Why Washington Underwrites Violence in Ukraine

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Yves here. This new article is tellingly thin on obligatory “That lame Russia military is limping along” trope. It also amusingly starts with a disapproving mention of wrong-way Max Boot saying all is well in Kiev, apparently before the latest round of strikes that among other things generated a small-earthquake level detonation.

So it appears more realistic assessments are gradually being served up, even to Democratic party loyalists. But this seems too little, too late, in terms of how deeply the US has committed itself to this conflict.

By Andrew Bacevich. Originally published at TomDispatch

Allow me to come clean: I worry every time Max Boot vents enthusiastically about a prospective military action. Whenever that Washington Post columnist professes optimism about some upcoming bloodletting, misfortune tends to follow. And as it happens, he’s positively bullish about the prospect of Ukraine handing Russia a decisive defeat in its upcoming, widely anticipated, sure-to-happen-any-day-now spring counteroffensive.

In a recent column reported from the Ukrainian capital — headline: “I was just in Kyiv under fire” — Boot writes that actual signs of war there are few. Something akin to normalcy prevails and the mood is remarkably upbeat. With the front “only [his word!] about 360 miles away,” Kyiv is a “bustling, vibrant metropolis with traffic jams and crowded bars and restaurants.” Better yet, most of the residents who fled that city when the Russians invaded in February 2022 have since returned home.

And despite what you might read elsewhere, incoming Russian missiles are little more than annoyances, as Boot testifies from personal experience. “From my vantage point in a hotel room in the center of Kyiv,” he writes, “the whole attack was no big deal — just a matter of losing a little sleep and hearing some loud thumps,” as air defenses provided by Washington did their work.

While Boot was there, Ukrainians repeatedly assured him that they would cruise to ultimate victory. “That’s how confident they are.” He shares their confidence. “In the past, such talk may have contained a large element of bravado and wishful thinking, but now it is a product of hard-won experience.” From his vantage point in a downtown hotel, Boot reports that “continued Russian attacks on urban areas are only making Ukrainians angrier at the invaders and more determined to resist their onslaught.” Meanwhile, “the Kremlin appears to be in disarray and mired in the blame game.”

Well, all I can say is: from Boot’s prayerful lips to God’s ear.

Courageous Ukrainians certainly deserve to have their stalwart defense of their country rewarded with success. Yet the long history of warfare sounds a distinctly cautionary note. The fact is that the good guys don’t necessarily win. Stuff happens. Chance intervenes. As Winston Churchill put it in one of his less well-remembered “always remember” axioms: “The Statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”

President George W. Bush for one can certainly testify to the truth of that dictum. So too, assuming he’s still sentient, can Vladimir Putin. For either Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or Joe Biden to suppose that they’re exempt from its provisions would be daring indeed.

Boot is hardly alone in expecting the much-hyped Ukrainian operation — with June upon us, will it become a summer counteroffensive? — to break the months-long stalemate. The optimism voiced throughout Western quarters stems in significant part from a belief that new weapons systems promised to but not yet actually fielded by Ukraine — Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets, for example — will have a decisive impact on the battlefield.

There’s a term for that: It’s called cashing a check before it clears.

Punching Holes?

Even so, for Boot, the operational imperative appears obvious. With the Russian army currently defending a 600-mile front, he writes, “they cannot be strong everywhere.” As a consequence, “the Ukrainians just have to find a weak spot and punch through it.”

However unintentionally, Boot thereby recalls the infamous theory of warfare devised by German General Erich Ludendorff to break the deadlock on the Western Front in 1918: “Punch a hole and let the rest follow.” In their spring offensive that year, German armies under Ludendorff’s command did indeed punch a gaping hole in the Allied trench lines. Yet that tactical success yielded not a favorable operational result but exhaustion and ultimate German defeat.

Punching holes is a poor substitute for strategy. I make no pretense to be able to divine the thinking that prevails within senior Ukrainian military circles, but the basic math does them no favors. Russia’s population is roughly four times greater than Ukraine’s, its economy 10 times larger.

Western support, especially the more than $75 billion in assistance the U.S. has so far committed, has certainly kept Ukraine in the fight. The West’s implicit game plan is one of mutual attrition — bleeding Ukraine as a way to bleed Russia — with the apparent expectation that the Kremlin will eventually say uncle.

Prospects of success depend on either of two factors: a change in leadership in the Kremlin or a change of heart on the part of President Putin. Neither of those, however, appears imminent.

In the meantime, the bloodletting continues, a depressing reality that at least some in the U.S. national security apparatus actually find agreeable. Put simply, a war of attrition in which the U.S. suffers no casualties while plenty of Russians die suits some key players in Washington. In such circles, whether it comports with the well-being of the Ukrainian people receives no more than lip service.

