But It’s So Nice Inside The Bubble
Let’s get this out of the way so that no one can twist my meaning; what Russia is doing in the Ukraine is a crime against humanity. Full stop.
There is a base operating assumption when people think about U.S. foreign policy (if they think much about it at all), that we are the guys in the white hats, fighting, imperfectly perhaps, for good. The other guys are the black hats trying to dominate the world. It never occurs to people that in the realm of international relations there are no white hats. There is no good guys/bad guys dichotomy. There is no one with just a speck in their eye as opposed to our own log (Matthew 7:3). There is just a room full of people all with logs in their eyes. There are only black hats, dispensing various shades of shit. This misunderstanding comes because we are not too terribly oppressed at home (yet anyway).
There is what I would call an inside/outside disconnect. The way the U.S. treats its own citizens is for the most part nothing like they treat those in other countries. This should not surprise any student of history. All throughout history there have been notable examples of polities and states that treat their own citizens reasonably well and treat outsiders horribly. Periclean Athens for one. Rome is another example. Closer to our time is Victorian England, Belgium (nice little Belgium offed 10 million in the Congo), modern day Israel and of course the United States today. These are all examples of states that did not care a whit about out groups while treating their own citizens rather well.
I don’t want to suggest that all is shit. There is much about U.S. culture that the world loves. The entertainment, food, culture in general. Notably, yet predictably, these are all things outside of the state. Unfortunately, the main export of the U.S. is violence.
Walk A Mile in Their Shoes
I will only focus on the post WWII interactions of the U.S. There is simply too much awfulness to cover in one post to go much beyond that. Let’s narrow the focus to the interactions of NATO and the world behind the Iron Curtain. The first thing most people do not realize is that NATO pre-dated the Soviet led Warsaw Pact by 6 years. Yes, the Soviets began to dominate Eastern Europe, in violation of their agreement at Yalta, and they absolutely did treat these nations awfully. It is not right that they did this, but it should be understandable. For the second time in 30 years, they survived (just barely) a massive attack from Germany. Is it such a stretch to get why they built a buffer for themselves? Additionally, the fact that the USSR treated these nations badly is not the same thing as posing an offensive threat to the west.
In fact, serious scholarship calls into question that the west thought, at the time, that the USSR had any real capability to invade Western Europe. See here and here. Additionally, there is real doubt that Stalin wanted to. He had already embraced the notion of “Socialism in One Country” rather than a global revolutionary ethic. True, the USSR did end up competing with the U.S. in several areas around the globe but that too is not the same thing as desiring or being capable of conquering Western Europe. In fact, I would say that overall, the Soviet posture vis a vie western Europe was a defensive one. If it was all offense, then why did the Soviets voluntarily withdraw from Austria in 1955 in return for Austrian neutrality?
If the threat was exaggerated, then why? A realistic reason is that it served the purposes of U.S. imperial hegemony. The key to controlling Europe and west Africa is control of the western end of the Eurasian land mass. It is the choke point. The formation of NATO and the U.S. “deterrent” was to hem in the USSR and prevent them from in any way challenging U.S. power. At the same time the U.S. was able to place a ring of steel around the east end of Eurasia, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. This secured control of the vital chokepoints that protected the Pacific basin as well as the Indian Ocean and the eastern approaches to Africa. In short, the U.S. was able to compete for global hegemony, with only the Soviet Union in any position to offer a challenge in some spots, almost all peripheral.
This is what explains our pinning the Soviets up against NATO, before they formed the Warsaw Pact. This explains our actions in Korea and Vietnam (even though a failure). This explains our support for all the odious regimes that will do our bidding. If a nation is free and democratic, fine. If not, that’s fine too, if they remain obedient to U.S. imperial needs. This also explains the long history of U.S. support for regime change. Remember there are no white hats here.
This then becomes the face that the world sees. A U.S. that supports oppressive regimes. A U.S that helps those regimes rip off the economy with the help of western capital (not free trade mind you but, a rigged game). This becomes the reality for millions around the globe. Violence, directly or indirectly and a complete lack of concern for basic human rights. This then is why they hate the U.S.; the U.S. does little but kill their families and steal their shit.
