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Tuesday, February 15, 2022


The two biggest events of the past few days have, of course, been the Super Bowl and the crisis in Ukraine. I turned on the Super Bowl but after a while drifted off to Turner Classic Movies where I spent a delightful time watching that grand old film The Music Man starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, and Buddy Hackett. I have a special fondness for Shirley Jones films because I appeared with her in summer stock in the summer of 1956 (I am vastly exaggerating my role, it goes without saying, but I really did spend two weeks in the pit chorus of a summer stock traveling performance of The Beggar’s Opera in which Shirley Jones starred. The pit chorus never got on stage and I never met Jones but I did honest to God appear with her in the production. My proudest dramatic moment.) But all of that is neither here nor there. Today I want to say a few words about the Ukraine crisis. Let me begin with a disclaimer: I have never visited any of the territories implicated in the crisis and I do not read, write, or speak any of the relevant languages so take what I have to say with the appropriate grain of salt.


There are two basically different Imperial models which we can think of as the Chinese model and the British model. The Chinese Empire, when the central government was strong, expanded its control west, north, and south into such areas as Mongolia and Tibet. When the central government was weak, it contracted in upon itself. All of this is discussed elegantly in a wonderful old book called The Inner Asian Frontiers of China by Owen Lattimore. Even at its height, the Chinese Empire did not seek to conquer lands not contiguous to the homeland. The British model, by contrast, was based on overseas colonies stretching around the world. This model was also the basis for the French, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, and German empires.


Russia followed the Chinese model in its modern expansion. At its height, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics stretched from the contiguous far eastern territories of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Khirgizia, Tadjikistan, and Turkmenistan all the way to the north western republics of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, to Georgia, White Russia (or Byelorussia – Belarus, as it is now called), and to Armenia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan in the south. The Soviet Union rarely if ever sent its troops to a land that was not contiguous to the homeland. Its most disastrous effort was of course in Afghanistan (interested parties can watch the third Rambo movie for details of the ways in which Americans stood up the Taliban with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to defeat the Russians.)


The United States has followed a mixed Imperial model over the course of its several hundred year existence. It started with the Chinese model, expanding westward into spatially contiguous areas, which it incorporated into itself. Unlike the Chinese and the Russians, the United States chose to exterminate the populations of the territories it conquered, confining those it could not kill on “reservations.” To be sure, there were overseas imperial adventures which resulted in the acquisition of Puerto Rico, the domination for a while of Cuba, the acquisition of Hawaii and Alaska and such minor territories as Guam. But it was not until after the Second World War that the United States fully embraced the British model of worldwide imperial expansion through a combination of military force and alliances.


Hitler’s disastrous decision to invade Russia resulted not only in his ultimate defeat but also in the enormous expansion westward of the Soviet Union. At its height, the Soviet Union controlled, in addition to its Eastern European Soviet Socialist Republics, the entire territory of what came to be called the Warsaw Pact, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland.


With the collapse and breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States and its Western European allies were able to establish on the Central European plain the control that had eluded them at the close of World War II. Little by little, the United States has been taking advantage of Russia’s relative weakness to push eastward, seeking even to control in one way or another territories that were originally Soviet Socialist Republics.


All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom, democracy, the fundamental principles of national independence or anything of the sort. It is simply late 20th century and early 21st century imperial struggling and positioning in an ever-changing world.


Vladimir Putin is attempting to reverse somewhat this expansionist thrust of the United States and its allies, aided by an extremely powerful military and the advantage of sizable oil and natural gas resources. There is no neutral objectively correct distribution of geographic control among competing imperial powers.   There is simply an endless struggle for position and control.


Whose side am I on? Well, I am certainly not on the side of Vladimir Putin, and I very much approve of Joe Biden’s decision not to put American troops at risk to maintain the independence of Ukraine. Beyond that, I confess I have no settled convictions in the matter.


Anonymous said...

Prof Wolff, do you have any further or extended thoughts on the ongoing Trucker/Far-Right/Fascist 'protest' occurring in Canada and in other Liberal Democracies?

The most striking development (which is unsurprising in truth, through striking nonetheless) is the clear financial interference of foreign governments and political agents to disrupt Liberal Democracies. During his press-conference wherein he invoked the Emergencies Act, Trudeau and his ministers emphasized the threat to Canadian security considering the influence of foreign political investment. His Deputy Prime Minister even explicitly stated that Liberal Democracies are in jeopardy and that in Canada it is no different.

As well, the sheer intensity of it all seems to signal that such fascist and sedition groups are not disappearing anytime soon. Have fascist sedition groups simply become part and parcel of Liberal Democracy? A cancer that attempts to kill its own host? Is there any possible route that could truly de-radicalize people and weaken support for far-right movements? Is this simply the status quo in a post-COVID world that emerges after people were online 24/7 for 2 years, slowly consuming internet disinformation that radicalized them through appeals to their frustrations?

Most days, the future of Liberal Democracy seems hopeless and bleak. Lately it seems nearly pitch-black. Glimmers shine through occasionally, but one cannot help but notice the encompassing darkness that seems to hang above all things political.

SrVidaBuena said...

I suspect it wouldn’t be hard to make a case that most of our current predicament is overwhelmingly due to 30 years of technocratic management by the MBAs and lawyers, and ‘journalists’ - a huge portion of which have Ivy League ‘credentials’.

As for the ‘trucker protests’ so easily dismissed as ‘far-right fascism’… that’s becoming the term du jour for anytime the unwashed masses of workers refuse to take their orders from their ‘betters’, meaning the anointed professional classes of ‘experts’ and their mouthpieces in corporate media, most prominently CNN and MS-DNC. Typically these folks are content to simply sneer at the lower classes, but when it starts to mess with ‘capitalism’ the gloves come off. One could choose to talk with them but its much easier just to talk at people than to listen.

Of course you won’t hear about it on MSNBC and their ilk. There is a broader debate happening. This is a good start:

Eric said...

RPW: "I very much approve of Joe Biden’s decision not to put American troops at risk to maintain the independence of Ukraine"

A good friend of mine flies for one of the major commercial US airlines. The airlines have relationships with the US Dept of Defense. My friend just got back today from an unscheduled trip flying very young armed military personnel to Poland.

Another Anonymous said...

Shirley Jones played demure women in three great musicals: Oklahoma, Carousel and The Music Man. Then she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, playing a prostitute/seductress in Elmer Gantry. According to her autobiography, in her personal life she was rather bawdy. A truly superb actress with a beautiful voice.

james wilson said...

Having just re-read Ellen Meiksins Wood’s (2003) “Empire of Capital,” I have to say I find her views on the several types of empire the world has seen rather more subtle and persuasive than the dichotomous one put forward here. I further think that her discussion of the post-Cold War US-based international system offers some insights into the Ukraine crisis. For one, the US, dominant militarily and still to some extent economically, regularly has to act to preserve its domination over its allies and potential enemies alike, not to mention keeping the American and other western publics on board. War scares, especially after humiliations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, do serve those ends. I think it’s particularly notable that so much of the Ukrainian crisis has been used to bring the European allies to heel, even while it has brought attention to the West European, particularly German, straying off the reservation with its pipeline deal with Russia and to the growing tendency of the French to rediscover their de Gaullism and start arguing more often that even after Trump Europe should put together its own, more autonomous security system.

Or to put my concerns over the Ukraine crisis in a different perspective: I’m regularly troubled that while so much attention, certainly in the US and British media, is devoted to explorations of Putin’s psychology and possible goals, almost no attention is devoted to exploring what might be driving the US’s words and actions. (And yes, I know that if anyone dares ask these sorts of questions one is all too likely to be accused of parroting the odious right-wing talking heads and giving comfort to the enemy. Please spare me that sort of propagandistic rubbish. Just because the anti-war movement is dead, or at least in deep hibernation doesn’t mean to say that the anti-war critique is any less valid than it was in 1964-75, 2003- ….)

Marco Aurelio Denegri said...

Professor Wolff, I think your position is clear and aligned with those of many people with a good grasp of imperial policies in the 20th century. But if Russia invades Ukraine, in turn leading to chaos, destruction and human rights abuses, etc, would it be justified (or moral) for the international community to intervene militarily or use the threat of it?.

s. wallerstein said...

James Wilson,

During the 2016 election, I clicked on the NY Times website and I saw so many articles and op eds about the Russian menace that I thought I was back in 1958. I gave up on the NY Times and stopped reading it unless someone sends me a link to an article. I don't normally read mainstream U.S. media at all. I read the international edition of The Guardian, but it's not much better. I really don't feel that I'm missing anything except
my constant irritation about how they distort and manage the news. I don't need that irritation.

I suggest that if you read any foreign language, Spanish, French, Italian or German, you follow international news in the media in that language. I get most of my international news from the Chilean media which are far enough removed from both Biden and Putin to not believe what either of them says and to try to analyze the motives of both.

LFC said...

I've read the post, not yet the comments.

There is no pt my writing a lot bc Prof Wolff's view of the world is what it is and it's not going to change.

But for others who may be reading, since Prof Wolff recommended Owen Lattimore's book, I'll recommend a couple of books. The first, Hedley Bull's _The Anarchical Society_, came out in 1977. It's the modern foundational text of the so-called English School of international relations, which recognizes among other things the importance of norms like sovereignty. The second is an effort to "update" Bull -- Robert Jackson, _The Global Covenant_, published in 2000. Jackson is quite a bit too conservative in various respects for my taste, but it's not bad for what it tries to do.

One last thing. Decolonization was one of the more significant, or probably one of the most significant, developments of the mid 20th cent. It's hard to grasp its importance if you have a view of the world that sees intl politics as nothing more than an unending and basically unchanging struggle for imperial control.

I'd think I'd better stop there.

LFC said...

Correction: I think...

aaall said...

Some quibbles perhaps but Alaska and the Pacific Northwest down to Northern California were examples of Czarist Russian attempts at overseas colonies that were an unsustainable over-reach. The US acquiring Alaska was a real estate deal (as was usual, the locals weren't consulted). The Soviet Union (as with Germany earlier) was simply too late to play the overseas imperialist game and in any case its economy couldn't support it. Its biggest success - Cuba - was a drain.

It doesn't justify that model to point out that China's decision in the Ming Dynasty to bail on the overseas game was a huge strategic error.

By the end of WW II the SU had occupied several Eastern European nations that had sided with the Axis. Stalin decided to keep them in the Soviet sphere. This was rational given recent past experience.

