Archive for the ‘War and Peace’ Category

The sleeping dragon awakens

August 5, 2022

The Chinese government, in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, has scheduled military drills that effectively blockade the island.  The drills are in effect a blockade of the island a demonstration of China’s potential power to impose a blockade; some shipping is being allowed through.  No ship’s captain wants to enter an area where naval forces are firing live ammunition. 

China also cut off sales to Taiwan of construction-grade sand, essential for concrete, and stopped imports of fish and fruit products from Taiwan.

And it announced that the timetable for unification of Taiwan with the mainland will be speeded up.

The Chinese actions are a signal to the authorities on Taiwan that they are at the mercy of the Chinese government, and that China doesn’t have to invade with troops to exert its power.

What is the United States going to do about it?  President Biden said a U.S. naval task force, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, will remain in the area longer than planned, but what of it?  Does anybody think he would be reckless enough to order the  U.S. Navy to enter the area where the Chinese are conducting military exercises?

The status quo was acceptable to everyone.  The Chinese government claimed sovereignty over the island, and nobody directly denied it.  At the same time the Chinese on the island enjoyed self-government, without Beijing’s interference.  All that was required for this situation to continue was silence on the part of all concerned.

Now this has changed.  The government in Beijing might have tolerated home rule in Taiwan indefinitely.  It will never accept even the remote possibility of Taiwan becoming a base from which the United States or other foreign power could launch attacks on China, as the Japanese did during World War Two.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Chinese reaction was due to Pelosi’s statements alone.  It followed a number of statements and actions by U.S. officials and politicians that ramped up tensions.  Pelosi’s visit was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

There was a time when the United States had such overwhelming military superiority that American leaders could say and do whatever they liked without concern about what leaders of other nations thought or would do.  That time is gone.

Bear in mind that while the U.S. military sought full spectrum dominance everywhere in everything, the Chinese military has been working on the one very specific problem of how to counter U.S. power in the China seas.  (And the Russian military has spent at least 15 years working on the one very specific problem of how to counter U.S. power in Eastern Europe).

President Theodore Roosevelt liked to quote the alleged African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  The most dangerous thing that an individual person or a national leader can do is to make idle threats.  That’s what our leaders have fallen into the habit of doing.

LINKS

Endgame Taiwan: US Plans Further China Eyepoking with Planned Military Transit of the Taiwan Strait by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  A good assessment of the overall situation, with important background information.

‘Taiwan lockdown’ drills stun secessionists, external forces as precision strike, area denial capabilities proved by the staff of Global Times.  A Chinese report on Chinese power.

Biden will keep aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, but postpones missile test by Christina Wilkie for MSNBC.

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Nancy Pelosi promises U.S. support for Taiwan

August 2, 2022

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, an article was published under her byline in The Washington Post.  She wrote that the U.S. must “stand by” Taiwan, “America stands with Taiwan,” “We cannot stand by as the CCP proceeds to threaten Taiwan,” “we never give in to autocrats” and “the freedoms of Taiwan … must be respected.”

What does this mean?  Is she saying the United States would go to war with China to protect Taiwan’s independence?  If so, by what authority does she make that promise?

Or is she saying that the United States would stand by Taiwan in the same way it is standing by Ukraine?  Is she saying the U.S. is willing to fight to the last Taiwanese?   If I were a Chinese person living on Taiwan, I would find her language disturbingly vague.

I have sympathy and admiration for the Chinese on Taiwan.  They are one of the world’s most successful societies.  They are an asset and example to the world, in terms of democracy, individual freedom and material progress.

So far the Chinese government in Beijing have been willing to tolerate their self-rule so long as they are peaceful and don’t demand recognition as an independent country.

But I don’t think President Xi would tolerate a Taiwan that was the spearhead of a NATO-type anti-Chinese alliance, any more than Vladimir Putin was willing to tolerate a Ukraine in that rule.

Is the United States willing to go to war for Taiwan?  No.  Could the USA win a proxy war with China, fighting to the last Taiwanese?  No.  Could the USA actually win a war with China, using its own forces?  Doubtful.

China is a threat to U.S. economic and military supremacy, but the reason it is a threat is that it is overtaking the USA economically, technologically and, yes, militarily.  If we Americans want to have a strong and prosperous nation, we need to regroup and rebuild our strength at home, not provoke crises.

[Added 08/03/2022]  Some think President Xi has lost face because of his relatively weak response.  But that is assuming that his response has to be immediate.  President Putin waited eight years before responding to the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine in 2014.  

It is true that, in Rep. Pelosi’s case, her visit is a symbolic action that does not, in and of itself, change anything.  But I do think that Xi, like Putin, has lost hope of improving relations with the United States.

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The case for letting sleeping dogs lie

August 2, 2022

Al Jazeera posted a good video explaining the background of the U.S.-China conflict over Taiwan. It’s a good argument for letting sleeping dogs lie.

The Chinese government says Taiwan is part of China. The U.S. government hasn’t said whether it is or isn’t, but says it is opposed to China using force to establish control of Taiwan.

The people in Taiwan have created one of the world’s better societies. They are free and democratic. They have progressively improved their material standard of living. They are leaders in high-tech industry, and supply advanced computer chips to both China and the USA.

Taiwan would be a great potential asset to China, but it would not be an asset that if there was a ruinous war that left China ruling a rebellious, conquered population. But China might invade if it thought that Taiwan was going to be incorporated into a U.S.-led anti-Chinese alliance.

If the U.S. government tries to do that, or gives the Chinese government the impression it is doing that, there is a real danger of war.

I think there are factions in the U.S. government that would welcome a war. But I do not think that it is given that the U.S. would win such a war. The U.S. military, including the Navy, is in decline. It can’t even keep ships from colliding with each other. The Chinese, on the other hand, have spent more than a decade figuring out how to defend the U.S. in their territorial waters.

The Taiwanese have not challenged the status quo.  If we Americans care about the well-being of the people of Taiwan, it should respect their wishes.  Let’s not create a crisis where none exists.  Let sleeping dogs lie.

