As early internet coincided with the “Global War on Terror” it so happened that one of its best parts was the breadth of writings shining a critical light on America’s wars of empire. Progressives, libertarians, and conservatives alike contributed common sense critiques of these costly wars of choice from a broadly anti-interventionist standpoint.
When these anti-interventionists took a look at the wars of Bush and Obama they did not raise the flag of Mullah Omar, Sadam Hussein, or Abu Musa al-Zarqawi. Their argument wasn’t that the other side was the side of good and ought to win. There was no sense in which the likes of Alexander Cockburn, Justin Raimondo, or Pat Buchanan were Islamists or anti-Americans.
On the contrary, their argument was often that the wars were bad for America and its interests. They often spelled out a reality where the anti-interventionists were the true patriots, and where the War Party had harmed America more than its enemies ever could, all the while making these enemies stronger and more of a threat.
By and large, they did not do so by breathing fire but by posing the most pedestrian questions. A favorite approach was to take the declared goals of the intervention at face value but ask rudimentary questions such as: How do these means get us those ends? Once we start this, what is the exit strategy, how do we get out? Will the enemy get a vote on that? What about blowback? What about the human cost?
It did not speak to the strength of the pro-war position that warmongers felt threatened by such elementary questions and would respond with ad hominems before falling back on talking points.
What I learned reading this stuff for many years wasn’t that specifically America’s wars are bad. What I learned was more broadly the folly of interventionism and the wisdom of staying clear of it. There is no mess so bad that it cannot be made worse by adding in politicians and bombs. Non-interventionism requires making a level of peace with an unappealing and imperfect reality. But frequently interventionism means paying the cost of intervention and then having to make peace with an even poxier reality.
For all its interventionism the US ended up with a stronger and more legitimate Taliban than ever, an Iran-friendly Iraq where Tehran has a strong proxy presence, and Somalia ruled by its erstwhile Islamic Courts Union enemies but now recipients of American support against the even more radical Al-Shabaab. Not the greatest of scoreboards. These wars were not just crimes, they were blunders.
With the non-mainstream media so well-versed in non-interventionist arguments, I thought respect for the general wisdom of non-interventionism was our thing here in the alternative space. Perhaps, I was wrong. Because now that Russia has given the interventionism roulette a spin I don’t see anyone examining the wisdom of this Russian war for Russia in the same way.
To be fair, the bigger part of alt-media simply doesn’t ever cover Russia so it’s not really their job to do so. But there are plenty of us who do cover Russia and who were die-hard anti-interventionists when it came to America’s wars. But if this is the lens through which we see the world why stop its use when the gaze falls upon Russia? Are the wisdom and boon of non-interventionism fit only for the United States but not for Russia?
Is non-interventionism good for America but not for Russia? Perhaps that is so. And perhaps this war will yet conclude as a success that left Russia better off. Perhaps. But if no one is willing to explore also the negative aspects of the intervention then how can we possibly ever have an answer? Surely that requires weighing any positive results as well as any negative ones at the same time.
I have seen some critiques of Russia’s escalation by people who enthusiastically backed every American war. These are hypocrites of the highest order. But are we the mirror images of them? Is that who we are now? Are we to roll out anti-interventionism for the US, then turn around and unquestioningly build monuments to Kremlin’s adventures as solid 5D gold?
Or is it the case that as the Empire can overreach and shoot itself in the foot, so can the much smaller Russia? If anything it sounds like its margin for error is much smaller. It is less well-positioned to absorb the consequences of error to begin with. But then also has to contend with powerful enemies standing at the ready to pounce on any of its mistakes. In such a situation anything but the best-conceived intervention threatens to backfire spectacularly.
The full anti-interventionist examination will have to wait for another time. But for this introductory installment let us briefly look at Kremlin’s stated goals, and ask ourselves if war is a means that can deliver such ends?
The Kremlin has declared it seeks a demilitarized Ukraine. So to “demilitarize” a state you involve it in a major conventional war? How exactly does that work?
Another declared goal is “denazification”. Well now that Russia has gone out of its way to advertise that Nazis participated in the defense of the Ukrainian state and bore sacrifices to do so is their future status in Ukraine supposed to drop? How?
Putin complained that Ukraine was too anti-Russian, but now the only war Ukrainians will have ever fought as Ukrainians will be against Russia. How is that supposed to help things?
Moscow complained that Ukraine had too many ties to NATO — well the escalation of February 24 has opened the floodgates on that. Ukrainian-NATO cooperation has shot up by orders of magnitude.
You could say that in all of these aspects Ukraine was already trending in a negative direction anyway, but what is gained by supercharging the drift?
The Kremlin’s justification for war revolved around what Ukraine had become. But in terms of changing what Ukraine is, the war has backfired spectacularly. On those terms, the war is an astounding failure. Sure enough, Russia will inflict a defeat on Ukraine. But does inflicting defeat on the other side means that you yourself have won? I don’t think so. I think winning a war entails improving the situation you complained about. If you set for yourself war goals that can not be attained by war then you are setting yourself up for defeat regardless of how the fighting goes.
End of Part I.