NATO and the Marshall Plan were also rational responses to Soviet imperialism and the choices the former Soviet occupied nations made to join NATO after the collapse of the SU were also rational. The pre-WW II experiences of Finland and the Baltic nations and the post WWII experiences under the SU should make that clear. Russia has currently gone out of its way to validate those decisions.

aaall said...

Re: Decolonization - the establishments of the US and the SU never really understood it wasn't about them.

LFC said...

As long as one is cataloging the history of US imperial expansion, one shd prob mention the Philippines (colonized as a result of the Sp-Am War).

LFC said...


Be that as it may, my point was that if you take a Wolff-ian view that world politics is basically just a clash of great-power imperialisms, you're going to have a hard time contextualizing, historicizing, grasping (pick your word) decolonization. But this goes off the immediate topic at hand.

David Palmeter said...


An important element of the post WWII decolonization was the decline of Britain's power. They simply couldn't hold on to them given the internal opposition. Another is that like the American Revolution and its impact on slavery, WWII had an impact on colonization. Both were inconsistent with the statements about why the previous war was fought.

LFC said...

From the OP:

it was not until after the Second World War that the United States fully embraced the British model of worldwide imperial expansion through a combination of military force and alliances.

There's a difference between an informal empire, which is what the U.S. (assuming it has an empire) has now for the most part -- though it does still have a few formal "possessions" that are functionally equivalent to colonies -- and a formal empire, which is what the British had. An informal empire recognizes the legal sovereignty of its constituent parts. A formal empire obviously doesn't. Informal empires are compatible with the UN Charter's enshrinement of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Formal empires, at least vis-a-vis their colonies, aren't. Allies and client states often have to be bargained with and relations w them 'managed'; colonies not.

Informal empires tend for the most part not to announce their existence (when whoever it was, Karl Rove or someone, in the GW Bush admin said "we're an empire," that was unusual). This is why Biden can use the language of sovereignty and territorial integrity and insist that countries' "borders can't be changed by force" (a Russian conquest of Ukraine, in the old-fashioned sense of "conquest" meaning the complete extinction of Ukraine's sovereignty -- which even if there is an invasion will be unlikely to be the result -- would change the borders' status but not their location, but that's a somewhat subtle distinction).

F Lengyel said...

Mr Biden's use of the vocabulary of sovereignty doesn't extend as far as Germany. He talks about the sovereignty of Ukraine, but why does he get to tell Germany, a presumably sovereign country, where and how they can get their gas? If anyone needed any more proof that US commitment to free and open markets is unmitigated bullshit, Mr Biden's talk of shutting down Nord Stream 2 is it.

DJL said...

The British Empire as the model for other empires, including the Portuguese? God forbid the Portuguese - and the Spanish! - had not set up 'overseas colonies stretching around the world' some time before the British...

Also, no-one cares about the Super Bowl here in Europe.

Eric said...

F lengyel,
Thank you for bringing up that point, which I was about to comment on myself.
(In the US Congress, one of the loudest foes of Nord Stream 2 is Ted Cruz, the senator from Oillandia.)
I guess Biden just says "freedom" and "democracy" and we're supposed to forget that his son was paid over $80,000 a month to sit on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, despite having no relevant experience whatsoever.

Eric said...

LFC: "There is no pt my writing a lot bc Prof Wolff's view of the world is what it is and it's not going to change."

I don't think that is quite fair.
Granted, you won't stand much of a chance changing anyone's opinion here with the amount that can be said in two or three paragraphs in the comments (which seems to be about the attention span of many readers lol).

But I don't think RPW is entirely opposed to exploring new ideas.

David Palmeter said...


A week or so ago, in a long thread, the subject of jokes came up. Right now I don’t remember which thread or why jokes came up. But my mind immediately went to a book I have by the late U of Chicago philosopher Ted Cohen entitled simply “Jokes.” My books were, at the time, somewhat in disarray because of a relocation, and I only just found it. It’s both a book of jokes and a book about them and why they are funny. Here’s one of my favorites:

Get the book. You'll enjoy it.

David Palmeter said...

Well, that didn't work! Here's another try.

Eric said...

Marco Aurelio Denegri: "But if Russia invades Ukraine, in turn leading to chaos, destruction and human rights abuses, etc, would it be justified (or moral) for the international community to intervene militarily or use the threat of it?"

Here's a question:

If the international community (eg, NATO, led by the United States) knew that people were being sold into slavery right now, would it be morally obliged to take action to stop that?
How about if the extent of human misery in the country with slavery had been dramatically exacerbated by the international community's own previous actions?

Eric said...

I am told a sage is reputed to have once said, "You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."

LFC said...


I didn't mean to suggest that RPW is "opposed to exploring new ideas."

I've been reading his posts for a while, though, and it's clear that he has a certain view of what world politics (or intl relations, whichever phrase you prefer) is all about. That view is not so much wrong as it is partial, in my view -- it leaves out some significant elements that he does not think are significant.

These issues are actually not v suitable for a blog comment thread, or at any rate I don't esp want to address them here beyond what I've said already.

David Palmeter said...

OK, another stab at Ted Cohen's joke:

David Palmeter said...

Copy and paste won't work for some reason. So I'll typing it directly to the blog:

The Soviet Union at last decides to take commemorative notice of Lenin's time in Zurich. This has the significance, after all, of Jesus's ordeal in the desert and Moses's stint on Sinai.

The principle artifact of the celebration is to be a painting to be called 'Lenin in Zurich,' and a young Leningrad painter is commissioned. The commission is given a year in advance, and for the whole twelve months the painter works secretly. Finally comes the inaugural of the new holiday, and the painting is hung, draped with a cloth, on its appointed spot in the Kremlin.

The Red Army Band plays, the Red Army Chorus sings, the Red officials speak, and then the cloth is pulled away.

In stunned horror and outrage the the spectators gaze upon the painting in which are to be seen Krupskaya [Mrs. Lenin] and Trotsky, together in bed, between them wearing no more than Trotsky's pince-nez.

Cries ring out, a rumble is heard, and nothing is clearer than the insistent question, "where is Lenin?"

The painter steps forward, shrugs, and replies, "In this painting, Lenin is in Zurich."

LFC said...

D. Palmeter
That's funny. (I believe Lenin in Zurich is the title of a novel by Solzhenitsyn btw. It's possible that I read it a long time ago but I don't remember it well.)

Eric said...

Kwame Nkrumah described the modern American way of empire to a tee in his introduction to Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, written more than a half-century ago:

"The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is Subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political activity is directed from outside....

[N]eo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obligated to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere. Control over government policy in the neo-colonial State may be secured by payments towards the cost of running the State, by the provision of civil servants in positions where they can dictate policy, and by monetary control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power.... [N]eo-colonial control may be exercised by a consortium of financial interests which are not specifically indentifiable with any particular State....

The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world.

The growth of nuclear weapons has made out of date the old-fashioned balance of power which rested upon the ultimate sanction of a major war. Certainty of mutual mass destruction effectively prevents either of the great power blocs from threatening the other with the possibility of a world-wide war, and military conflict has thus become confined to 'limited wars'. For these neo-colonialism is the breeding ground.

Such wars can, of course, take place in countries which are not neo-colonialist controlled. Indeed their object may be to establish in a small but independent country a neo-colonialist regime....
Limited war, once embarked on, achieves a momentum of its own....

Neo-colonialism is also the worst form of imperialism. For those who practice it, it means power without responsibility and for those who suffer it, it means exploitation without redress. In the days of old-fashioned colonialism, the imperial Power had at least to explain and justify at home the actions it was taking abroad....

Neo-colonialism, like colonialism, is an attempt to export the social conflicts of the capitalist countries....
[I]t is based upon the principle of breaking up former large united colonial territories into a number of small non-viable States which are incapable of independent development and must rely upon the former imperial power for defense and even internal security....

In the neo-colonialist territories, since the former colonial power has in theory relinquished political control, if the social conditions occasioned by neo-colonialism cause a revolt the local neo-colonialist government can be sacrificed and another equally subservient one substituted in its place." [my emphases]

Marco Aurelio Denegri said...

I am very much in the same place as professor Wolff with regards to the Ukraine crisis. These type of crises have occurred several times where those who care about human rights and history were put in a tough spot.(eg Bosnian war). I was not asking a rhetorical question. I do not have a clear answer to the problem. I am really interested in the possibly many different opinions. Answering with rhetorical questions can bring more perspective to unaware readers but evades the original question.

LFC said...

Off topic but of possible interest.

Obit for Walter Dellinger:

Unknown said...

I note that several comments have pointed out the sorry history of America's version of imperialism. I do wonder whether that has any real relevance to what we, or others around the world, should think or do about Russia's actions vs Ukraine.

Yeah, I remember that old guy saying something like "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." But I think that's not a good rule for civilization. We can recognize and fight evil despite being far from saintly ourselves.

I would even go so far as to claim that countering evil in others may sometimes cause us to hesitate when about to do much the same. I think fighting Fascism and Communism did to some degree reduce the attractiveness of both extremes in domestic politics.

Barney Wolff

Another Anonymous said...

Last night the PBS News Hour had an interview with Prof. Elizabeth Samet, who teaches English literature at West Point. She has written a recently published book, “Looking For The Good War.” The theme of the book is that our view of the U.S. military during WWII has been inaccurately romanticized, by such works as Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation,” and Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers.” She contends that this romanticization has had an adverse effect on how Americans view the prospect of war and American motives for getting involved in war, e.g., Iraq, and sets us up for failure. Not everyone who fought in WWII, she claims, had noble motives or behaved heroically. It was a surprising opinion, contrary to conventional American views of our role in WWII, especially coming from someone who teaches at West Point and considering that her father served in the U.S. Air Corps during WWII.

LFC said...

Haven't read the Samet book but I heard the interview (albeit somewhat distractedly as I was listening on the radio).

A couple of reactions. First, I think she's generally right about the romanticization. Second, the romanticization tends, I think, to be most pronounced among those who have not read war memoirs or history of that period (I'm not talking about the romanticizing narratives).

There's an entire library of memoirs, novels, and histories that de-romanticize the war. For ex, Gerald Linderman wrote a book about US soldiers' experience in WW 2 drawing heavily on the memoir literature. Or look at anything Paul Fussell, a former infantry officer who became an English prof (and whose best known book is about WW1) wrote about WW2. Or a novel like Jones' _The Thin Red Line_. Or even the work of Rick Atkinson. I've dipped into the third volume of his Liberation Trilogy (as he calls it) and it's not romanticized at all.