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Let’s hope Nancy Pelosi doesn’t touch off a war

August 1, 2022

Nancy Pelosi is headed for Taiwan, and may arrive there tomorrow, despite Chinese objections and undefined threats of retaliation if she does.

Many in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, say she should ignore the warnings.  The Chinese don’t get to determine where the U.S. Speaker of the House can travel, they say.

But the Chinese government says that Taiwan is part of China, and the U.S. government has never explicitly denied this. This is a red line for China.  For them, saying the Chinese government has no say over who visits Taiwan is like saying the U.S. government has no say over who visits Puerto Rico or Hawaii.

President Xi Jinping told President Biden on Thursday that, for China, this is a red line that must not be crossed. The Global Times, a semi-official Chinese newspaper, wrote this:

“Don’t say we didn’t warn you!” – a phrase that was used by the People’s Daily in 1962 before China was forced to fight the border war with India and ahead of the 1979 China-Vietnam War, was frequently mentioned during a forum held Friday by a high-level Chinese think tank, as analysts warned that open military options and comprehensive countermeasures ranging from the economy to diplomacy from China await if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gambles with a visit to the Taiwan island during her Asia tour.

On Thursday night, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a phone conversation with US President Joe Biden, during which he once again warned the US about the seriousness and significance of the Taiwan question and said, “Public opinion cannot be defied. Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”

In the recent week, in response to Pelosi’s potential visit to the island of Taiwan, a string of warnings have also been made by different ministries and departments of China. On Friday, the Institute of Taiwan Studies in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences – the highest-level think tank – held a forum with analysts and discussed the damage of Pelosi’s possible Taiwan island visit to the China-US relations, cross-Straits stability and regional and global peace, and China’s countermeasures.

Sending fighter jets to intercept Pelosi’s plane, declaring air and maritime zones around the island of Taiwan as restriction zones for military exercises … China’s responses will be systematical and not limited to small scale given the severity of Pelosi’s move and the damage to the political trust of China-US relations, Yang Mingjie, head of the Institute of Taiwan Studies in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. [snip]

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Book note: Tolstoy’s War and Peace

June 29, 2022

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy (1865-1869) translated by Almayer and Louise Maude (1923) edited and with an introduction by Henry Gifford (1983)

War and Peace is the best novel I have ever read.  Each time I read it, it seems new to me, and I notice things it it that I missed before.

It is the story of two very different friends, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and Pierre Bezukhov, and the woman they both love, Natasha Rostov.  It is also a war novel, a historical novel and a comedy of manners, full of subplots, great descriptive writing and interesting, believable characters.

Andrei is the ideal Russian nobleman and military officer.  He is dashing, handsome, and rich, and occupies a high social rank.  He is a respected commander and staff officer, well able to cope with enemies on the battlefield and intrigues at headquarters.  Everything he does, he does competently.  His manners are impeccable, although some find him arrogant. 

His friend  Pierre is the opposite.  He is fat and clumsy, naive and foolish.  He is the bastard son of a nobleman, a marginal person in society until he unexpectedly inherits great wealth from his father, and then is taken advantage of by all.

What binds these two unlikely friends together?  Both question whether life has meaning.  Both want something deeper than the conventional values of society.  Andrei’s answer is to play the social game by its meaningless rules as best he can; Pierre’s is to search for meaning, in his blundering way, in freemasonry and other schools of thought.

The two friends differ in their opinions, and have interesting arguments.  Pierre is a would-be humanitarian reformer.  Andrei is a cynical conservative.

Both lack emotional intelligence.  Pierre is easily exploited, especially by his new, gold-digging wife, Helene.  Andrei is unable to form close relationships.  He enlists in the military partly to avoid his wife, who loves him deeply but whom Andrei cannot love in return.

Neither had a loving father and mother to set an example.  Pierre’s father apparently disowned him, until the very end; Andrei’s father was a harsh and distant widower, who didn’t like women.

Andrei does have a spiritual awakening of sorts when he is wounded in the Battle of Austerlitz and near death.  He comes to realize the futility of the quest for military glory, but otherwise is not permanently changed.

He spends years in isolation after the death of his wife in childbirth.  His capacity for affection is awakened by an encounter with the sweet, charming 16-year-old Natasha Rostov.

The Rostovs are everything that the Bolkonskys are not.  Natasha’s father is an irresponsible spendthrift; her mother is a foolish society lady.  But they are a loving couple, and their children, including brothers Nicholas and Petya, are affectionate and joyful, and have good values.

Andrei and Natasha are each fulfillments of the other’s ideal fantasy.  Andrei is a handsome, dashing prince; Natasha is a lovely, pure young maiden.  When they dance at a ball, they are smitten with each other, and soon decide to marry.

But the elder Bolkonsky intervenes.  He tells Andrei that he will give his consent to the marriage only if he and Natasha separate for a year and still want to marry at the end.

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Underestimating Russia, etc.

June 16, 2022

[check the comment thread for a correction]

The Russian Federation has not lost a war or failed in a military intervention since it came into existence in 1991.

The United States has not won a war or succeeded in a military intervention since the U.S. attack on Panama in 1989, and this includes campaigns to destroy nations by means of economic sanctions.

As corrupt as Russia is, on many levels, I don’t think its government spends money on weapons that don’t work, promotes generals who lose wars or doubles down on foreign policies that have failed.

At the top levels of the U.S. government and journalism, failure has no consequences.  Yes-men are rewarded, even when they’re proved wrong.  Dissidents are pushed aside, even when they’re proved right.

It is pretty plain that Biden, Blinken and the rest had no idea what they were getting into when they decided on a showdown with Russia.

The economic blowback from the sanctions war is hurting the U.S. and its allies more than it is hurting Russia.   Public opinion polls indicate that average American voters are more concerned about the cost of living than Ukraine.  What nobody has told them is that the sanctions war against Russia is driving up the cost of living.

U.S. spokesmen are talking more and more about the possibility of defeat and the need for negotiations, although I suspect that Vladimir Putin has decided that the USA is, as he puts it, “not agreement-capable.”

