There’s nothing like a nice little war to rescue sagging popularity ratings and Biden’s approval is deep underwater. So is the plan to urge Ukraine to provoke Russia to attack? Republicans will cheer and Democrats will cheer. Only the dead will fail to cheer.
The American Secretary of State is adding air miles to his account this week by visiting Kiev, Berlin and tomorrow Geneva for meetings with President Zelensky, Chancellor Scholz and RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov respectively. However, whether abroad or at home he is a captive of the U.S. foreign affairs community echo chamber, utterly indifferent to external stimuli and incapable of responding appropriately to the changing environment. Everywhere he repeats the mantra that Russia is about to stage a classical invasion of Ukraine, just as everywhere President Biden repeats daily that the Russians will face consequences for their actions, very grave damage to their economy as a result of American led sanctions.
Meanwhile reality develops on its own, paying no heed to the script written in stone in Washington, D.C.
The Russians have a very flexible and constantly changing set of responses to threats and opportunities. This is what makes it so difficult for us commentators to foresee the actual path to denouement. But it is also what makes it almost certain the Russians will get what they want and change the European security architecture to their advantage in the face of American obtuseness.
The U.S.-based international organization Veterans For Peace has released its own assessment of the current global threat of nuclear war, ahead of the anticipated release of the Biden Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. The Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review warns that the danger of nuclear war is greater than ever and that nuclear disarmament must be vigorously pursued. Veterans For Peace plans to deliver their Nuclear Posture Review to the President and Vice President, to every member of Congress, and to the Pentagon.
With the first anniversary of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on January 22, the Veterans For Peace Nuclear Posture Review calls on the U.S. government to sign the treaty and to work with other nuclear-armed states to eliminate all the world’s nuclear weapons. The TPNW, approved by a vote of 122-1 in the UN General Assembly in July of 2017, reflects the international consensus against the existence of such weapons.
On January 3rd of this year, the five nuclear-armed states with the largest nuclear arsenals issued a joint statement declaring that they "consider the avoidance of war between Nuclear-Weapon States and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities." The statement goes on to "affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."
As the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stands at 100 seconds to midnight – "the closest it has ever been to civilization-ending apocalypse" – this statement would appear to be good news for the world.
However, all five of the signatories to the statement are currently engaged in maintaining powerful nuclear arsenals. Not only are these far larger than what would be required to destroy human civilization, and possibly most life on earth, but also these nations are planning huge expenditures to upgrade the "usability" and lethality of those arsenals.
On COI #218, Kyle Anzalone and Connor Freeman update the Iran talks, the new Cold War with China, and the genocidal war in Yemen.
Connor discusses the ongoing indirect negotiations in Vienna to restore the JCPOA. There are troubling signs that the Biden administration may be preparing for the talks to fail. House Republicans are demanding President Biden’s team immediately end the talks. Whatever happens, a decision is coming soon, and Biden’s team plans to continue scapegoating Trump. Although there are still positive statements coming from the EU foreign policy chief, the Chinese, and the Iranians themselves.
Connor covers China’s growing Middle East influence. Beijing and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are working toward building a free trade area and a strategic partnership. China is the GCC’s top trading partner and the region forms a centerpiece in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China recently invited Syria to join the BRI as well. Additionally, last year’s Tehran-Beijing comprehensive cooperation agreement is now entering its implementation stage.
Kyle and Connor talk about the U.S. military carrying out massive military exercises with Japan. Tokyo also sailed warships near Chinese-controlled islands twice in the last ten months. The U.S. just wrapped up war drills in the South China Sea including with an aircraft carrier strike group. Washington sent an Ohio class nuclear submarine to Guam, it carries dozens of nuclear warheads and 20 Trident ballistic missiles.
Kyle reports on the war in Yemen where the Saudis announced they will be increasing the bombings of the long battered country. Massive strikes, killing civilians, are being carried out including in the capital city. The Houthis have retaliated, they conducted a high-profile drone attack on Abu Dhabi that destroyed three oil tankers and killed three people. The UAE wants the U.S. to redeclare the Houthis a terrorist group. Such a move would make it even more difficult for aid to enter the blockaded and starving country. Most of Yemen’s civilians live in the northern territory held by the Houthis, the threat of U.S. sanctions would designedly deter most any humanitarian assistance.
Walter Russell Mead does a good job of making Russia hawks look ridiculous:
As the Ukrainian crisis deepens, there is only one option that would stop a Russian invasion – and that is the one that all the serious players in Washington say is off the table: dispatching an American and coalition force to defend Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is not ready for war with the U.S.; informing his gamble is a well-grounded conviction that America is not committed enough to Ukraine to defend it by force.
History may look back on this as a failure of nerve equal to the appeasement of the 1930s.
There is good reason why America is “not committed enough to Ukraine” to go to war for it. The US has nothing at stake there that could possibly justify taking the enormous risks that a war with Russia involves. Even the most aggressive hawks tacitly admit as much when they claim that the current crisis is just a prelude to worse things later. Mead makes the usual references to the 1930s because he can’t make a straightforward argument that Ukraine is important enough on its own that the US has to defend it. Russia hawks know they can’t sell a war for Ukraine, so they have to make it into a war for NATO or world order or something big enough to make their insane proposal seem at least slightly defensible. Their own alarmism confirms that they know the US has no vital interests here.
Mead asserts that putting Western troops in Ukraine to defend it is the “only” option that can stop an invasion. This conveniently ignores the obvious compromise that is much more likely to achieve the goal, and it fails to anticipate how Russia would react to the insertion of more Western forces into Ukraine. The current crisis has been driven in large part by Russian opposition to any Western military presence in Ukraine. Sending a large deployment of troops would be extremely provocative. Something like that could be the match that sets off the explosion.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.