LFC said...

The Linderman book is called _The World Within War: America's Combat Experience in World War Two_.

Then, of course, there's also a memoir literature that comes out of the other combatant countries.

ushekim said...

The Chinese and British models are too neat but simplistic to be historically relevant. The Russian (aka "Chinese") model of expansion affected beyond its contiguous boders and ideologically inspired similar oppression in China, Cuba and North Korea. The British imperialism is deeply rooted in racism in the name of its missionary-form of "White Man's Burden." And the Chinese model reaches most "Made in China" economies, a bloodless but nonetheless effective form of expansion.

David Palmeter said...

I tend to see contemporary US imperialism as driven not by dreams of empire and all that, but by the military-industrial complex. We have troops on the ground in numerous countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example. Why? We're told it is to fight terrorism. But we should have learned by now that terrorism isn't defeated by military power. A great part of what is going on, I think, is driven by military seeking to grow. The more missions we have, the more troops we need,and that means more good jobs available--colonels, generals, admirals. Prison guards are another example. The longer the sentences, the more prisons we need; the more guards we have, the more union dues collected. If crime miraculously ended and world peace broke out, the military, the defense contractors, and the prison guards would be forlorn.

james wilson said...

I agree with some of what you suggest, David. But while I don’t doubt the military does seek to grow as do the economic entities particularly linked to the military (and as do the other institutions you mention with their own by now vested interests), I do think it has to be kept in mind that the United States does constitute an enormous articulated conglomeration of political-economic power which has its own in-built tendency to survive and grow, to remain dominant at home and abroad. I’m pointing back to what I said near the beginning of this thread to an understanding of empire which has little or nothing to do with dreams but an awful lot to do with the sort of system the US is.

s. wallerstein said...

I've never understood the United States.

It seems motivated by some kind of Nietzschean will to power, to impose itself on other societies, which, as Nietzsche saw in analyzing, for example, Christianity, takes the form of a exaggerated moralism: we are good, our intentions are pure, we believe in democracy and human rights, we defend freedom and the other, our enemy, is always evil.

As the Dylan song says, we always have God on our side. If we do something bad, it's a mistake: we don't commit war crimes (My Lai, etc.) or torture (Guantanamo, etc.), but we do at times make mistakes, but you (the pronouns are important) have to realize the we, unlike them, are basicallly motivated by good intentions.

The U.S. generally believes its own bullshit. It's not cynical, it's convinced itself of its basic goodness.

At times I prefer a cynical Machiavellian such as Putin to someone convinced of his own bullshit such as Biden. That's an aesthetic preference. Surely, I will be challenged here to answer if I prefer to live under Biden or under Putin and I reply that I prefer to keep a distance from both of them and I do.

I don't keep up with all the analyses of the motives of U.S. imperial policy, but of the commentators that everyone knows, I prefer Chomsky.

I'm not in a mood for going through the usual arguments today with the usual suspects, so I'll probably not answer the usual attacks on what I say above. I'm reading a very interesting book by the Chilean psychoanalyst (Lacanian) Constanza Michelson about the "capitalismo del yo" and that's where my head is at.

Michael Llenos said...


Perhaps the reason the U.S. gets into so many wars is because of the unpredictable foresight about our interests abroad. This policy based on foresight is more prominent in republics/democracies than in dictatorships. Think-tanks project the future through current & past historical events. E.g the domino effects of communism in S.E. Asia based on the Korean War of the early 1950s; Nazi Germany wanting to take over the world (& their real evil of genocide, which everyone knew they wished to project on a global scale with their pure race messages); the Spanish-American War (in which we have to fight the Spanish everywhere around the world if we want to fight them effectively anywhere around the globe), and going into Iraq because we were worried (or they were worried) at the time that Saddam was going to be a loose cannon w/ some ultimate new war fighting weapon based on their history with SCUD missile systems. Perhaps, it is really about projecting the future, by political planners, that we go to war in the first place. --I mean why aren't we building up massive American troops in Ukraine? The head planners used foresight to realize that Russia has the capability of using nukes, so stay out of the way (without troops) we must. --If a WW3 happens, we are all done for. The Axis powers of WW2 didn't possess any nuclear weapons. We wouldn't be here today if they did. So really we have only a few alternative & miraculous situations to get us out of this mess: the Rapture, a Star Trek revolution with Aliens, a return of Elijah, a return of Jesus, a real appearance of the Madhi that is sucessful & unites everyone, or some other planetwide life changing miracle. Otherwise, we might probably end up as toast. --Of course, there is only one other option for our salvation, i.e. maintaining the status quo. That is the choice of the majority, and the only one that the majority has ever banked on. It seems the political world is repeatingly becoming all too aware of this realpolitik maxim: the only easy political year was yesteryear....

LFC said...

Michael Llenos,

The reason US soldiers are not in Ukraine has basically nothing to do with the fact that Russia has nuclear weapons; everything to do w fact that Ukraine is not a NATO member.

Michael Llenos said...


Do you really think if Russia had no nuclear weapons the U.S. would allow Russia to invade Ukraine with no heavy military consequences if they do invade Ukraine? Kuwait was not a part of NATO and Saddam had no nuclear weapons.

LFC said...

That's an interesting point. I think that the size (and, to some extent, sophistication) of Russia's military and the U.S.'s understandable reluctance to get into a direct confrontation with a country with that much military strength definitely plays a role here. But Russia's possession of nukes, while it's not completely irrelevant, I don't think is a major factor. So yes, I think that if Russia had no nuclear weapons and everything else were the same here, the U.S. would not want to get into a shooting war w Russia over Ukraine. Now if Ukraine were a NATO member, the U.S. would really have no choice but to put its soldiers on the ground in Ukraine in the event of invasion under Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Which of course is one of the reasons Russia is demanding a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO, which, again obviously, Russia is not going to get.

LFC said...

P.s. the nuclear thing hovers in the background, but I don't think it's directly driving policy decisions here. Nuclear weapons cast a shadow (as Kennan once put it) but the effects are often, as is the case here I think, subtle at most.

F Lengyel said...

Oh dear.

LFC said...

I haven't been reading the specialist blogs on this, but I shd prob go over to some, like Duck of Minerva, and see what they're saying. (Just not in the habit of doing that anymore.)

LFC said...

@ F Lengyel

Want to elaborate?

Michael Llenos said...

I believe Russia's nuclear arsenal has everything to do with the United States not sending ground troops and aircraft to reinforce Ukraine. The U.S. military is quite capable of air superiority & setting up a no-fly zone over Ukraine. And with allied air superiority over any European country an enemy (with a conventional army like Russia's) has a very difficult time resupplying it's army divisions. --But let's just say the U.S. can make a no-fly zone over Ukraine, and let's just say the U.S. can destroy most of Russia's army through air superiority: every time this happens (even for a thousand times) all Russia has to do is to call up Biden and say they're going to nuke U.S. soil unless the U.S. leaves Ukraine. Then there'll be a nuclear standoff like Kennedy had with the Russians over Cuba. And no U.S. president wants that. Biden does not want that. Putin is also being cautious because he doesn't want to get into a standoff with the U.S. as well. That's what happens when you have a great arsenal of nuclear weapons. It makes the other side think before they act by a grand margin.

LFC said...

I'm definitely not an expert on the nuts and bolts of military matters, but I don't think the establishment of air superiority and a no fly zone would be all that easy. I think it wd risk a significant conflict involving navies as well as air forces. But you may be right, I'm just not sure.

Much would depend on exactly how big the gap in sophistication is betw the best US combat aircraft and the best Russian combat aircraft, and I don't know the answer to that. (I haven't been reading the specialist blogs and other specialist coverage, as I said.)

Russia counts as a great power by virtue not only of its nuclear arsenal but also by virtue of its permanent seat on UN Sec Council and its size. And one thing about great powers is that they seem in recent decades to be disinclined to fight each other directly. Nuclear weapons do have something to do with that but they aren't the whole explanation. Great-power confrontations can be preludes to major war, and major wars are no longer in fashion bc there is a strong feeling that the world had enough of that in WW1 and WW2. There is no appetite for another major war, conventional or otherwise, on the European continent. No one wants that, not even Putin.

LFC said...

p.s. I'm using "major war" above in a fairly restrictive way, as is probably obvious from the context.

Another Anonymous said...

For what it’s worth, I agree with Michael Llenos that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is playing a major role in the U.S.’s decision not to send troops to Ukraine. Putin is playing chicken with the U.S., full knowing that the U.S. does not want to risk a nuclear confrontation. But for trepidation about igniting a nuclear confrontation Biden would undoubtedly be more assertive in protecting Ukraine from Russian invasion.

Putin does not want to risk an all out war on the European continent? Does anybody other than Putin and close cadres know what Putin wants? As Churchill said in another context, Putin’s intentions are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Putin asserts as his main objection is the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO. Does Putin really believe that if Ukraine joined NATO it would present a threat to Russia’s sovereignty? Does anyone really believe that NATO and the U.S. would ever actually invade Russia, after the historical failures of Napoleon and Hitler? Putin does not want Ukraine to join NATO so that he can preserve Russia’s prospects of invading and annexing Ukraine without the thereat of NATO coming to Ukraine’s defense. Ukraine was historically a part of the Russian empire,, and Putin wants it back.

LFC said...

Or at least Putin wants a regime in Ukraine less aligned w the West and more aligned w (what he perceives to be) Russia's interests.

Biden's lack of "assertiveness" (your word) in defending Ukraine from Russian invasion has to do mostly with reluctance to trigger a direct great-power confrontation unless it's absolutely unavoidable. Also likely with the difficulty of selling another war to the American electorate when the NATO commitment is not involved, there's been no direct attack on US, and Russia is acting in a region it views as its sphere of influence. Nuclear weapons, in my view, are not a main consideration, though they're probably on the list. They do enhance Russia's confidence though, that much is prob true.

Apart from a brief episode or two betw Russia and China (e.g. a border clash in 1969), there has been no direct military confrontation between two great powers since the Korean War. In the decades since an unspoken understanding of sorts has developed that great powers don't fight each other directly. That does not mean it can't happen but it does mean that there is an extra layer of caution and reluctance. Nuclear weapons have something to do with this but, as I said above, in my view they are far from the whole explanation.

David Palmeter said...