American enthusiasm for punishing Russia might actually have made strategic sense if the zero-sum logic of the Cold War still pertained. In that case, the Ukraine War might be seen as a sort of do-over of the 1980s Afghan War. (Forget what the next version of that war did to this country in the twenty-first century.) Back then, the U.S. used the Afghan mujahideen as proxies in a campaign to weaken Washington’s principal Cold War global adversary. In its time (and overlooking the subsequent sequence of events that led to 9/11), it proved a brilliant stroke.

In the present moment, however, Russia is anything but America’s principal global adversary; nor is it obvious, given the pressing problems facing the United States domestically and in our own near abroad, why baiting Ivan should figure as a strategic priority. Beating up on the Russian army on battlefields several thousand miles away won’t, for example, provide an antidote to Trumpism or solve the problem of this country’s porous borders. Nor will it alleviate the climate crisis.

If anything, in fact, Washington’s preoccupation with Ukraine only testifies to the impoverished state of American strategic thinking. In some quarters, framing the present historical moment as a contest between democracy and autocracy passes for fresh thinking, as does characterizing American policy as focused on defending a so-called rules-based international order. Neither of those claims, however, can withstand nominal scrutiny, even if it seems bad form to cite close U.S. ties with autocracies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt or to point out the innumerable instances in which this country has exempted itself from norms to which it insists others must adhere.

Granted, hypocrisy is endemic to statecraft. My complaint isn’t with President Biden fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or conveniently forgetting his support for the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq. My complaint is more fundamental: it concerns the apparent inability of our political establishment to wean itself from obsolete thinking.

Classifying the survival and well-being of the Saudi monarchy as a vital U.S. security interest offers a specific example of obsolescence. Assuming that the rules that apply to others need not apply to the United States is certainly another more egregious one. In such a context, the Ukraine War offers Washington a convenient opportunity to wipe its own slate clean by striking a virtuous pose as it defends innocent Ukraine against brutal Russian aggression.

Think of U.S. participation in the Ukraine War as a means of washing away unhappy memories of its own war in Afghanistan, an Operation that began as “Enduring Freedom” but has become Instant Amnesia.

A Pattern of Intervention

The gung-ho American journalists summoning Ukrainians to punch holes in enemy lines might better serve their readers by reflecting on the larger pattern of American interventionism that began several decades ago and culminated in the disastrous fall of Kabul in 2021. To cite a particular point of origin is necessarily arbitrary, but the U.S. “peacekeeping” intervention in Beirut, its 40th anniversary now fast approaching, offers a convenient marker. That bizarre episode, today largely forgotten, ended with 241 U.S. Marines, sailors, and soldiers killed in a single devastating terrorist attack, their sacrifice neither keeping nor making peace.

Frustrated by developments in Beirut, President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary on September 7, 1983, “I can’t get the idea out of my head that some” U.S. Navy fighters “coming in at about 200 ft… would be a tonic for the Marines & at the same time would deliver a message to those gun happy middle east terrorists.” Alas, by blowing up the Marines’ barracks, the terrorists delivered their message first.

Yet Reagan’s belief that the application of force could somehow provide a tidy solution to dauntingly complex geopolitical problems expressed what would become a continuing all-American theme. In Central America, the Persian Gulf, the Maghreb, the Balkans, and Central Asia, successive administrations embarked on a series of interventions that rarely produced any long-term successes, while exacting staggering cumulative costs.

Since 9/11 alone, U.S. military interventions in distant lands have cost American taxpayers an estimated $8 trillion and still counting. And that’s not even considering the tens of thousands of G.I.s killed, maimed, or otherwise left bearing the scars of war or the millions of people in the countries where the U.S. fought its wars who would prove to be direct or indirect victims of American policy-making.

Memorial Day commemorations, such as those just past, should remind us of the costs that result from punching holes, both real and metaphorical. With something close to unanimity, Americans profess to care about the sacrifices of those who serve the nation in uniform. Why don’t we care enough to keep them from harm in the first place?

That’s my question. But don’t look to the likes of Max Boot to provide an answer.

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  1. Jake

    The US talks a lot about bleeding Russia and how swell this is for them, which sounds like a cope to me. Afghanistan was at a comfortable distance from Europe, whereas Ukraine is in Europe and this war is slowly bankrupting the West. The blowback is real and it’s only going to get worse for the Westoids.

  2. Matthew G. Saroff

    Max Boot’s prescriptions are useful, because when one looks for a solution, you can rule out any of his solutions, or any Boot adjacent solutions, immediately.

