Thursday 8 September 2022

Some quotations from Christopher Caldwell's 'Why Are We in Ukraine?'


'Why Are We in Ukraine?' is the title of the latest essay by Christopher Caldwell who in my opinion is the best political analyst of our age.

The drop head (secondary headline) expresses in one sentence his argument.

A steep bill comes due for decades of democracy promotion.

Some quotations. 

...It would be foolish to bet against the United States, a mighty global hegemon with a military budget 12 times Russia’s. Yet something is going badly off track. Russia’s military tenacity was to be expected—bloodying and defeating more technologically advanced armies has been a hallmark of Russian civilization for 600 years. But the economic sanctions, far from bringing about the collapse Blinken gloated over, have driven up the price of the energy Russia sells, strengthened the ruble, and threatened America’s western European allies with frostbite, shortages, and recession.

...In 2008, the U.S. announced plans to bring certain non-Baltic republics of the former Soviet Union—notably Ukraine and Georgia—into NATO and the American sphere of influence. Should Ukraine prevail in this proxy war the U.S. will have succeeded, in a way. But it will have done so at an almost unspeakable price. It will have undermined the international economic architecture on which rests its control of global markets (and its ability to safely run government deficits). It will have carried out a shotgun wedding of Russia and China, forcing the most natural-resource-rich country on the planet into the arms of the West’s most dangerous adversary. Should Ukraine fail, the Ukraine policy of the Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations will be counted among the significant foreign policy blunders in American history.

 ...The impulse that culminated in the Iraq war did not end with the debacle there. Diplomats and defense experts were still trying to “spread democracy” even in the Bush Administration’s dying days. The key moment, in [John] Mearsheimer’s view, came at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, when the American delegation put forward a statement that both Ukraine and Georgia “will become” NATO members. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the Bush Administration of the consequences. “I was very sure…that Putin was not going to just let that happen,” Merkel later explained. “From his perspective, that would be a declaration of war.”

...In Russia’s view, Ukraine’s potential delivery of Crimea to NATO was a more serious threat to its survival in 2014 than—to take an example—Islamic terrorism had been to America’s in 2001 or 2003.

...Putin certainly had reasons to wish Ukraine kept in Russia’s sphere of influence. But in most Western accounts of what led to the invasion of Ukraine last February, these reasons are presented as psychopathological, not geostrategic. Putin comes off as Hitler. He wants to reconstitute the Soviet Union. Or the tsarist empire. He rides a horse bare-chested...

...But the worst thing about this psycho-moral approach to Russian-Ukrainian affairs is that it produces bad foreign-policy thinking. It implies that, once you account for Putin’s personality, the war is actually about nothing—at least nothing political. And if the war is about nothing, then there is no need to consider what brought it about or where it might be goin

...Those who back a bigger role for the West in supporting Ukraine often put their position in the form of a question: once he gets control of Ukraine, why should Putin stop there? The question has a simple answer: because he knows something about history and he can count. He doesn’t have the guns. He doesn’t have the soldiers.

....Reducing Russia’s dimensions appears to be America’s overriding war aim. It is a risky one. Those Western leaders with the ambition to bring Europe to the gates of Moscow have sometimes brought the warriors of the Eurasian steppes onto the streets of Paris and Berlin.

....In June, the political consultant Ian Bremmer called SpaceX, Microsoft, and Google “literal belligerents in the war,” and even professed himself hopeful about the world they were creating, observing that corporations and banks have “a hell of a lot more impact in what the global outlook on climate will be than any government.” …. if an entity has a “hell of a lot more impact” on policy issues than a government, then it is a government, no matter what you call it, and probably a government that is the more dangerous and irresponsible for being able to pretend it is something else. There are a bunch of questions here that have not even been raised, let alone addressed.

....Administration officials often describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a war of choice. Although this may have been true at the outset, it is not now. Vladimir Putin and the Russia he rules cannot stop fighting. As long as the United States is involved in arming Russia’s enemies and bankrupting its citizens, they are quite right to believe themselves in a war for their country’s survival. The United States, thus far in a less bloody way, is also involved in a war it chose but cannot exit—in this case, for fear of undermining the international system from which it has drawn its power and prosperity for the past three quarters of a century.

Now may seem like the wrong moment to make peace. But seldom in wars such as this one do the prospects for peace grow more favorable with time.


  1. 'Christopher Caldwell... is the best political analyst of our age'