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The Crow and the Seagull
Russia and America continue to collaborate in the bloody dismemberment of Ukraine
When civil war first broke out in Ukraine some eight years ago — with one side American-backed, the other Russian-backed — Pope Francis used a Sunday sermon to plead for peace. After offering up his prayer from a window above St. Peter’s Square, the pope stood by smiling as children released two white doves. These were peace doves, symbolizing all of our hopes.
Before a horrified crowd, the doves were immediately attacked by two larger birds — a black crow and a seagull.
Some media claimed the Ukrainian peace doves escaped alive, just minus a few feathers. Others more realistically reported it wasn’t at all clear what happened to the poor things, because all of the birds disappeared together among the rooftops of Rome. (I live in a seaside town, and let me tell you: When a seagull attacks a weaker bird, it’s a bloody murder scene every time.)
I am not particularly superstitious. But I well remember how aghast my wife and I were back in 2015 when we saw this footage of the seagull and crow — two predators acting separately, each doing their own thing, each with beak and talon tearing and slashing at the peace doves. It was such a horrible, unsettling omen.
Fast forward to today. I wish I could rejoice at the success of Ukraine’s major new counter-offensive. The New York Times has a small map graphic that sums it up nicely:
Russia, the larger and better organized military power, quickly seized all of the light pink territory when the war began six months ago, and then spent months chipping away to add the dark pink territories in the right-hand map; while meanwhile Ukraine has just pushed Russian forces out of the northern, blue territories in the left-hand map.
So, you know. Hooray?
Seriously, I could be pleased if I thought this would bring Ukraine any closer to peace.
Instead, all I can think of is an American crow and a Russian seagull, croaking and cawing.
That and, of course, the inevitable fist of rage that is going to come smashing down on Ukraine in response to this embarrassment for the Kremlin.
Ukraine is my wife’s homeland (although so is Russia; that part of the world is complicated). The Ukrainians have been burdened with more — far, far more — than their fair share of human tragedy. Wars have raged across Ukraine’s lands for hundreds of years. Her people have endured Soviet-engineered famines that have been compared to the Holocaust, invasion and occupation by Nazi forces, the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, and in recent years an awful plague of crime and government corruption.
The six-month-old Russian invasion, which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions, is the latest evil woe. I doubt anyone would object to me characterizing Russia metaphorically as a peace-dove killing seagull. After all, the Kremlin has sunk its crooked yellow beak into a lot of peace doves. (The wildly vicious carpet bombing of Chechnya, which I saw first-hand as a journalist, always comes to mind.)
But many who are fine with sneering at the evil Russian seagull would probably object to the suggestion that America has been a comparably evil crow.
Aren’t we just helping Ukraine in its struggle to throw back an invasion?
Aren’t we the good guys?
The American Crow of War
We have never taken a long, honest look at our complicity in bringing about this war. In U.S. media accounts, the Russian invasion is always described as “unprovoked” — it is never just an invasion, it is invariably an “unprovoked invasion.” The fanatical insistence on “unprovoked” is no accident. After all, a lie told often enough becomes true. The Russians — and many independent foreign affairs experts (as opposed to “experts” on the payrolls of the massive military industrial complex) — have been warning for years that this would be the result of foolish schemes to draw Ukraine into a U.S.-led military / security alliance.
By the way: The many foreign affairs experts who warned us this war would happen precisely because of our reckless hubris were not cranky lefties or obscure academics, but top-level national security mandarins like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock, and others. Even George Kennan — probably the most famous U.S. foreign policy expert, and the architect of the entire Cold War strategy towards the Soviet Union called “containment” — was livid 25 years ago about the drive to keep expanding NATO right up to Russia’s doorsteps. He called it “a tragic mistake” that would revive the Cold War. “There was no reason for this whatsoever,” he fumed. “No one was threatening anybody else.”
So it was foolish, but then war is apparently what we do. We brushed aside all questions and criticisms, dismissed the protests of the Russians, and continued to angle and lobby for getting Ukraine to join our anti-Russia NATO alliance. To be clear: In saying “we” did those things, I actually mean “a tiny group of insular, arrogant foreign policymakers, in conspiracy with defense contractor lobbyists.”
What, you don’t think profiteers drive our foreign policy? Well, excerpts from a New York Times report from 1998 — back when journalists saw themselves as defense contractor watchdogs, not their employees or marketing staff — are worth considering at length:
American arms manufacturers, who stand to gain billions of dollars … if the Senate approves NATO expansion, have made enormous investments in lobbyists and campaign contributions …
[Those investments] dwarf the lobbying effort of any other industry. … The military industry also remains the most generous contributor to Congressional candidates … giving nearly equally to Democrats and Republicans. …
“Like any other American manufacturer, they are looking for markets abroad,” said Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who opposes the proposed NATO expansion. …
Under NATO rules, new members are required to upgrade their militaries and make them compatible with those of the Western military alliance … The companies that win the contracts to provide that “inter-operability” to the aging Soviet-made systems in Eastern Europe will benefit enormously from NATO’s eastward expansion. …
There has been virtually no organized opposition to NATO expansion, and the public has not been engaged. As one Senate aide put it, “The only people who care about this are the think-tank folks and the academics — not much of a voting constituency.” …
The chief vehicle of support for NATO expansion is a group called the U.S. Committee to Expand NATO, which is backed by the arms industry. The committee president is Bruce L. Jackson, who is also director of strategic planning for Lockheed. Corporate sponsors are also supporting ethnic groups that have championed NATO membership for their native countries. …
So the public is bored with this seemingly technical topic. But billions of dollars are at stake. Lockheed sets up a cutout to do its lobbying, and populates it with some Central European faces — token Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians — to create the idea that “the people are clamoring for NATO!”
