20 Lessons from the Ukraine War (So Far)

Like no other conflict in the lifetime of this octogenarian, Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine is causing me to learn late lessons about warfare and its strategy. Yes, I’ve lived through the Second Intercapitalist War, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, and Iraq. However, I don’t ever remember getting so much information causing me to rethink the little I know about military theory, strategy, tactics, disparate narratives, and outrageous propaganda as in the case of Ukraine.

Such intense focus is at last teaching me obvious truisms about war (and btw the futility of throwing billions at problems that in every case just mentioned could have been resolved diplomatically and at virtually no cost).

It all reminds me of the discourse of the great Ivan Illich of Deschooling Society fame. There, Illich taught that beyond a certain point, education makes us stupid. Its specialization has the highly educated learning more and more about less and less till they end up knowing almost everything about practically nothing – and by extension, almost nothing about practically everything.

Illich drew similar conclusions about medicine – beyond a certain point of development, it makes us sicker. In his Medical Nemesis, he wrote eloquently of iatrogenic diseases picked up from physicians and the ever more sophisticated treatments they administer in hospitals.

Likewise, developments in transportation have rendered us increasingly immobile (think traffic jams and high gas prices) and moved us further away from the most important people in our lives.

And, of course, computer technology has routinely impeded genuine human communication.  

Relative to war in general and the Ukraine conflict in particular, Illich might urge us to understand that beyond a certain point, weapons of war (and bloated Pentagon budgets) make us far less safe than would even a policy of general disarmament. As illustrated in Ukraine and its threat of nuclear war, the weapons in question ultimately threaten the very existence of our species. General disarmament (or even unilateral disarmament) would be far safer, regardless of short-term disadvantages.

However, without even going that far, allow me to share some learnings sparked by the conflict at hand. Here are 20 lessons I’ve learned to this point:  

Conclusions

  1. War involves complex strategies beyond “Shock and Awe,” simply massing troops to advance on and overwhelm one’s enemies, dropping bombs on them, mounting artillery barrages, and kicking in doors.
  2. Instead, standard military strategies include sophisticated elements such as “shaping the battlefield,” using feints and deceptions to fix enemy troops in place and taking time to fashion “cauldrons” to encircle opposing forces.
  3. Warfare necessarily demands secrecy about intentions, strategies, tactics, and schedules. “Knowledge” is the enemy’s plans is often little more than guesswork or at best the product of inference and deduction.
  4. Ignoring such concealment, propaganda to discredit Russia’s actions in Ukraine works like this: (1) Act as though you know exactly what Putin’s (secret) strategies and timetables are, (2) inflate that fictitious “knowledge” to levels impossible to achieve, and (3) declare the enemy’s efforts having failed when those unrealistic goals are not met.  
  5. In the case of Ukraine, intentional mischaracterization of or simple failure to understand Kremlin stratagems have led commentators to mistake e.g., Russia’s early “attack” on Kyiv as a blunderous failure.
  6. However, it has arguably proven to be a brilliant effort to preliminarily shape the battlefield, fixing thousands of Ukrainian troops in place in the country’s western reaches thus rendering them incapable of reinforcing defenders of the real Russian focus in eastern Donbass conurbations.
  7. On its own timeline and advancing slowly to preserve as many of its own troops as possible, the Russians are very deliberately and systematically defeating the Ukrainians on every front.
  8. As for NATO’s counter moves. . .. Modern computerized weaponry is difficult to operate and maintain. It requires a long time to learn how to use and repair. When their highly trained operators and repairmen are wounded or killed, multi-million-dollar weapons become nothing but battlefield debris.
  9. Heavy weapons systems in transport are also very vulnerable. They must be moved along roads, rail lines, and/or shipping lanes. They need to be stored before delivery. At every point of the supply chain, the systems in question can be attacked and destroyed.
  10. Thus, logistics is important. Even in modern warfare, it is easier to defend close to home rather than far away.  
  11. Compared to Russia, NATO suppliers are disarmingly far away from Russia’s incursions into Ukraine – especially in the country’s eastern regions.
  12. (By extension, neither is it a simple matter for the United States e.g., to militarily engage China over Taiwan, which is just off China’s shores, but more than 7000 miles from the U.S.
  13. Simply put, China is beyond the military control of the United States.)
  14. Ukraine is not Afghanistan.  So, to expect that Russia will find “another Afghanistan” there is simplistic and (frankly) naive.
  15. For one thing, Russia’s enemy in Ukraine is much more sophisticated than tribal peoples armed with AK47s, hiding in caves, and crammed in the cargo beds of Toyota pickups.
  16. Ironically, this simple fact renders Russia’s better armed Ukrainian enemy far more vulnerable than tribal peoples in Afghanistan.
  17. This is because (apart from those liabilities of massive, computerized weaponry) Ukrainians live in industrialized urban settings. Like us, they are completely dependent on oil, electricity, and computer technology – all of which are disabled with relative ease.
  18. Unlike Afghanistan’s, Ukraine’s economy (and Russia’s too) is intimately connected with the rest of Europe’s and with the entire globe.
  19. Hence, prolonged conflict in Ukraine unacceptably threatens the entire globalized system.
  20. As a result, expecting the whole developed world to endure a Ukrainian war lasting years or decades all the while disrupting the lives of their own citizens is (again) patently naive.

Conclusion

In the light of Ivan Illich’s earlier noted truisms, here are half a dozen final and salutary bonus conclusions summarizing the thoughts just shared:

  1. Illich’s suggestion was correct: beyond a certain point military sophistication becomes counterproductive in terms of world security, battlefield efficiency, and profligate expense.
  2. The war in Ukraine is a case in point.
  3. It also uncovers the related impotence of the United States itself and the foolhardiness of its over-expenditure on advanced weapons systems.
  4. Additionally, the war reveals a similar impotence of the U.S. in a potential conflict with Russia or China and especially with Russia and China combined.
  5. Russia’s overwhelming battlefield successes in Ukraine demonstrate that it has a highly trained and professional army led by generals schooled in the sophistications of modern warfare and informed by historical military precedent.
  6. They are not fools.