    He is almost as good a reverse barometer as Bill Kristol.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      The Jim Cramer of foreign policy; as with the Inverse Cramer Tracker ETF, someone should set up an inverse strategic investment fund that trades in contra-indication to anything Max Boot says.

      1. Matthew G. Saroff

        Raises an interesting question, who is the archetypal reverse barometer? Dick Cheney, Tom Friedman, Gaius Terentius Varro, etc.

  3. The Rev Kev

    If you find yourself on the same side as Max Boot, then you know that you are one of the baddies. Boot said that he lost only a bit of sleep during a missile attack but that was then and this is now. The Ukrainians have apparently lost their last Patriot system to Russian missiles so you can expect more attacks on Kiev. Boot also talks about crowded bars and restaurants in Kiev but I have seen videos of Ukrainian soldiers in bunkers watching videos of that and you can imagine what they are feeling. But I take exception to the following section-

    ‘Frustrated by developments in Beirut, President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary on September 7, 1983, “I can’t get the idea out of my head that some” U.S. Navy fighters “coming in at about 200 ft… would be a tonic for the Marines & at the same time would deliver a message to those gun happy middle east terrorists.” Alas, by blowing up the Marines’ barracks, the terrorists delivered their message first.’

    Andrew Bacevich should know better as he is a historian. Two factions were fighting when the US Navy used their guns to support the faction that they favoured. And with that, those Marines became a target for payback. The French were hit because they did an airstrike so they got hit too-


    Before Raegan sent those Marines in, Senator John Glenn warned that you would have Marines returning in body bags and he was right. Reagan at least was smart enough to call it quits and pull those Marines out. I’m not sure Biden would have.

    1. JohnA

      People moving freely on the streets of Kiev, discos, bars packed etc. suggests to me, they are not afraid of getting press-ganged into military service in a meat grinder. Why would they? The press ganging is done in Russian speaking cities such as Odessa, Kharkiv, and in the Hungarian areas. Ethnic cleansing in other words.

      In the meantime, Zelensky shows no sign of returning to Kiev. The Russians will not have to assassinate him, Ukrainians will soon enough

      1. Colonel

        Thank you, John.

        I was in Normandy last week-end and noted the proliferation of high end Ukrainian registered SUVs.

        Today, Tory controlled Wiltshire county council announced plans to buy new builds to house Ukrainian refugees. The children have been given priority for local school places.

        1. JohnA

          I agree Colonel. And I have seen high-end cars with Ukr plates in Stockholm, France and Spain on my travels. Early last year, my local mairie was flying a Ukrainian flag the same size as the tricoleur. This was subsequently downgraded to a couple of small Ukr flags either side of the tricoleur. Even they disappeared by the end of the year. People here are far more clued up about the situation and even-handed than in England, where it is blasphemy to say a single word against plucky little Ukraine and the heroic superhuman Zelensky.

        2. Bugs

          You were in and around Deauville, I suppose? Not seen any UKR plates in these parts of the Norman countryside (inland from Dieppe) since this all started.

          1. JohnA

            No, the Ukrainian exiles seem to prefer warmer climes. I am by the Mediterranean. They also seem to stick to the Med in Spain. Obviously Stockholm is not Med like, but Sweden has really rolled out the red carpet for Urk refugees.

    2. hk

      I’ve always thought pulling out of Lebanon quietly and cleanly is, alongside the rapprochement with USSR, one of the greatest things he did. US, as a rule, has almost never managed to disengage from anywhere without making far more trouble (for ourselves as much as for everyone else) over far too long a time. Lebanon was one of notable exceptions and this looks even more astonishing given all that has happened in the last 40 years.

      1. pretzelattack

        uh, it only seemed quiet because he covered it with the noise of invading Grenada on a trumped up excuse so he didn’t lose warmonger cred. and it was an idiot posturing move in the first place.

        1. hk

          Let’s give credit where it’s due: I don’t think anyone after Reagan would have been able or willing to leave Lebanon after the barracks bombings, regardless of how, quietly or otherwise. US has too much delusion of our own indispensability that we refuse to leave where we are neither wanted or needed all too often and Lebanon was one of few notable exceptions.

    3. Lex

      Boot, as is his MO, misses the real point of life going on in Kiev even under threat of Russian missiles: that Russian missiles are aimed at and will hit military or duel-use infrastructure rather than civilian areas. Though Boot should have gotten out of his hotel more given that Poroshenko was filmed in the subway being used as a bomb shelter. The greatest danger to Kiev residents appears to be errant air defense missiles falling in the city or hitting apartment buildings.