I am not a military expert, I’m neither bold enough nor foolish enough to predict the outcome of the Ukraine war, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be of net benefit to the United States or its allies.

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The Ukraine war and the cost of living

June 1, 2022

Click to enlarge.

Whatever else it is, the war in Ukraine is a war to control food and energy supplies.  The turning point was the 2014 coup, which took Ukraine out of the Russian economic orbit and into the U.S.-dominated  “rules-based economic order.”  

Umair Haque gives the big picture.

Food prices rising — commodities prices in general — were a directeffect of climate change.  So what about Putin’s war?  Well, just think about what it’s really about. Controlling resources.  Putin knows that if he controls the resources — oil, gas, metal, wheat, and so forth — he can control a dying planet.  He who controls the resources controls a dying planet, because we all need them that much more.  You can see this very, very clearly in the way that Putin’s skewered Europe right on the horns on an insoluble dilemma: allow war in Ukraine, or depend on Russian resources?

Putin’s war in Ukraine is driven by ideological reasons, true — the weird blend of religion and fanaticism I’ve called New Age Fascism.  But more than that, it’s the first of the great resource wars on a dying planet. Ukraine is a strategically vital nation, at least on a dying planet — it’s Europe’s breadbasket, provides the world all kinds of basic resources from wheat to metals.  Ukraine is one of the very first nations you’d want to conquer if you wanted to control what few resources were going to be left on a dying planet, and this is the deeper logic of Putin’s game.

Resource wars are not going to end. In fact, they are only now just getting started — just after commodities prices have been soaring for the last few years thanks to failed harvests.  See how predictable that is?  It’s not that the two are even consciously linked — some dictator sees commodities prices rising and thinks “it’s time for war!” — it’s just that this is what inevitably happens.  Putin’s wars are obviously not going to end.  China, soon enough, will have to secure its own empire of resources, as the planet goes on dying. The West appears to have no strategy for any of this, because it’s only answer is globalization,” which has failed the way that my first marriage did — she threw plates at me, dear reader, because I was a bastard.

We are therefore now entering an age of (a) resource wars (b) shortages and (c) inflation.  Serious, sustained, vicious inflation.  These three things have already the defined the 2020s.  What did Covid do? Cause shortages around the globe — in a foreshadowing of the future on a dying planet.  Covid highlighted just how illusionary all this abundance of stuff really is — ships stop for a few days, borders shut down for a day or two, and bang — you can’t get stuff to eat or drink the way you’re used to.  But what happens on a planet of mega fires and mega floods and mega weather?  Mega risk does.  Shortages becomes endemic, a way of life.  As they slowly are now.

The flipside of shortages is, of course, inflation.  And inflation is the savage, gruesome reality of living on a dying planet.  There isn’t enough left to go around.  There never was.  20% of humanity — otherwise known as “The West” — consumes 90% of the planet’s resources.  That leaves just 10% of them for 80% of humanity.  The rest of the world has always lived without.  It’s just we in the West who are starting to discover what the real economics of existence are.

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The flags they fought for

May 30, 2022

Hat tip to Mary Fahl: Going Home on Abagond.

Memorial Day originally was a holiday in honor of soldiers who gave their lives fighting for the Union in the U.S. Civil War.  Some of the former Confederate states had their own separate Confederate Memorial Days.  Now Memorial Day honors all who gave their lives while serving in uniform.

The video consists of the opening credits of the Civil War movie “Gods and Generals.”  It shows the flags beneath which men (some of them only boys) on both sides fought and died.

Is peace in Ukraine even possible?

May 18, 2022

Peace does not require two individuals or two nations to like or trust each other. Peace requires that two sides decide the price of war is greater than the price of peace.

Defense analysts in Washington, D.C., are talking with relish about the possibility of Russia being drawn into a self-destructive quagmire war in Ukraine, like the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

I’m sure Vladimir Putin and Volodomor Zelensky are aware of these discussions. I don’t imagine that Putin wants Russia to be bled dry, or that Zelensky wants his country to be offered up as a sacrifice to U.S. geopolitical strategy.

Now maybe one side or the other thinks it can win a quick and decisive victory.  But, as things stand now, the USA is willing to provide Ukraine with modern weapons as long as it continues fighting, and China is committed to preventing Russia from going under.  So a quick end seems unlikely.

The alternative is some sort of compromise peace, in which neither side suffers complete defeat but each side gives up some of what it wants. In the previous post, I speculated on the possible elements of such a peace.

The odds are against such an agreement anytime soon. Both sides are in too deep, and have shed too much blood. But that is no reason to stop talking about it.

Remember that Zelensky, a political unknown, won a landslide victory in 2019 as a peace candidate.  He was the George McGovern of Ukraine.  Right now he is not a free agent.  He is trapped between his U.S. paymasters and the fanatical Banderite faction.  But even so, he has said he is open to negotiation.

Remember that Vladimir Putin spent 20 years trying to get the Western powers to accept Russia as an equal partner before he turned to war.

The Russian leaders believe they are fighting an existential threat of which Ukraine is only a part. It also includes missile launchers in Poland and Rumania, which could be used to launch hypersonic missiles against Russia.

A comprehensive agreement would have to include not only the dismantling of those missile sites, but the restoration of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to remove Russia’s existential threat to Poland, Rumania and other non-nuclear European nations.

The U.S. government has a perceived interest in keeping the fight going. The goal of the U.S. national security establishment is to maintain its nuclear dominance and its economic dominance, so that the U.S. government has the power to threaten any opponent with nuclear war and economic war.

The question is whether we the American people are willing to pay the price of maintaining this dominance. We already see rising prices of gasoline, heating oil and food. The longer the war in Ukraine and the global old war continue, the worse this will get. So we, too, have an interest in peace.

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The case for peace in Ukraine

May 16, 2022

We are being told the USA needs to send another $40 billion in aid to Ukraine pronto and to completely disrupt world trade in grain, oil and gas.  Otherwise Russia may win.   Even so, some of our military leaders are saying the war will go on for years.