O.K. I’m A Putin Apologist: Here’s Why

Recently, on “Democracy Now,” Amy Goodman interviewed a Yale history professor, Timothy Snyder, about the Ukraine War. He was commenting on his New Yorker article “The War in Ukraine is a Colonial War.”

That was his argument: As if we had to guess Putin’s end game in Ukraine, the good professor opined that it probably is to annex Ukraine and afterwards who knows what other country.  Putin’s an imperialist, Snyder charged. Like Hitler, he’s after land and soil.

The colonizer must therefore be stopped, Dr. Snyder concluded, and be brought by force of arms to acknowledge Russia’s total defeat. Turning just war theory on its head, Snyder’s point came across as: war is the first resort; negotiation comes only after your enemy has been militarily defeated and is forced to accept the winner’s terms without reservation.

That kind of support for what has prevailed in America as “the official story,” especially coming from a fellow academic who should know better, struck a fraying nerve within me. I mean, to my understanding, it’s not the function of academics (nor for that matter, of news media such as “Democracy Now”) to lend support to the approved narrative. It is rather to test the received account against documented reality.

So, I decided to find out once and for all (1) who Vladimir Putin is, (2) the detailed background of the Ukraine conflict, and (3) what the Russian president’s intention might be in his “special military operation.”

No need, I found, to speculate on any of that. It’s all quite well recorded – for instance (1) in Oliver Stone’s four interviews (each an hour long) with the Russian president, (2) in the film “Ukraine on Fire” (counterpointed by “Winter on Fire”), and (3) in Putin’s two long pre-war speeches (one delivered last February 21st, the other just after on February 24th).

Reviewing that material quite carefully has convinced me that as a national leader, Putin stands head and shoulders above any others I can think of. His reasons for initiating his “special operation” are defensible historically, legally, and according to U.S. precedent.

Putin as Statesman

Before mounting the “Putin Bad” bandwagon, be sure to view Oliver Stone’s “The Putin Interviews” on Showtime. They’re the product of 12 conversations between Stone and Mr. Putin over two and a half years between July 2015 and February 2017.

I found the interviews revealing a man who is difficult to dislike. He is charming and humorous. He drives his own car, is a judo enthusiast, plays hockey, and rides horses. He describes himself as a “cautious optimist” who believes, he says, “there is always hope until the day they put you in the ground.”

Born into a working-class family in 1952, his father was wounded in what Russians call “The Great Patriotic War,” when the United States and the USSR were allies against Nazi Germany.

From an early age, young Vladimir studied judo, whose practice, he says, summarizes his theory of life: be flexible and disciplined; think ahead. (For political leaders, he adds, that means planning 25 to 50 years into the future).

Movies and books made Putin, who studied law in the university, an admirer of the KGB as a patriotic organization. He joined up and was assigned to East Germany. Life there, he remembers, was not dismal, but “frozen in the 1950s.”

Then came Mikhail Gorbachev’s presidency (March 1990 – Dec. 25, 1991). Gorbachev’s “reforms” made everything fall apart. (Putin does not particularly admire him.) Social programs were destroyed. Millions lost their previously guaranteed rights and fell into poverty. Oligarchs criminally seized property belonging to the Russian people and became instant billionaires. Overnight, 25 million people lost their nationality and became displaced. 

Though opposed to communism, Lenin, and Stalin, Putin recalls that succession of events “one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century.” The country moved towards civil war.

Gorbachev was succeeded by Boris Yeltsin (in office 1991-1999). Before the latter’s resignation, he unexpectedly chose the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin as acting prime minister. Later that year (2000), Putin was elected president with 53% of the vote. He recalls his major accomplishments as bringing the oligarchs more under control and cutting the poverty rate by two-thirds.

As a result, Putin was re-elected in 2004 with 70% of the votes cast. Russia’s constitution forbade his running again in 2008, so he served as prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev (2008-2012). Putin ran again for president in 20012 and won with 63% of the vote.

As for charges that on his watch, Russia’s system is “authoritarian,” Putin calls for historical perspective. He points out that Russia was a monarchy for 1000 years. Then came what he refers to as “the so-called revolution of 1917” followed by dictatorship under Stalin and his successors until the 1990s. In view of such history, it is unreasonable, Putin observes, to expect Russia’s attempts at democracy to rise to the levels of the United States, Germany, or France in such a short time.

Though a survivor of five assassination attempts and criticized mercilessly by the West’s politicians and press, Putin refuses to respond in kind. For instance, Arizona senator John McCain called him “a killer, butcher, thug, and KGB colonel.” Putin replies, “We could make similar comparisons, but due to the level of our political culture, we abstain from extreme statements.”  Instead, Putin consistently refers to the U.S. government at “our friends,” and “our partners,”

“Actually,” he adds, “I admire Senator McCain, because of his patriotism.”

Ukraine

Of course, Oliver Stone’s “Putin Interviews” came long before the present crisis in Ukraine. So, for perspective here, let me turn to President Putin’s speech of February 21, 2022, where he laid out the history of the conflict, as well as to his speech of February 24th, the day his “special military operation” began.

Both addresses were substantial, each lasting more than an hour.  Commentary shows that few in the West have read the speeches. (The earlier-referenced film “Ukraine on Fire,” also contains information mirroring what the Russian president said.)