      1. kam

        More like, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”
        Boot is the USSA Baghdad Bob. Perhaps the dual-citizen Vindman twins gave him the tour.
        The slow delivery of 40 year old F16’s is because the USSA cannot afford to have Russia shoot the F35 Garbage Can out of the sky.
        So-called Patriot Missiles are embarrassment enough.
        And I cannot help but to think Zelensky’s knowledge of his top general and his Intelligence Chief also being dispatched could lead to one of 2 alternatives. A Russian message sent directly to Zelensky or Ukrainians giving him the Mussolini treatment. After all, Z was elected by claiming Peace with Russia.

  4. Louis Fyne

    —Why don’t we care enough to keep them from harm in the first place?—

    Olson Mancur’s “Collective action problem” spun by Taleb as “tyranny of the minority”

    No one in DC gets rich off a hypothetical peace lobby. Politicians’ coffers get filled when they give their attention to expat-Ukraine, expat-Taiwan, expat-China, anti-Shia Israel.

    1. Jade Bones

      There ya go…If the Millions of us who would prefer Peace set up a lobby and chipped in $20, we could buy it.
      Naïve probably but as I think about it a bidding war may be the only way to end the more egregious form. Peace

  5. JonnyJames

    Boot and the other spoiled neocon chicken hawk cowards are one thing, but even adherents of the so-called Realist school of IR wanted to get rid of or control any Eurasian power. One must-read is The Grand Chessboard (Z. Brzezinski, 1997).

    Before the US took over as global hegemon, the British also had similar geostrategy (See Halford Mackinder). Recall the British Anglo-Afghan wars, and the Crimean War. The UK is not really a vassal of the US, it is a Jr. Partner in Crime. The US continues a long tradition of British foreign policy

    No matter the superficial differences between US presidential regimes, the long-term policies continue. Despite the distractions and rhetoric, the policies of the D/R dictatorship roll on.

    1. digi_owl

      I suspect that the basic issue is that enlightenment democracy breaks down once the surrounding bureaucracies grow large enough that they can eternally delay any policy they do not agree with. This because it becomes impractical to fully replace them each election cycle given their size.

      1. JonnyJames

        And when the oligarchy has both parties bought and paid for. Both the D and R factions represent the interests of oligarchy. Political bribery has been formalized and institutionalized, and money is legally defined as “free speech” (Citizens United 2014). Very few people want to remember this, it is too painful to acknowledge that everything we have been taught about US democracy is basically a lie.

        As Chris Hedges says “in the US, there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs”

        I think a majority of Americans believe in American exceptionalism: the US is a democracy with freedom of the press, speech etc. If we only get rid of a few “bad apples”, things will be great. Sadly, our problems are far more deep-seated and difficult than that. Every institution of power (SCOTUS, Congress, Exec. Branch) has proven to be institutionally corrupt as well as outright flouting the law.

  6. John Wright

    Bacevich still cannot overcome the beltway anti-Russia bias as he writes “So too, assuming he’s still sentient, can Vladimir Putin”.

    It is Biden who raises concerns about being “still sentient” in me, not Putin.

    Also, I find it far more informative to state war costs in a per capita basis,

    Bacevich writes “Since 9/11 alone, U.S. military interventions in distant lands have cost American taxpayers an estimated $8 trillion and still counting”

    This is about $24,000 for each of the 330 million USA citizens.

    Of course, some USA citizens are wealthier as a result of these allocated expenditures, implying the opportunity costs imposed on non benefiting USA citizens is even higher than the $24,000 allocated per capita..

    That the immune system of the USA body politic does not reject the Max Boots, Victoria Nulands, Lindsay Grahams, Jake Sullivans, Antony Blinkens, the Joe Bidens, the late John McCain, the late Colin Powell and many media war promoters is more evidence of the extreme rot in USA leadership/elite.

    The grim reaper seems to be the only silencer of the USA’s war mongers.

    1. JonnyJames

      Yes, and all great powers rise and fall. There is even a classic book: The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. (Paul Kennedy, 1st ed. 1987)

      The US Empire is in collapse mode, I hope we can avoid a major nuclear confrontation. With the crazy kakistrocrats in power, I’m not so sure. The Doomsday Clock is at 90 seconds to midnight.

      1. Piotr Berman

        Perhaps not a collapse but “a languid kind of suicide”. A bit like Roman retreat to the south of Danube and west of Rhine, abandoning two swaths of land, followed by ossification of the Empire and gradual increase in the numbers of increasingly restive neighbors.

