That’s a quotation by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of a united Germany in the 19th century. I’ve been struck by its relevance to what’s going on in Ukraine, now that President Putin of Russia has taken off the gloves and turned loose his armed forces to obtain by military might what he could not achieve through diplomacy.
I pointed out yesterday that during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, promises were, indeed, made by the West that NATO would not expand eastward into the former Soviet sphere of influence. Those promises were ignored by the West almost as soon as they were made. In the process, the advance of European and US influence was seen as an ever-increasing, ever-encroaching threat by Putin and Russia. It’s hard to disagree with them from a geographic perspective.
Here’s a very useful map from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, dated 2018. Click the image for a much larger view.
The blue shading indicates NATO’s borders before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The dark green shading indicates NATO’s expansion since then. If you take similar distances and areas, and put them on the map of North and South America below the US border with Mexico . . . wouldn’t we be getting a bit paranoid about such expansion by a former enemy towards us, too? It would look pretty threatening, no matter how much or how often whoever was doing it swore that there was no threat intended.
That’s what has led directly to Russia’s actions in Ukraine today – that, and NATO’s (and the USA’s) refusal to keep their earlier promises about non-expansion and to face geopolitical reality. President Putin has come to viscerally distrust anything the West has to say about the matter. I can’t blame him. In his shoes, I’d see things that way, too. Therefore, he’s stopped talking and started doing something about it.
A major problem for this country is that President Biden is illegitimate, incompetent and incapable of directing a US response. We all know this. His television and other appearances show a man who’s increasingly in decline, mentally handicapped by the onset of some form of senile dementia. He’s literally not capable of formulating or carrying out a cohesive US foreign policy. That means his words and actions are being formulated and directed by others. President Biden is no more than a puppet on their strings. He’s a victim of elder abuse by those who are exploiting his mental and physical decline, and he deserves our pity – but he’ll get none from President Putin, or from President Xi in China. They’re going to carpe diem and wring every advantage they can from the US’s leadership vacuum and lack of strategic vision. That’s realpolitik – and they’re both very good at it.
US military intervention in Ukraine is all but impossible right now. The Biden administration – and the Obama administration before it – have politicized and ideologically hamstrung our armed forces until they’re dissipating their focus into all sorts of areas that have nothing to do with their designated mission.
The cultural problem of inattention to warfighting proficiency … comes from the top. The Biden administration is channeling its energy to other priorities: its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, issued last March, prioritizes “a global pandemic, a crushing economic downturn, a crisis of racial justice, and a deepening climate emergency.” When announcing Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, Biden extolled the need for the military to distribute vaccines. Defense Department social media accounts stress the agency’s commitment to expanding diversity, ending sexual harassment, and tackling climate damage. These are all important issues, but they are not the reasons the United States has a military. Nor is there adequate funding in the Pentagon’s budget to include them without further displacing money needed for personnel, equipment, and operations. The Pentagon’s embrace of what it calls “integrated deterrence” emphasizes economic and diplomatic tools of defense and sounds a lot like a justification for not using military power to deter adversaries.
Biden’s security strategy pledges to make sure that “the U.S. Armed Forces remain the best trained and equipped force in the world,” but current funding for those forces calls into question that commitment … The United States has for nearly two decades tolerated a growing gap between its military means and its stated strategy. Biden is not wholly responsible for the problem, but it falls to his administration to manage it. And managing it will require Washington to constrict its aims, increase its spending, or find revolutionary ways to improve military performance.
There’s more at the link. Bold, underlined text is my emphasis.
Given that politicization of our armed forces, and the fact that for two decades they’ve been fighting a war against low-intensity, low-technology terrorism rather than against a peer adversary, they’re ill-prepared and ill-equipped to fight a Russia or a China on even terms. I simply don’t see conventional US military intervention in Ukraine as feasible. Nuclear weapons are a different story, but to go that route would be criminal folly, because nobody knows how far it would escalate or where it would end. The human race can’t afford that, let alone the US people.
This won’t end when the fighting in Ukraine stops. I fully expect President Xi to take advantage of the shift in world attention to that part of the world to launch his own attempt to take over Taiwan. That’s very likely to disrupt, if not destroy, half of the computer-chip-making capacity of the entire world. That would have absolutely disastrous consequences for every country on earth, because almost every modern machine, vehicle or system uses such chips, and we no longer have access to the earlier technologies that didn’t need them. The machines and factories that used to make them have long since been torn down or scrapped to make room for newer, more modern replacements. Quite literally, we’d see massive starvation (due to the collapse of computer-aided agriculture) and immense commercial and social disruption (because our modern way of life depends on computers and the Internet – without them, most of the companies and suppliers on whom we rely will close their doors.)
Will that happen? I don’t know . . . but the USA and NATO may have brought us to the brink of that through their feckless, reckless handling of the Ukraine situation. President Putin has realized he can’t trust the West to keep its word, so he’s doing something about it. I’ll be very, very surprised if China doesn’t do the same, taking advantage of the USA’s current lack of leadership and preoccupation with internal matters to achieve its geopolitical ends. There’s little we can do to stop that happening.
Otto von Bismarck was right. What we’re seeing in Ukraine, and globally, is the result of a whole generation of foreign policy blunders, failures and missteps. They’ve happened under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and neither party can be trusted to fix them now. Every denizen of Washington D.C., almost without exception, is part of the problem rather than the solution.
Tulsi Gabbard, one of the few Democratic Party politicians who’s consistently honest and forthright, is correct. (Click either image to be taken to the original tweet.)
I’m reminded of the words of Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I.
A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week — he thinks it was on Monday, August 3rd. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”
We should all hope and pray, very sincerely, that we aren’t facing a similar prospect right now.