David French on Ukraine: A Demolition

It hasn’t yet been a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or the beginning of the US-led proxy war against Russia, and already American support for the war is slipping. Last year’s promises about never-ending aid have quietly been toned down, as have last year’s predictions about Russian defeat and collapse. Predictably, the more stalwart supporters of the war have popped back up to accuse us, yes, of a “failure of will,” a brand of moral weakness to be contrasted with the Stoic hardiness required to sit in front of a computer and demand that the war continue. 

The New York Times recently hired conservative writer David French for its Opinion page, and one of French’s recent NYT columns takes the finger-wagging “failure of will” line on Ukraine: Ukraine must win; they need us to win; yet we seem unenthusiastic about helping them win; by God, if this keeps up, they won’t win; so we must change our tune. O tempora, o mores.*

It doesn’t occur to French that what he calls a failure of will might have explanations other than our moral weakness, for instance, the weakness of the case that’s been made for involvement in the war; the tendentiousness of the media coverage of the war; the apparent strategic pointlessness of the war; and the fact that we have other pressing things to accomplish besides leaping into yet another war. No, the dip in the polls is our fault. There’s just something flabby and flaccid about people unwilling to line up behind perpetual warfare, and David French is here to give us all the pep talk that awakens our desires for continued belligerence-from-afar. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much “willpower” or effort to show that, like so many scolds of this variety, he has nothing of substance to say.

The moral homily begins with this:

Yet the outcome of the war is simply too important — to America as well as Ukraine — to allow our support to falter. On the war’s anniversary it’s time for a concerted effort to persuade Americans of a single idea: We should support Ukraine as much as it takes, as long as it takes, until the Russian military suffers a decisive, unmistakable defeat.

That the outcome of the war is important to Ukraine is too obvious to belabor. That the outcome of the war is of any importance to America is too controversial to be left unsaid. Why is the war of such importance to us? Why is it of such importance that we should want to get involved in it, dragged into it, and court a confrontation with Russia over it?

You might expect a defense of involvement in the war to answer these blatantly obvious questions. You might, but don’t. That’s not how advocates of involvement in Ukraine roll. What matters to them is not why we should be involved, but the demand for a blank check regardless of why. We should support Ukraine no matter what, up until the dramatic denouement of a “decisive, unmistakable defeat” of the Bad Guys. If only wars were war movies: in that case, the “decisive, unmistakable defeat” of the villain would have happened about 100 minutes into the war, and the credits would have rolled by now. But coming back to reality, what exactly does “decisive, unmistakable defeat” mean? It seems less like a workable criterion for victory than a cliché invoked to obviate thought. 

This passage seems promising at first:

Rather than press Ukraine to undertake offensive operations, the administration and Democratic and Republican congressional allies must impress upon the American public the extraordinary high stakes for America in the outcome of a war fought so many thousands of miles from our shores.

Right. We have to support the war because if not, there will be extraordinarily bad consequences for us. Who wouldn’t want to avert extraordinarily bad consequences? Personally, I’m against them. So what are they?

French’s answer is worth quoting in full.

One of the miracles of modern life is that it’s been generations since the great powers have gone to war against one another. The humanitarian catastrophes of the first two world wars are the stuff of history books for everyone but the last surviving veterans of World War II. But those same history books teach us that large-scale European conflicts implicate vital American interests and draw Americans into deadly conflict. There is no better way to prevent American men and women from dying in European battlefields than helping Ukraine defeat Russia and thereby deterring a general European war.

I’d put that into Google Translate, but as far as I know, GT has no functionality for translating half-assed clichés into ordinary English. Here’s my own translation from the French:

We have to involve ourselves in a proxy war in Ukraine, because if we don’t, we will re-live World Wars I and II, and we can’t do that, because that would be a catastrophe. In other words, this war is just like those wars, and since it’s obvious we should have gotten involved in those wars, it’s obvious we have to get involved in this one. 

Is it really obvious that history repeats itself so cleanly? No. Is it really obvious that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just a re-play of World Wars I and II? No. Even if it were, would that prove that we should get involved? No. I hate to belabor this pedantic logico-historiographical point, but World Wars I and II began with World War I. Is it obvious we should have gotten involved in World War I? No. How did we get involved? We lied our way into the war over the Lusitania affair, and embroiled ourselves in hysterics over the Zimmerman Telegram. Were these good reasons for going to war in Europe? No, they were really dumb reasons. Did we go anyway? Yes.