Nuclear weapons are an undeniable factor. Even if he war started as conventional, the risk would be great that Russia would resort to them rather than surrender. But assuming a world in which there were no nuclear weapons, the US would think long and hard before getting into a conventional war with Russia, so distant from the US for purposes of supply, over a nation on Russia's border. The fact that Ukraine is not a NATO member likely would mean little or no support from NATO members, crucially, from a geographic if not military standpoint, France and Germany. Without a European base, the US would have to fight a conventional war with whatever troops and equipment they could put on the ground after direct flights from the US.

james wilson said...

Didn’t I already ask, isn’t it as important to ask what Biden/the US want as it is to ask what Putin/Russia want?

It’s quite terrifying to me to see the tendency to view the US as simply responding in a supposedly well-intentioned, otherwise goalless way to the provocative actions of others. Some sense of history—fairly recent history, though I am tempted to “remember the Maine”—seems to be missing here: Tonkin Gulf lies, weapons of mass destruction lies, lies about what prompted the Russian reclaiming of Crimea (see, e.g., the little bit about Victoria Nuland at Wikipedia, Nuland who was trotted out on PBS Newshout yesterday evening as a supposedly objective voice on Russia/Ukraine—come to think of it, when did PBS, supposedly among the better news sources in the US, offer any viewpont on the present crisis other than a retired genderal or an administration official?)

But let’s get back to reality, to being armchair generals and amateur military strategists. Or we could return to being evidence-challenged Putin psychologists of the sort the NYTimes has put out there this morning (and not for the first time):

David Palmeter said...

James Wilson

Do we need to ask what Putin wants? If we do, he answer would appear to be "Ukraine," of which he already has taken part by force and appears ready to take more if not all. He doesn't like the deal that was made when the Soviet Union collapsed, and he appears intent on reversing a lot of it.

s. wallerstein said...

First of all, according to the guy I just listened to CNN-Chile, hardly a radical left news source, but a bit more independent than the U.S. mainstream media, Putin does not want Ukraine, which he knows will be another Afghanistan for him, but he may want the Russian speaking Donbas region. It's not clear whether he wants to incorporate them into Russia proper or just exercise indirect control over them, as he already does.

As for the rest of Ukraine, all Putin wants, according to such sources, is that it does not join NATO.

However, James Wilson asks a valid question. What does Biden and/or the U.S. elite want there? Just to protect the freedom of Ukrainians? Does the fact that Eric pointed out yesterday that Biden's son received millions of dollars from Ukrainian oil companies have anything to do with Biden's passion to defend freedom in the Ukraine? Were "our" friends in the Ukraine by chance big contributors to Biden's heroic 2020 campaign?

It also seems fairly clear, according to the commentators I listen to, that Joe Biden is concerned about the fact that Europe's, especially Germany's increasing dependence on Russian gas, will distance Europe from the U.S.'s sphere of influence.

The more you look at this situation, the more the plot thickens. "Our" motives are not always so pure, lofty and noble and "their" motives are not always so evil.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

I agree that our motives are not pure, lofty and noble. I think they're based on self-interest. A strong, democratic, capitalist Western Europe is seen as vital to our security and prosperity. Putin's actions are seen to threaten that interest. So today he wants only a part of Ukraine. Will he stop there? Will he want more tomorrow--all of Ukraine? Latvia? Lithuania? Estonia? Europe saw something like this 80 years ago.

james wilson said...

David, “He doesn't like the deal that was made when the Soviet Union collapsed, and he appears intent on reversing a lot of it.” ???

Neither, by the way, do I understand quite what you mean when, in response to s. w., you say that "our" motives are "based on self-interest." Who constitute the politically relevant 'we'? and who defines "our" "self interest" and how to pursue it? But back to the previous question:

As I understand it, the deal that was made with Gorbachev was that the US wouldn’t push its European fiefdom—sometimes known as NATO, sometimes what is now known as the EU—any closer to Russia. Should I be wrong on this, it’s a misperception shared by an awful lot of people, including a great many who have little or no sympathy for Russia. I don’t think I am wrong on this.

And take another look at how Ukraine was moved from being somewhat pro-Russian to being somewhat anti-Russian. That’s to talk about it in a way that does no justice to the fact that there were/are many pro-Russian Ukrainians and many anti-Russian ones too. But it is pretty clear that the US put a very heavy thumb on the scales back in 2014.

Or should you prefer a discussion between Mearsheimer and a couple of his critics, see

Obviously, I think Mearsheimer has the best of it. I don’t expect American liberals to agree with him—or me. Neither do I expect some American liberals, especially those focussed on domestic political matters, to begin to recognise that the old gang which gave us “humanitarian war” are back in control. And so to conclude with a few words from Ellen Meiksins Wood, whom I referenced a long time ago: “Nor have ostensibly more benign administrations, like that of Bill Clinton, departed from this military doctrine [of full spectrum dominance]. They have, if anything, pushed the boundaries of war even further, with their notion of ‘humanitarian’ war, which is not a million miles away from Dulles’s contention that mere ‘deterrence’ should be replaced by active ‘liberation’, in a foreign policy with ‘heart’.” O tempora, o mores.

LFC said...

Part of the current problem stems from the decision to expand NATO in the '90s. Probably a mistake but it can't easily be undone.

It's worth underscoring why Putin's demand that Ukraine never join NATO is not something that the countries of NATO can agree to.

This particular issue is not best framed as involving "the freedom of Ukrainians." Rather, it involves the Ukrainian government's prerogative to set its own foreign policy free of explicit outside constraints or dictates from an external authority. In the jargon of IR, this is an aspect of a government's (or country's) "external sovereignty."

The key issue here, in short, is not freedom. It's not liberty. It's not national independence. It's none of those high-flown phrases and notions. Rather, the issue is the prerogative of the legitimate government of a sovereign state to make basic decisions.

The fact that the current government of Ukraine was elected in a fair (from what I gather) election and has the support (again from what I gather) of the majority of Ukrainians is important. This helps distinguish the situation, if it even needed to be distinguished, from Vietnam circa 1964 where a govt of dubious legitimacy was in power in S Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution is only relevant if you think the U.S. is so addicted to misleading, fudging, and lying that it is incapable ever of taking a position that aligns w basic intl norms. Here the basic norm most obviously at issue is sovereignty and its associated prerogatives.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

You're a student of history, I know. The analogy with Hitler is a bit far-fetched.

Putin has been in power for 23 years, since 1999 and in that time he has invaded Crimea and made a lot of problems in the Donbas region. Both Crimea and Donbas are Russian-speaking.

Hitler didn't last 23 years in power of course.

By the way, since 1999 the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and so "we" have actually invaded more countries in that time than Putin has. Of course the U.S. is good and Putin is evil, "we" all know.

In no way am I an apologist for Putin nor do I especially like him, but really, he has not shown himself to be someone intent on conquering Europe, as Hitler was.

LFC said...

P.s. and by the same token the U.S. shd respect the sovereign right of European govts to decide where they get their natural gas etc.

james wilson said...

National sovereignty sounds like a nice idea, perhaps, but has it ever been more than an idea? Does the evidence of international practice demonstrate that it always? / ever? receives more than just lip service in pursuit of the political projects of the powerful? Just how much independent action is actually permitted to those supposedly sovereign entities within an international system wherein military and economic power is so heavily skewed in favour of a very few sovereign states? (s.w. may want to remind us of just how much independence Chile was permitted when its citizens were so careless as to elect Allende. Others will have their own memories of other similar events. And you might have mentioned that the “govt of dubious legitimacy was in power in S Vietnam” because the US put it there.)

Wrt the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, it is relevant because it is part of a continuing pattern of behaviour on the part of one of the extra powerful entities which claims to be able to define, often enough to its own advantage, what the “basic intl norms” are. I’m not saying the US is the only powerful sovereign entity to behave in this self-serving way. But it is one of those whose behaviour ought to be of concern in the present crisis.

I apologise to everyone for commenting so much. I'll try to stop.

s. wallerstein said...

James Wilson,

No need to apologize. What you say is well-written, lucid and worth reading.

What's more, it's a point of view which needs to be emphasized here.

So thanks for commenting.

Sudo Nym said...

LFC is walking closest on the narrow balance beam of analytic reasoning. I said earlier that what Putin fears most is actual democracy. Here’s what Putin wants and doesn’t want:

Wants, in order of importance:
1. Internal political control of Russia. A quiescent population is a controlled population.
2. Political control of Ukraine. (Very Soviet-friendly “government”)
3. Annexation of the Donbas region of Ukraine, similar to Crimea.
4. Economic exploitation of Ukraine. (Think - Russian oligarchs enriching Putin’s net worth.)
5. Reabsorption of former Soviet republics into a greater Russia.

What he doesn’t want:
1. Democracy in Ukraine.
2. Ukraine to join the EU - ostensibly, the gateway to NATO, but not really as important.
3. Ukrainian economic independence. (via EU membership)
4. Contingent on 1-3: Belarus democratic aspirations. And the southern “Stans” bordering Russia.

Putin cares about money and cold war resurgence. Both represent real power to him. Remember, he was the virtual gauleiter of St. Petersburg, where he established himself as the Al Capone of underworld graft.

In short, he doesn’t want a real war and will avoid a general large-scale conflict in Ukraine. He’s an incrementalist aggressor, always leaving open the option of settling for a little less than he wants as long as it’s in the direction he wants to go. It’s the Chinese strategy, except in a single lifetime scenario.

LFC said...

james wilson:

A short answer (which will have to do for now), which I crib from Stephen Krasner, is that the rules of sovereignty are enduring but often violated. (There are also multiple senses in which the word "sovereignty" is used, which Krasner gets into.)

So yes, it's more than an idea and it does matter for international practice, but it is often violated or transgressed, sometimes, as you indicate, by powerful actors.

Btw this has been a very civil discussion, which is all to the good.

james wilson said...

Thanks, LFC, and thanks also s.w. for kind remarks. It sounds like we'd definitely agree on at least one thing--though probably more--that civility is sadly too often missing these days. best wishes

aaall said...

s.w. we have Georgia and Moldova as well as the interference in other nations elections (including the US in 2016 and Brexit) and the random assassinations. Then there's his lackeys propping up Trump with money laundering real estate transactions. Doesn't excuse the stupid wars the US chose which were a function of the coup on December 12, 2000.

Eric said...

james wilson: "I apologise to everyone for commenting so much. I'll try to stop."

