If World War III Happens, You Can Thank Russiagate
It has now been over three weeks since the Biden Administration started warning that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “imminent,” which raises fresh questions about the definition of the word “imminent.” Because if I tell you something is going to happen imminently, and then a month passes and nothing happens, I’d have thought my projection of “imminence” would be rendered incorrect. And I should, I don’t know, account for that in some way — maybe even apologize? But that’s not how the US Government operates in the realm of foreign policy, least of all for anything to do with Russia.
When examining the trajectory of recent events, one might reasonably conclude that the main objective currently being pursued by the US is to instigate further hostilities in Ukraine. And not just because Joe Biden continues to ramp up shipments of purportedly “defensive” weaponry, like grenade launchers, to the Ukraine military. (It would surely be analyzed with utmost precision in the event of any potentially forthcoming conflict whether certain grenade explosions were “offensive” or “defensive” in nature.)
The conclusion that the US appears to be pursuing a goal of conflict-instigation can also be seen in the trajectory of its “diplomacy.” To the extent the US has engaged “diplomatically” in the ongoing situation, the effect has seemingly been to escalate tensions, not “de-escalate” — despite pretensions to the latter. A delegation of US Senators jetted off to Kiev last month in a show of grandiose solidarity, mirroring a previous trip made in December 2013 by a different group of Senators infamously led by John McCain. That earlier group endured the mild inconvenience of appearing on stage alongside an “opposition leader” who was inordinately preoccupied with the alleged threat of “organized Jewry.” For all the recent domestic frenzy over the claimed scourge of homegrown “Nazis,” most US politicians and think tankers at the time seemed conspicuously blasé about backing a government-toppling initiative largely organized by unabashed sympathizers with the actual, historical Nazis.
McCain on that fateful trip was accompanied by Chris Murphy (D-CT) — then a freshman senator who now, eight years later, regularly pontificates as a point-person for the Senate Democrats on foreign policy matters. Undeterred by the embarrassment of the 2013 trip, Murphy lept at the first opportunity to make another high-profile jaunt to Ukraine during the current “crisis.” Included in his 2022 bipartisan delegation was Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who as of December was suggesting the brilliant idea of a nuclear first strike against Russia, as well as conventional US airstrikes and ground troops to “rain destruction on Russian military capability.” This, among other things, raises the question of what exactly it means anymore to “interfere” in foreign countries’ affairs. Because according to the common definition in US parlance, democracy-threatening “interference” can consist of a Russian internet marketing firm dispatching a few absurd Twitter trolls and Facebook memes to mildly toy with voters during election season. But physically going to a conflict hotzone after threatening nuclear annihilation is… par for the course?
This seeming disparity between rival notions of “interference” provides as good an opportunity as ever to reflect on the most destructive consequence of “Russiagate” — that sprawling, endlessly multifaceted miasma of nuttiness which consumed US politics for approximately four years straight. It’s long been a truism of International Relations 101 that a country’s internal political dynamics ineluctably affect the conduct of foreign policy. It’s also just common sense: you don’t have to sit through any abstruse IR Theory seminars to grasp the insight that elected officials are frequently motivated by getting re-elected, and therefore do things in their perceived political interest. Therefore, if agitating against Russia is perceived to be within their political interest, they will do that. Hence over the course of Trump’s presidency, Russia antagonism became a core plank of the “progressive” Democratic platform. This meant Democratic candidates could not conceivably win the 2020 presidential nomination, for example, without inveighing against Putin and declaring their unabiding resolve to “confront” him.
And so here we have what such a “confrontation” looks like in practice: the Executive and Legislative branches more-or-less united in anti-Russia furor, exacerbating the present Russia/Ukraine situation. It’s truly incredible, and criminally under-appreciated in the US Media, that Ukraine President Zelensky — the person who arguably stands to lose the most should an invasion actually occur — felt compelled to call an emergency press conference on January 28 and chastise both the US Government and US media for creating a “panic” about a Russian invasion supposedly being imminent. A clearly piqued Zelensky adamantly rejected this proposition, and insisted that the situation in January 2022 was fundamentally no different than it was in January 2021. This revealed a highly peculiar scenario: the country declared to be on the verge of invasion was markedly less alarmist about that prospect than the US, half a world away, where Ukraine tends to be hardly an afterthought except for the occasional instances that it’s used as terrain for domestic political warfare. (I doubt even most US journalists could comprehensively recollect the Ukraine-related rationale for Trump’s first impeachment.)