Might this not show that what history really teaches us is that we ought to be reluctant to get involved in foreign wars, even when they seem at first to have a plausible rationale? That’s what it shows me. Evidently, it teaches David French the reverse lesson. But that only shows us that the lessons of history are far from univocal, not that they all point to further involvement in Ukraine. 

What French really needs to show his readers is that involvement in Ukraine will save the lives of the thousands upon thousands of Americans who would hypothetically die from non-involvement. In other words, American involvement will save American lives; American non-involvement will cost American lives. Hard to see how that’s supposed to work. The fact is, he hasn’t shown that a single American–plant, animal, or human–would die from non-involvement. Nor is it clear how he would go about proving, even in principle, that a single American would die from non-involvement, much less that thousands upon thousands would. It’s not just that the proof isn’t there. It’s that it’s hard to imagine what the proof is supposed look like in the first place. 

I mention this obvious fact simply to remind him, and others like him, of the burden of proof involved in asserting grandiose counterfactuals of this kind, and just how far the advocates of the war are from satisfying the burdens involved. Once again to belabor the obvious: counterfactuals are counter factual. They haven’t happened. For that reason, it’s hard to talk intelligibly about them, and deploy them unproblematically in proofs of this or that complicated claim. It’s not even clear that counterfactuals of this sort take truth-values, i.e., are susceptible of being true or false. Deep philosophical debates aside, it’s not clear how to test them or predict them or know what they’re about. So the idea that you can bandy them about as French does in favor of involvement in a war is pure bullshit. You can’t. Or if you think you can, you bear the burden of explaining how. 

French’s next argument:

What more, if Russia defeats Ukraine, a dangerous precedent will be set. Nuclear-armed powers will prove they can invade smaller foes and then rattle the nuclear saber to deter an effective response, creating a one-way ratchet toward territorial aggression. Ironically enough, the effort to placate Russia to avoid escalation is likely to result in more aggression from nuclear-armed foes.

The relevant “dangerous precedent” was set awhile ago. It was set when the US tried to invade Cuba via the Bay of Pigs (1961), then prevailed in the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). Then it was set when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (1979). Then it was set when Israel invaded Lebanon (1982, 2006). Then it was set when the US invaded Iraq (2003). We have an ongoing reminder of the same precedent in the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine (starting 1967), along with US support for it. The precedent is re-set every time India threatens Pakistan over some godforsaken glacier in the Himalayas, or China threatens Taiwan, or North Korea threatens South Korea or Japan. And so on, back to Melos and Athens in Thucydides. A Ukrainian victory is not going to undo this long-standing precedent, or stop it from happening again. If the Russians didn’t learn their lesson in Afghanistan, they’re not going to learn it, at long last, in Ukraine, any more than we learned ours in Vietnam.

You might complain that the list of examples I’ve provided combines clear-cut victories for the stronger party with more equivocal affairs, and combines nuclear cases with non-nuclear ones. I don’t regard that as a problem. The examples on my list support the well-established precedent that stronger powers can invade/threaten weaker ones, then exploit the dangers of escalation to solidify their hold on the conquered/threatened nation. There’s nothing unique about the Ukrainian case, and nothing unique to be accomplished by ensuring that the old precedent isn’t established in a new location.

As for the nuclear issue, deterrence is the whole point of the possession of nuclear weapons. There’s no way to undo this fact by defeating the Russians in Ukraine, as though defeating them will prove, once and for all, that the Russian nuclear arsenal is just a paper tiger without military purpose or deterrent effect. It’s not going to prove that. Nothing can. If the Russians are defeated in Ukraine, and can bear the loss, they’ll walk away humiliated. If they’re about to be defeated, but feel existentially threatened, they may use nuclear weapons. In neither case will we prove to them that they should never invade another country because their nuclear weapons lack deterrent value. To think like that is to inhabit a dream world driven in part by wishful thinking, and in part by a belief in telepathy.

