December 2, 2022
My happiness of seeing my long-suffering op-ed appear in the Union-Tribune today was destroyed by the Washington Post publishing an outright call to capitulate to Russia by some unknown to me “specialist” named Robert Wright.
Comrade Wright has thoughts:
“If an enduring peace can be had through negotiation — and we won’t know if it can until we explore that prospect — then negotiations would be in America’s interest. That alone might be enough reason for Biden to steer Ukraine toward the table. But as it happens, such a peace would be in Ukraine’s interests — and most of the world’s — as well.”
These thoughts, however, are not good:
1) “The war is costing America lots of money.” No, it is not. I already explained why, but even if you were to take the “billions spent” at face value, it’s a minuscule part of our annual defense budget. In fact, that’s precisely why one of the Kremlin talking points distributed in Europe is that we are profiting from the war. Or, as the author — astonishingly unaware of the contradiction manages to say in the very same paragraph — “some European officials are accusing the United States of profiteering.”
2) “every day the war continues, more Ukrainians die, and more of Ukraine gets wrecked. And every day there is some risk of a fluke turning this into a wider war, featuring direct NATO involvement.”
As I never tire of pointing out, the UKRAINIANS have decided to resist, and it’s not Wright’s place to tell them they should not. As for the risk of “direct NATO involvement,” yeah, there are risks of everything, including a flower pot falling on Wright’s head while he’s walking down the street reading kp.ru on his phone.
3) “Even if Russia held onto all or most of the territory it now has, its February invasion would be seen — by it and by other countries — as a very cautionary tale, in stark contrast to its casual seizure of Crimea in 2014.”
To hear Wright spin this, we do not need to resist Russia anymore because even if it wins — because this is what retaining Ukrainian territory would mean for the Kremlin irrespective of metaphorical statements of “Russia has already lost” that Wright cites without understanding what they mean — the result would be a “cautionary tale.”
This is so absurd and vile, I don’t want to comment on it except to say that no, Putin has not realized that he’s been defeated, and the “cautionary tale” would be for his other neighbors to realize that the West would not be there to help them even if they resist.
4) “Justice demands that Russia give back all the land it took. But that’s a compelling argument for more war only if Ukraine has a good chance of getting the land back through continued fighting — and getting it back at acceptable human cost. The current state of play on the battlefield casts doubt on that premise.”
No, it’s not about “justice” in the sense of getting back some territory. It’s about Ukrainians being able to live the lives they want, free of Russian domination. And again, it’s not up to Wright to decide what “acceptable human cost” looks like here. It’s for the Ukrainians to do so. And need I remind Wright that perhaps if Russia withdrew, then said human cost would not materialize? As for what the “play on the battlefield” looks like, Wright is relentlessly clueless to the point that I don’t know where to begin addressing it.
But since Wright insists on showing his ignorance, let’s address it.
“Some people consider a stalemate implausible because Ukraine seems to have “the wind at its back” after Russia’s September retreat in the Kharkiv province and its more recent retreat from the city of Kherson.
4a) “But the Kherson retreat isn’t a leading indicator. Reportedly, it had long been favored by Russian generals who considered the Kherson position untenable, and they finally got Putin’s approval sometime this fall. And because the goal was to fall back to a more defensible position, protected by the Dnipro river, further Ukrainian advances on this front are unlikely anytime soon.”
Urgh. The “fall back to a more defensible position” is just Kremlin propaganda. The fact that the Russians could neither advance toward Mikolayiv from Kherson nor maintain themselves in possession of the only regional capital they captured — without a fight! — is much more relevant. The Russians were FORCED out of the right bank, and they are currently falling back on the left bank as well, which is why they are trying to organize attacks elsewhere — to get ZSU to spread its forces more thinly. As for “further Ukrainian advances on this front are unlikely anytime soon,” I think Wright will be very badly surprised, very soon.
4b) “As for Ukraine’s breakthrough in Kharkiv province: It came in territory Russia had left undermanned. Since then, Russia has mobilized 300,000 troops, and its defensive lines are being steadily beefed up. With the exception of Kherson, battle lines have barely moved since mid-September.”
Oh my, Wright is not going to like news from this morning at all. Fact is, yes, the extent of the Kharkiv breakthrough was a surprise to ZSU as well, and they did not have enough forces to complete the liberation of Luhansk. But ZSU has made very steady gains in the area since — despite the lies told by Wright — and are poised to advance further because neither the defensive lines there are “beefed up” (the ones further east are) nor the newly mobilized can present an effective fighting force. Even under Bakhmut, where the best Russian units have gained a few hundred meters over the past month of furious attacks, they have not been able to capture this key town.
