‘Why are we in Ukraine?’

The conservative writer Christopher Caldwell wrote an article in the latest Claremont Review of Books saying that even if the USA and its Ukrainian proxy win their ground war against Russia, the USA may well lose on the economic war front and the culture war front.

On March 24, a month after Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders, the Biden White House summoned America’s partners (as its allies are now called) to a civilizational crusade.  The administration proclaimed its commitment to those affected by Russia’s recent invasion—“especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons, and persons with disabilities.”

At noon that same day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted about the “massive, unprecedented consequences” American sanctions were wreaking on Russia, and claimed Russia’s economic “collapse” was imminent.

Never has an official non-belligerent been more implicated in a war.  Russia and its sympathizers assert that the U.S. attempt to turn Ukraine into an armed anti-Russian camp is what the war is about in the first place.  Even those who dismiss this view will agree that the United States has made itself a central player in the conflict.  

It is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to defeat Russia through every means short of entering the war—which, of course, raises the risk that the United States will enter the war.  

One prong is the state-of-the-art weaponry it is supplying to Ukraine. Since June, thousands of computer-guided artillery rockets have been wreaking havoc behind Russian lines.  

A second prong is sanctions.  With western European help, Washington has used its control of the choke points of the global marketplace to impoverish Russians, in hopes of punishing Russia.

Finally, the U.S. seeks to rally the world’s peoples to a culture war against an enemy whose traditionalism, even if it does not constitute the whole of his evil, is at least a symbol of it.

It would be foolish to bet against the United States, a mighty global hegemon with a military budget 12 times Russia’s. Yet something is going badly off track.  Russia’s military tenacity was to be expected—bloodying and defeating more technologically advanced armies has been a hallmark of Russian civilization for 600 years.  

But the economic sanctions, far from bringing about the collapse Blinken gloated over, have driven up the price of the energy Russia sells, strengthened the ruble, and threatened America’s western European allies with frostbite, shortages, and recession.  

The culture war has found few proponents outside of the West’s richest latte neighborhoods. Indeed, cultural self-defense may be part of the reason India, China, and other rising countries have conspicuously declined to cut economic ties with the Russians.

There have been signs for years that a new Iron Curtain was about to drop on the European continent.  In 2008, the U.S. announced plans to bring certain non-Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union—notably Ukraine and Georgia—into NATO and the American sphere of influence.  

Should Ukraine prevail in this proxy war the U.S. will have succeeded, in a way.  But it will have done so at an almost unspeakable price.  

It will have undermined the international economic architecture on which rests its control of global markets (and its ability to safely run government deficits).  It will have carried out a shotgun wedding of Russia and China, forcing the most natural-resource-rich country on the planet into the arms of the West’s most dangerous adversary.  

Should Ukraine fail, the Ukraine policy of the Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations will be counted among the significant foreign policy blunders in American history.

Caldwell reviewed the history of U.S. efforts to make Ukraine an anti-Russia bastion and the status of the undeclared military proxy, economic and cultural war against Russia.  It’s all well worth reading.  He concluded:

The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one.

Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources.

We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.

Administration officials often describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a war of choice. Although this may have been true at the outset, it is not now.

Vladimir Putin and the Russia he rules cannot stop fighting.  As long as the United States is involved in arming Russia’s enemies and bankrupting its citizens, they are quite right to believe themselves in a war for their country’s survival.

The United States, thus far in a less bloody way, is also involved in a war it chose but cannot exit—in this case, for fear of undermining the international system from which it has drawn its power and prosperity for the past three quarters of a century.

Now may seem like the wrong moment to make peace. But seldom in wars such as this one do the prospects for peace grow more favorable with time.

I have nothing to add, except that Caldwell seems over-optimistic about U.S, military technology and the ground war.  But that may be because he wrote his article a month or two ahead of publication and couldn’t have known the present situation.


Why Are We in Ukraine? by Christopher Caldwell for Claremont Review of Books.

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2 Responses to “‘Why are we in Ukraine?’”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Globalization is dead. Has been for a few years now. Hegemony will soon replace it.

    Russia has already lost. They just aren’t willing to admit it so they keep throwing away thousands of lives and tens (hundreds?) of billions of rubles down a rat hole.

    That doesn’t mean that Ukraine hasn’t lost as well but Ukraine still has a lot more it could lose so they aren’t going to stop fighting either. It is not impossible they could eventually at lease take back Kherson.

    There will be no peace talks until neither side sees a way to gain – or regain – any more land.

    The US has nothing to lose here, any more than the Soviets did in Vietnam. Europe might get chilly over the winter but if they can stay the course, by next year Russia’s energy won’t matter anymore. Even pacifist Germans can improvise, adapt, and overcome.

    Russia is facing the same demographic collapse that most of the industrial world is facing. It wants to increase its sphere of control as much as possible before that happens. (China is doing exactly the same thing.) Putin rolled the dice, lost, and has fallen prey to the “Sunk Cost Fallacy.”

    That’s ok. We did the same thing in Vietnam. Because of it, the 70s were a period of malaise and self doubt but we bounced back from it.


  2. Eric Says:

    Reblogged this on Calculus of Decay .


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