I have been enjoying and agreeing with much of your input. A refreshing alternative to the standard DC blob propaganda all of the US corporate media outlets have been slavishly pumping out.

Eric said...

LFC & David Palmeter,

Are you familiar with Michael Hudson's work?

David writes, "I tend to see contemporary US imperialism as driven not by dreams of empire and all that, but by the military-industrial complex." In Hudson's Weltanschauung they are the same thing (although his emphasis is always on the financial aspects of it all).

Sudo Nym said...

In 2nd world countries Neo-fascist, dictatorship, authoritarian, politics control the economy; in western democracies, economics control the politics (not withstanding Orban and Erdogan). War is an extension and tool of politics. The central question is the strength of the appeal to internal politics. Where there is convergence, diplomacy wins out; when there is conflict, hostility is the outcome.

Putin will invade Donbas. The western response will depend on the West's economic forecast.

PAUL KERN said...

Unfortunately, the U.S. and it's supporters lost any moral high ground in their defense of sovereignty when they invaded Irag in 2003 unprovoked and without justification.

LFC said...


I know Hudson's name but have not read his work.

David Palmeter said...


I'm not familiar with Hudson. My view, perhaps simplistic, is that the defense industry and the career military have a common interest in an unstable world. More than half a century Eisenhower warned of it, and I think what he warned against has long since arrived.

Another Anonymous said...

Reading the comments on this thread has just about convinced me that engaging in civil dialogue in an effort to persuade is a futile and hopeless task. Why did it matter to oppose Hitler’s campaign to impose Nazism on all of Europe? Why does it matter if one country seeks to assert hegemony over other countries by the use of military force, especially when one can witness it from afar, an ocean away? Apparently many thought it was important to do so, even, ultimately, the United States, despite the fact that its history was tainted by the massacres of Native Americans; by the enslavement of Africans; by discrimination against Asians; etc., etc. According to some writing on this thread, America’s past sins disentitle it from ever claiming to have legitimate motives in opposing what appears to be assertions of totalitarian autocracy elsewhere in the world. Americans are forever contaminated by their past and therefore cannot ever claim to have a moral motive for intervening in world affairs. And to claim it is right to do so is the mark of an American jingoist.

The academics tell us that comparing Russia’s surrounding Ukraine with over 100,000 armed personnel to Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland is a simplistic and ludicrous analogy, and, of course, being academics and students of history, they must be right. S. Wallerstein tells us that the comparison is silly because Hitler only lasted 5 years, and Putin has lasted some 23 years, so there is no legitimate comparison there, except to demonstrate that Putin is better at it than Hitler was. And what did it matter, anyway, if Hitler wanted the Sudetenland to belong to Germany, on the pretext that there were many German speaking people in the Sudetenland, as we are told there are many Russian speaking people in Ukraine. So he wanted the Sudetenland – let him have it. So Putin wants Ukraine – let him have it. What business is it of ours. And there is no sign that Putin has designs on the rest of Europe, as Hitler did. All he wants, maybe, is the Ukraine.

And what’s so great about the United States anyway. Look at our foreign adventures in Vietnam; in Afghanistan; in Iraq, all examples of the United States seeking to do no more than expand its control over the world, no better than Russia’s efforts in Chechnya, or China’s efforts in Tibet. These countries are all the same. We here in the United States have nothing to be proud of – we have no greater liberty than those living in Russia (as my Russian chess opponent informed me); our press is as full of propaganda as that in Russia and China. And our legal system also sucks – look at the sentence which George Floyd’s killer got – only life in prison. So Putin has sent assassins abroad to kill his potential adversaries. Hasn’t the CIA done the same? When Putin does it, he is seeking to silence someone who has spoken out against his autocratic methods in Russia and presents a potential threat to his continued leadership. When the CIA assassinates a foreign agent who is not an American citizen, is the CIA assassinating someone who threatens the continuation of totalitarianism in the U.S.?

So, in order to be justified in standing up to a foreign bully, the U.S. must have a totally pure heart, otherwise it is only another case of the U.S. using a pretext to expand its control over world affairs.

I have been watching the Netflix series, “Munich – The Edge Of War.” I recommend it.

Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.

Another Anonymous said...

Zelensky’s view:

"The security of Europe and the whole continent depends on Ukraine and our army."

“On 26 September, Chamberlain sent Sir Horace Wilson to carry a personal letter to Hitler declaring that the Allies wanted a peaceful resolution to the Sudeten crisis.[39] Later that evening, Hitler made his response in a speech at the Berlin Sportpalast; he claimed that the Sudetenland was "the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe"[41] and gave Czechoslovakia a deadline of 28 September at 2:00 pm to cede the Sudetenland to Germany or face war.”

Domarus, Max; Hitler, Adolf (1990). Hitler: speeches and proclamations, 1932–1945 : the chronicle of a dictatorship. p. 1393.

LFC said...

There are some good arguments available for your position, so why are you relying on a dubious argument, namely the Munich analogy? It's not very convincing and you don't need it to make the case you want to make.

Howie said...

A piece in the Times revealed Putin is not bluffing the evidence being his growing isolation and weird behavior
Perhaps like Stalin and Hitler he is not just a psychopath, but psychotic?

Another Anonymous said...


Because there are individuals, e.g., James Wilson and s. wallerstein, commenting in this thread to the effect that the U.S. is so sullied by its past that it has no business opposing Putin's military threat to Ukraine; that what happens to the Ukraine is not that important and does not presage any further encroachment into Europe, and therefore we should just appease Putin and let him have what he wants, rather than risk a military confrontation with him. It did not work with Hitler, and it will not work with Putin.

james wilson said...


It’s quite hard to observe one’s own self-denying ordinance when one sees one’s position so dreadfully misrepresented, so, with apologies to all, I’ll try once more. I’m afraid length limitations require it to be in two parts.

It is not, as I view matters, America’s past sins which disentitle it from ever claiming to have legitimate motives in what appears to be assertions of totalitarian autocracy elsewhere in the world. The crisis vis-a-vis Ukraine is more complicated than that. And it’s not a matter of entitlement or disentitlement so much as it is a matter of trying to critically evaluate what the US as well as other countries are up to and what the consequences of their actions might be. (And note, by the way, that the internal complications within Ukraine have been, at best, only glancingly alluded to here. There is, therefore, something very problematical about mentions of “Ukraine” or “the Ukrainians” as if they all were uniform identities. Yet this is, by my observation, the way these are almost universally referred to in the US and British media. And so these usages are part of the ongoing obfuscation of the Ukrainian crisis.)

But to my point. It is, first of all, that there is a lot of recent, still very relevant history, not ancient, remote history, to how things have been unfolding in eastern Europe. Some of the relevant history is, I think, resumed in the interview the former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, presented—and not for the first time, since it is something he has been agitated and agitating about for almost 30 years now— in this interview:

These, be it noted, are not the idle observations of a bystander, but of someone actively engaged for an extended period in internal policy debates. Neither was he or is he a left-winger (I add that simply because I anticipate there will be some knee-jerk reactions to the site I’m referencing here). And he is recounting not sins but political tendencies, tendencies which won out, no doubt, in internal conflicts within US administrations about which we are by and large left in ignorance, perhaps wilfull ignorance because so few of us are inclined to spend the time and energy necessary to following up the analyses that appear in the journals. Here is Matlosk in his own words:

“I would add, however, that the problems with Russia are not just NATO expansion. There were also a process that began with the second Bush administration of withdrawing from all of the arms control — almost all of the arms control agreements that we had concluded with the Soviet Union, the very agreements that had brought the first Cold War to an end. There was a step-by-step withdrawal of those. And there was a decided direct intrusion into the domestic politics of these newly independent countries, attempts to — directly to change the government. This gets, I would say, very complicated in a way, for one who hasn’t been able to follow it step by step. But, you know, in effect, what the United States did after the end of the Cold War was they reversed the diplomacy that we had used to end the Cold War, and started sort of doing anything, everything the opposite way. We started, in effect, trying to control other countries, to bring them into what we called the “new world order,” but it was not very orderly. And we also sort of asserted the right to use military whenever we wished. We bombed Serbia in the ’90s without the approval of the U.N. Later, we invaded Iraq, citing false evidence and without any U.N. approval and against the advice not only of Russia but of Germany and France, our allies. So, the United States — I could name a number of others — itself was not careful in abiding by the international laws that we had supported.”

james wilson said...


Neither, it must be added, is it only from witnessing what has been unfolding in Europe that some of us are given pause when we see the present war-mongering. The US is the pre-eminent global actor. And its actions elsewhere also excite critical reflection—or they ought to. See, e.g.,

In sum, I am not now and have never argued that “the U.S. is so sullied by its past that it has no business opposing Putin’s military threat to Ukraine.” I am, or at least I have been trying to argue that it is simplistic as well as historically and politically naive to view what’s unfolding in Ukraine in a manichean—they are indubitably bad, we’re on the side of goodness and light—sort of way. It’s surely better than not to try to understand the complexities of a situation such as Ukraine since we’re all going to be implicated one way or another in what is happening and what will happen? Waving the flag and proclaiming one’s own virtue on the part of those who are disinclined to try to perceive and understand the difficulties is a sad but understandable part of the problem, not least because this same sort of manicheanism is what we’re by and large being fed by media that seem to have given up on trying to understand and who have jumped on the official bandwagon.

P.S. There are a whole lot of arguments out there about Hitler and Munich too. But as LFC intimated, these arguments are not at all relevant to the present moment except insofar as they too suggest that the simple story is usually overly simple and ought to be taken with a grain or two of salt.

David Palmeter said...

One difference between Munich and the current situation is sanctions. None for Hitler, plenty for Putin if the news reports are correct.

s. wallerstein said...

James Wilson,

Thank you. Very informative interview.

aaall said...

Perhaps viewing the current situation as possessing "complexities" isn't useful. Russia is a flailing autocratic petrostate with problematic demographics and an economy a fraction of California's. Putin needs a distraction and, should he annex Ukraine, will still need further distractions. His existence is an artifact of the late 20th century failed neo-liberal/neo-conservative/end-of-history fantasies. If NATO hadn't expanded Putin would merely have a broader smorgasbord.

LFC said...

I was discussing some of these matters with someone last night who persuaded me that the sovereignty considerations are more complicated in certain ways than I suggested above. But since most things turn out to be more complicated on closer inspection and this thread is already long, I won't go into this further rt now.

