Tag Archives: Ukraine

Why wasn’t Jan. 6 more disruptive

I highlighted this recent thread from Kamil Galeev because it’s insightful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. One paragraph in particular has been on my mind as a big contrast with the US:

As a general rule, a large organisation suffering from the problem of attribution can start rewarding high and extremely high performance only if the organisation feels an immediate existential threat. Which happened in Ukraine after 2014. Fear changed the system of incentives…

I’ve seen Ukrainians say, quite plainly, that Russia has been waging war on their country for eight years. To review, for my own sake, Ukraine drove the corrupt Putin stooge, Yanukovych, out of the country. Putin then launched some Civilization shit in Crimea, combining Russian troops, a Russian-supported local insurrection, and a staged referendum for annexation. (Much the same program which Russia expected, based on this experience, that they could repeat with much more of Ukraine this year.)

To be absolutely honest, that’s a big deal. I presume it’s at least on the order of e.g. a dodgy Mexican annexation of Arizona, if we imagined Mexico as the seemingly stronger military power and the US kind of stuck for any immediate options to retaliate. Nothing remotely like that has happened to the US in ages, if ever.

But then, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were not at all like a hostile foreign power annexing an entire state. Despite that—and despite my own belief then and now that they should have been treated more like a crime than like an existential threat—they produced plenty of panic and change.

So it seems like a violent insurrection invading the nation’s Capitol itself, at the prompting of a defeated president and his political allies, could qualify to change the usual approach of the same people doing the same things. It really did not in this case, at all.

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What if: Ukraine in a Trump Second Term

I think that I was relatively realistic about the outlines of how bad America’s possibilities were even before the 2020 election, whatever its outcome. Experiencing it still feels awful, but I can’t claim that I really expected far better. What did I write, among other things, how about “I only know that in any and every realistic scenario I can imagine, America will blow up.” I wrote that the election still mattered because a Biden presidency could prevent various atrocities; I probably meant in the sense of preventing them for a while, which seems like the most generous thing which can now be said of how it’s working out.

I certainly can not claim that I was thinking about the fate of Ukraine, ahead of the 2020 election. It is nonetheless arguable that the fate of Ukraine, and maybe partially Europe, has turned on the 2020 US election result. Jonathan Chait argued a month ago that “If Trump Was Still President, Ukraine Would Be So Screwed Right Now,” and it does not seem unthinkable.

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What if Ukraine submitted

I think there’s important value in thinking about an alternate scenario in which Ukraine simply conceded everything which Putin’s Russia demands.

In a sense this is farfetched. Ukraine has proved very united in fighting for its independence.

But I think the question is still important as a hypothetical. We didn’t know, beforehand, that would be the case. Many other governments were counting on Ukraine folding, in fact, maybe not willingly but folding nonetheless; had that happened, it’s fair to say that most would have accepted it as fait accompli without concern over Ukraine’s opinion. Plenty of governments still, even now, advocate Ukraine simply conceding (and their ranks may grow further).

More generally, why should it seem farfetched for Ukrainians to submit to an autocrat’s demands that they accept life without democracy, independence, rights, etc.—when so many people do so?

As far as I can tell, the main thing which makes voluntary submission by Ukraine seem unreasonable, to most center-left political opinion, is its separation from Russia by an international border. That border’s current streak of existence is just over 30 years; Russia (backed up by many other governments) now deny that said border is valid; ultimately, these are abstract things which we make up.

Is that the traditional liberal order’s only “firm” determiner for whether your claim to rights is valid, or whether you are obliged to submit when an authority figure says so? I have a strong, very uncomfortable feeling that it is.

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How and When Do Phenomena Become Reality

I’m thinking a bit about how things become real to our culture, and what seems like a process. If there is anything here I’m only at the beginning of working it out.

What set me thinking about this, now, is the “discovery” last weekend that Russia was committing evil acts, abominable acts, war crimes, in Ukraine. Here are just a few things which preceded that early April “discovery.”

  • February 28: “Kharkiv under intense shelling by Russian artillery now. Civilian objects are targeted. Preliminary reports indicate dozens of casualties.”
  • March 1: US Secretary of State Blinken says that Russian strikes “are hitting schools, hospitals & residential buildings. Civilian buses, cars, and even ambulances have been shelled. Russia is doing this every day—across Ukraine.”
  • March 3: Video verified by The New York Times shows the bombardment of Chernihiv, Ukraine, near apartments, pharmacies and a hospital.
  • March 6: Russian forces fired mortar shells at hundreds of Ukrainian civilians as they fled.
  • March 7: Red Cross says an evacuation route out of Mariupol in Ukraine was mined.
  • March 9: WHO reports at least 18 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine since the start of the invasion; also on March 9, Russian forces bombed a maternity and children’s hospital.

I could go on, easily. On March 23, the US government formally declared that members of the Russian armed forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. Also of course back in February Russia launched an unprovoked and unjustifiable military invasion of Ukraine—no pretexts, no puppets, just over the border with guns in hand—which is pretty much the most essential war crime of all.

But last weekend all kinds of people were shocked to discover that Russia was committing evil acts, abominable acts, war crimes.

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How our fight is and isn’t like Ukraine’s

I definitely think there are connections between Ukraine’s fight against Russian attacks, and liberal democracy’s fight against Republican attacks. I have written as much, a number of times.

There are direct links, for one thing; long before Trump began flaunting Putin as his own modern day ring-giver, the American right has had partnership with Russian oligarchs. The NRA is just one example among countless.