It’s very interesting that Wright’s next scenario — “Russian advance” that captures all annexed territories as well as “maybe he goes further. There are voices in Russia calling for taking everything east of the Dnipro” does not get even a superficial analysis for plausibility. No serious military analyst today suggests that Russia would be able to conquer lands west of the Dnipro, and most agree that they would not be able to even hold most of the lands they claim for annexation. Maybe that’s why Wight could not provide us with estimates, just some scary-sounding nonsense.
Ditto for “Ukrainian advance,” where maybe “Ukraine makes big gains, pushing Russian troops back toward pre-February lines and possibly beyond them, maybe even to pre-2014 lines.” Again, no attempt to assess the likelihood of this.
Wright is unfazed, however, because all three share one thing in common:
5) “All three of these trajectories involve the continued death of Ukrainians and the continued destruction of Ukraine, and one of them involves further territorial loss as well. Only the third trajectory brings compensation for this carnage in the form of territorial gains.”
Wright’s utter lack of understanding of what’s motivating the Ukrainians is on full display here. “compensation for this carnage in the form of territorial gains” should be inscribed on the tombstone of any “analysis” of this sort by people like Wright who do not seem to have bothered to acquaint themselves with anything beyond their desire to satisfy Putin. No, Ukrainians are not dying because they want to control a bridge over the Dnipro. What an idiotic thing to suggest.
Two of the three scenarios involve Ukrainians not being permitted by Russia to live in the manner they want and in a society they want. That is why they are pressing for the third option. Maybe they cannot get to pre-2014 lines of control — but even then the status of Crimea would have to be renegotiated & Russia cannot be permitted to retain it unconditionally.
Ah, but Wright wants to warn us against any such wild fantasies because Ukrainian “gains come with an asterisk. Sustained advance by Ukrainian troops would be seen by Putin as an existential threat — not necessarily to Russia, but certainly to his regime, as his invasion came to be seen by more and more Russian elites as an abject failure.”
No. This is false. This is Kremlin propaganda. Not only is this not an existential threat to Russia (even though it is possible that it falls apart as a result of this war, but not for the reasons Wright and Co. imagine) but it’s certainly not a threat to Putin’s regime. Wright has just no idea how this regime operates. People like him argued that Russia would never abandon Kherson because it would be fatal, and yet the loss of the right bank has passed nearly unnoticed in Russia.
Wright, of course, then raises the specter of nukes or direct war with NATO. I have written too much about these two to do this again.
6) “all national leaders face domestic political pressures that can divert them from pursuing the country’s true interests.”
Wright KNOWS the “true interests” of Ukraine. Trust him. Zelenskyy just can’t help it because “the Ukrainian military does include politically powerful and intensely nationalistic elements.” Wright says nothing of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians who, in survey after survey, refuse to submit and give Russia any of their country. Maybe Wright thinks they do not know their country’s “true interests.”
7) “If indeed Zelensky’s reluctance to negotiate is partly a product of political pressure, Biden would be doing him a favor by playing the heavy and pushing him toward the negotiating table, shielding him from the political fallout. Biden would also be doing Ukraine a favor. Continuing this war is much more likely to leave Ukraine under the bus than ending it is.”
Gotta love the “If indeed” premise. I could do it too: “If indeed Zelenskyy is a Martian, then Musk should keep giving Ukraine Stalink for free.”
It is people like Wright here who want to throw Ukraine under the Russian bus by ending the war now.
That’s because Wright and idiots like him (again, I do not call them “useful” anymore) NEVER EVER tell you HOW they think the war could end now. I can infer from his text that he wants to end it by giving the Russians what they want, and this includes A LOT of land their armies have not been able to capture or retain after capturing. Are the Ukrainians supposed to agree to that? What about Odesa? Should they also give the Russians the Black Sea coast?
And no, exploring prospects through negotiations, as Wright asserts in this drivel of a publication, is not a thing. That’s because the Russians have established preconditions — no retreat from any Ukrainian territory (and they are attempting to get more of it) — despite claims to the contrary. Wright can explore all he wants, just do not pretend for a second this is to anyone’s benefit but Russia’s.
At least now, I am beginning to understand why the Washington Post rejected my piece. Next time, I will make sure to send my submission in an envelope accompanied by some rubles.
7 thoughts on “Washington Post publishes another call to surrender to Putin”
Just two months ago you were talking about how this war could end up with the US getting involved due to use of nuclear weapons. In that piece you said “what’s the point of having a military if not to defend our way of life.” This type of logic should get you banned from all political and academic discourse on the subject. We all know that if the US gets involved in this war, there will be NO “way of life” at all. The Post is wise to not let you get near their opinion section.
