Chomsky on Ukraine

I’ve previously plugged John Mearsheimer’s views on Ukraine here, with generalized agreement but many misgivings. I have fewer misgivings about Chomsky’s views, which are in the same anti-interventionist ballpark as Mearsheimer’s, at least as regards Ukraine, but without the problematic realist baggage. This interview with Nathan Robinson in Current Affairs seems the best of the bunch that I’ve seen.

This passage, in particular, hits home:

I don’t know if you saw it. But a couple of days ago, there was a very important interview by one of the most astute and respected figures in current U.S. diplomatic circles, Ambassador Chas Freeman. A very important interview. He pointed out that the current U.S. policy, which he bitterly criticized, is to “fight Russia to the last Ukrainian,” and he gave us an example: President Biden’s heroic statement about the war criminal Putin—[Biden’]s counterpart as a war criminal. And Freeman pointed out the obvious: the U.S. is setting things up so as to destroy Ukraine and to lead to a terminal war.

In this world, there are two options with regard to Ukraine. As we know, one option is a negotiated settlement, which will offer Putin an escape, an ugly settlement. Is it within reach? We don’t know; you can only find out by trying and we’re refusing to try. But that’s one option. The other option is to make it explicit and clear to Putin and the small circle of men around him that you have no escape, you’re going to go to a war crimes trial no matter what you do. Boris Johnson just reiterated this: sanctions will go on no matter what you do. What does that mean? It means go ahead and obliterate Ukraine and go on to lay the basis for a terminal war.

Those are the two options: and we’re picking the second and praising ourselves for heroism and doing it: fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian. Sometimes this becomes—I don’t know if the word is comical or grotesque. A couple days ago—I’m sure you saw this—Hillary Clinton suggested that we pull the Brzezinski trick. [In 1998], Brzezinski, who was Carter’s National Security Advisor, had an interview in France, in which he bragged about how they’d drawn Russia into the war in Afghanistan [starting the 1979-89 Soviet-Afghan war]. Whether he was just boasting or whether it was true, nobody knows, but it doesn’t matter much. What he said is that as National Security Advisor before the Russian invasion, he had convinced Carter to send arms to an insurgency that was attacking the pro-Russian government in Afghanistan, figuring this would draw the Russians in.

And then, the Russians—in fact, as we now know definitively from released Russian archives—recognized pretty quickly that they’d made a mistake and wanted to get out. But the U.S., following Brzezinski in its brilliance—this is Reagan now—organized radical Islamist fanatics from all over the world, including Osama bin Laden, to carry out the fight to ensure that the Russians stayed in, killing maybe a million Afghans and wrecking the country.

Brzezinski was asked about that by the interviewer. He said, Do you think this was worth doing? He said, Look, what’s the fate of Afghans as compared with the importance of bringing down the global enemy? That’s us. That’s Hillary Clinton a couple of days ago, saying let’s do that. Let’s draw the Russians into Ukraine, fight a harsh guerrilla war, be really tough on them. It’ll exhaust them, destroy them, we’ll bring them down. Of course, on the side, Ukraine will be wiped out. Okay, that’s us now, at the liberal end of spectrum. I’m not talking about Josh Hawley, you know.

But read the whole thing, and tell me what you think.

35 thoughts on “Chomsky on Ukraine

        • Not really sure where all this snark about Chomsky is coming from. Chomsky has been writing about American foreign policy for fifty years–a lot longer than anyone criticizing him. In this case, he’s invoking a veteran diplomat in defense of his argument. So it can’t be said that Chomsky is making his case completely out in left field, making crazy left-wing arguments that no realistic person could take seriously.

          So far, the defenders of proxy war over Ukraine have not addressed, much less answered, the most basic strategic questions about what they think a proxy war is supposed to accomplish, or how. They just seem very confident that injecting huge amounts of weaponry into Ukraine, and imposing indefinite sanctions on Russia, will somehow do something of use in some unspecified way over some unspecified period of time. I don’t see why, and in weeks of looking, have not found even a semi-cogent argument that explains why. So far, I haven’t found a single writer who’s squarely faced and answered this question: why is the defense of Ukraine against Russia so vital to the national security interests of the United States that we should risk nuclear war over it? Chomsky, at least, has a clear answer to that question: it isn’t. I so far don’t see why he’s wrong.