The independent military analyst Scott Ritter says the last is a real possibility.  Although he had been predicting a Russian victory, he now says that if the Ukrainian army can train in Poland and Germany, and receive potentially unlimited numbers of U.S. and other NATO arms, there is no telling how long they can hold out.

I consider Ritter an authority on the Russian military and on military science in general.  What his reassessments tell me is that war is, by its nature, unpredictable.  If the outcomes of wars could be foreseen with certainty, no nation would go to war in the first place.

Biden’s stated war aim is not just to save Ukraine.  It is to weaken Russia to the point where it is no longer capable of waging war.  Also, to pressure Russians into replacing Putin with a leader wiling to beg for mercy.   

Putin’s stated war aim is not just to save the Russians in the Donbas.  It is to roll back NATO so that it is no longer capable of threatening Russia.

If neither of them gives in, it is very possible the result will be the bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy of the USA, Russia and many other countries, including some neutral countries, with Ukraine, including its Donbas region, left as a blood-soaked wasteland.  That is not the worst-case scenario.  The worst case would be a nuclear holocaust of most of Russia, Europe and the USA..

The best possible outcome would be a truce and a ratification of the previous status quo—neutrality for Ukraine, autonomy for Donbas, continuing Russian control of strategically vital Crimea.

My readings of the Russian Dissent substack, Meduza news service and Alexey Navalny videos also make me aware of the authoritarianism, corruption and cronyism of the Putin administration, and of misgivings about the war by ordinary Russians.

Russia and Ukraine may be separate countries, but many Russians and Ukrainians are related by friendship, lineage and marriage.  They don’t want war with each other.

Both Russia and Ukraine are cracking down on dissent, so it is impossible for outsiders to know how much potential opposition there is to the war on either side.

All the Democrats I would have hoped might stand up for peace—Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ihan Omar, etc.—supported the $40 billion appropriation for the war.

It is strange that the progressives in Congress can be pressured to give in at key points, while Senators Manchin and Sinema have free rein to block the whole Democratic program.

Are the progressives so weak?  Or is it that the Biden Administration only applies pressure when its war policy is concerned?

Post-Communist Ukraine, like Russia, has long been known for corruption.  There is a real possibility of American weapons winding up on the black market or in the hands of Banderite white nationalist terrorists.

I’ve started reading a biography of their hero, Stepan Bandera, who really was a kind of little junior Hitler.  

The main difference between him and Hitler, apart from the enormously greater scale of Hitler’s crimes, was that Hitler thought of the Germans as a master race and Bandera thought of the Ukrainians as a victim race.  He would have been happy to see Ukraine as a German client state, provided it was cleansed of Russians, Poles and Jews.

The Banderites are much more influential in Ukraine than their voting strength or the size of the Azov Battalion would indicate.  

They’ve threatened to kill any Ukrainian to fails to resist the Russian army.  Circumstantial evidence indicates they may have been the ones responsible for the Bucha massacre.  They have threatened to kill Zelensky if he gives in.

If Zelensky negotiated a peace such as I suggested, he probably would have to wage a civil war in his own country to get it accepted.

The top 0.1 percent of income earners and the Washington elite glory in ignoring pandemic restrictions and holding possible super spreader events, such as the recent Washington Correspondents Dinner.

Many people at these events report getting covid, which means they could be suffering from long-term organ damage, including brain fog.

I seriously wonder whether Joe Biden, Anthony Blinken, Donald Trump and others suffer from covid-induced brain fog.  I am not being sarcastic (well,  not completely sarcastic).  But then again, if they were, how could you tell?

Rich and poor on peace and war

May 6, 2022

LINK

Majority of wealthy Americans want U.S. military involvement in European war by Leonardo Briceno for The Post Millennial.  Rasmssen Reports itself is behind a paywall.

Ukraine war collateral damage and food prices

April 28, 2022

I’m stocking up on nonperishable food and other supplies in order to be prepared for scarcity this fall.

Both the fighting war and the sanctions war over Ukraine are disrupting world food supplies, and I think it can only get worse. Ukraine and Russia are important exporters of food, and also of diesel fuel, which is important in making fertilizer.

Food prices are already going up. Reasons for this include drought and floods in food-producing regions, disruption of supply chains due to the coronavirus pandemic and the power of monopoly agribusiness.

What this means is that there is no buffer to escape the disruption caused by war.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have little to lose by being prepared. It is better to do too much than to learn the hard way I’ve done too little.

I also expect the war’s collateral damage to affect food prices, but there’s little I can do personally about that.

Russians will be affected by rising food and fuel prices, but both the USA and Russia have enough reserves and resources to avoid actual starvation.  The worst impact will be on poor small nations that depend in food imports. 

The price of wheat on world markets

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Noam Chomsky on moral equivalence

April 19, 2022

Noam Chomsky in an interview condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine.  He said it is not only morally wrong, but a violation of international law.

He also said that Russia has not done anything that the USA has not done.  The invasion of Iraq was no less wrong than the invasion of Ukraine.  The bombing of Fallujah caused at least as much death and suffering as the bombing of Mariupol’.

Neither the Russia nor the USA accepts the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.  In 1984, the court condemned the United States for mining the harbors of Nicaragua as part of its covert war against that country, the U.S. government shrugged off that decision.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a law authorizing the U.S. government to take military again to prevent any American or allied citizen from being tried as a war criminal.  President Biden has no standing to call for President Putin to be tried for violating international law the USA does not respect.

I believe that many consider it out of bounds for me, or for Prof. Chomsky, to weigh the crimes of the U.S. government in the same balance as the crimes of other governments.  This is “moral equivalence” or “whataboutism.”  Instead you’re supposed to be silent about U.S. crimes unless you have first researched and condemned every other wrong that may have been worse.

It can be argued that a murderer who kills one person is less of a murderer who kills ten people, but the first is a murderer just the same.  And the fact that one murderer gets away with their crime does not generate an entitlement to commit murder.