Meanwhile, when not under propaganda pressure, Ukrainians have voted again and again for neutrality from military blocs, for peace, and for cooperation with both Europe and Russia. None of which sells any weapons systems though, so that will be shouted down by Lockheed employees.
The Seagull and the Crow Circle Ukraine
Several years ago, when the elected president of Ukraine was struggling to choose between two competing deals on offer — one a tentative step towards joining the European Union, the other a deeper economic integration with Russia — Ukraine was riven by protests.
The European deal came with no cash, some painful reforms, and specified this would involve joining NATO; the Russian deal came with a $15 billion sweetener. As President Viktor Yanukovych wavered, violent demonstrations escalated. On cue the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, arrived to hand out cookies to the anti-government protesters, and was later recorded discussing who the United States would prefer to lead Ukraine once Yanukovych was gone.
A month later, Yanukovych fled, or was driven out, it’s never been terribly clear — but the events have been characterized often (in Russia, and not only there) as a U.S.-engineered coup d’etat. The crisis infuriated the Kremlin, and led directly to Russia seizing the Crimean peninsula — for a variety of historical reasons, Russia has always felt this should have come to them and not Ukraine upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. It also led to the outbreak of civil war in the eastern Donbass region, again with Russia’s heavy-handed involvement.
Washington’s response to the rapidly unfolding Ukrainian crisis at that time was muted, largely due to then-President Barack Obama’s skepticism about aggressively arming Ukraine. But presidents come and go, while our deep state foreign policymakers remain — rabid to pour arms into Ukraine, kill Russians, and brag about it. Consider just this classic clip of Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, their hands untied with the hated Obama gone, exhorting Ukrainian soldiers to get out there and fight “our fight”!
“2017 will be the year of offense!” Senator Graham tells the assembled Ukrainian soldiers. He sounds crazy to me, but he’s representative of “The Blob” — the mass of self-important Washington bureaucrats playing their grand game of world chess, who openly insist the United States has a right to control Ukraine and keep Russia down.
One summer ago, when an angry Russia had marched its armies to the Ukrainian border in the latest threatening bluff, President Joe Biden mocked his counterpart Vladimir Putin with the tired old joke that Russia was just “Upper Volta with nuclear weapons.” So who cares what they do. (Upper Volta is now Burkina Faso. I wonder how the people of this West African nation like it when the fancy countries use comparisons to their home as the ultimate put-down.)
But at least Biden and Putin met in Geneva that year, and talked, and Russia stood down — for the summer. But by fall and winter, Russian troops again were massing at the border. Crisis again loomed.
December 7, 2021 (twelve weeks before the invasion), Biden and Putin had a two-hour video conference. Per the White House readout, Biden expressed “deep concern” about these troop escalations and warned an invasion would provoke sanctions. Per the Kremlin readout, Putin responded that whatever happened would be America’s fault too. (In the clunky Kremlin formulation, Putin is said to have “warned against shifting the responsibility on Russia, since it was NATO that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory, and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border.”)
The Kremlin added: “It is for this reason that Russia is eager to obtain reliable, legally binding guaranties ruling out the eventuality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in the countries neighbouring Russia.”
There were more meetings in those final weeks, and back and forth between diplomats, and Russia published a draft treaty between itself and the West it said it hoped could replace NATO — basically offering Mikhail Gorbachev’s old dream of a Common European home. Washington could have negotiated in good faith but the dirty secret: Washington preferred a war to compromising even slightly on its designs for Ukraine. And Moscow obliged.
So excuse me if I am unimpressed by our politicians who don yellow and blue Ukrainian flag lapel pins, and cry “glory to Ukraine!” as they hand over staggering sums of U.S. taxpayer money to defense contractors. We provoked the war. We welcomed the war. Our corporations are gleefully profiting from the war. Our president, who is admittedly an oddball, is so frankly a spokesman for war that he took a formal pilgrimage to a Lockheed-Martin plant so he could gush over Javelin missiles — arranged decoratively around his podium! — as “manufactured right here” in the U.S.A., “highly portable,” and “extremely effective against a wide range of armored targets.” We have done absolutely nothing to try to stop the war. Tens of thousands are dead, millions are displaced from the homes — but we’ve never once pushed for peace. On the contrary, we have actively opposed and sabotaged peace negotiations.
We are not the good guys in Ukraine’s tragic tale. We’re just the crows, flapping and cawing around the edges of the conflict, from a safe distance (for now). We make everything immeasurably more squalid and awful, as we taunt the seagulls over the carcass of peace.
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