          • I do know where snark about Chomsky comes from. In his actual field of expertise, linguistics, Chomsky is the founder and leader of a research program intended to discover how humans understand and learn languages, which, however, has wholly failed either to answer its central questions, or to yield interesting insights on related subjects. The only discovery he’s credited with is a minor result in computer science. And the reason his research has been effectively fruitless is that he fastened onto a hypothesis early in his career (language is fundamentally syntax, both sound and meaning emerge from syntax) and never again questioned it; and both he and his students have tended to retreat from analysis of real languages, the main source of relevant evidence, in favor of armchair theorizing.

            In other words, Chomsky is a very intelligent crank, who had the good fortune to start with a plausible idea, and is still capable of sounding reasonable to those who aren’t familiar with his field. And if that’s what he is where he is an expert … what is he like where he is not?


            • Chomsky’s views on linguistics are doubly irrelevant to the topic at hand. They’re most obviously irrelevant because we’re not discussing linguistics, we’re discussing Ukraine. They’re also irrelevant because you were the one who insisted that whereas he apparently was in expert in linguistics, he wasn’t one in foreign policy. I responded that he was one, and now you’ve decided to change the subject back to linguistics. I guess I should add that it doesn’t really matter if he’s an “expert” in foreign policy. What matters is whether his views are warranted. I think they are. No party to this conversation is an “expert” in foreign policy in the sense you’ve described. At any rate, he was invoking and defending the views of an expert (Freeman), and there are undeniable experts who agree with him (Lieven). Your objection strikes me as pointless.


              • First, Webmaster is not me. I never said Chomsky is an authority on linguistics – and never will.

                Second, I brought up Chomsky’s scientific work because the way it failed (and it has failed) shows a flaw in the man’s thinking which is, if anything, more likely to appear in his views on topics outside his specialty. Any credence due to the view he’s defending comes from Freeman, not from Chomsky.

                And third – well, this is Chas Freeman you’re talking about, and he is a wholly typical US State Department old hand. If his Wikipedia article is to be believed, then the most charitable interpretation of his views is that he’s a foreign policy realist similar to John Mearsheimer. And his personal experience was in China, Africa and Saudi Arabia; he has never worked in Russia, Ukraine or any part of the former Soviet Union. IMO he has no more expertise relevant to Russia’s war on Ukraine than Chomsky does.


    • I’m curious as to why some people think giving Putin part of Ukraine would end this conflict. We essentially agreed with his takeover of Crimea. Did that end the conflict?

      Liked by 1 person

      • We didn’t “essentially agree” with his takeover of Crimea. That’s a tendentious misdescription of events. We didn’t militarily intervene in it, but non-intervention is not “agreement.” We didn’t intervene in Rwanda, either. That doesn’t mean we agreed with the mass killing that took place there in the 1990s. We haven’t intervened in India, either. That doesn’t mean we agree with India’s treatment of its Muslim population. Etc. There is no presumption that we’re obliged to intervene with force every time we disagree with something.

        Giving Putin part of Ukraine would give him an incentive to end an expensive blunder while claiming it as a victory. He didn’t face the issue of an expensive blunder in Crimea. The two cases are fundamentally dissimilar.

        If Chomsky isn’t to your taste, what about Anatole Lieven? Lieven doesn’t have Chomsky’s ideological baggage, and is an unquestionable expert on foreign policy issues–it’s his area of specialization. But his arguments cohere with Mearsheimer’s, as well as Chomsky’s and Freeman’s.

        It’s amazing to me that American journalists are not asking the obvious question. We have been told that American soldiers will not be fighting in Ukraine. Question: how many American combatants are on the ground in Ukraine right now? It’s very doubtful that the number is zero. Should they be there? Should twice as many be there? How about five times as many? What is the upper limit? Of course, these are easy questions to answer if the answer really is 0.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ok, I agree we didn’t agree with the take over of Crimea. We didn’t respond in the manner we are today. We didn’t agree, we just didn’t do that much about it. In any case, Putin was obviously not deterred from further adventures, and so we arrive at this war.

          Putin doesn’t want part of Ukraine. He wants all of Ukraine, as demonstrated by his original strategy when he started this war. He doesn’t want just Ukraine, he wants Eastern Europe. He wants to restore the Soviet Empire, as he’s clearly stated. Putin will keep pushing towards his goal until he meets effective resistance.