None of this is a justification for the invasion of Ukraine.  The ordinary people of Ukraine did not invade Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are not responsible for the persecution of Julian Assange.  They do not deserve to be killed, maimed and terrorized because of what the U.S. government has done.

The U.S. government has an obligation to provide the Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves, Chomsky said.  But he said it also has a duty to try to bring both sides to the negotiating table before Ukraine is completely ruined.  He’s right.

LINKS

Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Scahill on the Russia-Ukraine War, an interview for The Intercept.

Noam Chomsky on How To Prevent World War III, an interview for Current Affairs.  [Added 04/20/2022]

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Ukraine is part of a broader three-way Cold War

April 15, 2022

The war in Ukraine is not just between Ukraine and Russia.  It is part of a larger three-way struggle between three rival imperialisms—the established imperialism of the USA and the rising imperialisms of China and Russia..

The struggle is not exclusively or even mainly a military struggle.  It is also a diplomatic and propaganda struggle.  But it is mainly an economic struggle.

The United States is the world’s most extensive military power and the world’s leading financial power.  Its aim is to keep on being the world’s only superpower—militarily, politically and financially.  Its means is threats of military intervention and financial sanctions.

Source: The Diplomat. Click to enlarge.

The People’s Republic of China is the world’s leading manufacturer and exporter.  Its aim is to dominate its immediate region politically and militarily and to become the world’s leading power economically.  The means is investing in physical infrastructure and human capital, and winning friends by offering economic benefits.  Its master plan is the Belts and Roads initiative, a system of infrastructure construction projects intended to weave together the economies of interior Eurasia.

Russia is less powerful than the USA or China, but it is an important producer of food, fuel and vital raw materials. Its aim is to be recognized as a great power and to dominate its immediate region politically and militarily

The United States has a worldwide network of military bases and alliances, which gives it the power to engage in military and covert actions on every continent.  It dominates the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions and its banks have a chokehold on the world financial economy.

The basis of that power is the supremacy of the U.S. dollar as the world’s medium for doing business, and the replacement of gold by U.S. Treasury bonds as a store of value.

This enables the U.S. to finance its endless wars, to shrug off trade deficits and to impose crippling sanctions on nations that defy it.  But American leaders have foolishly allowed the source of its financial power, its strength as a manufacturing and exporting country, to fade away.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was an attack on the U.S.-dominated NATO alliance. Its aim is to keep Ukraine out of NATO, to bar nuclear missile systems from Poland and Rumania and to roll back western NATO troops to their 1997 positions.

The U.S. aim is to get Russia bogged down in a long quagmire war, while meanwhile trying to wreck the Russian economy through economic sanctions—that is, seizing Russian financial assets held in the U.S. allied countries, cutting Russia off from the dollar-based world financial system and blocking Russian imports and exports as much as possible.

With the aid of China, Russia is finding ways to engage in world trade using the ruble and other non-dollar currencies, thus helping to undermine U.S. financial power.  

Then again, with sanctions, the U.S. is already undermining itself.  It is teaching nations they need to figure out how to survive economically without ties to the United States or the dollar-based system.

This economic war is a real war.  People will suffer as a result of it.  Some die.  Some European nations depend on Russian gas.  Many nations depend on Russia for food and fertilizer exports.  Food and fuel prices are already rising as a result of the war and are expected to rise further.  

The most likely result of the conflict is a worldwide economic depression.  The worst possible result is nuclear war.  I don’t see any possible outcome that is of net benefit to the people of any of the three countries.

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Vladimir Putin is not a madman

April 11, 2022

I never thought Vladimir Putin would order a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 

My reasoning was that it was not in Putin’s or Russia’s interest to take responsibility for a country that, by most accounts, was even poorer than Russia itself and almost as corrupt.  Nor did it make sense for Russia to risk getting bogged down in a long quagmire war as it did in Afghanistan.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, had elected as a peace candidate with more than 70 percent of the vote, so there seemed like a possibility of negotiating the status of the Donbas secessionists and other issues.  

I thought Putin would take some limited action that would demonstrate Ukraine’s vulnerability and NATO’s lack of unity.

As a result of the invasion, members of NATO are more united against Russia than ever.  Sweden and Finland have abandoned their neutrality and may formally join NATO.  Countries not willing to fight Russia with troops are waging economic warfare against Russia.

So why did he do it? Was he crazy?

One of my rules of thumb is that when someone who seems highly intelligent does something that makes no sense to me, that person may have reasons that I do not understand.

I believe Putin has made this high-stakes gamble because he believes the actual existence of Russia is at risk.  I believe he further believes that the danger is growing and he had to act before time runs out.   

He has been saying for years that the goal of the U.S.-led alliance is to put itself in a position to be able to successfully attack Russia.  He may be mistaken, but he has reason to think so.

Notice that the ultimatum he issued last year is not limited to Ukraine.  It contains for main demands (1) Ukraine neutrality, (2) autonomy of Donetz and Luhansk, (3) no missiles in Poland or Rumania and (4) NATO troops back to 1991 limits.

Notice also that Russia has not used its full military might in invading Ukraine.  That means Putin may be holding back troops to enforce the rest of his ultimatum.

∞∞∞

When Russia withdrew its troops from East Germany and other satellite countries in Eastern Europe in 1989, Secretary of State James Baker allegedly promised Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO troops would not move “one inch” to the east.  There’s argument as to what he really said.  But many people, myself included, hoped for a new era when the USA and Russia were at peace with each other.

In 1999, NATO expanded.  Putin protested and was ignored.  In 2004, NATO expanded again.  Putin protested and was ignored.

In 2008, NATO announced an intention to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.  Putin said that was a red line that Russia would not tolerate.  

I can understand why.  If you look at a map of Europe showing the peak of German conquests during World War Two, and compare it with a map of NATO with Ukraine and Georgia, you will see they are almost the same.

In 2014, a pro-American faction seized power in Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine has been a NATO member in all but name.

A missile defense system is being placed in Poland and Romania, which could be made capable of launching nuclear missiles. The U.S. meanwhile has exited the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement.

