It is a fact, that I find pretty damned tragic, that I haven’t written anything about the earth-shaking developments in Ukraine, since I wrote this piece on February 24. To be honest, most of that piece still holds up fairly well.
So what happened was basically that, energized by the thinking that had gone into that piece and various conversations, including with Bill the spouse and with the colleagues on the board of the non-profit I created back in late 2015, Just World Educational, I decided to have JWE produce a whole big webinar series on the Ukraine Crisis, which I immediately did. Starting March 2 and airing two sessions per week through March 28, my co-host Richard Falk and I hosted eight sessions of that webinar series, featuring a roster of 17 truly wonderful- informed, thoughtful, and inspiring- guests.
I am still super-glad I did it. It was a lot of work! But I think we made a distinctive contribution to the discourse here in the United States. My great colleague Amelle Zeroug has now put the records of all those webinars onto this fine portal page, and I’m in the midst of a tough push to write digests of all the sessions and compile them into a small print publication.
Did I mention that this has all been a lot of work? Especially as I am still a little debilitated with the eye problem that struck last November, which often leaves me very tired. Thus, I have not had time to write the various strong commentaries I’ve had in mind throughout the past five weeks, regarding the Ukraine Crisis. Here are digests of five of the pieces I haven’t (yet?) written:
You liked the warlordism that followed US-led regime change in Libya? You’ll love the nuclear-armed version that would follow regime change in Russia!
This piece would be a commentary on the quite possible/probable aftermath of any successful US/NATO push to oust Russian Pres. Putin, as has been discussed a little in hawkish circles and as would seem to have been implied by Pres. Biden’s March 27 avowal re Putin that “For God’s sake, he cannot remain in power!”
At least in re the anti-Qadhafi push in Libya in 2011, four years later the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee did later launch an enquiry into what had gone wrong. People should read its report, which found that the British government “failed to identify that the threat to civilians was overstated and that the rebels included a significant Islamist element.”
Help! We’re being deterred!
This piece would address the shock/horror of many US commentators when suddenly- after 30 years in which the U.S. military has roamed the earth, “seeking demons to destroy” and has never been held accountable for any of the mayhem it caused- they discover that when there’s a risk of going mano-a-mano against another member of the UN’s nuclear-armed “P-5” elite, there is also a real risk of escalation to a nuclear exchange and thus to the obliteration of all life on earth.
“Good God, how can that happen?” is a response of many in the under-45 set who do not remember the mutually assured destruction that lay at the heart of the geopolitical “stability” that marked the old Cold War. These are many of the same people now arguing for a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. (See Libya, above.) But even without NATO engaging in Libya-style excesses/violations, any attempt to create a non-fly zone over Libya would mean immediate, direct engagement between the militaries of NATO and Russia. (See nuclear war, above.)
Hence, Biden is quite right to rule out any no-fly zone or any other move that would risk a direct NATO-Russia engagement. (Whereas he was perilously wrong/foolhardy to even suggest that regime change in Moscow might be any kind of a goal in the present war.)
But also, regarding the “shock” of discovering that we- the great, good United States!- are actually being deterred by the (evil, etc) Russians: this is parallelled to a large extent by the recent realization of some in the Israeli power centers that their military has indeed been actually deterred to a significant extent by Hizbullah’s military, from undertaking bombings and other actions against Lebanon that earlier were almost routine for Israel. A different scale of things, I realize. But still, not trivial.
On “punishing Putin”
God, there is so much to write about on this. I would just refer, first of all, to material I used in my 2006 book Amnesty After Atrocity, in which I traced the record of attempts by the victorious “Allies” to punish Germany after, first of all, WW-I and then WW-II. The short version: After WW-I the Allies encircled Germany and sought to get the Kaiser extradited in order to “punish” him. But the German leaders of that era refused to give him up, so the Allies imposed very tight economic sanctions on all Germans as a form of collective punishment.
Do we remember how that turned out?
By contrast, as WW-II came to an end, things were done differently. The Allies (then also certainly including the Soviet Union) raced in from east and west to obliterate the Nazi regime completely; and each of the USSR and the “West” established its own successor regime in a part of Germany. This time, the attempt by the Allies to “punish” those responsible for Nazi-era atrocities was extremely restrained. While the leaders of the USSR and Britain, both of which had suffered extremely harsh losses from the Nazis, were baying for 50,000 or 100,000 top Nazis to be lined up and shot, the US leaders (who by comparison had suffered almost nothing from the fighting in Europe) came in with a plan to have demonstrative “show” trials of a dozen top Nazi leaders at Nuremberg, while at the grassroots they were busy rehabilitating as many Nazis as they could into the new German state they were building.
That turned out a whole lot better than Versailles.
This story needs telling and re-telling!
As a subsidiary point, I’d just note that (1) the United States has no inherent right to run around the world “punishing” anyone- especially since it has never even joined the International Criminal Court, and (2) a good case could be made that the entire history of the settler-colonial entity known as the “United States” has been based on the pursuit by various elites in this settler-colonial project of successive “punishment” campaigns against Indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, etc. It seems to be a very Protestant/Puritan type of behavior.
Tom Lehrer for a new generation
This would be a little project to educate the under-45s in the coping mechanisms needed for an era of mutual deterrence. The playlist should definitely include the following Tom Lehrer hits:
- We’ll all go together when we go
- Werner Von Braun
- The Wild West is where I wanne be!
- Who’s Next?
- So long, mom, I’ve gotta drop a bomb, don’t wait up for me!
And more on culture: from Strangelove to Breedlove
Of course, to learn more about the reality of mutual deterrence, the under-45s should also be watching both “Dr Strangelove” and that great 1987 ABC special “The Day After”.
But now, along comes this scary and dangerous character General Philip Breedlove, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, SACEUR, that is, the military head of NATO. Read this 2016 Spiegel report about him. Then see how he’s a frequent “Ukraine expert” guest on shows like MSNBC.
(Not sure if examining Breedlove’s role in the real world is much of a coping mechanism for anyone, though.)