          If the Ukrainians wish to surrender part of their country to get peace, that is their choice to make. I can see how that might become necessary. It will however be only a temporary peace, as the Ukrainians clearly understand, because they actually live there, and have spent decades with the Russian boot on their throat.

          The cases are not different. Putin is a psychopath who wishes to enslave additional millions. No amount of appeasement will stop him.


          • (Responding to Webmaster/Phil Tanny)
            From insisting that Noam Chomsky lacks expertise in linguistics and foreign policy, you now seem to want to convince us that you have expertise in the psychiatric diagnosis of distant political figures.

            Putin doesn’t want part of Ukraine. He wants all of Ukraine, as demonstrated by his original strategy when he started this war. He doesn’t want just Ukraine, he wants Eastern Europe. He wants to restore the Soviet Empire, as he’s clearly stated. Putin will keep pushing towards his goal until he meets effective resistance.

            How can abandonment of a strategy of trying to conquer Ukraine show that he wants all of Ukraine? Better yet, how can abandonment of a strategy to take Ukraine prove that he wants more than Ukraine? This is like saying abandonment of an attempt to eat a piece of cake proves that you want to eat the whole cake. Why? Well, obviously because anyone who abandons an attempt clearly wants to do more than the thing he abandoned. When you abandon an attempt to read a book, that proves that you want to read two.

            Actually, abandonment of an attempt to do something proves the half-heartedness of the want for the thing pursued, not wholeheartedness of the desire for something bigger than the thing abandoned. You just seem to be making this stuff up as you go along.

            “Putin will keep pushing towards his goal until he meets effective resistance.” If he had to abandon his attempt to take over Ukraine, what makes you think he has the resources to take over Eastern Europe? If he lacks the resources to take over Eastern Europe, what makes you think that we have to take concerted effort to stop his hypothetical invasion of Eastern Europe by stopping him in Ukraine?

            All that you’ve done is assume without argument that Putin = Hitler, February 2022 = September 1939, Ukraine = Poland, and the Russian Army = the Wehrmacht. From those costless, unargued assumptions, it becomes an easy task to assume that if we don’t fight a proxy war in Ukraine now, before long, we will face an annexation of Austria, a take over the Czechia and Slovakia, an invasion of Germany and France, a blitz of London, and a battle over the Atlantic. And if political argument were simply a matter of making random, unargued, politically expedient equations, and of treating political events like 8th grade algebra problems, you would be right. But it’s none of those things.

            All of the things you said were said of Vietnam. All of them were wrong. All of them were said of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. All of them were wrong. All of the things you said were said of Angola, of Cuba, of Nicaragua, of El Salvador, of Chile, of Lebanon, and of every other domino that supposedly demanded its own proxy war during the Cold War (and of Kuwait during the first Gulf War). The strategy that the Cold Warriors employed was the spitting image of the one you’re employing: treat every aggression as an expression of psychopathy; equate every invasion with the Nazi invasion of Poland; assume in advance that no settlement is possible; then refuse to pursue a settlement, pursuing a proxy war or actual war instead; devastate the land for decades, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the name of “freedom.” Repeat this mindless process for decades on end, frightening every naive generation with the same story, in the hopes that they’ve forgotten or never learned how the last generation was fooled by it. Never argue for it with the precision it demands. Just repeat it until everybody is frightened into believing it. Then paint every anti-war activist as a lunatic for seeing the gaping holes in the story, and pointing to the fact they’re there. I hate to admit it, but I’m a little too old to fall for that trick.


  1. At the risk of being drawn into an argumentative quagmire…

    Though there is certainly a danger that we (or the UK or Poland or NATO or Zelensky) will take (or are taking) our moral rhetoric too seriously, why not think that this rhetoric is part of a more subtle strategy that everyone knows likely only positions us (and Ukraine) for a better (but still blatantly unfair) land-for-peace deal? Maybe, because Putin has taken his lumps and continues to, the judgment is simply that it is not yet the opportune time for a settlement. (How hard we can or should press Putin is related, but separate, strategic issue.)

