Michael Brenner, Scheerpost:

The United States is being defeated in Ukraine. One could say that it is facing defeat – or, more starkly, that it is staring defeat in the face. Neither formulation is appropriate, though. The U.S. doesn’t look reality squarely in the eye. We prefer to look at the world through the distorted lenses of our fantasies. We plunge forward on whatever path we’ve chosen while averting our eyes from the topography that we are trying to traverse.  Our sole guiding light is the glow of a distant mirageThat is our lodestone.

It is not that America is a stranger to defeat. We are very well acquainted with it: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria – in strategic terms if not always military terms. To this broad category, we might add Venezuela, Cuba, and Niger. That rich experience in frustrated ambition has failed to liberate us from the deeply rooted habit of eliding defeat. Indeed, we have acquired a large inventory of methods for doing so.


What were Washington’s objectives in sabotaging the Minsk peace plan and cold-shouldering subsequent Russian proposals, in provoking Russia by crossing clearly demarcated red lines, in pressing for Ukraine’s membership in NATO; in installing missile batteries in Poland and Rumania; in transforming the Ukrainian army into a potent military force deployed on the line-of-contact in the Donbas ready to invade or goad Moscow into preemptive action? The aim was to either pin a humiliating defeat on the Russian army or, at least, to inflict such heavy costs as to cut the ground from under the Putin government. The crucial, complementary dimension of the strategy was the imposition of economic sanctions so onerous as to implode a vulnerable Russian economy. Together, they would generate acute distress leading to the deposing of Putin – whether by a cabal of opponents (disgruntled oligarchs as the spearhead) or by mass protest. It was predicated on the fatally ill-informed supposition that he was an absolute dictator running a one-man show, The U.S. foresaw his replacement by a more pliable government ready to become a willing but marginal presence on the European stage and a non-player elsewhere. In the crude words of one Moscow official, “a tenant-farmer on Uncle Sam’s global plantation.”

The taming and domestication of Russia was conceived as a vital step in the impending great confrontation with China – designated the systemic rival to American hegemony. Theoretically, that objective could be achieved either by enticing Russia away from China (divide and subordinate) or totally neutralizing Russia as a world power by bringing down its stiff-backed leadership. The former approach never went beyond a few desultory, feeble gestures. All the chips were placed on the latter.

Ancillary benefits for the United States from a war over Ukraine that would bring Russia low were a) to consolidate the Atlantic alliance under Washington’s control, expand NATO and open an unbridgeable abyss between Russia and the rest of Europe that would endure for the foreseeable future; b) to that end, the termination of the latter’s heavy reliance on energy resources from Russia; and c) thereby, substituting higher-priced LNG and petroleum from the United States that would seal the European partners’ status as dependent economic vassals. If the last were a drag on their industry, so be it.


In a sense, the most noteworthy inheritance from the post-Vietnam experience is the honing of methods to photoshop history.  Vietnam was a warm-up for dealing with the many unsavory episodes in the post-9/11 era. That thorough, comprehensive cleansing has made palatable Presidential mendacity, sustained deceit, mind-numbing incompetence, systemic torture, censorship, the shredding of the Bill of Rights and the perverting of national public discourse  – as it degenerated into a mix of propaganda and vulgar trash-talking. The “War on Terror” in all its atrocious aspects.

Cultivated amnesia is a craft enormously facilitated by two broader trends in American culture: the cult of ignorance whereby a knowledge-free mind is esteemed as the ultimate freedom; and a public ethic whereby the nation’s highest officials are given license to treat the truth as a potter treats clay so long as they say and do things that make us feel good. So, our strongest collective memory of America’s wars of choice is the desirability – and ease – of forgetting them. “The show must go on” is taken as our imperative.


The focal shift from Russia in Europe to China in Asia is less a mechanism for coping with defeat than the pathological reaction of a country that, feeling a gnawing sense of diminishing prowess, can manage to do nothing more than try one final fling at proving to itself that it still has the right stuff – since living without that exalted sense of self is intolerable. What is deemed heterodox, and daring, in Washington these days is to argue that we should wrap up the Ukraine affair one way or another so that we might gird our loins for the truly historic contest with Beijing. The disconcerting truth that nobody of consequence in the country’s foreign policy establishment has denounced this hazardous turn toward war supports the proposition that deep emotions rather than reasoned thought are propelling us toward an avoidable, potentially catastrophic conflict.

A society represented by an entire political class that is not sobered by that prospect rightly can be judged as providing prime facie evidence of being collectively unhinged.

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