Another Anonymous said...

I am not alone in comparing the West’s response to Russia’s aggression to the appeasement at Munich:

LFC said...

What would have happened if Britain and France had not "appeased" Hitler at Munich? It's not unikely that Hitler, after perhaps 6 months or so, would have invaded Czechoslovakia, and WW2 in Europe would have started somewhat earlier than it actually did. The Czechs would likely have put up fierce resistance, and the mountains which a commenter on an earlier thread mentioned would have helped delay the German advance. But in the end the Germans would have taken Czechoslovakia by force, WW2 wd have started earlier, and Britain, deprived of some extra time to rearm, wd have been less ready to fight Hitler than it was when WW2 actually started in Sept 1939, roughly a year after the Munich agreement. So while the Czech govt properly viewed the Munich agreement as a betrayal of them by Britain and France, and the optics, so to speak, were bad, it's not clear in hindsight that the basic course of events wd have been altered greatly if Britain and France had drawn a firm line at Munich. WW2 wd have started earlier, and that's really about it.

The current circumstances are so different that the Munich analogy now, as in the past, is mainly an instrument wielded by journalists and politicians with a deficient grasp of history to cudgel their opponents with, and w/o having to come up with actual analysis to back up their views.

s. wallerstein said...


Your learning and genuine scholarship (a rare virtue) are a plus in all these conversations.

LFC said...


Thank you, though I shd make clear that the above comment is of course speculative, counterfactual history on my part, and (again, obviously) events could have taken a number of different courses. I just have a rooted mistrust of the way historical analogies are often loosely tossed around. (And I'm not trained as a historian; the readers of my diss were two political scientists and a sociologist. I just want to make clear that I'm not holding myself out as a 'real' historian, bc I'm not. But neither are 90 percent of the people tossing around the Munich analogy.)

james wilson said...

LFC, maybe your counterfactual history needs amendment to include the fact of “the phoney war,” the period of relative military inaction on the western front after September 1939?

Your account is also, perhaps, too weighted by a western perspective (something I’ll quickly admit is hard to avoid by all those of us born and educated in certain places during a certain time)? But it is at least interesting to note that there is a non-western perspective on Munich etc.

Unfortunately, only the titles and the abstracts of the following are readily available, yet even these, authored by a Brooklynite who teaches at the University of Montreal, are enough to suggest where a non-western perspective might come from and might go:

“ “Only the USSR Has . . . Clean Hands”: The Soviet Perspective on the failure of Collective Security and the Collapse of Czechoslovakia, 1934-1938”
Part 1,
Part 2,

There are other contributions to a non-western interpretation of Munich. E.g., Gabriel Gorodetsky—again, unfortunately, just a title and an abstract —
“ ‘What, no chair for me?’ Russia’s conspicuous absence from the Munich Conference,”

This last is a chapter in the just published “The Munich Crisis, politics and the people” (Manchester University Press, 2021). The advertisement for this book is also relevant:

I guess I’m pressing the point that there are no politically neutral accounts of historical events any more than there are politically neutral accounts of current events.

Another Anonymous said...


Winston Churchill, who, besides being a future Prime Minister and a Nobel Prize winning historian, and named by Time Magazine as the greatest individual of the 20th Century, vehemently disagreed with you. Given his credentials, I would accept his opinion over yours (as well as over s.w.’s):

Winston Churchill, denouncing the Agreement in the House of Commons on 5 October 1938,[107] declared

We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat... you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude... we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road... we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
On 13 August 1938, prior to the conference, Churchill had written in a letter to David Lloyd George:[108]

England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war.

LFC said...

j wilson

Thank you for the references. Will take a look.

LFC said...


Churchill was a very good wartime PM and, when at his best as his speaker, a master rhetorician.

But the idea that the Munich agreement "deranged" the "equilibrium" of Europe is just oratorical exaggeration, and that's putting it very politely. What deranged the European "equilibrium" was the accession to power in 1933 in Germany of someone whose clear intention was to upset the existing territorial arrangements and the geopolitical status quo. It was mainly the fact of Hitler, not so much how he was responded to, that upset the European equilibrium, which was not the most stable equilibrium to begin with.

s. wallerstein said...

LFC's point seems to be that Hitler was going to start a general European war sooner or later and Munich may not have been the best moment for the Western powers (or the Soviet Union) to respond militarily to him.

Did Chamberlain believe what he said after the Munich agreement? I have no idea. In Sartre's novel, the Reprieve, which is about the Munich agreement and how people react to it, Daladier remarks as he sees the crowds greeting him with joy upon returning from Munich: "les cons". Which means more or less "what assholes!". That is, Daladier, according to Sartre, did not believe that Munich meant "peace in our time".

If the above is the meaning of Munich, we now should ask if Putin is going to start a general European or at least eastern European war sooner or later. I don't think so. Not even Stalin did. He merely held on to those countries he had liberated from the Nazis during World War 2. No one here is calling for NATO to disarm completely in the face of Putin, but maybe, in my opinion, a NATO agreement not to extend itself to
Ukraine might be a good idea if Putin, in exchange, agrees to guarantee Ukrainian sovereignty.

james wilson said...

No one can reasonably argue that Churchill approved of the Munich agreement. It would be a mistake, however, to presume that he had a rigid view on appeasement:

Churchill, H of C 14 December 1950: “Appeasement in itself may be good or bad according to the circumstances. Appeasement from weakness and fear is alike futile and fatal. Appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace”

as quoted in Norrin M. Ripsman and Jack S Levy, “Wishful thinking or buying time? The logic of British appeasement in the 1930s,” International Security vol. 33 (2) Fall 2008, 148-181. accessed at
(This article is an attempt to broaden and deepen our understanding of appeasement and its implications.)

In light of Churchill’s 1950 statement, it would therefore be an error to think that mention of his name or of Munich out-trumps all other calculations concerning what to do in certain circumstances.

David Palmeter said...

I think "Munich" has moved beyond the specifics of the actual conference and today, in popular terms, simply means concurring in a potential aggressor's seizure of territory in exchange for his statement that this is all he wants.

aaall said...

Perhaps the parallel with "Munich" is the use of ethnic/ linguistic identities as a pretext for authoritarian rulers to engage in distractive land grabs. It's interesting how the American right has shifted its attitude towards the SU/ Russia as the shift from ideological imperialism back to those good old time values happened.

We should also recall how quickly Poland and Hungary jumped in to strip the carcass.

Howie said...

Trump was the one who gave Putin the green light to grab the Ukraine, wasn't he?
We all remember his bromance with Putin and his contempt for our allies?
If America has sinned and has its fingerprints on certain events in modern history, Russia is far closer to the criminal state that is North Korea than is even China.
Name one decent thing Putin or Russia has done since the fall os the USSR? To the world and to their own people? The USSR at least pretended to stand for some ideal- Putin is worse than an Orwellian nightmare.
You tell me one powerful state that isn't morally compromised in some way
No powerful state can afford not to act according to the dictates of realism.
The President can't afford to heed the sermon on the mount- and Hitler if he had nukes would have used them by now- Putin is less evil than Hitler.
This is a hostage situation, you have to play it cool and in the real world say of the thirties, hindsight is 20/20. Maybe Churchill and Roosevelt got lucky- it's not like you recognize a threat and act against it just like that
Life is messy and maybe Churchill would have been more restrained against the war criminal Putin as is Biden
Every situation is novel.
We just have to let the fucking situation play out on the ground.
Let he who makes peace in his high places let Russia get what it deserves, speedily and in our time

Eric said...

Another Anonymous: "Winston Churchill, who, besides being a future Prime Minister and a Nobel Prize winning historian, and named by Time Magazine as the greatest individual of the 20th Century"

What was the purpose of saying that?


Thanks Professor Wolff for all these dents. Just want to know if you still reply emails, because mine is still cooking in the waves.

Another Anonymous said...


Because I thought that citing Winston Churchill's credentials would lend greater weight to his opinion regarding what happened in Munich and its consequences than if I offered the opinion of Tom Brady on the same subject. Apparently, I was mistaken.

David Palmeter said...

Churchill had the foresight in the '30s to see Germany's military grow at the same time both Britain and France had had enough of war and didn't want to hear about it, let alone re-arm. He was right on that issue and was an inspiring leader during the war. But he was also an imperialist, a benign racist in that he believed superior Europeans, particularly superior Brits, had an obligation to govern those he saw as incapable of governing themselves. He was also a great fan of the British class system. Britain and its allies were fortunate to have him during the war. The allies didn't need him after that, and the British were far better off after the war with him out of office than in it.

His Nobel prize for literature was primarily for his six volume memoirs of WWII, which he clearly says at the outset are not history, but material for real historians. I was given the memoirs as a birthday present in the '50s when I was in my teens. I never read them, but they were always on my shelf. During the pandemic, I took them down and read them all. They were superb. I'm a sucker for his language. But they are not history; they are one (important) man's memoirs, something historians would consult along with other material His History.

His History of the English Speaking Peoples should have been entitled, one reviewer wrote, "Episodes from the Past that Interest Me."

As to the Nobel Prize--it was for Literature, not History. James Joyce never got the prize.

I've read Churchill once and don't expect to read him again; I've read Ulysses half a dozen times and hope to live long enough to read it several more.

Another Anonymous said...


Since when are the memoirs of a Prime Minister recounting his first-hand experiences during a major war not history? And there is no Nobel Prize for history.

s. wallerstein said...


You yourself above described Churchill as a "Nobel prize winning historian".

And as for Time Magazine, it's unlikely to win you votes here. Before I got internet, for international news here in Chile, I depended on buying a weekly news magazine. I generally tried to find Newsweek, which was at bit more liberal than Times, at least back in the 80's, but Time was more widely marketed in Santiago. Finally, I found a newstand in downtown Santiago which sold the Economist and I settled on that. Even though it's rightwing and neoliberal in its economic outlook, it's a lot more open-minded, more curious about how people outside the U.S. actually think and what they are thinking about as well as aware of intellectual trends in the U.S., Britain, Europe and even in the third world than either Time or Newsweek are.

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

So are you questioning Winston Churchill's credentials and his knowledge of world history in general, and of WWWII in particular? He is a Nobel Prize winning historian because he won the Nobel Prize for his historical memoir about WWII, and because, as I said, there is no Nobel Prize for history.

LFC said...