        Being “global”, USA solidified control in Europe, Australia, Japan etc., while loosing last shreds of “moral authority” in places like India or Ghana where top politicians lecture Western politicians and journalists what they think about American priorities (1) sanction Russia (2) send weapons to Ukraine if you have any. Trying to convince hereditary absolute rulers that “the fate of democracy is at stake”. There it is not even funny. Similarly in India — Indians (at least, the government) are pleased with the democracy they have, they do not need to proselite. and why they should give up opportunities that result in balancing the currency, more plentiful fertilizers and cheaper fuel?

        You can watch YouTube channels of Indian news to see how absurd “Western narrative” looks there. I cannot say how news look in Swahili, Malay, or Brazilian Portuguese, but I am guessing, not better.

        Back at home, decay and bizarre fractional divisions are creeping. Romans had huge problem resolving the views on the nature of Christ, and we, how to choose pronouns (or if we should). In both cases, elite collected/collects increasing portion of goods and property, with deleterious effect on the health of people who actually can make those goods.

        1. John

          I’d say the US is well, “south of the Danube and west of the Rhine.” The neighbors are getting restless and disrespectful. The anti-Russian hysteria and hatred in the DC Bubble & Echo Chamber has never made sense to me. Bolshevism is gone. Russia looks after its interests. The US acts as if its goals, its interests, must, by right, prevail. It would be a blinkered, foolish, even call it stupid, childish, and destructive notion for an adolescent much less a nation. The call for the “adults” to come back into the room goes unanswered.

    2. hk

      Bacevich has had a peculiar contempt for Russians’ capabilities from long before it became fashionable. He describes his Eureka moment in the intro to one of his books: the Berlin Wall fell when he was a junior officer stationed in Germany and he took the opportunity to take a closer look at the Soviet Army whenever he could and saw that they were nothing like the fearsome monolith that they were thought to be. He describes, especially vividly, watching a jumbled training maneuver by a Soviet mechanized unit in which several BMPs were breaking down. The conclusion he drew was that external threats are exaggerated by Washington insiders to justify military interventionism. So looking down on Russians (and presumably, Ukrainians, too) is and has always been the central driving force in Bacevich’s thinking. Indeed, IF Bacevich thought Russians were so formidable, I’d imagine he’d be much more pro-intervention, even if not necessarily pro-Ukraine.

      1. Carolinian

        I feel like I know more about what’s going on than military expert Bacevich. It’s bubble attacks bubble. The only reason he seems to have a following is that he’s at least somewhat anti-intervention.

        As for Max Boot having a column in the WaPo–gah. Perhaps Bacevich is the lesser of two bubbles.

        1. hk

          Bacevich’s is, with some justification, the more typical American isolationist bubble, I think: there are very few things going on outside US that’s worth the cost of intervention. When elites say that there’s a huge threat somewhere for this or that reason, they are almost certainly lying. In this sense, it makes sense that he should be against US intervention in Ukraine because he believes that Russians have been bumbling and incompetent, like the Soviet motorized rifle troops whose exercise he witnessed back in 1989 (I don’t think he ever shed that view since), and as such, pose little threat to US and US interests. I think I agree with this take about 90% of the time, but the situation now wrt Ukraine is far more serious than he seems to think (I think we all agree on this.)

      2. hemeantwell

        Yes, Bacevich’s take on Russian military capabilities is very much like Andrew Cockburn’s take on Soviet military capabilities in his book The Threat, published in 1983. While I’m skeptical of the enthusiasm for current Russian weaponry by people like Martyanov, my sense is that, at worst, he’s over-egging a pudding that’s vastly improved since then. In both Syria and Ukraine I’ve heard of no serious problems.

    3. Susan the other

      Those comments bothered me too. That, and what seemed like vacuous commentary. His heart wasn’t really in it. His points were good, but so very finessed that it left me thinking, Well what are the stakes? The cost of the war, any of the wars, is irrelevant. Why is that? It can’t be simply that wars are the engine of our economy because those vested parties could change out the engine. So it is deeper. I don’t like the thought that it could be as frivolous as it is deep, but the whole modern zeitgeist of capitalism is sort of deep and pointless.

      1. Watt4Bob

        The cost of the war, any of the wars, is irrelevant. Why is that?

        That’s because of who is in charge.

        But you knew that.

        MMT explains this, as in, our country can afford to spend any amount on anything that is wanted.

        But those in charge want war and the associated profits, so that what is paid for.

        We the people are not in charge, in fact, it’s plain to see that what we want is not even considered.

        1. JonnyJames

          Yeah, but politically, Congress & POTUS need the excuse to steal SS, Medicare, and cut budgets (but always increase DoD budget etc.). (austerity/kleptocracy).

