"Victory has a thousand fathers," said John F. Kennedy, "but defeat is an orphan." By that measure, America is running a military establishment that more closely resembles an overpopulated Dickensian sweat shop than a modern war machine. Indeed, it's been so long since the United States has won a war -- back when the War Department still existed, in fact -- that hardly any living American knows what "victory" means any more. But what difference does it make? This man's army is now the province of pregnant females, transsexuals, and born-male admirals in skirts. No wonder it can't fight.
But whose army can? As it happens, today is "Victory Day" in the former Soviet Union, marking the defeat of the Wehrmacht by the Red Army under Stalin and Marshal Zhukov in 1945. The occasion will be marked in Russia by strutting military parades, of the good old-fashioned Soviet kind, but minus the, you know, victory. With Russia tied down in its slog against Plucky Little Ukraine, the hollow nature of what was once the world's most formidable land army has now been laid bare for all to see.
Accordingly, Vladimir Putin is now at a crossroads: to go all in, including the use of tactical or other nuclear weapons, or to withdraw in defeat? Since his grasp on power wouldn't survive the second option, betting the collective farms and the tractor factories of his youth in the U.S.S.R. is the only path open to him, absent some kind of deus ex machina who magically appears and somehow restores the status quo ante. And even then, we're right back where we started.
As I remarked on Facebook the other day (the fascists at Twitter having closed that platform to me for the past two years for no reason they can adequately explain), I'd sleep more easily at night if I thought that a single member of the Biden administration or the "Defense" Department establishment had read War and Peace, a poem by Pushkin, or taken in a performance of Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin.
The least we could expect from our crack team of diplomats and REMFs is that they know what or where the Third Rome is, or the story of the conversion of the Kievan Rus, or how deep the roots of the Orthodox Church run in the Muslim-desecrated occupation of the Church of Holy Wisdom and the ruins of Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire. But no, that would be asking too much of the credentialed empty suits who prowl the corridors of "Defense" or State and see the world through the partisan lenses of the JFK School of Government-- which basically comes down to, what have you done for me lately?
Not to mention, had read Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, heard a live performance of Shostakovich's Fifth or Seventh ("Leningrad") symphonies, or seen either Prokofiev's The Fiery Angel or Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at least once in their miserable, Harvard-educated lives. Then, perhaps, they might catch a glimpse, or hear an echo, of the Russian soul, as in this memorably manic scene from the Shostakovich opera's third act, when a shabby peasant in search of booze stumbles upon Zinovy's body hidden in the wine-cellar and the orchestra explodes in an orgy of pent-up, violent hysteria:
But no, that would be too much to ask. Far better to commit the characteristic American sin of regarding all the rest of the world's peoples, cultures, and nations as the rough equivalent, albeit inferior, of our own, and expecting that their savage denizens will react in the same way to the same carrot-and-stick stimuli as our own peasants do. After all, as we learned in Vietnam, inside every benighted foreigner is an American screaming to get out. Why, just look at the southern border!
On the other hand, it would provide a clue to the members of Biden war party why Putin launched his attack on the Ukraine and what he hopes to gain from it. It is wise to remember that this is a man who saw his country shot out from underneath him between 1989 and 1991, and his world turned upside down. Imagine an American politician who witnessed Texas and the southwest being handed back to Mexico and the disputed Oregon Country returned to British Canada in the wake of a catastrophic military defeat or governmental collapse.
Slowly, Putin has been trying to piece together the old Mother Russia, at least as he understands it, which means off-loading the 'stans, neutralizing the Georgians and the Armenians, but reuniting Slavic lands such as Ukraine and Belarus (already firmly in his camp), and eyeing the Baltics as well. His alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church at least gives him a religious fig leaf in his quest to resurrect the Third Rome and motivate his demographically dying country with dreams of past and possibly future glory.
The bigger, more important question, however, is this: why are the Clinton-Obama-Biden Democrats trying to make the conflict in the Ukraine into a proxy war against Russia? Why, knowing of Putin's increasing desperation to finish the job, have they given him no diplomatic way out? Why instead have they pushed an obsolete NATO right up to his borders, when if there's one thing that makes Russians crazy it's territorial encroachment from the west? Just ask Napoleon how that worked out for him.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization won its war against the U.S.S.R. at the end of 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved on Christmas Day. Accordingly, it has no further reason for existence and should have been dissolved itself decades ago. As Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, reported to the combined Allied chiefs of staff upon General Jodl's surrender: "The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945."