The precedent we should be worried about is the catastrophic one of starting a nuclear war while trying to prove that we’re utterly unworried about the possibility. French seems proudly, willfully, in the “tempt fate” camp. What makes him confident that escalation in Ukraine won’t lead to nuclear war? He doesn’t tell us. Following his precedent, I guess we should just bluster our way to confidence that it won’t. What could go wrong? In this context, French’s derisive reference to “placating” Russia is a tendentious way of saying that we should adamantly refuse to end a war that could end the world, because doing so sets the wrong “precedent.” If French has a good explanation for why the world should be sacrificed to deter further Russian aggression, I’d love to hear it, but it seems to me a rather steep price to pay.

In love with the idea that we should fight wars to “send messages,” French continues by claiming that catastrophic PR defeat awaits us unless we commit ourselves to the bloody end in Ukraine:

Moreover, if Russia ultimately defeats Ukraine, Vladimir Putin will have a message for his people: Russia confronted Ukraine and NATO, and Russia won. Russian victory will have a galvanizing impact on illiberal and authoritarian movements in the West. Western retreat from a winnable war will prove in many quarters the Russian critique of the “woke” West, that it is simply too self-indulgent, decadent and individualistic to survive and thrive.

So fucking what? If Russia defeats Ukraine, French tells us, Putin will have a message for his people, and we won’t like it. The horror. On the other hand, if Ukraine defeats Russia, Putin will also have a message for his people, and we won’t like that, either. How about them apples?

Are wars really fought to change the narrative of the other side? Or are they fought materially to defeat the other side? You might think that defeat is precisely what changes someone’s narrative. It often does, but not in any obvious or predictable way, and not necessarily to the advantage of the victorious party.

We defeated Germany in World War I, but Germany’s post-war narrative is precisely what led to World War II. We were defeated by Vietnam, but that didn’t change our narrative for long enough to stop us from leaping into Afghanistan (twice), Iraq (twice), parts of Latin America, Syria, Libya, and now, Ukraine. The Israelis defeated the Palestinians in 1967, but the Palestinian narrative has not changed since 1948. The Indians have defeated the Pakistanis in every war since the founding of the two countries, but the narrative of the Pakistani military is the same now as it was in 1947. I could multiply examples indefinitely, but the lesson in each case is the same: you can’t bomb someone out of their narrative. And the malevolence of someone’s narrative is not a rationale for the use of bombs in the first place.

After reciting these pseudo-arguments, French raises the red herring of the “insults” that right-wing critics of the war, like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens, have directed at Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Insults are not arguments. But insults can be answered by arguments. And the argument for defeating Russian aggression, destroying the offensive capability of the Russian military, and thereby potentially deterring future aggression in Ukraine and beyond, are overwhelming. 

I agree: insults are not arguments. But neither is rhetoric that insults the intelligence of one’s readership. The argument for American involvement in Ukraine is absolutely not “overwhelming.” Whatever argument needs to be made has yet to be made.

What’s actually “overwhelming” is the yawning gap where arguments should be, and the unlikelihood that the relevant arguments will ever materialize. What seems more likely is a continuation or intensification of the status quo: we will be drawn further and further into this war without ever knowing why we got involved in the first place. Arguments like French’s do not explain why. They simply muddy the waters so that no one asks why. But that question needs relentlessly to be asked, and the answer relentlessly sought. If no good answer is forthcoming, we need to figure out how to cut our losses and get out. It looks like the American people are already starting to travel that road. Better late than never. But too bad now and not sooner. 

*An earlier version of this post mistakenly referred to it as his second column. It was his fourth.

13 thoughts on “David French on Ukraine: A Demolition

  1. Excellent post. I too support letting a genocide happen in Ukraine over the slight chance that Putin will start a nuclear war if he doesn’t get to occupy the country. Although, one could ask, why not just let him use nuclear weapons then? It’s no worse than what he would do by conventional means if Ukraine is left to defend itself alone. You should really see this as a win-win.


    • Thanks. Glad to see we’re on the same page. Meanwhile, I’m curious to see the calculations that lead you to the confident belief that the chances of nuclear war are so low that we can blow the whole thing off, so to speak, and proceed as though the chances are 0. I’m drinking Twinings right now. I’ve looked hard at the tea leaves, but they’re not telling me what I need to know.