Soon the United States will have duplicated Russia’s hypersonic missile, which means that a nuclear warhead launched from Poland or Rumania could hit Moscow in a few minutes.

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The search for truth in the Ukraine war

April 9, 2022

I think the world is at a major historical turning point.  China and Russia, with their allies and vassals, have begun an attack on a system of economic and military power dominated by the United States, which probably will succeed.  The Russian attack on Ukraine is a ramping up to that larger conflict.

That is why I am so obsessively focused on the war in Ukraine.  Trying to understand the conflict allows me to overcome my feeling of helplessness in the face of the coming catastrophe.

This video interview of Scott Ritter from last Wednesday is a good summary of the situation in Ukraine, which is different from the propaganda version in most U.S. newspapers and broadcast networks.  The meat of the interview begins at the seven-minute mark.  You don’t have to watch the whole thing to get something out of it.  

I think that Scott Ritter, Michael Hudson and the Naked Capitalism bloggers have the best handle on what’s going on.  Both Ritter and Hudson are giving video interviews to virtually anybody who will talk to them, and these interviews should be easy to find.  

Of course what they (and I) say is based on uncertain and incomplete knowledge.  The verdict of history may be different from what I (or you) think now.  But time spent trying to learn and understand is not time wasted.

LINKS

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Perspective by Scott Ritter for Energy Intelligence.

The American Empire Self-Destructs by Michael Hudson.

It seems Ukraine will never join NATO…

March 24, 2022

This video interview was given March 19.

Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN Sunday that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO or the European Union.  In that case, what is the fighting about?  Here is the CNN report:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that if his country had been admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance earlier, then Russia would not have invaded the country.

“If we were a NATO member, a war wouldn’t have started. I’d like to receive security guarantees for my country, for my people,” Zelensky told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on “GPS,” adding that he was grateful for the aid NATO has provided since the invasion began. “If NATO members are ready to see us in the alliance, then do it immediately because people are dying on a daily basis.”

He continued, “But if you are not ready to preserve the lives of our people, if you just want to see us straddle two worlds, if you want to see us in this dubious position where we don’t understand whether you can accept us or not — you cannot place us in this situation, you cannot force us to be in this limbo.

“I requested them personally to say directly that we are going to accept you into NATO in a year or two or five, just say it directly and clearly, or just say no,” Zelensky said.

“And the response was very clear, you’re not going to be a NATO member, but publicly, the doors will remain open,” he said.

If Ukraine is never going to be admitted to NATO, what is Russia fighting to prevent?  And why does the USA publicly insist on Ukraine’s right to do something it is not going to be allowed to do?

I think Scott Ritter’s interview above provides the answer.  Ukraine is not part of NATO, but it is a vassal of NATO.  By vassal, I mean a person or community that serves an overlord, and in return serves protection from that overlord.

Since the new pro-American government took power in 2014, Ukraine’s military forces have been receiving NATO training and NATO equipment.  For practical purposes, Ukraine is a member of NATO in every respect except having a voice and a vote. 

The same is true of the European Union.  Ukraine signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014 and received an International Monetary Fund loan.  This took down certain trade barriers between the EU and Ukraine, opened up Ukraine to EU investment and also required Ukraine to align its foreign and military policies with the EU as a whole.

So businesses in the European Union have essentially got what they want from Ukraine—access to its rich farmland and natural resources.  According to Wikipedia, the EU has replaced Russia as Ukraine’s main trading partner.

The bottom line: Formal NATO membership for Ukraine is a red herring.  The real issue is whether Ukraine will be a vassal of the USA or a vassal of Russia.

The best thing for Ukraine would be neutral, and have good relations with all nations.  As an American, I would be fine with that.  But this is not a choice on offer.

How the mentally unfit became cannon fodder

March 23, 2022

The blogger known as Nikolai Vladivostok called my attention to a book entitled McNamara’s Folly: the Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War by Hamilton Gregory (2015).  It’s shocking.  Here’s a review, by Arnold Isaacs for the Modern War Institute at West Point.

On the day in 1967 when Hamilton Gregory reported to a Tennessee induction center to begin his service in the U.S. Army, a sergeant presented him to another young man who was also headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, to start basic training.

The other new soldier’s name was Johnny Gupton, or so Gregory calls him. “I want you to take charge of Gupton,” the sergeant told Gregory.  Before they boarded the bus to the airport, the sergeant handed Gregory Gupton’s paperwork along with his own, to carry on the trip.

In the next hours and days, Gregory discovered why the sergeant had put Gupton in his care. Gupton could not read or write. He didn’t know his home address or what state he was from, so he could not send the pre-stamped postcard the new recruits were given at Benning to tell their families they had arrived.  He didn’t know his next of kin’s full name, didn’t know that there was a war in Vietnam, and couldn’t tie the laces on his combat boots.

How did a man so obviously unfit for service get drafted? A slipup? Far from it. Gupton was one of more than 350,000 other young men drafted during the Vietnam war under a deliberate policy requiring that nearly a third of all military recruits should be drawn from men with general aptitude test scores at the bottom or for a certain percentage below the minimum standard.

This while draft boards around the country made it shockingly easy for middle class, better educated men to avoid serving — just ask Bill Clinton or Donald Trump or Rush Limbaugh.  The policy was known as Project 100,000.  Its principal promoter was Lyndon Johnson’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara.

Hamilton Gregory — who was not drafted but enlisted voluntarily — was troubled and outraged by his experience with Johnny Gupton and subsequent encounters with other low-IQ draftees. During his Army service he raised questions about the policy with various superiors, and after his discharge, while making a career as a journalist and author, he kept on tracking down official documents and seeking out personal accounts.

The evidence he accumulated over more than 40 years makes the story he tells in McNamara’s Folly not just convincing but ironclad.  Its conclusion is ironclad too: U.S. draft policy during the Vietnam war was a moral atrocity.

Project 100,000 troops were killed or wounded in Vietnam at higher rates than in the U.S. force as a whole, but the unfairness didn’t stop there. More than half left the service with less than honorable discharges — not surprising, for men who weren’t mentally fit to be soldiers to begin with.