Here’s the way Vladimir Putin tells the story:

  • The conflict in Ukraine takes place between people who share a history, culture, and spiritual space. They are comrades, colleagues, friends, relatives, and family members.
  • Ukraine was always part of Russia. Its modern form as a state was created by the Bolsheviks.
  • Both the Russian Empire and the USSR always found it difficult to control their colonies and federated states.
  • Beginning in 1922, Stalin did so by complete repression.
  • In the 1980s, the nationalist ambitions of local elites resurfaced, supported by some factions of the Communist Party.
  • By 1989, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) conceded sovereignty to its federated states (including Ukraine).
  • Russia was then pillaged by its own oligarchs, while it continued to economically support states like Ukraine.
  • Ukraine suffered similar pillage at the hands of its oligarchs who began allying themselves with western powers.
  • Those same Ukrainian officials allowed Russophobe Neo-Nazi nationalists to arise who supported terrorists in Chechnya and laid new claims to Russian territories.
  • They terrorized Russian-speaking Ukrainians including politicians, activists, and journalists, even burning alive peaceful protestors in Odessa.
  • All these events, eventually led to the Maidan Coup (2014) supported by the United States with $1million per day.
  • With corrupt leaders in charge, Ukraine is now run from western capitals as a neo-colony.
  • As such, the west threatens to introduce nuclear weapons into Ukraine while flooding it with conventional arms and conducting constant military exercises aimed at Russia.
  • Ukraine’s application for NATO membership represents a further direct threat to Russia’s national security.
  • Russia has appealed for dialog, peace talks, and negotiations, but its appeals have been ignored by the United States which refuses to countenance the existence of any independent country, especially one as large as Russia.
  • Accords between Russia and Ukraine that have been signed (an apparent reference to the Minsk agreements) have been transgressed by Kyiv.
  • This leaves Moscow with no other choice but to take measures to protect its own interests.
  • It will begin by coming to the rescue of the Donbass region which has been under constant attack by Kyiv since 2014 (with more than 14,000 lives lost).
  • Russia therefore recognizes the sovereignty of Donetsk and Lugansk as “People’s Republics.”

Putin’s Justifications

Reviewing the bullet points just noted along with additional justifications advanced three days later in a similar speech, show that at least according to U.S. logic, Vladimir Putin’s action in Ukraine is completely justified.

Together with additional information garnered from the film “Ukraine on Fire,” Putin’s own words show that he clearly recognizes that Ukraine was given sovereignty by the USSR in 1989. He has no intention (pace, Professor Snyder) of refusing to recognize the country’s existence or of colonizing or occupying it militarily.

As affirmed in his speech of February 24th, the Russian president states his focused intention as protecting his country from a clear, present, and illegal threat represented by NATO’s expansion right up to Russia’s borders despite:

  • Ukraine’s constitutional prohibition against the establishment of foreign military bases on the country’s soil
  • The accords of the Organization for Security Interests in Europe (OSCE)
  • As well as the de-escalating provisions of two Minsk Accords.   

Since appeals for negotiation and dialog have been ignored, Putin’s only option, he claims, is military self-defense and rescue of the citizens of Donbass who have appealed to Russia for help in a war which has already taken many thousands of lives.

With all this in mind, Putin declares his intention in Ukraine as restricted to the following goals:

  1. Protecting Donetsk and Luhansk from what he sees as genocide perpetrated there by the Ukrainian Nazi Azov regiment largely responsible for Kyiv’s aggression in Donbass since 2014
  2. Bringing to justice those responsible for the massacres
  3. Denazifying and destroying the Ukrainian army in the process.

Again, those goals are clearly limited. The Russian president completely denies an intention or ability to occupy Ukraine which is a sovereign state.

Moreover, all of this is in accord with U.S. doctrine and policy. For instance, just last week when the Solomon Islands (7000 miles distant from the U.S.) announced an intention of signing a security agreement with China, the U.S. threatened military response, on grounds that such agreement threatened its national interests.

Case closed.

Conclusion

According to the word’s definition, an “apologist” is “a person who offers an argument in defense of something controversial.” It refers to one who defends another from what s/he considers an unjust attack. In the name of even handedness, respect for documentary evidence, and historical fact, that’s the role I’ve attempted to assume here.

Considering such factors , I personally have concluded that Alexander Putin has been defamed. He is no Hitler. He is not insane. He is acting according to the “rules based order” long established and acted upon by U.S. presidents in a whole series of wars that have contravened international law and led to the needless deaths of millions of innocent people.

That is to say that Putin no worse than any U.S. president you care to name. As Chomsky points out (see video above), all of them have committed war crimes far worse than Putin’s – mostly without attempting the detailed justifications found in the Russian president’s extended statements. America’s posture towards the Solomon Islands makes the point.

That’s why I’ve turned into a Putin apologist who hopes for Russia’s success in resisting U.S. aggression at its border that (according to Professor Snyder’s logic) will force Biden and NATO to the negotiation table. But don’t hold your breath. There are still Ukrainian proxies available for cannon fodder.

Ukraine: Scott Ritter Exposes Six Mainstream Media Lies

There  is no need to recall the familiar memes: Insane, evil, Hitler-like Vladimir Putin! His total war! Russian war crimes! The massacre at Boucha! Mass graves in Mariupol! Russian military ineptitude! Their failure to conquer Kiev! Their stalled campaign in Donbass! Moderate and heroic (reformed) Nazi patriots!

Like most Americans, when this Ukrainian crisis began, it seemed almost irresistible to accept such unanimous mainstream media (MSM) “of course” characterizations.

Most became persuaded that Vladimir Putin expected a quick victory in Ukraine. It also seemed simply given that the madman’s goal was to completely overrun, conquer, and occupy his neighbor to the west. His failure to simply roll over the country in two or three days revealed his miscalculations and the ineptitude of the Russian army. Putin’s calling the invasion a “special military operation” was a cynical renaming of a blatantly illegal incursion. The Ukrainians seemed to have a chance of winning.

Now, however, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe any of that – largely because of analysis offered by critically thinking sources  – especially that of Scott Ritter, whose explanations of military strategy seem far more detailed, coherent, logical, and informed than what’s presented on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or even on “Democracy Now.”

Let me show you what I mean.   

Critical Analysis

The trustworthy sources I’m referring to include Robert Merschiemer, Noam Chomsky, Stephen F. Cohen,  Chris Hedges, Vijay Prashad, George Galloway, Max Blumenthal, Yanis Varoufakis, Matt Taibbi, Aaron Mate, Ben Norton, and  even Jimmy Dore.

Yes, most of them admit that there was grave miscalculation on Putin’s part. For instance, they point out that he was clearly erroneous in expecting Ukrainian Russian-speakers to rally to his side. His intelligence staffs got that terribly wrong (and heads rolled as a result).