          “Sorry we’re broke, we spent at least 14 trillion subsidizing banksters, oligarchy, wars, surveillance, supplying neo-Nazi regimes with weapons, nuclear weapons “modernization”etc. we need to steal more from you to prevent full social and economic collapse, there is no alternative”

        2. jefemt

          Don’t leave out shock and awe… collective mind-f*ck… local, national, international.
          Empire and war ‘bring it’. Add some covid, some anthropogenic climate change, disruptions to the supply chain of ‘essentials’… power structure hardens for the march to the brink.

          And each of the shocks is a rationalization for more authoritarian action, regardless of the supposed stripes of the governing economic and political system.

    4. Rolf

      Bacevich still cannot overcome the beltway anti-Russia bias as he writes “So too, assuming he’s still sentient, can Vladimir Putin”.

      It is Biden who raises concerns about being “still sentient” in me, not Putin.

      Ha! John you beat me to it, I was in the midst of posting a near identical comment re Bacevich’s slander of Putin, together with the same calculus regarding wealth transfer forgone.

      1. JonnyJames

        Me too. As well as an embarrassment, propping up Biden as the puppet emperor is tantamount to elder abuse. It’s bizarre how the media cover for his verbal “gaffes” and irrational, sometimes incoherent statements. The physical mishaps seem to be getting worse: falling down, tripping, bumping into things, not knowing where he is etc.. I feel sorry for him (while adamantly opposing the neoliberal, imperialist, warmongering policies he enforces)

    5. Revenant

      Hah – $200bn on Ukraine equals Lambert’s missing $600 by those numbers per capita!

      1. Gregorio

        The fact that Kissinger is still with us at 100, is proof positive that there’s no such thing as karma, unless one clings to the idea that he’ll somehow be reincarnated as a cockroach.

        1. Will Deng

          On the other hand, he does get to see the fruits of his life’s work fall apart in front of his eyes. Perhaps that’s some sort of karmic retribution after all.

  7. Eclair

    “Why don’t we care enough to keep them (our military personnel) from harm in the first place.”

    I have Swiftian days, when I view humans as mere two-legged animals, who reached the top of the evolutionary compost heap in spite of lacking speed, sharp claws and teeth, super-sensitive hearing and vision. And we can’t fly! All by developing a brain! (Yes we can fly in a carbon-emitting machine!)

    And our animal biology dictates that the survival of our species depends on the number of fertile females. Nature gives us a roughly 50-50 male/female split in offspring. But, like may other vertebrates, we need relatively few males. Who go from flower to flower, so to speak.

    What to do with all those surplus young males, filled to the brim with testosterone. Divert those hormones to fighting …. the ‘other’ rather than those of their own tribe. Or nation. (We fill prisons with them as well.) Well, we can also advocate monogamy and the nuclear family and match up each female to a male.

    But, times arise when resources become scarcer, and then even the ‘nuclear’ family ideal is not enough to corral the aggressive tendencies of the restive young males. The solution: convince them, and their protective mothers, that ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

    The Battle of the Somme, Antietam, the Normandy Invasion, Stalingrad …. thousands of young men (mostly men) slaughtered. The unspeakable decision that humanity does not ‘need’ all those surplus males (and they happen to be, for the most part, poor) for procreation.

    Just a few depressing thoughts brought on by yet another Memorial Day, with its parades and fireworks and patriotic speeches. And barbecues.

    1. synoia

      Let us include the endless deaths in WW 1 and WW2. At my UK School every person I knew had relatives killed in WW1 and WW2.

  8. JonnyJames

    “…successive administrations embarked on a series of interventions that rarely produced any long-term successes, while exacting staggering cumulative costs…”

    Yeah, costs for whom? Who makes a “killing”?, who does the killing, and who does the dying? As usual, follow the trillions…

    War is a Racket

    1. ian

      That was my thought too. There are plenty of reasons for military interventions that have nothing to do with ideology. It’s a huge money maker.

  9. Retired Carpenter

    Two points I found interesting:
    1-The following must be a typo: “So too, assuming he’s still sentient, can Vladimir Putin.” He probably meant “So too, assuming he’s still sentient, can Joe Biden.”
    2-re: “From my vantage point in a hotel room in the center of Kyiv,” he writes, “the whole attack was no big deal — just a matter of losing a little sleep and hearing some loud thumps,” as air defenses provided by Washington did their work.” Nice verification, by a quintessential neocon, that RuAF are not attacking civilian targets during their SMO.
    Bacevich should know better than this…
    Retired Carpenter

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      What you refer to in #1 jumped out at me, too, and you’d think he intended to be referring to Uncle Joe, but I recently listened to an interview he did with Chris Hedges one year ago on the Real News and he was saying similar-sounding things.