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Many Russians open to use of N-weapons

March 21, 2022

A Ukrainian company conducted a public opinion poll of Russians about the Ukraine invasion.  The poll found that 40.3 percent of those answering think the Russian government would use nuclear weapons to protect its interests, and only 25.5 percent would not.  The rest were unsure.

I think the poll should be interpreted with caution.  If I were a Russian, I probably wouldn’t give my honest opinion to an anonymous pollster.  I suspect a lot of the non-committal answers were from people who had doubts about their government’s actions.

A recent Pew Research poll indicated that 35.5 percent of Americans are willing to take military action against Russia even at the risk of nuclear war.  

[I should have noted that there is an important difference between being willing to risk nuclear war and being willing to initiate nuclear war.]

None of this indicates Russians or Americans as a whole favor nuclear war.   It does indicate that a large fraction of both do not find nuclear war unthinkable.  This is disturbing.

Here are the rest of the Russian poll results.

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Who’s winning in Ukraine?

March 14, 2022

Not Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces are outnumbered and outgunned.  President Zelensky is arming untrained civilians, including convicts, and calling for volunteers to come help, including anti-Russian jihadists from Syria.  This is evidence of desperation, like the German arming of teenagers and the elderly during the last days of World War Two.

Until now, Russians have held back, in the false hope they could accomplish a relatively—I said, relatively—bloodless conquest and reconcile Ukrainians to defeat.  Military analyst Scott Ritter said the Russians wanted to give Ukrainians one last chance to surrender.  If that fails, Russians will wage war as they did in Afghanistan and Chechnya, which, as he said, will turn Ukraine into “hell on Earth.”

Not Russia

Hardly anybody expected a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, because hardly anybody outside President Putin’s circle thought it would make sense.  Evidently Putin expected a weak resistance, after which the Ukrainian government would surrender and agree to stay out of NATO, recognize the independence of the Donbas republics, and accept Russian rule of Crimea.

This didn’t happen.  Putin is using Chechen and even Syrian fighters against his supposed Ukrainian brothers.  So much for Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood!  This is a sign of lack of Russian enthusiasm for the war.

Probably Russia will defeat the Ukrainian forces in the end.  Then Russians will face a protracted resistance movement in Ukraine, supported by the Western powers, and a long period of economic warfare that will strain Russian society to the limit.

Not the USA

The clash between Russia and the USA involves much more than Ukraine.  Russia’s aim is to challenge the military security structure that makes the U.S. the world’s dominant military power, and the financial structure which makes the U.S. the world’s dominant financial power.  The present conflict may stretch that power to its limit.

No nation in Latin America, Africa or Asia, with the exceptions of Japan and South Korea, has been willing to join the United States is imposing economic sanctions against Russia.  Russia can count on the support of China, the world’s most powerful manufacturing nation, and others who’ve been alienated from the U.S. system.

Russia has been planning for years on how to withstand a siege.  The USA is unprepared.  President Biden has swallowed his pride and asked for help from Iran and Venezuela, two nations he and his predecessors have literally been trying to destroy with economic sanctions.  What will we Americans do a year or so from now, if gasoline costs double or triple or ten times what it does now?

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One side or another may claim victory, by some criterion.  But all will be worse off than they are now.

“A strange game,” said the machine intelligence in the movie, War Games.  “The only way to win is not to play.”

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Why are there U.S. bio-labs in Ukraine?

March 14, 2022

In my morning newspaper, I read an Associated Press article about the White House has accused Beijing “of spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine was running biological weapons labs with U.S. support.”

What do we the American public know about these laboratories?

  1.  There are U.S. biological research laboratories in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics.
  2.  They are operated by the U.S. Department of Defense, not by the Centers for Disease Control or any other independent medical or scientific institution.
  3.  They are using materials that Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland is afraid of falling into Russian hands.
  4.  The U.S. government has not explained their purpose.

None of these facts are proof that the U.S. government is conducting biological warfare research.  But it is natural that the Russians and Chinese would think so, and I’m having a hard time coming up with an innocent explanation.

For example, I don’t think it is likely that, after all these years, the U.S. military would still be helping to dismantle bio-warfare labs left over from the Soviet era.

The best alternative I can come up with is that the U.S. government is conducting non-military research that would be illegal in the United States because of safety concerns, such as U.S. collaboration in gain-of-function research on the COVID-19 virus allegedly conducted in Wuhan, China.

An investigative journalist, Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, revealed the scope of the U.S. military’s biological research programs back in 2018.

U.S. military-backed biological research labs (2018)

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Ideals and realities in the Ukraine crisis

March 7, 2022

When World War One began, most people in Great Britain thought that the sold cause of the war was German aggression.  We Americans had to be propagandized a good bit before we came around to that view.

The reality was more complicated.  Some of other causes were the French desire to avenge their previous defeat, Russian intrigue in the Balkans and the Anglo-German naval rivalry.

But after Germany attacked France and Belgium, the question of war guilt didn’t really matter.  The questions become: (1) What would happen if Germany dominated Europe?  (2) What price are we wiling to pay to prevent this?

The answers to these questions are not obvious.  Few in England in 1914 would have accepted a 1920s Europe dominated by the German Empire.  But this would have meant a future without Hitler’s Germany and possibility without Stalin’s USSR.

In today’s Europe, the questions are: (1) What would be the consequences of Putin’s Russia becoming the dominant power in Eastern Europe? (2) What price are we willing to pay to prevent this?

The answers to those questions are not obvious.  It’s early days yet.  It’s important to consider these things dispassionately before the winds of war blow away all possibility of rational discussion.

I of course disapprove of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.  I disapprove of a lot of things.  But, in the present situation, I think an imperfect peace that both sides could live with would be better than a long mutually destructive war that would leave one or both sides in ruin.. 

LINK

It’s time to ask: What would a Ukraine-Russian peace deal look like? by Anatol Leiven for The Guardian.

