What Ukraine is Not About
As the awful war visited by the Russians upon Ukraine continues and the innocent suffer the most, it is important to grasp what this war is about and what it is not about, particularly for the United States.
First, understand that it is about the U.S. If the U.S. wasn’t arming Ukraine, then there would have been a negotiated settlement by now. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of State has not even talked with his Russian counterpart since mid-February. Also, it should be clear that if the U.S. had made it clear prior to the invasion that Ukraine would not be allowed into NATO, then the Russians would likely have not committed this crime. Remember it is not about pursuing some pure, righteous policy. In international relations it is most often about harm reduction. Yet, the U.S. refuses to engage in any harm reduction. Also, spare me the notions of Ukraine as a sovereign nation. Since the U.S. orchestrated coup in 2014, they have been nothing less than a hand puppet for the U.S. imperial state.
Let’s knock down the propagandistic excuses for the inexcusable U.S. policy of pouring gasoline on a raging fire. First, this is not at all about legitimate U.S. defense. The hard truth is, whatever happens to Ukraine; absorbed into Russia, occupied, or simply neutralized, it does not in any way threaten the U.S. None of the things a nation may possibly go to war over are at risk. There is no threat to U.S. territorial integrity, U.S. sovereignty, or U.S. transit in international waters.
Well, the next excuse is that a Ukrainian defeat will imperil the U.S. international position. This is just a fancy way of saying it is in the U.S. “security” interest. The claim has been made that Putin wants to reconstitute the USSR. This is based on his statement that “Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart.” However, the rest of the quote is: “Anyone who wants it restored has no brains”. It is more rational to think that Putin wants regional power and more international respect for Russia than he wants to see a new USSR.
In any event, it should be clear to rational thinkers that even if he wanted a new USSR, Putin does not have the economic resources to make it happen. This insightful article outlines what is needed to project military power. The article is primarily concerned with China, but it equally applies to Russia, especially as Russia’s economy is even less dynamic than China’s. Russia does not even have the overall capacity the old USSR had, train wreck of an economy that was.
The gist of the insight is that it is not aggregate GDP that matters but rather per capita GDP that is more relevant. The greater per capita excess economic capacity a nation has, the greater is its ability to project power. This explains why Britain was able to dominate most of the world in the 19th. century. First you must feed, shelter, and clothe your population, then build all the military capacity to project power. If a huge portion of your economic output goes toward these primary tasks, then you have less war making capacity. So, war capacity requires some scale of course, but also a per capita level of wealth that Russia does not possess.
This is provably the case with Russia today. Overall, it was, prior to its invasion, the 11th largest economy, behind global threats Canada, Italy, and South Korea. On a per capita basis they look even worse, ranking 57th. They do not have anywhere near the ability to reconstitute the Soviet Union, even if they wanted to, which is doubtful.
This also takes care of the next, even more ridiculous excuse, that they are some sort of threat to conquer western Europe. This is all that needs to be said about this, as it would be laughable, were it not used as an excuse to continue fueling a war that could have been avoided and could be ended soon by negotiation.
The final excuse is that the United States is concerned with the rights of the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainian government, aided and abetted by the U.S. was not protective of its citizens rights, as I outlined here. Add to this the long list of U.S. support for odious regimes and an even longer list of war crimes perpetuated by the U.S. and this also would be laughable were it not so morally reprehensible.
An Alternate Explanation
I will offer what I think explains the true motives behind the U.S. imperial drive to continue fueling this war. First, I will point out that even from a realpolitik standpoint the current U.S. policy does not make sense. The risk reward equation is way out of whack (I discuss risks below). To use an aphorism, the juice is not worth the squeeze. This is important to keep in mind because many who think that the U.S. is motivated by imperial interest (both those for and against), assume this is what is going on here. I do not think so, as Ukraine has long been within Russia’s sphere of influence and not in the United States’. Imperialists across the spectrum from Henry Kissinger to Barack Obama have made this claim.
If it is not a simple imperialist adventure that explains U.S. policy toward Ukraine, then what does? I would argue that a new ideology is emerging, one I would refer to as Messianic Global Manifest Destiny. The original version of Manifest Destiny evolved fully in the 19th. century, but its antecedents were extant from the start of the U.S. as a nation. It is the notion that it is the God given right (this is the Messianic part of the old and new versions) of Americans to push across the continent spreading the “blessings” of the American way of life. While ostensibly capitalist, it was really about conquest and domination in often violent opposition to free market principles. This fine history of the U.S. west gives great details about this often sad story.
Once the frontier was closed off the U.S. went abroad in search of power. It toppled the remains of the Spanish Empire, destroyed the Japanese empire (and most of Japan itself), gathered up parts of the British and French empires after destroying the imperial threat from Germany. Then the U.S. went into competition with the USSR, which was a global competitor mostly because they also had the bomb.
One might have thought that after the Soviet Union dissolved the U.S. could become sated, but no. The U.S. has continued, via NATO to press right up to the borders of Russia with armed forces. Think about that for a moment when you consider the propaganda about a revanchist Russia. It is U.S. troops on their border, not vice versa. It is the U.S. that has encircled Russia with alliances and bases. Keep in mind that the other end of the Eurasian land mass is corralled by the U.S. navy.
Add to this the clear drive to engage in Russian regime change. Biden has been clear about this, and a war crimes trial only happens if Putin is deposed, and you can see that the U.S. wants to add Russia as a client state. This is also behind the drive to weaken and isolate Russia. No other rationale that I can come up with has the explanatory power than this idea that it is America’s “God-given right” to control the world.
It should not be lost on anyone that this ideology dovetails conveniently with the economic interests of the U.S., which is primarily centered on the dominance of the dollar as the reserve currency (more on that in coming weeks). As always, conviction follows the money.
I do not think that this is a completely, fully formed idea…yet, but we are getting there. This seems increasingly the case among the governing classes in the neocon think tanks, the ever more hawkish corporate media, and many academics. As the old adage says, remove the impossible and what remains, however improbable (or horrifying), is the truth.
It is growing like a fervent religious sect, and only a Messianic mindset would take on such risks to accomplish this. The use of the word risk is a gross understatement. First, unlike the first version of Manifest Destiny, this one comes up against serious countervailing forces. The U.S. is not going up against a ragtag group of outmanned and under gunned Indians and Mexicans. They are going up against a rising (for the moment) China and a still deadly Russia. While China’s power may be exaggerated and Russia’s surely is, they both hold the power to destroy the U.S., and the rest of the world as well.
This risk of nuclear escalation is especially serious in the face of a Messianic ideal like Global Manifest Destiny. If the Russians and Chinese think the U.S. is playing for the world, then they have every incentive to go to the mat, as it is clear they have everything at stake. The U.S. and its competitors only need to be wrong about nuclear deterrence once, and they are wrong forever.
The other risk plays into the nuclear risk in a different way. The notion of imperial overstretch has been around for a while, and it is an important one. Every empire in history has stretched too far and collapsed under its own weight or the pressure of another rising entity. The problem is only the USSR dissolved in the nuclear age. Can we be sure that a U.S. decline would not precipitate a wounded U.S. imperial animal thrashing about with nuclear weapons? It is the topic of U.S. decline that I turn to in coming weeks.
The task of rational people is to be aware of this rising, and dangerous ideology. This awareness can ignite serious opposition to such a risky and immoral criminal enterprise. As always, it is God’s people that should lead the way toward a more peaceful future.
Praise Be to God