Moreover, according to almost everyone, the Russian president’s operation is rendered unquestionably illegal by international law. Wars of aggression are forbidden, they point out, by post- World War II Nuremberg Laws and the  Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. All those rulings (and more) prohibit wars like Putin’s (and the one, for instance, initiated by President George W. Bush against Iraq in 2003).

However, analysts outside the MSM also agree that the United States and NATO purposely provoked the Russian president to take the action he did. They also concur that the MSM has become simply a mouthpiece for the State Department with no mainstream dissent allowed. They are completely untrustworthy.

Moreover, even apart from the critical sources just mentioned, a close reading of Putin’s speeches delivered just prior to Russia’s entry into Ukraine show him to be much more thoughtful, and rational than most U.S. leaders who typically speak in slogans. By contrast, Putin has a firm grasp of history and an impressive ability to martial persuasive argument including historical and legal justifications for his actions. He respects his audience by treating them like adults. By all accounts, he doesn’t bluff.

Scott Ritter   

Beyond all that, however, Scott Ritter has distinguished himself as the non-MSM commentator offering the most help towards understanding what’s actually happening on Ukraine’s field of battle. It’s not what you think.

A former Marine major, Ritter was a longtime U.S. intelligence expert. He also reached prominence as the U.S. weapons inspector. Before the Iraq War he was charged with investigating U.S. convictions that Saddam Hussein was concealing in his country weapons of mass destruction. Ritter’s team found no evidence of such concealment. They were relieved of their duties when they reported their findings.

Ritter also turns out to be highly literate and knowledgeable about military strategy. That’s where his analysis turns out to be most helpful.     

Consider the following six points contradicting the memes just listed. They represent Ritter’s main points about what’s happening on the battlefield.

  1. Putin’s war is indeed a “special military operation“: It was never the Russian president’s intention to conquer all of Ukraine. Instead, as he stated on the day beginning his Ukrainian foray: “The purpose of this operation is to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation. It is not our plan to occupy the Ukrainian territory. We do not intend to impose anything on anyone by force.”

In other words, Putin’s purpose in Ukraine is threefold:

a) To protect Donetsk and Luhansk from what he sees as genocide perpetrated there by the Ukrainian Nazi Azov regiment largely responsible for Kiev’s aggression in Donbass since 2014

b) To bring to justice those who directed the massacres  

c) And denazify and destroy the Ukrainian army in the process.

Those goals are clearly limited. The Russian president completely denies an intention or ability to occupy Ukraine.  

2. The operation has been run with scrupulous respect for rules of war: According to Ritter, the Russian army “came in soft” to Ukraine. As distinguished from U.S. tactics in Iraq, there was no “Shock and Awe” – no preliminary levelling of entire cities such as Mosul and Fallujah.  Instead, in the words of U.S. Colonel Doug Macgregor, “The first five days, I think frankly, the Russian forces were too gentle. They’ve since corrected that.” Moreover, on Ritter’s analysis, civilian targets have been carefully avoided. However, he points out that if Ukrainians use civilians as shields by, for instance, locating tanks next to hospitals or schools, those buildings become military targets. As for “mass graves,” bodies have been identified and given separate temporary marked graves near established cemeteries. In summary, according to Ritter, the rules of war have in general been followed scrupulously by the Russian army which is run by “highly professional” officers.

3. Accounts of the Boucha massacre are questionable: Here, Ritter uses his experience as a weapons inspector to underline the inconsistencies in the widespread mainstream accounts of the execution-style killings in Boucha. According to the MSM, Russian forces were shockingly brutal in leaving behind many Boucha civilians shot in the back of their heads with their hands tied behind their backs. Such accounts, Ritter contends, are suspicious. Questions are raised, he notes, by the fact that the executed civilians often had white or green ribbons displayed around their arms. White, he says, was an indication of neutrality in the war; green showed support of the Russians. As well, in some photos, empty green boxes appeared near the victims. Such boxes were used by Russian soldiers to supply food to civilians in occupied neighborhoods. Ritter’s conclusion: the victims in Boucha were likely executed as collaborators by the Ukrainian police force.

4. Russia’s early attack on Kiev was highly successful. According to Ritter, the early assault on Kiev and other western cities were “feints” – deceptive military maneuvers that are standard parts of what military textbooks call “shaping the battlefield.” The deception’s intention was to fix in place Ukrainian defenders, so that they would be rendered unable to come to the aid of eastern comrades in Mariupol and the Donbass – Russia’s real targets as havens for the Nazi Azov Battalion. No responsible military leadership (and the Russian generals, he says, are consummate professionals) would ever attack any city (much less a huge one like Kiev) with less than a ratio of 3 attackers for every 1 defender. In Kiev, the Russians attacked with far less — only 40,00 troops in total. They therefore had no intention of taking Kiev early on. They were shaping the battlefield. The marvel is that they succeeded in getting Ukrainian defenders to buy their feints.

5. The campaign in Donbass is unfolding according to plan. Putin’s words are that the battle in Donbass is very “literate.” He means it’s being waged by the book – intentionally slowly and deliberately according to classic military strategy in order to lessen Russian casualties. Two pincers (one from the north and one from the south) have about 60,000-100,000 Ukrainian troops trapped in a military “cauldron.” Gradually (not allowing themselves to be hurried by outside expectations, criticism, and misinterpretation), the Russians are moving sector by sector towards their surrounded prey that has nowhere to go. Ukrainian options are to surrender, be killed, or attempt a breakout that will cost them at least 20,000-30,000 dead.  

6. The Ukrainian army is a Nazi organization: Ritter supports this position as follows: He asks, would you say that the U.S. Army is racist? Of course not, he answers. But what if there were in the U.S. south a highly organized KKK regiment? And what if the U.S. Army incorporated that regiment as such into its ranks and distributed its officers throughout the army hierarchy? And what if it used that regiment as the leading edge of its military operations? Would you then consider the army racist? Yes, Ritter concludes. But, he says, (mutatis mutandis) that’s precisely what’s happened in the Ukrainian armed forces. A large Nazi regiment has been incorporated as such into its ranks with Nazi officer distributed throughout. And the Ukrainian government has those forces leading the attack on the Donbass region – which has taken 14,000 lives since 2014. That renders, he concludes, the Ukrainian army and its sponsoring government Nazi.