      The relevant issue, by the way, is not whether “Putin will start a nuclear war if he doesn’t get to occupy the country,” but the possibility that a nuclear exchange will take place through any etiology that might lead to one. Any light you can shed on that?

      I don’t know what you mean by asking whether we should “just let him use nuclear weapons then.” You’re saying that we have a prior means of restraining him, come the day he actually decides to launch, and does so? What is it, exactly?

      Do you have an actual argument for why we should be involved in this war, or should I just infer that because you’ve used the word “genocide,” none is needed?


  2. Well argued. I don’t agree… I’m not sure I agree! It’s true I think that if Ukraine loses it won’t really affect Americans. It’s also true that supporting Ukraine incurs some risk of nuclear retaliation, and that a number of wars fought in the recent and not so recent past have been pointless, counter productive and unethical. At least in part. On the other hand if Russia wins in Ukraine it will soon extend its hand to the Baltic states. So a Russian win is a threat to Europe. Europe’s problem? Yes. So should the most powerful liberal kinda democracy in the world stand back and watch that happen? Well there’s the controversy. Let’s say it does, and Russia, allied with China, increases its power and territory at the expense of the west? What kind of world will we be heading towards, because we decided to say ‘fuck it, not our problem’ in the beginning? Which I suppose is the Chamberlain argument. At what point do you resist an aggressor? And yet, I completely take your point that as often as not the west is the aggressor.


    • “On the other hand if Russia wins in Ukraine it will soon extend its hand to the Baltic states.”

      Do we really know that? The Soviet Union had trouble digesting Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan not only didn’t lead to an invasion of India or Pakistan, but didn’t even manage to consolidate power over Afghanistan. So there’s no inevitability involved.

      Or there is, coming from the reverse direction: if we seek a “defense in depth” that pre-empts every threat that might come our way, we’ll be perpetually at war. And that is in effect what the United States has done since the end of World War II: “Let’s fight over there,” our strategists reason, “lest we find ourselves threatened at home.”

      The result? We’re always at war, everywhere, with everyone–and then demanding that everyone join us, lest we regard them as an enemy. There’s always a domino falling, or about to fall, and we’re always there to stop it, lest some totally hypothetical, unproven, unprovable chain of events lead from Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or Ukraine to Long Island or Long Beach. No one ever seems to ask for any kind of proof of the plausibility of the reasoning involved. It’s as though we were in a seminar with a bunch of very imaginative analytic philosophers constrained only by conceivability. Can we conceive it? Yes. Then we must treat it as the premise of our grand strategy.

      In the end, all we do is exchange hypothetical threats for actual ones, rationalizing the lives lost by magnifying the hypothetical threats. Why did 55,000 Americans die in Vietnam? Because…well, just imagine how many would have died if we hadn’t sent those 55,000 to their deaths! The problem with this country is that, fifty years after the fact, it has not considered the possibility that the answer is: 0.

      Our wars abroad are a bigger threat to us now than any enemy could be. How many Americans have died in terrorist attacks? Maybe 4,000. How many have died in wars to pre-empt terrorist attacks? Tens of thousands. And I’m not even counting innocents in other countries. This is not a defensible trade-off unless we pretend that the 4,000 is, in some hypothetical universe, actually 400,000. But it isn’t. If we count actual bodies, the proportionality makes no sense. It just looks like getting people killed on the basis of unconstrained fantasies.

      Should the world’s most powerful democracy sit back and watch Russia and China try to take over the world? If I were being more nuanced, I’d say “no,” and give you a list of things we could do short of war to constrain the Russians and Chinese. But for the sake of effect, I don’t mind saying “yes.” We have already drawn the lines over which we will fight. We’re bound by treaty to defend the NATO Alliance and Taiwan. That’s more than enough. We don’t need to keep expanding our “obligations” beyond the already expansive ones we already have.

      And in truth, the “obligation” the United States has incurred to Ukraine is total bullshit. Biden goes to Kyiv and tells the Ukrainians that we will support them forever. But he can only be president, at most, until 2028. Honesty would constrain an honest person to leave the matter there. But American politicians are habitual liars. At the very moment when he is promising the Ukrainians the sky, his diplomats are telling the Ukrainians, sotto voce, that we can’t keep delivering them goodies forever. And we’re not even a year into the war! Are these people truly afraid of an invasion of the Baltics, or people playing a game to keep the war going for its own sake?

