Sunday, March 20, 2022

Lessons from an unnecessary war

Edited version first posted in Asia Times. A translated version appeared in the Sing Tao Daily. As Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, the Western nations condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for the illegal invasion and the killing and destruction that went with it. “Putin is deranged, Putin is insane, Putin is a killer and he will destroy the world along with Russia,” are just some of the condemnations being heaped on him by the leaders in the West and the mainstream media. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria denounced “Russia’s utterly unprovoked, unjustifiable, immoral invasion of Ukraine.” US Senator Lindsey Graham went so far as to suggest hiring killers to assassinate Putin. Social media along with the mainstream became overloaded with dubious information and fantastical accusations. Some of the cacophony was clearly propaganda from Russia and some from Ukraine amplified by the West. Absent from the commentary of pundits and politicians alike is any semblance of rational reasoning and analysis as to causes and developments that led to the current tragic crisis. An exception would be historian John Mearsheimer, who in an hour-plus lecture given at the University of Chicago back in 2015 explained in some detail how the West continued to ignored Putin’s objections to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, his lecture has gone viral around the world and been downloaded millions of times. Then this month, Mearsheimer reviewed and updated his views but did not alter his basic position, namely that the US and NATO are to blame for events leading to this disastrous war. His March 2022 talk provided a useful outline of all the provocations by the West starting from 1999. Far from being crazy, Putin as the titular leader of Russia has the responsibility to protect the security of Russia. He has repeatedly objected to NATO’s eastward expansion but was ignored by the US and NATO at every step along the way. Contrary to the impression popularized by the mainstream media, Putin did not precipitate a sudden invasion of Ukraine. For weeks, he amassed troops surrounding Ukraine threatening war as his final warning if the US and allies elected not to pay attention to his demands. Missile crises, then and now If the Americans could not tolerate missiles in Cuba back in 1962 and threatened to go nuclear against the Soviet Union, Putin has asked, how should Russia feel secure with missiles across its border in Ukraine? His question has never been addressed by US President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They seemed merely to shrug and ask Putin to accept on faith that the US can be trusted never to threaten Russia with missiles next door. After repeatedly reneging on the promise not to expand NATO membership, they are asking a lot from Putin. Biden also dispatched Blinken to contact China’s Foreign Ministry and ask Beijing to intercede and encourage Putin not to invade Ukraine. Blinken seems to have a talent for turning on a dime and suddenly finding China, heretofore an American adversary, into a bosom buddy in times of need. He was politely ignored. Biden’s other counter is to impose sanctions, economically isolate Russia and stop buying oil from Russia. Since the operation of US refineries depends on the heavy crude that Russia can provide, Blinken has had to call on Caracas and offer to do the Venezuelans a big favor and lift crippling sanctions so as to begin buying crude from them. In the meantime, the world price of a barrel of oil has more than tripled. As a producer and supplier of oil, Russia is enjoying windfall oil revenue to soften the economic pains coming from Biden sanctions. Biden tells Americans to suck it up The Biden administration seems to feel that the American public won’t mind gasoline prices going sky-high and that inflation will mean doing without for many American households. He seems confident that the European Union nations will also loyally go along, even though the Europeans will feel the pain of inflation and energy shortages even more than Americans. The world can only marvel at the kind of strategic thinking emanating from Washington. Washington has shown no inclination to find a resolution that would end the conflict and reach a peaceful settlement. Biden’s idea of supporting Ukraine in the war was to proclaim that American soldiers will not fight Russia but will supply as much weaponry as necessary for Ukraine to fight the Russians down to the last Ukrainian standing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is beginning to see a serious downside to having the US as an ally and seems willing to find a way to a negotiated peace. This is where China can play a constructive role. China has maintained positive diplomatic relations with both Russia and Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin issued a long joint statement on February 4 declaring long-term economic cooperation and commitment to a multipolar world. As for Ukraine, it is a major hub of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and an important trading partner. During this war, China Red Cross has begun to send humanitarian aid to Kiev, and the Ukrainian government has assisted China in rounding up and evacuating Chinese nationals from the conflict zones. China has expressed sympathy to Russia’s objection to NATO’s encroachment but did not support the invasion of Ukraine. China has always stood on the side of respecting the sovereignty of other nations. China for peace, US for war Surely the world can see that while the US sends arms to promote death, destruction and everlasting instability, China sends food and medicine and can be a trusted honest broker for peace and stability. Nevertheless, the road to peace and security will be long and challenging. It will require all the other parties with vested interests, such as EU and NATO members and most important of all the US, not to disrupt and interfere. It will take EU and NATO member nations that value peace and return to economic prosperity, over their allegiance with the US, to overwhelm the American attempts to sabotage the peace process. Blinken is said to have already formulated a Ukrainian government-in-exile, preparing for the day when the country is overrun by Russia. It will be incumbent on all nations in favor of peace to ensure the safety of Zelensky and not let him become a victim of a CIA hit squad. Ukraine war a lesson for Taiwan This war has raised another question that must be answered, about the status of Taiwan. Some mainstream media outlets have actually suggested that China will take advantage of the distraction the conflict has caused in in Europe to invade Taiwan. This proposition is as preposterous and as poorly reasoned as any from the mainstream media. Beijing regards the people of Taiwan as Chinese and as their own kind. The evacuation of Chinese from Ukraine, as an example, included people with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan passports. Mainland China will not launch an invasion unless pushed to a last resort. The last resort would be when the Taipei government declares independence. If Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen falls for American encouragement and steps over the line in the sand, she can count on Uncle Sam to provide all the weapons she needs to fight to the last person in Taiwan. Biden has openly declared that he won’t send any Americans to Ukraine to take on the Russians. He won’t take on China either. It should be obvious that the US is a declining hegemon that can only offer conflict and economic sanctions, while China has no interest in military intervention and can offer economic cooperation and collaboration to anyone. The contrast couldn’t be more clearly seen than in the Ukraine conflict. Another commentary posted in Asia Times on the same day discussed the position by President George H.W. Bush that's relevant to my piece.