You will need to explain a bit what you mean by this. What is the point of having a military if not that? And you are making a strange assumption about US involvement. If you have read anything I have written on this, I’ve always said we shouldn’t be directly involved in this unless our allies get attacked. Are you now saying that even this is a no-go because… because what, nuclear war? So deterrence works against US but not Russia?
I can’t help but notice that you didn’t bother saying how you think these negotiations would work. My argument is that they can’t unless the Ukrainians capitulate, and they won’t. You are saying, what exactly?
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I thought that comment was referring to a recommendation for the US entering upon the event of nuclear use in Ukraine, was it not? Anyways if that’s your position I apologize (that the US should only enter if it or NATO is attacked). And I shouldn’t have said you should be banned from discourse.
You’re right, the nature of this conflict is that there are no good answers in terms of diplomacy. Ukraine holds positions that Russia finds untenable and vise versa. I would say there might be a solution where Ukraine recognizes the 4 annexed regions in exchange for keeping their sovereignty. That doesn’t seem like total capitulation to me. The problem with this is that Zelensky cannot agree to this because he would be a dead man since most Ukrainians do not want this.
Of course, we could keep supplying Ukraine with weapons with the assumption that they will keep winning. But I really do not think it is possible to hold out against a country 10 times your size in GDP forever no matter how many weapons you are sent. This might be the only moment they can negotiate to keep their sovereignty (this is essentially what Miley said). That’s why I think we should be encouraging negotiations. And who knows, perhaps they could get more.
And I know your going to say “how can we trust Russia.” And my answer is, you can’t.
My position hasn’t changed since I explained why we shouldn’t be “closing the skies” in Ukraine. I’ve also said that even if the Russians use a nuclear weapon, our initial response should be conventional. At the same time, I’ve tried to follow the logic of escalation and have noted that we shouldn’t automatically grant the Russians that their threat is credible while ours isn’t. There is a line that they can’t cross — we just don’t know where it is and there no need to tell them it’s way further back than they think.
The problem with calls for negotiations is that they ignore the agency of the Ukrainians. If the vast majority opposes territorial concessions — and they do — then Zelenskyy not agreeing to them isn’t a problem, it’s how it should be. There’s also no telling just how much the Russians want. Peskov finally made clear yesterday what I had been saying for months: their minimal terms even to start negotiations include the recognition of the annexed territories. This is a non-starter.
We could try to force the Ukrainians to agree by withdrawing aid but there is no evidence they would listen. All the evidence is that they will continue, with heavier casualties, larger losses, with more territory and population lost to Russian occupation. If Kyiv falls, they will continue. And the repression will be savage — look what happened in Chechnya. Only the Ukrainians and the Russians can decide when this ends and how. Our choice is whether to give the Ukrainians a fighting chance to keep their country and a way of life without terrible casualties.
As for the inevitably of Russia winning, I don’t understand why people think that. Russia is large relative to Ukraine but it’s economy is puny (size of Belgium’s before the war) relative to the West. There’s no chance it can prevail in a protracted conflict if the West stays united, which is why Russian efforts are all directed at that unity.
Calls for negotiations are therefore premised on two assumptions (we can force Ukraine into concessions and Russia will win the war in the end), and neither is evident.
I’m not even going to go into the consequences of a Russian victory for our security strategy in Europe. Or with respect to China.
I don’t trust the Russians but I’m not arguing for trusting anyone — I’m merely stating how I think the war looks to the belligerents, which is why I’m saying negotiations can’t produce peace. They can, however, lead to a crack in Western unity. A cease-fire works for the Russians: Western aid will immediately go down (the emergency has passed) and it’s very hard to restart it a year or two down the line (not sure how long it would take Russia to prepare). This is why the Russians are talking negotiations. Peace right now is an illusion.
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History may not repeat. But it rhymes. The democratically elected government of Ukraine has chosen resistance, and appears to have popular support, just as Britain chose resistance in 1940. And the US has found not one “yellow” Joe Kennedy, but a whole field of them.
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I really appreciate your sharp analysis of the war. But the recent contributions have all been about how mistaken other commentators in the US have been. It’s been mostly comments on other people’s comments. While this is interesting, with all due respect, it starts to be a bit circular. And – to be quite frank – it’s become a bit repetitive.
I have learned a huge amount from your previous contributions, that were analysing the situation in the Ukraine, or trying to understand the situation in Russia. Thank you for this. This is when I gained new insights, that almost no other voice was providing. This is when I highly appreciate your striking and sharp understanding of the war.
The comments on other (US-based) peoples comments I can mostly do myself.
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I just realized the same thing. A new post with updates coming today!