      I respect Bacevich and the loss he personally suffered, but his opinions about Russia seem overly influenced by his late Cold War 1.0 experiences in the military

      1. Louis Fyne

        Yes, can you imagine coming to the realization that your son (and many other sons/daughters) died for nothing? (or at best the interests of very discrete few)

        Painting Putin’s Russia as “USSR: the soft reboot” and as an existential threat to the American way of life brings dignity and glory to Bacevichs’ sacrifices and is a powerful mental health defense mechanism. in my opinion.

        1. JonnyJames

          I agree, but I’m no psychologist. Does cognitive dissonance come into play here?

  10. Henry Moon Pie

    Chris Hedges interviewed Bacevich about his new book last week. Bacevich has come a long ways as he describes in the interview. Once a gung-ho colonel in Vietnam, he now believes radical change is necessary in the United States.

    1. Robert Gray

      Bacevich was not a colonel in Vietnam. He retired as a colonel, in 1992. The army does not keep people in the same rank for 20 years (‘up or out’).

      I used to have some respect for Bacevich but with moronic comments such as this his stock is crashing:

      > … Washington … defends innocent Ukraine against brutal Russian aggression.

  11. Blue Cross, Bleu Cheese

    From the human genome’s perspective, dying so that 1.5 brothers, or eight cousins, may live is rock solid math. Human ethology informs us that there are fixed action patterns to aggression in the form of “dark” cooperation among rival social groups living in uneasy peace. The first act of aggression in violation of general fairness will be overlooked by the victim to compensate for threat false positives and genuine misunderstandings. Should a subsequent act of aggression occur, the relationship devolves into warfare: even exchanges of belligerence until one side can no longer match exchanges, which is called “peace”. Or “genocide”, which does not occur outside of wartime, and is a subset of a larger set of crimes against humanity.

    When genocide is perpetrated, like the Kremlin has regarding kidnapping Ukrainian children, according to a plain reading of international statute, the only remedy is a truth and reconciliation process where the victims confront the perpetrators with their stories. Punishment is usually off the table but the process can restore common humanity anyway as proven in Rwanda. Anything else, which includes soul-searching, political sea-changes, economic investment, prolongs the conflict.

    So why is the US involved? Short answer: kinship with those under threat. Certainly genetic, but as WWII proves (maybe in the first time in history) Americans will kill enemies that are genetically closer than the soldiers beside them, German against German, Italian against Italian, because “kinship” as defined by Americans is a peculiar sense of democratic fairness (arguably mythical) that other societies, Russia in this case, do not value as highly. The US and France were the last militant enlightenment nations. Thus, Putin understands this perfectly, as he goes out of his way to advocate pre- and post-enlightenment values for support.

    1. JohnA

      I have no idea what you are talking about. Kidnapping children? The Ukrainian military has been shelling Donbass since 2014 and created a huge number of orphans. The Russian evacuation of children was from a war zone including many of these orphans.

      US kinship with those under threat! Where was the kinship with the people of East Ukraine under threat daily since 2014?

      No idea what you mean by Russia does not value kinship ‘so’ highly. The entire war is about Russian valuing the kinship of Russian speakers very highly, so high to accept the death of a high number of servicemen in bringing to an end the genocide of Russian speakers in Ukraine.
      Other than that, I find your post incomprehensible.

      1. digi_owl

        Heck, if Russia wanted to they could likely have steamrolled Ukraine a year ago if they went American style shock and awe like MSM expected them to.

        But instead they largely rolled in to secure the Donbass region, that had been resisting Kiev since 2014, and did a show of force near Kiev that nearly Spooked Zelensky into a surrender if not for a direct intervention by Boris Johnson.

        All this because i suspect Russia consider Ukraine a wayward cousin. And not some kind of chew toy, like USA seem to regard most of the world.

    2. Polar Socialist

      Human genome doesn’t have a perspective. It’s 46 mindless molecules mostly made of sugars and repeated in about 38 trillion cells per individual, “operating” solely by chance and necessity.

      Also regarding the “kidnapping” children, the victims already confronted the perpetrators and asked them to take their children away from the war zone for some rest and recreation. Most of the kids would probably like to do it again, but then Ukrainian state would likely jail their parents for “collaboration”.

    3. hunkerdown

      No, this is just neoliberal mythology. Imaginary subjectivities are errors, not realities.

  12. juno mas

    Andrew will likely have a deathbed conversion to the truth when the Devil arrives. Say it with me, Andy: “Mea Culpa!”.

  13. Synoia

    The question is:

    Why does the us engage in wars it cannot win?

    Many in Africa

    It appears that the US US engages, or facilitates wars which are designed to obscure the facts at home.