[two parts -- part 1]

This has gotten silly quite frankly, and AA -- as an experienced, successful lawyer who has a firm grasp of what counts as evidence and what counts as evidentiary value -- should know better than this.

AA cited a speech that Churchill gave in the House of Commons on October 5, 1938, very shortly after the Munich agreement was reached. Churchill was a working politician of course, a Member of Parliament, and an opponent of Chamberlain. What Churchill said in Parliament about the Munich agreement a few days after it had been inked is not a historical assessment of the Munich agreement. It's a political speech and a piece of impassioned rhetoric. Now that *in itself* does not mean Churchill was wrong, but to call this speech in Parliament a historical assessment of the Munich agreement is simply a category mistake.

Churchill had a gift for the language, and his wartime speeches were inspirational and comforting to the British. He was also, as D Palmeter said, a dyed-in-the wool imperialist, and his actions during the Bengal famine were quite disgraceful, to put it mildly. From early adulthood, he "got off" on being in danger and under fire on battlefields, a trait he never lost. He could be stubborn and difficult to deal with, and his inclinations about strategy during WW2 were not always right. He was also, by all accounts, a gifted writer, though I have not read his 6 vol narrative of WW2 and have no plans to.

I've looked at the opening pages of the Ripstein and Levy piece in the journal International Security that james wilson linked to. I suggest that AA take a look at it.

LFC said...

[part 2]

Finally, I'm much less interested in the Munich agreement specifically than I am in the way historical analogies are used and misused. The Munich analogy has been misused up the wazoo. (E.g. Henry Cabot Lodge when Johnson and his advisers were discussing Vietnam in 1965 cited "our [sic] indolence at Munich" as a reason for the U.S. to get much more heavily and directly involved in Vietnam (see Y. F. Khong, Analogies at War)).

The Munich analogy is relatively unhelpful here, even if you extract from it only the general principle "if you give aggressors what they want, they will take more." That's an unhelpful principle, generally speaking, because aggressors are often different and circumstances are always different. Historical analogies in general should be used with extreme care and circumspection.

I'm not that invested in what the U.S. does w.r.t. the current crisis. I actually think, given where things are, that Biden does not have much choice but to do what he's doing. (s.w.'s suggestion of a possible deal over Ukraine betw NATO and Putin makes some sense perhaps, but for better or worse it's not going to happen that way.) However, I do have strong feelings about historical analogies in general and the Munich analogy in particular. Yuen Foong Khong's excellent book Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965 (Princeton Univ. Press, 1992) shows how historical analogies were misused in that context.

It annoys me to see Munich trundled out for the zillionth time, often by people -- and I don't mean AA, I mean just people in general -- who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. If you think Putin has to be met with the iron fist because that is the only thing that will stop him from doing what he wants to do, then say that. Don't cite a speech by Churchill in Parliament days after the Munich agreement was signed as a historical assessment, because it isn't. (And even if it were, it would have almost no relevance.)

Santayana's statement that "those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it" is another thing that gets trotted out (often by people who don't know who said it or why). The notion that history repeats itself in some kind of identifiable, cyclical way is an old one, of course, and dubious (though "long cycles" of war and economics may have some validity but that's a somewhat separate question). It feeds into the mindset of those who think they can answer policy questions by misusing historical analogies, by saying the "lessons" of Munich told us to intervene in Vietnam (they didn't) or that the "lessons" of Vietnam told us to do such-and-such in Iraq or Afghanistan, or etc. etc.

I've gone too long and am shutting off my computer for the night.

Another Anonymous said...


Quite silly? Rather condescending.

Regarding the rules of evidence and what is admissible in court, I suspect that if the issue about how to respond to Putin were put to a trial, Winston Churchill (were he alive) would make an excellent expert witness.

The fact that history does not always repeat itself does not entail that it never does. For example, the lesson not to invade Russia when winter is impending (see Napoleon, Hitler).

The fact that Churchill gave his speech in Parliament as a politician does not detract from its accuracy. Are you suggesting that Churchill was offering a dissimulating opinion?

On Saturday, Ukraine President Zelensky castigated the West for appeasing (his word) Putin and urged them to initiate sanctions now, when they could dissuade Putin from invading, rather than later, when it will be too late.

LFC, you are rather smug in your historical and world affairs opinions. There are many officials in the U.S. State Dept. and Department of Defense easily as qualified as you, James Wilson and s. wallerstein who do not agree with any of you. The fact that you and James Wilson are professional armchair academics does not qualify you as the sole bearers of historical and international affairs truth.


james wilson said...

AA you really are a most insulting little man--though maybe you do not realise it? Anyway, I as a retired academic who, among other things, tried to teach US foreign policy and international relations as well as, until 1989/90 Soviet foreign policy, take it to be most insulting to be referred to as an armchair academic. I suggest you keep your mouth shut when it comes to things about which you're evidently so woefully ignorant.

Eric said...

David Palmeter: "But he was also an imperialist, a benign racist in that he believed superior Europeans, particularly superior Brits, had an obligation to govern those he saw as incapable of governing themselves. He was also a great fan of the British class system."

And even that let's Churchill off easy.

As LFC notes, Churchill was responsible for the deaths of 3 million Indians during the Bengal famine in 1943, yet rather than accepting responsibility and trying to ameliorate the suffering, he blamed the Indians for "breeding like rabbits."

As Colonial Secretary early in his career, he laid the seeds for what later became Apartheid in South Africa.

As Prime Minister, he presided over a government that used forced labor, internment in concentration camps, rape, torture, castration, and murder to subdue revolting Kenyans in the so-called Mau Mau rebellion.

And he had long been a white supremacist and supporter of eugenics. As Home Secretary he favored the idea of incarcerating or sterilizing the "mentally defective." In 1937, arguing against the rights of Palestinian Arabs, he wrote: "I do not admit that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place."

As for his foresight, in the face of the Spanish Civil War's conflict between republican democracy and Fascism, Churchill called for neutrality. He supported Mussolini until 1937. He argued that the League of Nations should not condemn Japan's invasion of Manchuria.

In short, Winston Churchill was a total POS.

Eric said...

I posed some questions a few weeks back that remain relevant.

Has anyone actually looked at a map of where US military bases are located in the world and where Russian military bases are located? (And, for that matter, where Chinese military bases are located?) Or looked at how much the US spends on military technology and personnel annually compared to how much the rest of the world spends?
Does it really make any sense that the US should be so afraid of the rest of the world and need to spend so much of its resources preparing for "defense"? If anything, shouldn't the rest of the world be afraid of the US?

How much of the expenditures on "defense" are really just money transfers to weapons manufacturers (and to politicians and government officials who hold investments in weapons manufacturers, who receive large donations from them, and/or who plan to work for them after leaving government)?

Another Anonymous said...

James Wilson,

I reiterate - you are an armchair academic who has no practical experience regarding the subjects about which you pompously expostulate. As you state, you tried to teach, apparently without much success.

Eric said...

If Ukraine feels that to defend themselves they must use all resources available, including neo-Nazis fighters, should the US be providing military support, including funds and training, to Ukraine in that effort?

This piece in The Nation is worth a read in its entirety at the source. The article was written before Zelensky, who is Jewish, was elected president; but it would be foolhardy to think that the neo-Nazis all just disappeared following his election.

A few clips:

Lev Golinkin, 22 Feb 2019, The Nation, Neo-Nazis and The Far Right Are On The March in Ukraine:

"... The DC establishment’s standard defense of Kiev is to point out that Ukraine’s far right has a smaller percentage of seats in the parliament than their counterparts in places like France. That’s a spurious argument: What Ukraine’s far right lacks in polls numbers, it makes up for with things Marine Le Pen could only dream of—paramilitary units and free rein on the streets.

Post-Maidan Ukraine is the world’s only nation to have a neo-Nazi formation in its armed forces. The Azov Battalion was initially formed out of the neo-Nazi gang Patriot of Ukraine. Andriy Biletsky, the gang’s leader who became Azov’s commander, once wrote that Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade…against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” Biletsky is now a deputy in Ukraine’s parliament.

In the fall of 2014, Azov—which is accused of human-rights abuses, including torture, by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations—was incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard.

While the group officially denies any neo-Nazi connections, Azov’s nature has been confirmed by multiple Western outlets: The New York Times called the battalion “openly neo-Nazi,” while USA Today, The Daily Beast, The Telegraph, and Haaretz documented group members’ proclivity for swastikas, salutes, and other Nazi symbols, and individual fighters have also acknowledged being neo-Nazis....

Speaker of Parliament [until 2019] Andriy Parubiy cofounded and led two neo-Nazi organizations: the Social-National Party of Ukraine (later renamed Svoboda), and Patriot of Ukraine, whose members would eventually form the core of Azov.

Although Parubiy left the far right in the early 2000’s, he hasn’t rejected his past.... The deputy minister of the Interior—which controls the National Police—is Vadim Troyan, a veteran of Azov and Patriot of Ukraine. In 2014, when Troyan was being considered for police chief of Kiev, Ukrainian Jewish leaders were appalled by his neo-Nazi background. Today, he’s deputy of the department running US-trained law enforcement in the entire nation....

Predictably, the celebration of Nazi collaborators has accompanied a rise in outright anti-Semitism....
The past three years saw an explosion of swastikas and SS runes on city streets, death threats, and vandalism of Holocaust memorials, Jewish centers, cemeteries, tombs, and places of worship, all of which led Israel to take the unusual step of publicly urging Kiev to address the epidemic.

Public officials make anti-Semitic threats with no repercussions....

Last spring, a lethal wave of anti-Roma pogroms swept through Ukraine, with at least six attacks in two months...."

Eric said...

I have tried to include active links to sources for this post, but the blog platform keeps rejecting my submissions....

BBC Newsnight 2014: Neo-Nazi Threat in New Ukraine

Ben Norton & Aaron Mate, 25 Sep 2019, The Grayzone: "The Other Ukraine Scandal: US Support For Neo-Nazis Fuels Far-Right Terror At Home"

Branko Marcetic, Jacobin, 15 Jan 2022, "The CIA May Be Breeding Nazi Terror in Ukraine" :
"According to a recent Yahoo! News report, since 2015, the CIA has been secretly training forces in Ukraine to serve as 'insurgent leaders,' in the words of one former intelligence official, in case Russia ends up invading the country. Current officials are claiming the training is purely for intelligence collection, but the former officials Yahoo! spoke to said the program involved training in firearms, 'cover and move,' and camouflage, among other things.