Conclusion  

Recently, The Economist ran a story based on the memes initially named here. The article’s title was “How Rotten is Russia’s Army?” It contended that:

“The invasion of Ukraine has been a disaster for Russia’s armed forces. About 15,000 troops have been killed in two months of fighting, according to the British government. At least 1,600 armoured vehicles have been destroyed. The assault on the capital, Kyiv, was a chaotic failure. For Mr. Putin this is a crushing setback, because the use of military force is central to his strategy for making Russia count in the world. Russia may be vast, but it is a medium-sized polity that still yearns to be a superpower. To fill the gap between its capacities and its aspirations, Mr. Putin has repeatedly turned to the only sphere where Russia can still purport to worldclass: military force. It is a welcome fact that the failure of Russia’s rotten army in Ukraine weakens this claim. Unfortunately, this also leaves the world facing a nuclear-armed power with a point to prove.”

As noted earlier, conclusions like The Economist’s are par for the course in the mainstream media. Their propagandistic nature is shown by the fact that they would never have been drawn about the U.S. army after its repeated and obvious failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam. In their light, can anyone imagine an MSM outlet posing the question “How Rotten is America’s Army?”

Neither would The Economist or any other mainstream outlet perceive the obvious psychological projection and irony of describing Russia in terms entirely applicable to the United States which has “repeatedly turned to the only sphere where (it) can still purport to be world class: military force.”

Be that as it may, the common sense of Scott Ritter’s analysis seems far more evident than the The Economist’s or anyone else’s self-serving and misleading memes.

The conclusion here is that the MSM should be ignored as propaganda pure and simple. Instead, analysts like Scott Ritter and the other critical reporters mentioned above should be sought out and heeded.

Ukraine: We’re Falling for CIA Lies Again!

I just can’t believe what’s happening before our eyes. I’m talking about Ukraine.

My disbelief is not related to Vladimir Putin’s relatively restrained assault on his beleaguered neighbor. Yes . . .“relatively restrained.”

(I see no need here to obscure my point by joining the chorus of Putin haters – just as there was none to join haters of Castro, Milosevic, Noriega, Chavez, Ortega, Maduro, Gaddafi, or the other innumerable “Emmanuel Goldsteins” identified as objects deserving of our de rigueur, periodic two minutes of hate.)

No, my disbelief is more about the fact that after being fooled in Vietnam, Iraq and elsewhere, so many Americans have been roped into somehow thinking anyone in this country has the moral authority to criticize any “war crimes” or perceived violations of “democracy” — as directed by the CIA!

In fact, by despicable U.S. standards, Putin is absolutely justified in his assault on Ukraine. By those criminal canons, Russia deserves its own Monroe Doctrine, its own buffer zone against a hostile and Russia-phobic NATO, its own sphere of influence. And unless we’re out in the street denouncing what “our” government routinely does and is currently doing in the world, we have no right to utter a syllable of protest about Mr. Putin. Not a single syllable!

War crimes? Are you kidding me? Think about those our current government is committing and supporting in Yemen, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Somalia, and who knows where else. Think about its use of the cluster bombs it now decries. Think about its shooting contaminating nuclear waste at enemies du jour. Think about its use of agent orange and white phosphorous – both chemical weapons. Think about its rejection of World Court jurisdiction when there’s all those questions about U.S. war crimes.

All of that makes Putin’s gambit in Ukraine look absolutely statesman like. That’s compared (to take just one example) to U.S.routine “shock and awe” devastations. Putin’s crimes are nothing like the levelling of Iraq’s Fallujah.” Civilian casualties in Ukraine don’t even approach the million Muslims the U.S. military has slaughtered in Iraq alone – not to mention the million children who will die this year because of U.S. sanctions now operative in Afghanistan.]

Face it: our troops and government are out-and-out butchers compared with Putin’s.

That can’t be said too strongly.

And as for democracy, Putin’s system is no less democratic than ours. Are you aware of our new Jim Crow laws (supported by a criminally cooperative Supreme Court)? Think about how the system rigs elections to disenfranchise the poorest among us.

And you’re telling me that given the corruption legendarily involved in American electoral politics (with its interminable campaigns, demonstrably mendacious ads, gerrymandering, voter suppression, hackable voting machines, dark money, bribes in the form of “campaign contributions,” and the absolutely silly “politicians” that emerge to represent their donors – you’re telling me that we want Russia or China to follow suit?)

Please!

Our ignorance is not only blind, but arrogant!

Of course, Putin, like other heads of state in the capitalist world (the only one we’ve got), represents the rich elite. For that reason, as I’ve tried to show elsewhere (here, here, here, here, and here) his authority is no more legitimate than Joe Biden’s. Yes, that’s the hard truth:  if Putin’s authority is somehow de-legitimized, so is Biden’s.

Neither of them nor U.S. clients in Europe and throughout what is laughably called the “free world” cares a wit about people like you and me – much less about those with darker skins and emptier wallets.

With all of this in mind, think again about our collective stupidity. . ..

When was the last time you believed someone who told you that he makes a living by telling lies? You think you’re too smart for that, I’m sure.

But that’s what’s happening relative to Ukraine.

You know that, right?

I’m referring to the words of former CIA head, Mike Pompeo. Remember how he joked and bragged about that. He actually said, “We lied, we cheated, we stole all the time. We take entire courses about. . .. Ha, ha, ha!”

Well, the joke’s on us if we believe a single word coming out of Langley. In view of Pompeo’s words and reams of evidence supporting their truth, why would we ever think otherwise? Why would we ever not draw the conclusion, “If the CIA (or our government!) says ‘black,’ it’s definitely got to be ‘white.’”

Who wouldn’t draw the conclusion, “If the CIA’s involved on Ukraine’s side, Putin can’t be all that bad?”