But don't forget the exception to every rule: a bureaucracy, especially the demon child of the military-industrial complex, will never willingly commit suicide. And so NATO has staggered on, expanding rather than contracting, waving the Russian flag as a kind of bogeyman/talisman in order to keep its coffers full and its officers well-fed.
The fact is that the Russians -- the Democrats' favorite allies right up to the minute they cast off Communism! -- needed to be maintained as a threat. And so, in the direct aftermath of her 2016 election loss, Hillary Clinton and her flying monkeys in the media concocted the so-called "Russian collusion" hoax, which is only just beginning to finally unravel in the courts now.
In the meantime, the Biden forces, hell-bent on finishing the job of "fundamental transformation" of the country that Barack Hussein Obama was just too lazy to complete, are doing everything they can to provoke a shooting war with Putin's Russia. "A weakened Russia" is one of the administration's explicit goals, as the current secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, has declared. And while the administration has denied it, it does appear that the U.S. has been sharing intelligence regarding the targeting of Russian military commanders and other high-value targets -- which is an overt act of war and no doubt is regarded as such by Putin and his officers. And that is very dangerous, especially since they have nowhere else to go.
Many in the American commentariat were on record right up to the moment that Putin sent in his tanks that the Russians wouldn't dare invade; I was convinced he would, on historical and revanchist grounds. Once he did, most expected an easy rollover. What followed was not so much surprise at the rusty Russians' lack of military capability (armies that are not used disintegrate; armies that never know victory are easily demoralized) but the alacrity with which the U.S. and most of Western Europe sprang into action. Sanctions flew, signs sprouted, and the propaganda machine immediately cranked into overdrive, elevating the comedian-president of one of the most corrupt nations in Europe -- and the Bidens' private piggy bank -- to Churchillian status almost overnight with a unanimity remarkable even by current corporate-media lickspittle standards.
America is now flirting with disaster as it engages with a wounded, nuclear-armed bear that won't hesitate to use theater or tactical nukes if it feels an existential threat. And why wouldn't it? It's seen this movie before. Even Jill Biden is currently kicking sand in Putin's face. Meanwhile, here at home, the U.S. is cratering almost as surely as the Soviet Union, riven by irreconcilable domestic moral and political differences; all of its principal constitutional edifices under attack by the Left, including the Supreme Court; the economy circling the drain; the supply chain thoroughly disrupted by an outrageous medical alarum bordering on a malignant hoax; our woke military emasculated; and our civic faith in almost every institution destroyed. Meanwhile, a gerontological elite that rivals in its longevity the Struldbruggs in Swift's Gulliver's Travels continues to heedlessly shuffle its way toward disaster.
I'm a former UK diplomat who's spent many years in central and eastern Europe. I have to say that even though I come at all this from a broadly 'conservative' point of view, I disagree with this article on most key counts.
The basic problem here is that Russia *is not a country*. It's the only remaining C19 empire. The Ukraine issue is all about the rules for Russia's decolonisation of large tracts of territory (something one might have expected Americans to support, given certain events in the C18!).
Of course 'Russia' has grievances. Most countries do. What makes Russia close to unique is its isolated/corrupt collective leadership's obsession with those grievances and the utter lawless disproportionality of the methods it uses to try to act on them. Putin's core claim is that Russia should "keep what's ours" (and that anything is justified in trying to do that). Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, Ukraine and many other former Tsarist territories are therefore vulnerable to all-out unprovoked Russian attacks. The Putinist rhetoric for all this is trivially dishonest: he rails on about modifying international borders so that Russia can steal more land while cracking down on any Russian territory that might like to opt for its own self-determination.
It's plainly right (if of course risky) to help those who want to fight back against this primitive imperialism, and unhappily for Putin and his inept army the Ukrainians have done this with amazing success so far.
The one big thing missing from the central 'Western' position on all this is any sense of what a reasonable political settlement might look like. Not just in the immediate sense of where European borders would be, but also in a much more ambitious sense of trying to identify a New Deal with Russia that tries to find reasonable things Moscow might want and offer ways to meet them that are compatible with Moscow too recognising others' reasonable concerns.
It's easy to work out how a smart, cynical, ambitious but essentially sane Russia could have a genuine global leadership role working closely with the West in a sort of Tough Cop / Soft Cop way eg on Syria, Iran etc. It's because Moscow's current policies are so radical to the point of being close to insane by any normal standards of world affairs that it's impossible to do anything other than push back hard against them.