Given the facts, there’s a good chance that the CIA is training actual, literal Nazis as part of this effort. The year the program started, 2015, also happened to be the same year that Congress passed a spending bill that featured hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of economic and military support for Ukraine, one that was expressly modified to allow that support to flow to the country’s resident neo-Nazi militia, the Azov Regiment. According to the Nation at the time, the text of the bill passed in the middle of that year featured an amendment explicitly barring 'arms, training, and other assistance' to Azov, but the House committee in charge of the bill was pressured by the Pentagon months later to remove the language, falsely telling them it was redundant."

Al Jazeera, 13 Feb 2022, Ukraine: Allegedly Neo-Nazi Armed Groups Fighting Russia-Backed Separatists":

ITV, 18 Feb 2022, Ukrainian Great Grandma, 79, Prepared to "defend my home, my children" If Russia Invades :
"Members of Ukraine's Special Forces unit held military training for residents in Mariupol, in the Donetsk region, on Sunday as world leaders hold last-ditch talks with Vladimir Putin in a bid to cool tensions.

Several of those training the civilians belong to the Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi group, but who are now integrated into the formal Ukraine military training civilians in first aid and basic weaponry."

Aaron Mate, 14 Feb 2022 tweet:
"And here's @NBCNews Chief Foreign Correspondent @RichardEngel promoting a media stunt by Ukraine's far-right, neo-Nazi Azov Battalion on air.
Looking forward to see how many resident MSNBC extremism and disinformation experts speak out against this."

s. wallerstein said...

James Wilson,

Most of us have been the object of AA's disqualifications and while they are unpleasant and unfair, after a while, one gets used to them and even begins to like AA. Stick around.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

@ Erich,

I certainly understand your comments. For example, the references to the policy of the USA and its self-image as a "world power" and guardian of freedom. I also remember very well how the US Secretary of State Colin Powel presented the alleged evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" before the UN Security Council in 2003. Shameful until today, and deeply subversive for any credibility of so-called "Western values", just like Guantanamo.

However, all this cannot lead to relativism like: Because Powel, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lied and a senseless war resulted, we have to accept Putin's lies and war. Likewise, pointing to the clearly identifiable neo-Nazis in Ukraine does not lead to relativizing the internationally recognized legitimacy of that state.

In addition, Ukraine and others were assured of the integrity of their borders by the Budapest Memorandum in return for the handover of their nuclear weapons. The guarantors were Russia, Great Britain and the USA. The memorandum also commits the guarantors to Ukraine to refrain from economic repression and the threat and use of nuclear weapons.

(Regardless of how others judge the legal status of this document; since it was about the delivery of weapons of mass destruction, there is no doubt in my mind that only the character of treaty obligations and guarantees are the equivalent of what the other parties delivered).

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

Thank you for the left-handed endorsement.

At LFC’s urging, I have read the article cited by James Wilson, “Wishful Thinking or Buying Time? The Logic of British Appeasement in the 1930s.” It does not support the proposition for which it was purportedly offered – that comparisons of the current stand-off with Russia and its placement of military forces on the border of Ukraine with the British appeasement of Hitler at Munich is inapt. They characterize the traditional view of what has been termed the appeasement at Munich as “a corrupted policy of compromise,” so described by Hans Morgenthau.

The theme of the article is that there can be other legitimate applications of appeasement which are valid exercises of statecraft, depending on the circumstances. If the proposition that a comparison of the current situation to appeasement is inapt, then at least one of these alternative justifications should be applicable. Upon examination, however, they prove to be inapplicable, therefore failing to disqualify using the word “appeasement” under the current circumstances. The authors thus write, id. at p. 150:

“In this article we reconsider the concept of appeasement. We treat the concept as a tool of statecraft, stripping away its pejorative implications and leaving the question of effectiveness for empirical analysis. We construct a novel taxonomy ot appeasement, emphasizing that appeasement is not always intended to resolve an adversary’s grievances and reduce the long-term prospects for war with that adversary. Appeasement can also be used to reduce tensions with one adversary to conserve resources for use against a second, more threatening adversary; to separate an adversary from potential allies; to redirect an adversary’s hostility toward another target; or to buy time to build up strength for deterrence or defense against the adversary.”

None of these alternative justifications applies here. (I always have difficulty determining whether “none” takes a singular or plural verb. In most cases I believe the singular is preferable.) The first justification, in order to conserve resources in order to confront an even greater foe does not apply. The only adversary here is Russia. The second, likewise, does not apply. Russia is acting alone; it has no allies in its military buildup around Ukraine about which the West needs also to be concerned. Redirect Russia’s hostility towards another target? Clearly does not apply – we don’t want Russian to consider invading the Baltic states instead. Finally, the final justification in fact contemplates ultimately directly confronting the adversary with military force, not appeasing the adversary hoping it will be satisfied with the sacrificial lamb and go to sleep.

In sum, the article which has been recommended as demonstrating that references to appeasement in the current context are inappropriate fails to do so, because all of the alternative applications of appeasement which are offered do not apply in this context. Therefore, it is not inapt to resurrect the disgrace of what happened in Munich in 1938 as an inhibition of its repetition with Putin and Ukraine.

LFC said...

The words "Munich" and "appeasement" carry such negative connotations that when they're invoked in policy debates they tend more to obscure than to illuminate the issues.

The reference to Munich in this current context implies that reaching some kind of agreement with Putin will only whet his appetite for further aggrandizement or "aggression." But that's a conclusion, not an argument. So what the reference to "Munich" does is short-circuit the process of reasoning and argument, substituting an emotion-laden trigger word for what should be a reasoned debate.

Zelensky is arguably actually harming his cause rather than helping it when he uses the word "appeasement" to complain about the fact that sanctions are being held in reserve until the invasion occurs. Despite the efforts of scholars like Ripstein and Levy to strip the word appeasement of its pejorative implications, for most people those pejorative implications are too deeply ingrained, and most people are not going to read an article like that (or if they do read it, they may miss the main point). So when Zelensky says "appeasement," it immediately conjures up Hitler and the 1930s. But this actually doesn't help Zelensky's case because if one thinks about it for a minute or two, the current situation is not like the 1930s. Russia is opposed by a 30-country alliance. Putin cannot take the Baltic countries bc they are in the NATO alliance. He can't launch a general European war w a Nazi style blitzkrieg even if he wanted to. Nuclear weapons play a background role but they do play a role. They didn't exist in the 1930s. So the situations are not comparable.

Zelensky's use of the word appeasement not only doesn't conform w any of its definitions as a strategy of statecraft, it seeks to substitute an epithet for an argument, because despite the efforts of such as Ripstein and Levy the word is still an epithet for most people.

So when Zelensky accuses the West of appeasing Putin bc they haven't slapped severe sanctions on him in advance of the invasion, Zelensky may be temporarily helping himself in the arena of public opinion but he's also damaging his credibility by signaling that he needs to reach for an emotive epithet to make his case rather than just straightforwardly laying out the case.

Howie said...

Look under your noses and take off the glasses of history.
Look at Putin, no matter how ugly the motherfucker is.
He is a psychopath and he shows signs of being psychotic.
There are some similarities with Hitler: the psychopathy and the paranoia, the feeling for the motherland, the national grievances.
He has tighter control on his people, due to technology; he has no noticeable ideology except mother Russia; he as Professor Wolff wrote just wants his local sphere of influence; He has nuclear and cyber weapons, he is facing a lax Europe, he has an ally: China as opposed to Japan, he faces a world in crisis and Democracy in retreat.
He is probably more competent than Hitler and less shrewd.
His country like North Korea is an economic cipher, he is not going to conquer the world unlike Hitler, but he is gonna fuck things up big time and maybe worse and he might be contained, witness the talk of a cold war
This is my assessment. I am open to differing viewpoints

LFC said...

I don't think he's facing "a lax Europe"; NATO seems to be pretty unified on its basic approach.

s. wallerstein said...

Probably a psychopath or a sociopath (I'm not sure of the difference), but I don't see any signs of psychosis, that is, of insanity. I'm not a clinical psychologist of course.

So far Putin seems like a very rational, calculating Maquivellian person, probably completely amoral, that is, a sociopath.

aaall said...

One thinks of Haile Selassie's speech to the League of Nations. Rational arguments are for academics and other reasonable folk. Putin is a Russian autocrat and that species isn't rational by definition. Putin is operating on a model that has repeatedly failed, with war happening too often.

Given informal Russian doctrine on the use of tactical nukes and the size/location of the Kaliningrad Oblast, perhaps its time to do a serious NATO buildup in northern Poland and southern Lithuania. Be a shame if a large ship had an accident in that narrow channel.

I see we have two new sham nations in Europe. This is unsustainable.

BTW, I'm not so sure there are two imperial models. All one needs for a land empire is adjacent land and horse technology and that goes way back.
The requisite marine tech didn't happen until a few centuries ago. As soon as the Russians hit the Pacific they started sailing and claiming. China's screw up was a bug not a feature in their aspirations.

Increased agriculture led to the Guano Islands Act and the transition from sail to power necessitated fueling stations.

aaall said...

s.w., I don't get guys like Putin and tech bros like Thiel. More money then God (Putin may be the wealthiest person in the world) and a ticking clock (Putin is 70 this year) and they can't stop making the world a worse place.

s. wallerstein said...

I don't claim to get Putin myself (I don't know who Thiel is), but from what I can see, he is after power and money and so far, has "rationally" attained his aims, lots of power and lots of money.

Is that rational according to Spinoza? No.

Is that rational according to Plato? No.

Is that rational according to Hannah Arendt, who claimed that Eichmann didn't think, only calculated? No.

However, according to those who rule us, it's rational to aim for power and money, as th chief goals in life. They are not my chief goals in life.

Given the model I have of Putin, I assume that he will not do something "irrational" like invading the Baltic States, which belong to NATO and will get him into a war which he may lose and will certainly bankrupt Russia.

aaall said...

"Given the model I have of Putin, I assume that he will not do something "irrational" like invading the Baltic States, which belong to NATO and will get him into a war which he may lose and will certainly bankrupt Russia."

Indeed, which is why a squeeze in the Kaliningrad Oblast may lead to an attitude adjustment. That and finding out who owns every high end condo in New York and London.

David Palmeter said...

From Political Wire:

"We are not trying to take any territory of a foreign country. I would like to confirm that Donbas and Lugansk is part of Ukraine."

--Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov, on CBS New just yesterday.