as Baker put it, “one inch eastward” beyond that. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, French President Francois Mitterrand, British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, and later John Major, all made the same promise.
Of course, they have lied about it since, at various times claiming this pledge either never happened or doesn’t count because it wasn’t in writing. But in 2019, the records were posted at George Washington University’s National Security Archive. You can read the writing yourself.
Just last month, at the end of February 2022, an American researcher found in the British National Archives a formerly secret document, minutes of a meeting with the political directors of the foreign ministries of America, the UK, France, and Germany, on March 6, 1991, in which German representative Jürgen Chrobog, says, “We made it clear in the two-plus-four negotiations that we would not expand NATO beyond the Elbe.
We can therefore not offer NATO membership to Poland and the others.” As reported by the German paper Der Spiegel, U.S. Representative Raymond Seitz said: “We have made it clear to the Soviet Union – in two-plus-four talks and elsewhere – that we will not take advantage of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe.”
A somewhat embarrassing but important related point: Did you know that President Bush Sr. actually tried to save the Soviet Union? It’s true. He and his secretary of state James Baker III and national security adviser Gen. Brent Scowcroft thought it would be preferable if Moscow could retain control of the former Soviet Republics, the Baltic states, Belarus and Ukraine. The second-to-last American ambassador to the USSR, Jack Matlock has explained this history to me himself.
Some of you may remember or have heard of H.W. Bush’s so-called “Chicken Kiev” speech of August 1991, as New York Times writer William Safire called it. It turns out the speech was written for Bush Sr. by Condoleezza Rice, later, famously, his son’s national security adviser and secretary of state. In the speech Bush warned against Ukrainian agitation for independence from Russia on anything but the Kremlin’s deliberate time-table, telling their central committee,
“Freedom is not the same as independence. Americans will not support those who seek…