    The jingoism of these wars excludes action on its domestic issues. For example s homelessness.

    Richest Country in the world, and it will not house all its people.

    1. digi_owl

      Because since Vietnam the way to fill Pentagon ranks have been get people to choose between olive drab and gang colors.

  14. tevhatch

    I just substitute Ukraine for Afghanistan in Julian Assange’s reasoning.

    “The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war”

    The rest is mostly misdirection.

  15. Stephen

    According to Wikipedia Andrew Bacevich sadly lost his son fighting in Iraq. That may understandably influence his comments about keeping people safe.

    His own father was seemingly of Lithuanian ancestry. That might influence views of Russian capability, I guess.

    This is a revealing article though. Under the facade of unity, thinking members of the mainstream are clearly questioning. Although they still feel the need to demonstrate fealty by questioning Putin’s health and so forth.

    1. tevhatch

      I’d just comment on “According to Wikipedia Andrew Bacevich sadly lost his son fighting in Iraq. That may understandably influence his comments about keeping (American) people safe.

      He has some ideas about that qualifier, American, that he doesn’t share publicly but you can sift them out with enough exposure time. Very Clinton/Obama-ish about the worthy and unworthy.

  16. Skip Intro

    Many of the quandaries raised by this piece become less perplexing if we view the foreign policy apparatus as a fully captured operation to pump funds to arms manufacturers. This line, for example:

    Since 9/11 alone, U.S. military interventions in distant lands have cost American taxpayers an estimated $8 trillion and still counting.

    Seems to be citing the vast wealth transfer as a bug rather than a feature. This makes the urgent need to send the world’s cheap old F-16s into range of Russian air defense a logical business plan.

  17. Ultrapope

    Something akin to normalcy prevails and the mood is remarkably upbeat. […] Kyiv is a “bustling, vibrant metropolis with traffic jams and crowded bars and restaurants.”

    I recently finished Bulgakov’s The White Guard. At the start of the novel, residents of the City, assumed to be Kyiv, appear to be relatively oblivious to the carnage in the Ukrainian countryside. When they hear rumors that the City’s allies, the Germans, are mowing down peasants, the middle class takes the news with approval. But as the novel progresses, the Germans abandon the City and it eventually falls. Bulgakov’s portrayal of that event is pretty incredible, highly suggested reading.

    Reminds me of the words of another writer from about that time: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes

    1. OnceWere

      Right, no efforts at cooperation, negotiated agreement, appeal to common interests and humanity, or risk of collateral damage can turn the US neocon once he/she’s decided that you’re a threat to even vaguely defined US interests, let alone their imperial ambitions.

    2. John Wright

      The headline “appeasement” situation usually referred to is the “appeasement” of Hitler by Chamberlain.

      From https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/how-britain-hoped-to-avoid-war-with-germany-in-the-1930s

      “Appeasement was popular for several reasons. Chamberlain – and the British people – were desperate to avoid the slaughter of another world war. Britain was overstretched policing its empire and could not afford major rearmament. Its main ally, France, was seriously weakened and, unlike in the First World War, Commonwealth support was not a certainty. Many Britons also sympathised with Germany, which they felt had been treated unfairly following its defeat in 1918.”

      If Britain HAD attempted to counter Germany at the time of the “appeasement” event, it might have suffered a early disastrous defeat by Germany as Britain was not at all prepared for a conflict.

      Sometimes a country only has a weak hand to play, leaving apparent “appeasement” as the viable option at the time.

    3. Ridgewood Dickens

      Imperial ambitions don’t amount to much if the guns and men and industrial base don’t exist/are not up to the task.

      Appeasement may result in reduced or no loss of life. Let alone the broader effects of PTSD etc.

  18. john

    Anyone over 50, with half a brain, remembers all the bluster of General Westmoreland and Pres. Johnson and Dean Rusk and their ilk in 67 and 68, with billions of dollars of weapons and money and even troops being pumped into S. Vietnam, and of course we were told, without any criticism (except perhaps IF Stone), that “we (the US and S. Vietnam were winning”; the bravado completely ignoring the fact that 25% of the country was occupied and the capital was shelled every day. And so, the same with Ukraine, a corrupt country that cannot possibly defeat the largest nation on Earth, in its border war, with Russia.

  19. pretzelattack

    he seems to assume that a change of leadership in Russia would benefit the US and NATO. that is not necessarily the case. there are a number of Russians that think the SMO is too restrained and limited.

  20. Johnny Conspiranoid

    The author puzzles over why the US does what it does but if you remember that the last great oil deposits are in eastern Russia, along with a lot of other resources that US corporations would like to control, it all becomes clearer.

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