That’s a serious question, because, of course, the CIA is deeply involved with the Ukrainian situation.

What I’m saying is that we’ve got to wake up. Sadly, this is the way the world works. “Great powers” – including Russia, China, and (in spades) the United States always act just the way Putin does — just the way U.S. presidents always have. If we accept borders and sovereign states, great powers, lesser powers, imperialism, and client states, this is what we have. Great powers (especially the United States) only selectively respect international law.

That’s the system that needs identification, rejection, and overthrow.

So, what’s called for is not rending our garments over the crimes of Vladimir Putin, but over those of our own government – of the entire capitalist system for that matter. Those are the ones we can do something about.

So, it’s time to shut up about Ukraine. Correlatively, it’s well past time to get out into the streets over our own war crimes and assaults on democracy not in a single country, but throughout the world and especially here at home.

In Ukraine, “Gangsters of Capitalism” Have “Gone to the Mattresses” Again

I just finished reading Jonathan Katz’s Gangsters of Capitalism. It helped me understand what’s really going on in Ukraine, where they’re at it again. I mean they’re fighting yet another White People’s inter-capitalist war between Mafia dons. I’m talking about Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.

Let me explain the connections by first identifying those involved as no better than blood thirsty mafiosi, then linking them to Katz’s book, and finally suggesting the shocking conclusion thoughtful people might draw after considering the gangland realities of the Ukraine fiasco.

White People’s Inter-capitalist War

To begin with, like everyone else, I’m appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nothing can justify such blatant transgression of the UN Charter.  Putin’s a thug.

However,  I’m even more dismayed by our nation’s part in provoking the conflict, and its apparent reluctance to help bring it to conclusion. Biden’s a thug too.

[On that latter point about wanting to prolong the war, Hillary Clinton’s recent pronouncements are telling. She apparently wants to turn the Ukraine war into a decades-long disaster modeled on Afghanistan’s. Think about that. Clearly, from the safety of  her mansion in Chappaqua New York, her faux heroism provides courage to continue the fight (6000 miles away) to the very last Ukrainian.]

Most outrageous of all however, is both sides’ entertainment of the possibility of nuclear war — over Ukraine, a place most Americans can’t find on the map! Mr. Putin’s explicit threats and and Zelenskyy’s appeals for a suicidal “no fly zone” should scare the hell out of anyone.

All of that should also make us doubt the sanity and validity of “leadership” on both sides. That’s my main point here. These people are insane!

And I’m not just talking about Putin and Biden. The real powers in question are the deeper, darker forces that the two front men represent. In Russia we refer to the latter as “the oligarchs.” Over here, we call them the “deep state” – you know, the military industrial complex, fossil fuel magnates, bankers, financiers, the CIA, FBI, NSA — the whole disaster.  

Like the Mafia, those forces and the sock puppets just mentioned are accountable to no one – only to their own personal and class welfare including most prominently their bank accounts. They’re like Cosa Nostra bosses – willing to kill bystanders as they’ve “gone to the mattresses” fighting over protection money, gun running, “territory,” “credibility,” “reputation” and “respect” on behalf of conflicting “families.”  

Let me say it again: neither Putin nor Biden represent anyone resembling you or me or ordinary Ukrainians and Russians. For instance, Biden and his henchmen can find billions and billions for war, but nothing for infrastructure, universal health care, guaranteed incomes, or free university education.

No doubt, we should feel for these godfathers’ victims. But allegiance to either side and what they represent is entirely misplaced.

Gangsters of Capitalism

Such realizations have come home to me starkly as I finished reading Katz’s eye opening Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s one of the saddest books I’ve ever read.

It has made me realize how despite my supposed sophistication, I’ve been completely duped over the last month of conflict in Ukraine into taking the sides of capitalist gangsters fighting over those traditional Mafia concerns I just mentioned.

The book’s title says it all. Gangsters of Capitalism is a biography of General Smedley Butler (1881-1940), the most famous military figure of his era who after devastating countries all over the world ended up authoring the famous book-length mea culpa, War Is a Racket.

There, towards the end of his life he famously confessed:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The racket Butler described involved his Marines in massacres, looting, slavery, outright robbery of national treasuries, and support for dictators and tyrants. It all took a severe toll on Butler’s body and mind. But it also awakened him towards the end of his life to the criminality of the U.S. capitalist system itself. He came to understand that its overlords care nothing for the lives of workers lost as a result of their fights, especially if the laborers are not white.

Mafiosi in Ukraine

Now, think about Butler’s revelations in view of the current inter-capitalist conflict between the mafia bosses, Vlad “the Czar” Putin on the one hand, and  “Sleepy” Joe Biden on the other – with “Pretty Boy” Volodymyr Zelenskyy thrown in for good measure.

As noted earlier, these guys are thugs one an all. They care nothing for democracy, law, or even genocide. An overriding concern is “credibility” understood as instilling fear by a demonstrated willingness to kill the disobedient without a second thought.

In the current political climate, there’s no need to convince anyone that Vlad the Czar is a thug.

But Zelenskyy? And Biden ?

Think about “Pretty Boy” first. He’s head of the ninth most corrupt country in the world. Its leadership (including him) is deeply involved with self-identified Nazis. They’ve been incorporated into the army. Moreover, just last week, the Boy outlawed 11 opposition parties and forbade airing of any accounts of the Ukraine war that differ from the state’s official narrative. These, of course, are the very policies for which Zelenskyy’s (and our) press criticize Vlad the Czar.  

As for Sleepy Joe . . .. One minute in defense of “democracy” and “international law” he’s denouncing and sanctioning Vlad as a “war criminal.” Then the next minute the American godfather considers a trip to Saudi Arabia to “restore relationships” with another mafioso kingpin, Moe “the butcher” bin Salman.

The Butcher is the mafia boss who over the last seven years has been bombing a neighboring country (Yemen) into rubble. In the process he’s created what the UN calls the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis with an overwhelming number of its victims, children. As a Saudi royal, the Butcher is a sworn enemy of democracy.