PS it's often forgotten that in 1945 Moscow DEMANDED that Ukraine join the UN as a (sort of) separate state. At that point Moscow's substantive claims to its 'historic Orthodox lands' in Ukraine dwindled sharply...
"Not a country" in the western European sense is absolutely correct. That's part of the problem, and has been for centuries, since Peter the Great at least, as you know from your diplomatic experience. So we're not disagreeing there. And we also agree that "what a reasonable political settlement might look like" is thus far unclear. As for Russia's demand to admit the Ukraine as a separate state in 1945, everybody knows why they did that. The Islamic ummah does the same thing today, successfully. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/un
And if Biden was not installed by our 'betters' none of this would be happening. Consequences, people. Consequences.
Exactly! Just ask the Ukrainians, who have had their cities raped by the filth coming out of Russia if the war is pointless. Russia's invasion was pointless, but the Ukrainian defense of their country. The entire world is seeing what a cesspool Muscovy is.
" How much time have you spent in Russia/USSR and how much time elsewhere in central and eastern Europe? " <-- Duranty spent time in the area as well. Won a Pulitzer for adhering to this nation's enemies as you have.
I understand Russia -- that is why I have contempt for them, all who cleave to Russia as it chooses to be, and support her in her crimes.
"This nation's enemies"? Which nation's? the U.S. sent troops into Russia in order to overturn the Bolshevik revolution: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/american-troops-land-at-archangel And during WWII, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were allies of convenience against a common enemy. History is complicated.
The countries that joined NATO after the fall of the Berlin Wall did so because they had first-hand experience with the tender mercies of Russia. They joined the neighborhood alliance to gain protection from the cruel and rapacious country that had occupied them for 45+ years. The country that allied itself with Nazi Germany and made secret cause in invading eastern Europe.
These places and these people have agency and don't deserve to be sold down the river to Putin under the guise of assuaging his historical (chimerical) grievances.
Switzerland, Austria, Sweden are all surrounded by NATO. None have used that fact to make war against their neighbors.
Not being sufficiently versed in venerable Russian history myself, my question is: with the largest landmass country why are they so afraid of anyone coming anywhere near their borders? Napoleon and Hitler were johnny-come-latelies over the span of Russian history. I'm guessing this paranoia predates Napoleon. Mr. Walsh, what say you, sir?
Russians have a very tenuous hold on a very large territory.
With this missive, you are making two major mistakes.
1. You analyze the Russian invasion of Ukraine only from (what you believe is) Putin’s standpoint. That is how you justify this invasion. You do not consider and do not even seem to care about the perspective of Ukraine. Ukraine does not want to be a part of Russia, does not want to be ruled by Russia, and never has in the modern era. Remember that Ukraine never wanted to be part of the USSR. The Soviets invaded and forcibly took it over after the Communists took power. And even after the Red Army “liberated” Ukraine, Ukraine fought a guerrilla war against the Soviets until the 1950s. It does not matter how you or Putin justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It does not matter if Putin wants to unify Christian Orthodoxy under himself; indeed, most of the Russian Orthodox Church opposes this invasion. The Ukrainians themselves, who trace their history much further back than Russia’s, want their independence. Always have.
B. You ask, “What price victory?” While this is not an unreasonable question under normal circumstances, it is in the context in which you frame it. A much better question is, “What price defeat?” You place the blame on the West for keeping NATO alive and infringing on Russian territory. You use legalisms to ignore that NATO was formed as a defensive alliance against the aggression of Russia in its Soviet guise. Even more inexcusably, you ignore that much of what you apparently consider to be Russian territory (Ukraine, in this column, but also the Baltics, Moldova, and the Warsaw Pact countries, especially Poland) never wanted to be allied with or part of Russia in the first place. Just because Russia ruled it at some point in the past does not make it rightfully Russian. If Russia retakes Ukraine, where does it stop? Who’s next? Moldova? Probably. After that, the Baltics? Poland? Slovakia? You want to give all these people to Russia? To slavery (again) at the hands of Russia? And then where does Putin stop? Germany? France?
By supporting Ukraine now, we may avoid a much larger and more dangerous war later on. And we help make up for such shameful surrenders as the Yalta Conference.
Quite hard hitting article. Raises a horrifying prospect of the consequences to current political disaster in DC as first steps toward dissolution of the Union. Judging by responses, Americans hold the Union so sacred they simply cannot comprehend the idea of its breakdown. Yet, nothing is permanent in this world…
I was an OSCE monitor in Donbas for seven years. Good article. Thanks for writing.