      You can probably predict what I think the US should really be doing. There is a foreign military occupation for which the United States bears both responsibility and culpability–not Ukraine, but Palestine. If Americans are so aghast at the idea of military aggression, they should start by undoing the military aggression in which they have played a part. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is neither our fault, nor a threat to our security. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is both.

      Or if Israel is sacrosanct, why not restrain our other rogue ally, Saudi Arabia in Yemen?

      Or if we can’t manage to exert any control over allies, why not just restore democracy at home? The Russian invasion of Ukraine is just a distraction from all these more pressing things. And worst of all, the apparent zeal for it is mostly theater. Once the American people tire of Ukraine, as they soon will, they’ll drop the Ukrainian plaything and move on. At that point, we’ll be just about where we were at the outset of the war, and suddenly, it will become time for a negotiated settlement with the Russians. We could have had one last year. We could have one now. But as it stands, we’ll pursue the phantom of “decisive victory” (by proxy) until we finally figure out that none is to be had.


      • I agree on Yemen and Palestine. Although it’s pretty clear why the US takes the position it does on those wars. But Russia has a record of invading the Baltic states, and it’s pretty clear they’re worried. So I would put money on ‘first Ukraine, then Finland, Estonia, Moldova, etc. And yeah, the chances of the US continuing to support the Ukraine are low to zero, so one might pragmatically say, give up and negotiate now. Meaning Ukraine will have to cede large parts of its territory, assuming it can’t survive on its own. I wouldn’t like to be Ukrainian in this position, inevitable though it might be. However the calculation is probably that the longer the Ukraine keeps fighting, the weaker Russia becomes, and so when it comes time to negotiate they’ll get a better outcome. Not only that but Russia, a rival, will be, well, weaker. We Australians are also a long way off, from the American perspective, and nostalgically rather than strategically important, but rely on the US for defence…a bad idea, probably. Especially if realpolitik means that the US decides we’re expendable.
        I’m sorry, I’m probably not making these points in a particularly logical way. I blame the truncated comment format on my tablet. But I think for every ten cases where you shouldn’t be worrying about dominoes, there’s a case where you really should, and this is it. Although… Europe really needs to be able to defend itself. The US is in decline as a failsafe imperial protector. And also really we should be done with the whole Great Game thing and grow up.


        • Yes, the Russians/Soviets have a history of conquering/occupying the Baltics. But a history of that sort gives us evidence of probability, not inevitability, and it’s not legitimate to equate the two. The US has a long history of military interventions in both Latin America and Asia, but you couldn’t user that to infer that there is certainty about a US invasion of Mexico or Cuba or certainty of a US attack on North Korea.

          Same here. If evidence materializes that the Russians have intentions of invading the Baltic states, then (for better or worse), those states are members of NATO, and we are treaty-bound to defend them. You asked before where the line is draw. That’s where. But let me return to this issue, because thought that’s where the line is drawn, it’s not where it really ought to be drawn.

          Second, suppose you’re right that the Russians intend to invade the Baltics. What does that have to do with Ukraine? How does pushing them out of Ukraine protect the Baltics?

          You might say it has “deterrent” value, as in: “If the Russians see our resolve in Ukraine, they won’t invade the Baltics.” I highly doubt that. The Cold War has already proven that the logic of “deterrence,” played as an abstract exercise in game theory, does not work. If the Russians were deterred by counter-force, they should have been deterred by our willingness to court nuclear war over Cuba. They weren’t. How about our defense of South Korea? No. Vietnam? No. Our proxy wars in Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan? No. Suppose that they really intend to invade the Baltics. If so, their behavior is not amenable to the logic of game theory or deterrence. It has some other motivation, and deterring them in Ukraine won’t work. If the failure of their invasion of Afghanistan didn’t deter them, there is no reason to think that the failure of their invasion of Ukraine will deter a would-be invasion of the Baltics.