The proof of all this is in the history since the end of the Cold War. The inability of the Soviet economy to sustain a level that would carry an empire put them in the dustbin. This created a situation for the first time in history whereby one nation had near complete control of the entire Eurasian landmass. The U.S. did what had never been done, there was simply nothing to compare to U.S. global imperial hegemony.
One would think, then, that NATO could disband. One would be wrong. NATO not only did not disband, it’s still here 30 years after the end of the Cold War, but it in fact expanded right to the Russian border, even though the U.S. stated that they would not allow this. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO in1999. The Baltic states began talks to join in 2002 and formally did so in 2009. There were now western troops on the Russian border. It was as if pre 1990 the U.S. had Europe by the waist, after 1990 it had Europe by the neck. This is the view of the U.S. from Russia:
It is instructive that only after the end of the Cold War did NATO act in concert militarily, and all offensively. None of the interactions were a so-called Article 5 attack on one is an attack on all situations. A list is here. Of note, is the Kosovo operation. We did exactly what the Russians are attempting now in the Ukraine, hiving off an area from its former sovereign. The U.S. constantly demands from others that which it is never willing to give itself. The capital of hypocrisy is Washington D.C.
This brings us to Ukraine, an area with a long and deep interaction with Russia over the centuries, much of it tortured. Because of that deep historical connection as well as geography, Russia considers the status of Ukraine a core security issue. Which is why the U.S. was nothing short of insane to suggest that Ukraine should become a member of NATO. This was something that the entire Russian leadership warned against, not just Putin. Long story short, we had by 2014 flipped Ukraine from being a neutral to Russian leaning nation, with a legitimately elected government to a U.S. client state by blatant U.S. interference. A more detailed outline of this is here.
The Russians warned again and again that this was a line they would not allow to be crossed. This was for them, their Cuba. The way the U.S. would not tolerate offensive nuclear weapons 90 miles off the U.S. coast, the Russians would not allow an adversarial coalition to be on its borders, so deep into its flank in an area with so much intertwined history. We should have sought an Austrian or Finland type of situation for Ukraine. This would have allowed them breathing space to prosper economically, build better, more stable domestic institutions and be at peace, like Finland and Austria have been. There may yet be hope for this approach.
None of this makes what Russia did less than a crime against humanity. All state-to-state wars are crimes against humanity if for no other reason than the slaughter of innocents. This is true of Russia, and it is true of Imperial America. Yes, I am making an explicit moral equivalency between all large nations power politics and foreign affairs.
Again, you need to look at the face of the U.S. and the west as the rest of the world sees it, not the way we assume it looks from inside the bubble. Right and wrong are not dependent upon borders. All power politics are immoral. All of this is about recognizing “what is” and trying to minimize harm; like not slaughtering innocents and/or incinerating the planet.
What is even more ludicrous about this Ukraine business is that Russia is a “power” player only because they have the bomb. They are a shell of even the economic train wreck that was the USSR. They have an economy the size of Italy and are rapidly depopulating. They are not a threat to reconstitute the Soviet Union much less run the table to the English Channel. It would be an easy lift to have not blown so much smoke up Ukraine’s ass and given Russia what is so core to their perceived security, a neutral and peaceful Ukraine. It is not as if no one warned us ahead of time as this clip shows.
Showing a Better Face
There is still a hope that we can show a better face than the one we have previously. No, I am not talking about the arrival of Utopia, but some basic harm reduction. We can negotiate for a cessation of hostilities in the Ukraine by offering the Russians in writing that there will be no Ukrainian entry into NATO, and that they will remain neutral as to their foreign policy. This would be accompanied by a Russian written guarantee of non-interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Next, we can turn over much more of Europe’s defense to Europe. This affords the U.S. the opportunity to gain some semblance of fiscal balance, as empires are expensive and usually fall due to “imperial overstretch”. This would allow for the removal of the U.S. from NATO as Europe, an area with the economic wherewithal to defend itself can now formally do so. This too will reduce tensions with a nuclear armed Russia.
A whisper goal would then be to move toward a more noninterventionist foreign policy. One guided by the principles this nation was founded upon, peace and free trade. This is fiscally saner and has the hope of rendering the world a safer one in which to live.
Only by understanding that all players on the international scene have logs in their eyes and are engaged in a patently immoral game of power politics, can we hope to reduce the shit to shoe level. In any way perfect? No, not likely even moral. Yet, likely the best we can hope for in a fallen world.
Praise Be to God