James Kirchick’s essay How the Anti-war Camp Went Intellectually Bankrupt in The Atlantic is a defense of U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine. The essay mostly consists of name-calling and ridicule of cherry-picked arguments made by antiwar commentators from the left (e.g., Noam Chomsky), from the right (e.g., Ron Paul), and from what he calls the realist center (e.g., The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft).
Kirchick resorts to name-calling and sarcasm because he fails to address many of the strong arguments made by peace groups calling for a negotiated peace in Ukraine.
In particular, Kirchick doesn’t discuss the many ways in which NATO expansion was unnecessarily aggressive and was opposed by many senior US diplomats.
Kirchick also doesn’t acknowledge how US military planners were quite aware that their actions in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries were a direct threat to Russia’s security and would provoke a military response from Russia. See, in particular, the 2019 RAND Corporation study Overextending and Unbalancing Russia, which says “Providing lethal aid to Ukraine would exploit Russia’s greatest point of external vulnerability. But any increase in US military arms and advice to Ukraine would need to be carefully calibrated to increase the costs to Russia of sustaining its existing commitment without provoking a much wider conflict in which Russia, by reason of proximity, would have significant advantages.” The highlighted words show that the authors knew that US actions would provoke war.
Kirchick doesn’t acknowledge US support for the 2014 coup in Ukraine or the presence of neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine (e.g., the Azov Batallion) and their anti-Russian violence.
For a point-by-point rebuttal to Kirchick’s essay, see here. For a concise summary of US provocations see my Playing Russian Roulette in Ukraine With Rep. Adam Smith in the Seattle Emerald. For a detailed accounting of US provocations, and documentation about Nazi activities, see How the US Provoked Russia in Ukraine: A Compendium.
In short, the US is far from innocent in Ukraine – echoing Thomas Friedman’s opinion piece This Is Putin’s War. But America and NATO Aren’t Innocent Bystanders in the NY Times – and, hence, the US needs to show more restraint in a crisis that could lead to nuclear war.
Another reason to end the war is that it is doing substantial damage to the economies of Europe and the US The sanctions against Russia are failing; Russian oil exports have increased in value since the start of the invasion, and now OPEC has agreed to restrict production, further raising oil prices and risking Democrats’ reelection chances in November. See Patrick Cockburn’s How the West’s Sanctions on Russia Boomeranged.
To be clear, I do not claim that U.S. provocations justify Russia’s invasion – which was criminal, brutal, and stupid. But the US bears substantial responsibility and should work hard to de-escalate the crisis. Instead the US is intent on weakening and humiliating Russia, even at the risk of causing a nuclear holocaust. Both sides are wrong in this crisis.
Kirchick has been called a neoconservative by Ben Norton in Salon, by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine, by Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept, and, indeed, by himself. So it’s no surprise he would defend this war.
Donald A. Smith is a writer, a peace activist working with CodePink, a Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, the editor of http://waliberals.org, and the creator of https://progressivememes.or. He lives in Bellevue, Washington and has a PhD in Computer Science.