To underscore the peculiarity of the scenario, according to the very figure for whom a full-scale Russian invasion would plainly be the most disastrous — Zelensky could conceivably be captured or killed in that eventuality — the US has greatly exaggerated the likelihood of some imminent Russian invasion. And these exaggerations were serving to create greater danger than if the US just did nothing. Zelensky’s rebuke was all the more remarkable given his imperative to remain on the best of terms with the US, which is literally funding and training his country’s military. But apparently the “de-escalation” techniques employed by Biden — like when he went before the TV cameras and matter-of-factly asserted that a Russian invasion would definitely happen — were considered troubling enough by Zelensky that he took the extraordinary step of publicly reproaching his primary foreign benefactor.
I know it’s considered gauche to actually listen to what Vladimir Putin says, but on occasion he provides information that might be relevant for assessing the nature of geopolitical problems. During an hour-and-a-half-long interview with NBC News in June 2021, which can be watched in full here, Putin was pressed on a previous “buildup” of Russian forces around the border with Ukraine. (By the way, imagine Biden sitting for a televised interview with Russian media for any length of time.) In response, Putin noted that the US had just been conducting its own large-scale military exercises in conjunction with NATO throughout Eastern Europe. And he was factually correct. The US media does not report on the existence of these operations to any real extent — you have to dig deep into the relevant documentation to learn, for example, that “DEFENDER-EUROPE-21” included live-fire drills in the country of Estonia, which happens to sit on the border of Russia. Putin bringing this up in a US context would doubtless get him accused of “whataboutism,” but at the same time — what about it? Why is the US conducting large multinational military exercises in such close proximity to Russia, and how ought that to reflect on the US tendency to immediately characterize any of Russia’s own military exercises as inherently aggressive?
This context gets ignored, and the insane possibility of the US triggering some sort of catastrophic war in Ukraine is just accepted, thanks in large part to the propagandistic onslaught of the past several years — which completely warped how many Americans perceive the “threat” of Russia, and completely mangled the US media’s ability to question US policy toward Russia. Remember when merely having “Russian contacts” was suddenly considered an extreme political liability? Is anyone surprised that this eventually led to the deterioration of US-Russian diplomatic relations?
The moment Donald Trump did something on the foreign stage that appeared relatively non-belligerent, such as professing his eagerness to achieve a kind of “détente” with Russia — or, relatedly, meeting with Kim Jong Un — a huge faction of Democrats and the media pounced to accuse him of only doing these things for sinister reasons, such as abetting a criminal conspiracy with the Kremlin. Political incentives therefore skewed in favor of Trump taking the more aggressive option, to demonstrate that he was not collusively in thrall to Russia. So the “détente” that Trump long claimed he wanted (though without using that highfalutin word) never came to pass, relations with Russia cratered to what many regard as a post-Cold War lowpoint, and now we’re in this predicament of quasi-brinkmanship in Ukraine where the main function of US policy appears to be egging on conflict. Seems like that “confrontation” so many were pining for is working out fantastically well!
Simply by generating tensions that wouldn’t have otherwise existed (as alleged by Zelenksy) the US is making more likely the outbreak of full-on war, which could arise from something as minor as an unforeseen accident or miscommunication. I don’t think World War III should be invoked lightly, but prominent US officials have raised it as a distinct possibility. This psychotic op-ed by Evelyn Farkas, who served as a Pentagon official during the 2014 Ukraine coup and then tried to marshal that distinguished experience into a Cable News sinecure — before unsuccessfully running for a House seat in New York as a Democrat, naturally — almost has to be read to be believed. Farkas predicts a breakout of World War III unless the Biden Administration prepares immediately for “direct combat” between US troops and Russian forces. She seems oblivious that if anything is liable to spark World War III, it’s the lunatic plan she advocates.
Is the situation in Ukraine likely to culminate in World War III? Probably not, but even the most remote possibility of World War III is probably something that should be strenuously avoided if at all humanly possible. Biden is sending more US troops to Eastern Europe, China is declaring its support for Russia’s goals in Ukraine — and none of this makes for a reassuring dynamic. At a recent appearance with Emmanuel Macron, Putin warned that war in Ukraine would engulf the whole of NATO.
So if the worst does happen, the aggression and paranoia spawned by Russiagate — and its irrational influence on US policy-making and public opinion — will have played an under-recognized role. Where is the opposition to the conflict-instigating posture of the US? Democrats have been largely habituated into viewing anti-Russia antagonism as a wonderful “progressive” virtue, while Republicans are largely useless, trying to score cheap points against Biden by idiotically accusing him of “appeasement” every chance they get. Journalists often think they are bravely holding the powerful to account by demanding more proactive US intervention. In sum, the key segments of US society are primed for sleepwalking into a war they claim they don’t want, but keep taking actions to precipitate. If this all gets out of hand, which is ominously plausible, I hope the “Kremlin agent” pot-shots from 2016 to 2020 were worth it.