He’s also the one who just this week beheaded 81 men in a single day – many of them for thought crimes. And by the way, the he got his nickname from instructing his hit men to use bone saws to dismember a Washington Post journalist. I mean, this man’s got real credibility; you better not cross him.

But he’s okay with the Sleeper who not only supports the Yemen slaughter, but wants to kiss the Butcher’s ring in order to persuade him (in the midst of climate catastrophe) to pump more oil. (That oil by the way, won’t go online till next winter. Think of the progress against climate change that would happen if instead of using the coming year to prepare for pumping more oil, the time were used to go all out to replace fossil fuels with renewable green energy.)

Say what?

I’m sure you see what I mean about criminality, insanity, and general disregard  of human welfare. That’s the Mafia for you.

Conclusion

I do not mean to make light of the war in Ukraine. No, I’m as serious about my characterization of Putin, Zelenskiyy, and Biden as Mafiosi as Smedley Butler was about his own war crimes. My point is that none of them – not Putin, not Biden, not Zelenskyy, not MBS – enjoy a scintilla of credibility in the sense of responsible statecraft.

None of them gives the slightest damn about the rest of us, our health care, education, debts, or jobs – and much less about democracy, freedom, justice, or the continuity of human life on a planet facing the imminent threats of climate change and nuclear war. The record speaks for itself. Simply put, every one of them is certifiably insane.  

And the certification?  Let me put it this way: Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who talks about using nuclear weapons is ipso facto nuts.

No one has that right? Why do we give it to them? And why are we not outraged at the mere mention of employing nuclear weapons? 

And for what? To defend ultimately imaginary entities like “Ukraine,” “Russia,” “The United States,” and NATO.” That’s what they are, you know – imaginary constructs. History shows that like all such entities, they inevitably emerge and disappear and have no lasting reality.

So-called “leaders” who stand ready to commit collective suicide on behalf of such constructs either belong in an asylum at best or in a maximum security prison – simply for threatening the rest of us on behalf of their venality, stupidity, and incompetence.

So, let me say it even more starkly although it will offend many. Here it is: The Sandinistas were right. In their anthem, they identified the Yankee as “the enemy of humanity.” As Katz shows, “our” government roams the world stirring up trouble everywhere, exploiting differences, dividing and conquering. As Dr.King put it, we’re the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.”

One can hardly resist endorsing such conclusions after reading Gangsters of Capitalism. It rehearses so well the planetary devastation brought on by the United States government and its military which allied so easily with mafias everywhere, as well as with dictators, fascists, Nazis, drug dealers, terrorists, and (it seems) with the devil himself.

It’s time to stop being “Good Americans” and to realize instead that our real enemy resides in DC.

20 Principles for Making Sense of the Ukraine War

It’s easy for any of us to lose our way in “the fog of war.” I’m sure you agree. After all, most of us aren’t experts in matters Ukrainian. What do we know?

One way of dealing with such mystification is to remember some elementary principles and truisms that apply to all cases of international conflict including Ukraine and far beyond.

Let me review 20 of them. See if these help:

  1. The United States (not Russia, China, or ISIS) is the world’s “greatest purveyor of violence.” Martin Luther King made that identification. By all measures (including weapons sales, “defense” budgets and involvement in ongoing wars), it remains true today. This realization might be enough to raise suspicions about “our” government’s position on Ukraine.
  2. Might does not make right. A military force powerful enough to impose its will on weaker opponents is no indication of who’s right. This, of course applies to the United States as well as to Russia.
  3. International laws should never be disobeyed. This principle the United States applies to its enemies (such as Russia in the Ukraine) but rarely to itself.
  4. Wars are illegal unless they follow UN protocols. Please note that nearly every (if not all) of the myriad “American” wars since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist war have been illegal according to this standard.
  5. Everyone is equal before the law. Obviously,, legal double standards are morally repugnant. For instance, the United States can’t deny the authority of the World Court when it’s invoked against itself and then turn around and invoke its authority against an “enemy” like Putin.
  6. It is not logically permitted to lecture others to “Do as I say, not as I do.” In other words, law breakers lose moral authority to lecture others about the virtue of law abidingness. Every child can grasp this rule.
  7. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The U.S. cannot condemn Vladimir Putin for his actions in Ukraine, when it’s doing and has done worse things in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen.
  8. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If the United States can invoke its “Monroe Doctrine” to protect its Latin American “backyard,” a similar right must be extended to Russia and its perceived need for a buffer zone around its borders.
  9. The one who delivers the first punch can’t prevent a counterpunch by claiming “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” I’ve even heard State Department officials adopt this defense when U.S. crimes are compared to those of designated enemies.  [“Well, are you telling me that two wrongs make a right?” (Please don’t hit me back!)]
  10. “Whataboutism” should be cultivated. It’s simply the informed art of making connections. That’s what I’m trying to do with this piece.
  11. Without making connections, the world cannot be understood. We lurch from one crisis to another with no ability to understand.
  12. Borders, nationality, and race are creations of the elite to control the rest of us. Imperialists have used these fictions throughout the history of colonialism. All three, borders, superstitions about national allegiance and the illusion of race have been used to divide, conquer, and rule — to know whom to bomb, to collect taxes, and create captive workforces forbidden to cross imaginary lines to better their lives. (To illustrate, imagine if there were no enforceable border line between Russia and Ukraine. How would Putin know whom to attack? Would there even be a Putin?}
  13. Cultivate a long memory. This is another way of expressing the truism that those who forget history are bound to repeat its errors as we’re seeing with the coalescing dangers of yet another European war.
  14. Follow the money. Because NATO requires its members to increase their “defense” expenditures, the military-industrial complex benefits from each additional affiliate. Could that be a factor in the campaign to increase NATO’s membership — including in Ukraine?
  15. Follow the oil. Decommissioning the Nord Stream pipelines from Russia to Europe means new markets for U.S. liquified natural gas. Hmm. . ..
  16. The CIA, the U.S. government, and the media which unquestioningly report their claims cannot be trusted. After all, CIA boss, Mike Pompeo admitted “We lie, we cheat, we steal all the time. In fact, we take entire courses. . ..” (See below, point # 20.)
  17. If the U.S. favors a national leader, he’s probably a puppet or subservient client. This applies to U.S. creations such as Venezuela’s Juan Guaido and (on this principle) like Volodymyr Zelenskyy
  18. If the U.S. opposes a national leader, he’s usually doing something right. The leader in question is probably somehow interfering with U.S. claims to world hegemony. Certainly Putin is doing that.
  19. Non-white lives matter too – just as much as Europeans’ or Americans’. Again, it’s amazing how we’re led to clutch our pearls at the sight of thousands of Europeans (“who look and live like us”) as victims of war and as refugees while ignoring the far higher number of refugees and war casualties “we” produce every day among black and brown people.
  20. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Another Great Man (remember him?) tried to say that but failed. I wonder why he didn’t seem to understand. Do we?