    To be sure, for us, part of what is at stake, in helping Ukraine and punishing Russia, is promoting democracy (not just helping and supporting Ukraine seek peace and some measure of justice). But this is consistent with our not intending to sacrifice Ukraine in a world-historical battle against autocracy. But it would be foolish not to press the advantage (with regard to promoting democracy), in a safe-enough way, in the hope that, however unlikely, Putin is deposed or rendered much weaker. There are just related but distinct and potentially competing ends to balance here.

    I don’t think any smart people think that anything other than a dirty land-for-peace deal, when both sides are ready, is likely. Whether on the battlefield, with regard to sanctions, or with regard to moral rhetoric, I think the live game here is all about positioning for this kind of settlement (with the off-chance of Putin being severely wounded or deposed).


    • I think the answer to that is really, really simple: time is running out on the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Every day that we telegraph the total unseriousness of our “negotiating posture”–in other words, broadcast our insane desire to “fight to the last Ukrainian”–we make it less likely that Putin will accept any overture we offer. So far, we’ve offered less than zero in the way of a sincere desire for a negotiated settlement. We haven’t even backed the Turkish or Israeli (much less Chinese) offers to achieve such a settlement. No sane human would take us at our word at this point. Putin’s been screaming at us for 28 years about this. We didn’t listen. So why would “subtle” moves influence him at this point? It’s not really the occasion for subtlety. Either we make clear that we want a negotiated settlement, or it won’t happen.

      The American message seems to be loud and clear: we don’t give a fuck about peace. We want Putin to go down, and Russia to go down, even if Ukraine is turned into a bloody, unsalvageable mess in the process. I’m an American, and I don’t believe your story about jockeying for a better negotiating advantage. Why would Putin?

      It seems more plausible to me that the United States wants to prolong the Ukraine war at Russia’s expense as well as Ukraine’s just to see how much damage can be done to Russia. At present, doing so seems or is costless to us, just another foreign country we can destroy beyond recognition. The idea that “democracy” will emerge from this mess strikes me as worse than a bad joke. Ukraine wasn’t a democracy in the first place. Mass death and destruction isn’t going to make it one.

      A country with any sense of responsibility would have left Ukraine alone as a mess it didn’t make, and do its best to clean up the gigantic, world-historical messes it did make. Our withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a million refugees there. How many are we accepting here? 74,500. The Israeli occupation of Gaza, now in its 55th year, has been just as bloody as anything in Ukraine, and is partly our doing. What are we doing to stop it? Less than nothing. We’ve promoted it. The destruction of Yemen by our ally, Saudi Arabia, has proceeded apace for seven years. How much sympathy has it elicited? Zero. Civilian deaths are really terrible, one hears. What will our sanctions do to Russian civilians? Kill them. What did we do in Syria? We killed civilians like it was going out of style. At a certain point, one has to question the bona fides of the people who run our foreign policy, and ask whether sinister motives fit their actions better than benign ones do.


      • Generally, if one is in a conflict, the prospects for settlement more to one’s favor (whether or not morality and justice are decisively on one’s side) get better as one’s opponent’s relative position gets weaker. It is at least reasonable to believe that Russia’s position is getting weaker both overall and in various particular important respects (though I’m no expert on either military or geopolitical power). Generically, in such conflict/settlement conditions, if I wanted a good settlement, I would not telegraph my desire to settle. In fact, I’d pretend that I wanted to win! (Exactly as Zelensky is doing at this point. Earlier, when he took himself to be in a weaker position and before the evidence of serious war crimes, he was indicating openness to some kind of land-for-peace settlement.) Then — in this case, before my opponent was really backed into a corner, given his ability to create and existential crisis for all — I’d say “Hey, you know what? I don’t need to win after all. I don’t need justice after all. I just need for this to stop. It really looks like you do too! How about it?”

        (Obviously, I’m abstracting from the particulars and context here. We disagree on quite a bit regarding the ends and means of U.S. foreign policy. Probably not productive to get into that.)


        • If you don’t telegraph your desire to settle, you may never settle. If you wait for Russia not just to get weaker, but to regard itself as fundamentally defeated and desperate for a settlement on unfavorable terms, you may have to wait another decade. The price of waiting that long may be hundreds of thousands of lives, the wholesale destruction of the entire country, and in the worst case, nuclear war. The strategy you’re describing is basically a leap into the unknown, likely taken at no cost to you, but at mind-blowing cost to others, while increasing the probabilities of the total destruction of the planet.