          What our defense of Ukraine really shows them is that there is no discernible logic to our military behavior whatsoever. We will go to Afghanistan, promise eternal resolve, then leave a million person refugee crisis and move on, as though nothing happened. We will cry a river of tears over the threat to our borders posed by mass migration, then do nothing about Haiti. We will go Iraq to “disarm” it, find nothing to disarm, but stay to engage in nation-building. We add countries to NATO that add no strategic value to the coalition (the Baltics, Albania), then turn around and defend countries outside of NATO (like Ukraine). We describe NATO as an alliance of partners sharing common political values, then add Hungary and Turkey. It’s easy to villainize the Russians, but frankly, our actions make so little sense that I can sympathize with anyone who gives them a cynical or sinister interpretation.

          It’s very common in the US (and increasingly, in Europe) for people to accuse someone of “treason” for giving a semi-charitable interpretation to Putin’s behavior. That’s fine. I don’t mind being accused of treason in that non-legal sense. The same thing was said of Islamist terrorists in the years of 9/11; it was “treason” to try to understand the world from their perspective. But our failure to do that simply led to a failure to understand the world we were living in. The same thing is happening here. If we present Putin with totally unintelligible behavior, we can’t complain when he interprets us in an irrational ways. One form of irrationality is simply begetting another. What we see in North America and Europe, possibly in Australia as well, is a total refusal to grapple with this fact. All the blame has devolved on the Russians, none on us. I am not blaming us for Russia’s invasion. I am blaming us for making no sense, then demanding that the Russians make sense.

          But let me come back to the Baltics. I said that the line was in fact drawn there because the Baltics are now members of NATO. But I regard that as a very unfortunate fact. An alliance has to meet two basic conditions: (1) the allies have to share basic values in common, and (2) each ally has to make a mutually advantageous contribution to the alliance. The Baltics do not meet (2). From our perspective, they represent nothing but an open-ended source of risks and costs. They can’t defend themselves, they can’t defend Europe, and they can’t defend us. An attack on them has zero causal relationship to an attack on us. Why are they members of NATO at all? Because our leaders have engaged in the fallacious reasoning that the bigger NATO gets, the more secure we are. That’s the reverse of the truth. The bigger NATO gets, the greater the risks we face and the greater the costs we incur, since most of the additions are pure deadweight. If the addition of the Baltics was not fait accompli, I personally would never have drawn the line there.

          Domino metaphors trace back to World War II. But what about the lessons of World War I, which led to World War II? The lesson of World War I is that it’s a huge mistake to make alliances in a haphazard way. Doing that either increases the probability of wars that would never have happened, or at least, would never have spread as far as World War I did. It’s absurd that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand should have led to a world war, but it did because the structure of alliances at the time set the dominoes up so that they would, at the least touch, fall in every direction.

          That’s effectively what we’ve done with NATO: we’ve recreated the logic of World War I, which is exactly what we now see in Ukraine–not a replay of Nazi blitzkrieg, but a replay of the trench warfare of the Marne and Verdun. I’m the first to insist that Germany was the aggressor in World War I, but also the first to insist that we should never, ever have entered that war. I’ve also argued that while the Japanese were the aggressors in East Asia in the 1930s, it was a mistake to have imposed regime-destroying sanctions on them. Pearl Harbor was avoidable, and so were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But that, too, is a mistake we seem to insist on repeating. The answer to aggression is not always full-scale retaliation in kind.

          It’s worth remembering that even in the best-case scenario, if we push the Russians entirely out of historic Ukraine, we are then left with the burden of rebuilding Ukraine from scratch. Ukraine was one of the most corrupt countries in the world before the invasion, and very far from being a functioning democracy then. If we “win” in Ukraine, what we “win” is the unenviable task of doing in Ukraine what we abjectly failed at doing in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. We have to extend American imperialism to yet another place, and likely, fail at it. The irony is that the places previously under Soviet influence where we made no interventions are not doing badly. Maybe some things are best left alone.

          So while it may be true that the longer the Russians fight, the more they are weakened, it’s also true that the longer the war drags on, the more of Ukraine will be destroyed. That means, in turn, that we’ll inherit a country even more traumatized than we would have inherited if we had negotiated a settlement earlier on. That strategy also treats the Ukrainians as instruments of our preferred timeline. It is not clear to me how many Ukrainians would prefer a negotiated settlement now to a continued fight. Our press is too brainwashed to report on such a thing, and there is no freedom in Ukraine to say it out loud. We hear a great deal about Russian casualties, but little about Ukrainian casualties, and little about Ukrainian reluctance to incur them indefinitely. But it’s highly likely that behind the bravado, some Ukrainians want this to end. Instead, we are giving them mixed messages about how we will support them to an unconditional victory over Russia, while also telling them to hurry up and finish the war because our people are getting bored of it. Maybe it’s time to just cut everyone’s losses right now. Things are not going to improve.