There are also the conceptual similarities which motivate that partnership. Not only are the politics of Putin and of Republicans oppressive, predatory and definitely antidemocratic, they point toward complete intolerance of anything which exists independent of their faction. (Putin is definitively there, but there’s no reason to think Republicans won’t catch up.) Not just me saying that, either.

But there are differences which are at least as important.

Looking at the surprisingly effective resistance by Ukraine and seeing an example for Democrats anxious about midterm elections really, badly, misunderstands a lot.

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Extermination

March 23, 2022, stands out somewhat from the standard of this ongoing nightmare, for various reasons which I will go through in a moment. There have been worse single days, and really, when the standard is as bad as it has become, it feels somewhat meaningless to measure one day against another. But an important theme connects a number of notes from Wednesday.

The theme is organized extremism with absolutely fanatical intolerance for anything independent of it even existing—and a larger community which just remains unable to process such fanaticism.

One of my first reads, Wednesday morning, was a fascinating letter to the editor, in which a retired British defense attaché denounces the flabbiness and corruption which led his country to ignore and even enable the monster of Putin’s government for so long. While this has broader applicability than just Britain, the inclusion of a quote from Sherlock Holmes naturally caught my eye as well. From “His Last Bow,” it’s just about the last thing, chronologically, which Holmes says in the entire canon, spoken just before the start of the carnage and devastation of World War I.

Overnight, Politico Europe published an essay on “The failed world order” which makes a very effective bookend, essentially surveying more broadly the failings of the “Western” alliance and its institutions, which resulted in them ignoring and even enabling the monster of Putin’s government for so long. Mentioned within the essay, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., likened Russia to a poisonous mold, spreading rot through the structures of the international body.

In between, the day delivered now essentially standard news and analysis from Ukraine, where there seems less and less to be any credible purpose to Russian attacks besides injuring and, to the greatest extent possible, simply destroying Ukraine. The day also delivered multiple demonstrations of the similar fanaticism within the United States, and the failure and flab within America’s own liberal order.

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Cato, Tacitus, and Ukraine

This weekend I concluded, in tandem with various neighbors in the twittersphere, that Ukraine has very probably thwarted Russian ambitions to impose vassalage. It looks like Putin’s government is, instead, increasingly focused on simply reducing Ukraine to a desert.

The invasion has been taking on such a character for some time. Russian activity has gradually looked less and less like an invasion for conquest or regime change, and more like a punitive expedition. I have thought repeatedly of Tacitus’s remark that “they make a desolation and call it peace.”

Tacitus aside, I’m not sure that history includes many major, really close parallels with what’s unfolding in Ukraine. Armies destroying what they can’t hold is by means new, as a tactic. But the scale, here, is eye-opening. A large nation so rotten that it launches an unjustifiable invasion, without achieving any really credible pretext, then fails badly to impose its will upon a smaller neighbor, but has and is using automated destructive tools so extensive that it can level the neighbor even though the invading troops lose. The potential for that has existed for generations, at least, but I think examples of such a revolting spite campaign at this scale are few.

There are seemingly ample good reasons for such campaigns to be few. It looks monstrous, and it looks weak in important ways when such a maximalist punitive campaign is obviously resorted to as a Plan J or something, after every hope for imposing control or influence has failed or stalled. Much of the world will react to this, harshly, despite shrugging off lots of “ordinary” atrocities. Despite which, in this case, deterrence seems ineffective.

I’m not sure how many people are really processing that, yet, but if the upper levels of Russian government are set on leveling Ukraine out of spite, regardless of cost, it is in their power to do so. We need to think more about how to respond.

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Flag-waving for Ukraine

In a direct, practical sense, I generally know what I think about Ukraine. Whatever the purpose or expectations of Russian government, the invasion of Ukraine is barbarism and butchery, by what has been a criminal rogue state for years anyway. I don’t support America starting a war over it. I definitely support sanctioning the criminal rogue state, and its crime bosses, into oblivion. I think the Biden administration has performed credibly, here, and that European* governments have surpassed very low expectations. I think Republicans are scum who have, directly and indirectly, enabled Russia’s crime bosses and placed Ukraine at risk for many years.

I think we definitely didn’t “win the Cold War” in any permanent sense 30 years ago. I think Europe has become too flabby, generally, while the United States has been more than excessively bellicose in a lot of the wrong directions while enabling Russia and many other criminal rogue states.

My thoughts and feelings about the reactions by American society, and to some extent the rest of the “Western” world, are more complicated. But I’m definitely getting really embarrassed by the volume of conspicuous yellow-and-blue flag-waving.

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Le vent se lève

Whenever it was, a year and a half ago or 30 years ago, I titled a post “Improv pandemi-coup-cession” which I think was a pretty credible impression of the multiple car pileup of alarming events and chaos. Right now I don’t even know where I would begin to attempt the same thing.

A big obstacle to bothering, with lots of things, is a high degree of confidence that the disruption right now is scarcely more than a brief sketch of the immersive 3D which is on its way.

A nuclear-armed state is moving toward mass invasion of a U.S. ally, accompanied by a global barrage of socioeconomic sabotage, gaslighting and brain-bending trolling.

It is difficult even to comment on the political crisis in America, which except for brief and pretty much meaningless jolts, is continually hypernormalized even as it deteriorates further and further. I actually have a more or less complete manuscript of a book of comment on this, yet it is difficult to do anything with it. I never saw much point to the project, anyway, in the sense of belief that circulating it would really change anything. But now it feels kind of like completing a manuscript on the fragility of Europe’s 19th-century long peace, in August 1914.

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