          I guess I’m at a loss to see what is gained by doing that when the alternative seems so much simpler: offer Putin some territory in the east, declare Ukraine neutral territory, formally forswear its accession-candidacy into NATO, stop arming the Ukrainians, drop the idea of criminally prosecuting Putin in a court whose jurisdiction we ourselves don’t accept as fair, and agree to end sanctions for a full withdrawal. That’s a tall enough order if we tattoo the words “We Want Peace!” on the foreheads of the peace delegation and dress them in tie-dyed clothes. But if we pretend that we want to win, demand unconditional surrender without concessions, insist on sanctions and prosecution regardless of what the Russians do, and continue arming the Ukrainians, this war is never going to end. Or it will end in a catastrophe worse than what we’ve already seen. Either way, we seem to be going off the rails on a crazy train.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Prolonging the war doesn’t seem like it’s genuinely in US interest either, although some out of touch strategist may think so.
        Gasoline, food prices are going through the roof. Millions of refugees will further destabilize Europe, NATO, and EU.
        This will be a war without winners.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Here is the most sickeningly revealing passage in that article you linked to:

      Lastly, we must consider the state of Ukraine’s forces heading into the Donbas fight. Though Western media is saturated with reports of Russian failures and their immense equipment and personnel casualties, there has been a virtual embargo on any mention of UAF losses. But we must recognize the damage done to Ukrainian forces has been substantial, and possible equivalent to the Russian losses. The problem is, the UAF doesn’t have the capacity to replace their losses in either personnel or equipment to the extent Russia does.

      Yes. “Virtual embargo on any mention of UAF losses.” The American press and American people have, for the last two months, been descending into a kind of fantasy world. Ukraine has become their Bruce Willis movie, not a war. There’s been no serious discussion of the national security need to fuel a proxy war, no serious discussion of how its objectives are to be met, and no serious discussion of the liabilities of the Ukrainian military. Nor any real discussion of the weakness of sanctions as a method of deterrence or forcing a peace. Just lots of rah-rah talk about the Great Hero Zelensky, the valor of the Ukrainians, the unprecedented nature of our sanctions, and the virtues of flying a Ukrainian flag out of your window. I hate to break the news, but none of that wins wars. None of it even supplies the least guidance about warfare. That doesn’t seem to disturb the equilibrium of a country that’s spent the last twenty years on a series of futile wars, losing every one of them, all of which have led to huge disruption at home without much discernible gain. But here we are, going down the same road, God knows why.


      • Yeah, that is pretty much the most important passage.

        There is a pretty black-and-white issue of justice to care about here and I’m not entirely ready to give up on helping the Ukrainians get as much justice as can be reasonably expected. But there are limits (and risks) to what we (or the Ukrainians) can do about it. Whenever there is (or is perceived to be) a clear and urgent moral issue, if those caught up in it can get away with it, it gets turned into some cartoon good versus evil thing that distorts the thoughts and feelings of whole groups of people.

        I cannot — and I don’t think anyone should — turn their eyes away from what Putin is doing (how he is doing it, his ethno-nationalist reasons for doing it, etc.). But neither can we turn it into some kind of good versus evil cartoon-like spectacle (or occasion for mere virtue-signalling, etc.). Strangely — and to Kelly’s consternation — my first reaction to much of the news from Ukraine (and from the BBC no less) is now something along the lines of “jeez, more whipping up of moral fervor here, it’s now less likely that people are going to remain clear-headed and informed about how to deal with this dangerous situation — stop it, guys, with all the whole over-simplifying, moralistic routine already.” Understandably, my complaints/rants get interpreted as my being soft on Putin and not seeing the moral forest for the trees (or perhaps blades of grass). I find myself torn psychologically, but I do think we are getting close to the point at which what is all-in best is for the war to be stopped at considerable, regrettable expense to justice.


      • But, just to be clear, I think that, if at all realistic, fighting the Russians to a standstill (our helping with this) is the right move. I’m not sure about how realistic this is, though. My actual belief (not conditional belief), held with at best medium confidence, is that, for now, the best thing is to continue to help the Ukrainians. If they are successful in holding off the Russians in the next several weeks, then I think (and hope) that we are close to the end of the war with as much justice for Ukraine as is realistically possible. If they are not (or if the Russians have the political will and ability to simply continue pounding away indefinitely), then it will be a lot of blood and risk for no material gains in justice.


