How To Think About the War in Ukraine: a Response to Eric Levitz

In March of 2022, New York Magazine published the essay Is America to Blame for Russia’s War in Ukraine? by Eric Levitz. It’s illuminating to respond to it now, after over two years have passed and more information has come to light about what happened in the run-up to the war.

Levitz started out by seeming to acknowledge some U.S. culpability for the war. He writes:

As the “realist” international-relations scholar John Mearsheimer put the point in 2015, “What’s going on here is that the West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path, and the end result is that Ukraine is going to get wrecked.”

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Dennis Kucinich: The US Engineered a Coup To Drag Ukraine Into a Conflict

In this April 2, 2024 interview with Judge Napolitano, Dennis Kucinich says: “What’s happened is that the U.S. State Department and U.S. Government basically engineered a coup in Ukraine and used that to drag Ukraine into a conflict in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas and ignited this war which Russia has been horrible in the way they have come in and attacked. There’s been six hundred thousand people, the flower of Ukraine, who have been killed. This thing is heartbreaking.

But we cannot ignore the role that the U.S. has played in helping to impel it, and we cannot ignore the fact that, as you point out, there was a chance to resolve this two years ago.”  (He’s referring to how in March of 2022 the U.S. forced the Zelensky government to step back from a peace deal that was being negotiated with Russia.)

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Why It’s So Important To Expose US Provocations in Ukraine

I exchanged email with someone who works as a researcher for a peace institute. He acknowledged that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine but he thinks the “the vast bulk of the responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine lies with Vladimir Putin.” This researcher wants the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he thinks the U.S. should continue arming Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian aggression.

There are several interesting points to make in response to that researcher’s positions.

First, what does “vast bulk of the responsibility” mean exactly? Does Putin bear 67% of the responsibility (with the other 33% being the responsibility of the U.S. and NATO)? Does Putin bear 75% of the responsibility? 90%? 99%? The researcher is informed enough to know that the U.S. isn’t totally innocent in the crisis, but he didn’t proffer a numeric response to my request for him to suggest a percent.

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Putin Apologists?

Former U.S. Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock says in Ukraine: Tragedy of a Nation Divided:

Interference by the United States and its NATO allies in Ukraine’s civil struggle has exacerbated the crisis within Ukraine, undermined the possibility of bringing the two easternmost provinces back under Kyiv’s control, and raised the specter of possible conflict between nuclear-armed powers. Furthermore, in denying that Russia has a "right" to oppose extension of a hostile military alliance to its national borders, the United States ignores its own history of declaring and enforcing for two centuries a sphere of influence in the Western hemisphere.

Diplomat and historian George Kennan, quoted in Thomas Friedman’s This Is Putin’s War. But America and NATO Aren’t Innocent Bystanders:

"I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves."

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Why James Kirchick Is Wrong About the War in Ukraine

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.

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