          The United States can’t be relied on as an imperial power because there is an unresolved contradiction at the heart of American history and thought on that subject, just as there was when it came to slavery. The US was founded in rebellion against an imperial power, Britain, but it fought that war by establishing itself as an imperial power in North America. The subjugation of the Native nations was essential to our war strategy against Britain. So we fought an imperialist war for anti-imperialist ends, or maybe an anti-imperialist war for imperial ends. Either way, the imperialism and the anti-imperialism together lie together like a Gordian knot at the heart of America. Contemporary Americans are too squeamish to look directly at this history. They have trouble even using the world “imperialism” as applied to their own country. So it’s no surprise they can’t think straight about it, and no surprise that their actions are so bizarre and unpredictable. One can’t rely on such a power, and one shouldn’t.

          That said, I don’t think Australia has anything to worry about, not because Australia has a mutual defense treaty with the US in ANZUS, but simply because Australia has nothing to worry about. No one is going to invade Australia. Anyway, if push comes to shove, the one thing we are good at is supporting white, English-speaking allies. Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand have nothing to fear. We’ll stand by them to the end. The rest of the world is another story.


  3. We need to put this in a more accurate historical context. We started this war. There is no doubt about that. We promised the Soviet Union, decades ago, that NATO would not expand eastward, and then we broke that promise. Russia has said repeatedly that they will not tolerate a large enemy state right on their border, so Ukraine cannot join NATO. But we decided to ignore all that, and in November ‘21 we signed a statement saying that Ukraine can join NATO. That’s when Russia decided to invade. Make no mistake — our own recklessness started this war. And we provoked Russia’s last invasion of Ukraine as well. We backed the coup that removed a Russia-friendly government in Ukraine, and replaced it with a NATO-friendly government. Russia promptly responded with the first invasion of Ukraine. The idea that we have been a passive, peaceful bystander, while Russia has been an unprovoked aggressor is completely inaccurate. Blinken is part of that old, we-will-make-the-world-how-we-want-it crowd. They are thinly disguised imperialists, and they recklessly go about making the world in their own image, until someone resists. And it doesn’t matter how many Vietnams or Afghanistans or Iraqs we go through — they are unfazed. It’s reckless and stupid. It’s also very costly. We have now sent $113 billion to Ukraine, while many of our NATO allies still fail to spend even 2% of their own GDP on NATO defense. It’s absurd.


    • Gordon, it’s good to see you here after so long. I happen to be writing this from Denver, at the Central APA.

      I’m sympathetic to your argument, as well as Mearsheimer’s. I recently had to unfriend someone on Facebook whose reflexive response to Mearsheimer was to reject M’s arguments on Ukraine by insinuating that Mearsheimer was an unreliable anti-Semite whose views can therefore be dismissed out of hand (anti-Semitic because of his views on the Israel lobby). Such views have become amazingly common, including among academics. Thus the “woke” academy is also the one in which a John Mearsheimer can, with impunity, be defamed as an anti-Semite by advocates of involvement in Ukraine.

      That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to adopt Mearsheimer’s line on Ukraine to oppose involvement in the war. It’s sufficient to say that we have no legal obligation to defend Ukraine; defending it is not a matter of self-defense; the risks and costs of involvement are far too high to justify involvement; and far higher priorities will go ignored if we focus as obsessively on Ukraine as we’re doing.

      Beyond that, the one thing we could be doing for Ukraine is not being done: barely any Ukrainian refugees are being let into the US. Poland has accepted a mass influx of Ukrainian refugees, Jordan accepted a mass influx of Syrian refugees, Pakistan accepted a mass influx of Afghan refugees. But a few thousand refugees show up in Texas or New York, and our first resort is to panic and ship them somewhere else (Martha’s Vineyard, Canada). Meanwhile, we’re debating what weapons systems to send the Ukrainians. There’s something pathetic about that.


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