        • Is there any reason to think Russia has the political will and ability to pound away indefinitely, though? Sure, the Red Army was quite capable of losing battalions and replacing them with the next lot of conscripts, but Russia is in a demographic collapse and flat out doesn’t have a perpetual supply of young men to conscript anymore. Neither does Ukraine, of course, but the UAF isn’t fighting as if it has an endless supply of soldiers, while Russia is. Similarly, while the sanctions are in place Russia has much less ability to replace lost equipment than Ukraine does, which is the main point of the sanctions.

          In other words, anyone who thinks Russia can replace its losses more easily than Ukraine can replace its losses, hasn’t been paying attention to what happened to Russia since the Soviet Union fell.


          • That’s a good question, Michael B. It suggests that, indeed, a better settlement for Ukraine (and for us and for the cause of global democracy or anti-autocracy generally) is possible (if only due to Russia’s political and war-effort morale position deteriorating over time). On the other hand, I think Putin is aware of the distinct danger of his position deteriorating over time and is potentially open to a quick settlement — but probably only after it becomes evident to him that he cannot easily grab much more territory. And that might need to be proved to him. Helping the Ukrainian army prove it — if viable — seems worthwhile. Still (and somewhat on the other hand), I’m not sure waiting much for what is likely to be (in terms of territorial claims) a very similar deal is worthwhile. People are dying and there is the risk of escalation. So I’m not gonna complain about any push for a quick, dirty peace.

            I do think that we have to deal with Russia, and China, differently after this. That does not mean keeping the most draconian (really, war-like) sanctions against Russia in place. But I suspect that there are ways to pursue an anti-autocracy agenda (with military force, ideally multi-lateral, on the table as a last resort — not a la Iraq or Afghanistan) without it devolving into jingoism and a “soft-imperialist” USA agenda. We have seen the results, post-Tiananmen-Square and post-Soviet-Union, of the pro-democracy and pro-peace agenda being used to justify ill-advised pro-democracy wars and general USA bossiness with sometimes-questionable motivations — but we have also witnessed the fruits of tolerance for, and the de facto aiding and abetting of, old-school acts of imperialism and autocracy that we thought had been banished from the vaguely “civilized” world. Zelensky has floated the idea of a kind of alliance of democratic nations. I like this idea in principle (because the U.N. seems hopeless as far as reforming or protecting from powerful autocratic nations goes), but effective implementation would be tricky for many reasons. I hope any new “cold war” can be waged in a more sensible and multi-lateral way than the first one was. I don’t have any answers really, but I don’t see why we should allow the Russian and Chinese states, as presently constituted, benefit, to any significant extent (either morally or materially), from interaction with the United States, Europe and the southeast Asian and oceania democracies. China and Russia have shown how they use the credibility and resources of engagement to kill domestic political opponents, put minority populations into concentration camps, conquer or otherwise dominate other sovereign nations, etc.


            • Michael Young:

              Zelensky has floated the idea of a kind of alliance of democratic nations. I like this idea in principle (because the U.N. seems hopeless as far as reforming or protecting from powerful autocratic nations goes), but effective implementation would be tricky for many reasons.

              Let’s not mince words. What Zelensky has actually floated is abandonment of NATO accession and Russian withdrawal…in return for a security guarantee from “the West.”


              I don’t even know whether to laugh or cry at that. Remember all that brave bullshit talk two months ago about how, by gum, it was Ukraine’s right to decide whether or not to be in NATO? And no one was gonna tell them otherwise! Oddly, their hero Zelensky is now abandoning NATO membership, just like that. That “sovereign right” that everyone was making such a big deal about back in February and March has now evaporated like breath off a blade. People still want to insist that he had the right to decide NATO membership, and that he is “winning” the war. Meanwhile, he is abandoning NATO membership after two weeks. Make it make sense .

              The mind-blowingly obvious fact is that Ukraine has no “right” to decide on its own NATO membership at all. Accession is at the discretion of the members of NATO, and every member gets a veto. So if Hungary says “no,” that’s it. But the defenders of this war kept insisting that the war was over Ukraine’s sovereign right to decide NATO membership. That ship has sailed and sunk with all of the aplomb of the Moskva.

              But it gets better. Zelensky doesn’t want NATO membership…but he wants a security guarantee from the West. In other words, he wants the benefits of NATO membership without having to be a member of NATO.