Can you think of other applicable principles? If so, please share them.

Encouraging Signs that Capitalism is on Its Last Legs

End of Capitalism

Last week President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. His announcement caused huge celebration in the anti-fossil fuel resistance movement.  The victory made it clear that we’re living in revolutionary times. Powerful movements for social justice are springing up everywhere, not only on the climate change front, but more generally nationally and internationally.

Even more importantly, there is a red thread running through it all. The changes (and there are many as we’ll see) all represent the impending collapse of capitalism. We are likely standing on the brink of a transformation world-wide that parallels the fall of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago.

To begin with, think about what’s happening with the climate movement. Environmental activists are on a surprising roll in terms of their recent successes.

These include:

  • The September 2014 Great Climate March in New York City which brought out 400,000 people.
  • The subsequent rapid spread of the fossil fuel divestment movement.
  • The recent TransCanada Corporation’s decision to temporarily suspend the XL Pipeline project even before President’s Obama’s announcement.
  • The unexpected election of Justin Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister on a platform highlighting commitment to Canada’s First Nations who are key players in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  • Shell Oil’s abandonment of its arctic drilling plans.
  • The expose of ExxonMobil’s cover-up of its own 1980s research identifying fossil fuel combustion as a major cause of global warming. (Despite its findings the company spent millions over a 27 year period promoting climate change denial.)
  • The prospect of a lawsuit against ExxonMobil for adopting that “cigarette strategy.”
  • Widespread outrage following the release of the Transpacific Partnership text which accords multinational corporations the power to override local environmental protection standards because they might impede corporate profit.
  • The resultant promise of huge demonstrations and citizen lobbying efforts against the treaty.
  • Pope Francis’ eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, legitimizing the positions of environmental activists previously called “extremists” for expressing the same ideas.
  • Next month’s Climate Conference in Paris which promises to yield further victories.

As Naomi Klein has pointed out, such changes – such widespread resistance throughout what she calls “Blockadia” – change everything. They signal a growing awareness that an economy based on fossil fuel consumption just cannot continue.

And that’s not all. Other mobilizations of people dissatisfied with the socio-economic status quo are sweeping our own nation and creating new socio-political configurations. Here I’m thinking of:

  • The success of the Occupy Movement in coining the “One Percent” watchword and making economic disparity a key political campaign issue.
  • The unexpected phenomenon of the Bernie Sanders presidential candidacy. (After more than 50 years of subjecting Americans to the most intense anti-socialist propaganda, who would have thought that a self-identified socialist could gain such a following?)
  • The mobilization of the Black Lives Matter campaign as a 21st century resurrection of the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The spread of the movement to campuses like Yale and the University of Missouri where students of color forced the resignation of Mizzou’s president and chancellor.
  • The invasion of our country (and of Europe) with refugees from the U.S.-led and/or supported wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. (In fact, refugees represent the most powerful and effective anti-war marchers in the history of our planet.)
  • The invasion of the U.S. with refugees from Mexico and Central America demonstrating the failure of the War on Drugs which has torn that country and region apart.
  • Ditto for immigrants manufactured by the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and its Central American counterpart (CAFTA).

Yes, the chickens of Orwellian wars and of neo-liberal economic policies are coming home to roost with a vengeance.  It is now possible to speak openly (as Pope Francis has done) about the failures of unfettered capitalism. It not only destroys the environment. It creates massive wealth disparities and unemployment especially in communities of color. Government cut-backs in public services (including police training) wreak havoc everywhere. As a result people are out in the streets. They’re stopping traffic. Students are walking out of class. Even the Mizzou football team and its coach went on strike.

Finally, think about what’s happening internationally:

  • On June 17 th 2014, 133 of the world’s 196 countries met and declared their intention to “destroy the New World Order” championed by Western Empire.
  • Russia has risen from the ashes and is confronting the Empire on all fronts.
  • Vladimir Putin has emerged as the world’s most effective international leader and practitioner of diplomacy aimed at and independence from U.S. Empire.
  • Russia and China are both returning to their socialist roots often advancing policies far more humane than their western counterparts.
  • Despite recent setbacks, Greece has threatened the neo-liberal order in the heart of the European Union. SYRIZA’s original anti-austerity message has spread to Italy, Spain, and France.
  • Latin America has broken free of the shackles of the Monroe Doctrine. Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are all forging their own paths while cooperating with and supporting one another. All are moving closer to Russia and China.
  • The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) representing at least half the planet’s population, are trading with each other in their own currencies now making themselves immune from western sanctions.
  • World-wide computer news sites have largely replaced a corporate-controlled mainstream media (MSM). People have awakened to the fact that the MSM can’t be trusted. In Latin America, Russia, China, and Iran, the new media are not even “alternative” any longer. Their mission is exposing the crimes of the West, its Empire and client states. Their message couldn’t be more straight-forward: No more war, torture, rape or genocide.

Economist, Richard Wolff, is fond of saying that when social change happens, it often comes quickly. He says that for decades it might seem that nothing happens. Then in a matter of days, decades happen. That’s the Soviet Union story of a little over 25 years ago.

We’re now in one of those periods where pent-up frustration and zeal for change is being released with hurricane force. It’s a good time to be alive – and to get on the band wagon.