War in Ukraine: Links & comments 2022/3/7

March 7, 2022

The American Empire self-destructs by MIchael Hudson.

The economist MIchael Hudson thinks Russia will benefit from the coming economic war..

What it will do is to force Russia to become more Wself-sufficient than it already is and to detach itself from the U.S.-dominated world financial system, and also to make neutral countries more wary.

Any country who gets on the bad side of the United States is subject to having its national assets confiscated, to the degree that they are in banks in the United States, the United Kingdom or other countries subject to U.S. influence.

This happened to Iran, to Venezuela and many other countries, and now it is happening to Russia.  The U.K. also is confiscating savings and investments owned by Russian individuals.

In the long run, he wrote, this will force not only Russia and its allies, but any nation that doesn’t want to be under the thumb of the United States, to find an alternative financial system, which the Chinese will be glad to provide.  London will cease to be the money-laundering capital of the world.

He said it also will force Russia to invest its revenues from oil, gas and other export industries into building up the nation’s industrial strength, instead of going into the pockets of wealthy oligarchs.

History shows that given a choice between destruction and reform, ruling elites do not necessarily choose reform.

Efforts to decimate Russian economy may boomerang by Sylvan Lane for The Hill.

Economic warfare is mutual destruction.  The United States and its NATO allies are in a position greatly damage the Russian economy, despite the Russians’ decade of trying to build up their defenses against economic warfare.

But the United States and its NATO allies also will pay a price.  Russia is an important exporter of food and fossil fuels.  The first result of an embargo will be big increases in the cost of food, gasoline and natural gas.

Russia’s new foreign policy: the Putin doctrine by Prof. Sergei Karaganov, academic supervisor of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs in Moscow.

This is a voice of the Russian academic establishment.

Prof. Karaganov said Vladimir Putin’s policies are the result of a long-term plan to break up the present U.S.-dominated geopolitical order and replace it with one in which the Russian nation and culture are safe.  The war in Ukraine is part of this, but only party.

He said Western society is in the process of self-destruction—economically, politically and morally.  It also is eager to start a new Cold War with Russia.

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Why are Nazis acceptable in Ukraine?

March 4, 2022

Azov Battaltion insignia and Nazi symbols

One of Vladimir Putin’s demands is that Ukraine “de-Nazify.”

These days the word “Nazi” is often a general purpose insult with no specific meaning. except “very, very evil.” But there are Nazis in Ukraine, and they are the real thing.

I don’t want to exaggerate.  

Ukrainian neo-Nazis are few in number. Most estimates put hardo-core Nazis at less than 2 percent of the population.  The extreme nationalist Svoboda and Right Sector parties each received less than 2 percent of the vote in recent presidential elections.  

Volodymyr Zelensky, the current President of Ukraine, is Jewish, and he received more than 72 percent of the vote.  Most of the rest went to the incumbent.

On the other hand the neo-Nazi parties are part of the Ukraine’s governing coalition.  The Azov Battalion, whose members are openly neo-Nazi, is an important part of Ukraine’s fighting force.  The “Overton window”—the range of ideas that are acceptable to discuss—includes neo-Nazis.

To understand how this can be, you have to know about the Holodomor, also known as the Terror-Famine or Great Famine, imposed by Joseph Stalin on Ukraine from 1929 to 1933.  

It was one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes against humanity.  A United Nations report estimates it cost the lives of 3 million to 10 million Ukrainians.  It is officially recognized as genocide by Ukraine and 16  other countries.

Joseph Stalin forced millions in Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union to starve to death in order to force the peasants into collective farms and gain control of the food supply.  He also suppressed Ukrainian cultural institutions.

Most historians interpret this as the Soviet Communist Party preemptively destroying all potential sources of resistance to the regime, including farmers who owned their land and individuals loyal to non-Russian cultures.

But there are those who see the Holodomor as an attempt by “the Russians” to destroy the Ukrainian race.  I’ve come across this meme serval times over the years while doing Internet research.  And I’ve also come across the meme that it was an attempt by “the Jews” to destroy the Ukrainian race.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s first look at the Ukraine terror-famine in all its horror.

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The war hawks’ view of the Ukraine situation

March 2, 2022

This panel discussion is interesting because it represents the thinking of the U.S. national security establishment.  I watched it with mingled anger and despair, but their ideas and opinions are important to understand.

The panelists point out that Vladimir Putin probably thought the invasion of Ukraine would reveal the weakness and lack of solidarity of NATO, but the result has been just the opposite.

The immediate result  has been to create a new sense of anti-Russian solidarity among the Ukrainian people and the NATO allies.  The NATO countries, particularly Germany, are remilitarizing.

The result of the invasion is the very thing Putin feared, an attack (although not a direct military attack) on Russia itself.  I think they’re right about that.

What the analysts say we can look forward to over the next few years is a long mutually destructive economic war, a dangerous cyberwar and a propaganda war.  But it’s all good, because Russia will suffer most and ultimately be defeated.

The cyberwar threat is the most worrisome.  The USA, other NATO countries, Ukraine and Russia are all dependent on electronic computerized systems that are vulnerable to being hacked, which would result in economic breakdown and chaos.

Both sides have held back because of the mutually assured destruction principle.  But now NATO and Russia are at war, so there is no restraining principle.

The panelists think Ukraine will be defeated militarily after a heroic resistance.  But it’s all good, because it means the U.S. government can support an insurgency, as it did against the pro-Russian government of Afghanistan in the early 1980s.

Even if the result is to leave Ukraine in ruins, it will bleed and destabilize Russia.

The problem, the panelists say, will be maintaining the will to wage economic war, psychological war and cyberwar for a period of years, and, for the Ukrainians and other front-line countries, to continue fighting and dying over the long term.

President Biden or some future president may prioritize his domestic agenda (i.e., the needs and wants of the unimportant American people) or the U.S. rivalry with China. That would be a problem, they say.

I can’t say their predictions are wrong.  I hate how comfortable and even pleased they are with the war, but as a description of the sad reality, they could be right.

But there are things they didn’t talk about.

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