              So let me turn this over to you guys. Should we give it to him? He’s our guy in Eastern Europe, right? We’re willing to fight a proxy war over Ukraine. Our generals are now getting antsy that we’re not gung-ho enough as a country to fight to victory, their favorite word (but least favorite endeavor). He wants a “guarantee” of security from the people who were unwilling to send in a kennel of Rottweilers to do any actual fighting for him. Now that they’ve gone as far as they have, what are they supposed to say? No?

              I mean, that’s what I would say. But I would have said it two months ago, to avoid having to say it now.


              • Not now. Not tomorrow. This is not, I don’t think, a good move improving the Ukrainian position to get a better deal. It is not necessary and so also needlessly antagonistic. The good move here — potentially — is fighting (helping the Ukrainians fight) the Russians to a standstill, thus making the Russian negotiation position worse. But this is not a good move not if the Ukrainians are doomed to be overrun by a persistent, aggressive Russia that will pound away for years and eventually succeed in destroying or gobbling-up Ukraine. I just don’t know the answer to this question with much confidence, but my thumb is on the scale of justice being done (and the Russians being deflated and punished). Security guarantees, of some sort, will be part of any good settlement. In any case, my “Justice League of the World” suggestion here was more a long-term, idealistic suggestion addressing how to pursue international order and peace in a more multilateral way. It does not help Ukraine at all.

                Liked by 1 person

                • If we could “guarantee” their security, we’d be doing something to secure it now. We obviously can’t guarantee their security, now or ever, and neither have the need to do so, nor have ever had it. To promise Ukraine security is military check kiting. In one of the articles or videos I posted nearby, Anatole Lieven echoes something I said (or maybe I was echoing something he said): how did a country in the middle of Eastern Europe all of a sudden become the central fixation of American national security policy? What policy interest does this fixation serve, apart from increasing the probability of nuclear war?

                  Retributivism is bad enough in criminal justice. Applying it to international affairs is worse than a lost cause. The clearest instance of our retributivism vis-a-vis Putin is also our most hypocritical: on “winning” this war, we intend to remand him to the ICC, a court whose jurisdiction we ourselves don’t accept. But we’ll accept it in this case. What was it Kant said, again? Woe to him who creeps through the serpentine windings of ad hoc retributivism to discover some pseudo-strategic advantage that may or may not arise from it! Quoting from memory here.

                  Liked by 1 person

          • (Responding to Michael Brazier)
            Those are all imponderables that we would all be better off not having to ponder. How long can the Russian army fight? I have no idea. They spent ten years in Afghanistan when their economy was a shambolic mess. They spent eight-plus years in Chechnya. They’ve spent six years in Syria. 10, 8, 6…I’ll grant you the downward trend, but what does it mean? The sequence has no military logic I can discern. Mathematically, it predicts that the war in Ukraine will last four years. But the war isn’t a math problem.

            Why did the North Vietnamese fight from before Dien Bien Phu to after the US departure from Saigon? Why have the Afghans been fighting continuously from before the Soviet invasion to after the US departure from Kabul? Why did Iran and Iraq fight ten years to a stalemate? I don’t really know. It’s not as though these peoples or countries were so much wealthier than the Russians. If the Russians turn out to be as zealous about Ukraine as these other parties were zealous about these other places, we are talking about a war lasting years, not months.


  2. It would better for EVERYONE — US and Europe, Ukraine and Russia, for the war and sanctions to end soon. That is the basis for a realistic settlement.
    For face saving, a Russian ceasefire where they take over part of Eastern Ukraine.
    As for the rest of Ukraine — stay permanently neutral but absolutely armed to the teeth. What other choice is there?
    US, Nato, and EU — be content with Ukraine not being included in any military alliance or trade bloc. It’s not worth it.
    It’s simply not credible that any German, British, French or American blood would be shed on Ukrainian soil, so don’t posture about it.
    Risking nuclear war? No thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree with all of that, except that I think it’s credible for some British or American blood quietly to be shed on Ukrainian soil, in the form of military advisors or trainers killed in action. If the numbers are kept small, the facts can be kept quiet. Benghazi became a cause celebre because it involved an attack on a diplomatic facility. But that needn’t be the case in Ukraine.

      Liked by 1 person

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