If we were in the right, I'd support us wholeheartedly. But, the problem is, Putin is in the right. Which is different from being "the good guy." I'm just saying he's in the right because it is beyond provocative for NATO to be expanding up in Russia's face. If Russia and Putin are so evil and dangerous they should be treated with more respect, and deviousness, if nothing else. Maybe we should go to war with them, but this is a farce. The response to Putin's gambit is not serious.
All this reminds of that guy at the San Francisco Zoo who got killed by Tatiana the Tiger after he taunted her in her cage and she escaped and hunted him down.
It wasn't like Texas being handed back to Mexico; more like Texas being handed back to Texas, and Mexico to Mexico. These were places where people spoke different languages and that were, you know, different countries. I like Russian religion and its proud nationalism, but we're squaring off against an unbroken imperial impulse. Ask the Poles, the Finns, the Swedes, the Baltic countries, oh, and the Ukrainians.
They invaded, for heaven's sake.
Oh poppycock! How many times are certain American talking heads gonna blame the actions of the US and other Western nations since the collapse of the USSR for "CAUSING" the Russians to invade Ukraine? The Russians, the ever jealous younger brothers of the Slavs in Ukraine and west of there, whether led by princes of the Duchy's, tsarist, Soviet or, ahem, "republican" were, are and always will be imperialist thugs and have ever bahaved so. Canada and the US are essentially next door to Russia and ARE IN Nato. Controlling Ukraine ain't gonna give 'em more security. That has always been a ruse.
Oh, swell, you're resorting to argumentum ab auctoritate, among the most egregious of fallacies, and a tired one at that. Worse, you phrased your argument as a question, which is doubly egregious. You should just man up and come and say that my knowledge and/or experience concerning the subject at hand is insufficiently broad to dispute with you, much less to express an opinion at variance with your own. Not that any of that has to do with anything, including the points I made.
I did, btw, like your book on Last Stands.
Dictators rarely avail themselves of Golden Bridges when offered one. Anyway, Putin has a Golden Bridge, ready made. It's called the Russian border with Ukraine.
firstname.lastname@example.org: Although I agree thoroughly with you assessment of our current regime, I think your theme that the United States' mission in post-war Europe was an expression of our bureaucracy 's need for a fake demon to pursue is a failure to recognize the possibility that our inept, postwar efforts to deal with the threat of the Soviet Union happened to coincide with their own imperial ambitions. Sometimes shit happens in ways that seem to dovetail nicely in retrospect, but that have no causal relationship. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. What's going on now should be laid entirely at the feet of Putin. He's tried to create a boogie-man to rally his people, but failed to check on his resources. Biden's response has, sadly and expectedly, been a footnote to this catastrophe, not its cause.
Yes, and see also "How We Got Here" from 7 March: https://the-pipeline.org/the-column-how-we-got-here/
Well, that's . . . your opinion. I don't agree, for the most part, but that's neither here nor there.
Except, a few points:
1) Russia is (arguably) the most corrupt nation in Europe;
2) It is Putin's war, not Biden's war;
3.) The fact that Zhelensky is a former comedian has nothing to do with anything;
4.) The fact that Ukraine and Russia are corrupt has nothing to do with anything (there are a LOT of corrupt nations in the world, just as there were in 1939-41 and we ended up fighting alongside many of them, e.g. the USSR and China etc.).
How much time have you spent in Russia/USSR and how much time elsewhere in central and eastern Europe?
Good column. Amazing, perhaps, that on this topic you and Thomas Friedman actually concur on the important points. A paywall-free link to his NYT column is here:
Yes, I took note of that earlier today on Facebook. Mostly, he's trying to cya for Biden.
"Putin wants to reclaim Orthodox territory, including Kiev."
Could you provide a source, or is this just your opinion?
Mr. Walsh -- one quibble. The wars that the U.S. has "lost" -- including Vietnam, Iraq 2.0 and Afghanistan -- were political defeats. The U.S. military (despite Democrats' best efforts to turn it into a college "Womyns Studies" program) is unparalleled in its effectiveness and lethality. Our soldiers comprise the best trained and equipped military in human history. The U.S. has not lost a war on the battle field since ever (The War of 1812 and Korea ended as draws).
As for NATO, you would be correct that it is obsolete had Russia become anything resembling a normal and peaceful country. Instead, Russia is a paranoid, aggressive, revanchist and, at times, barbaric country. There is a reason why former Russian vassals like the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary, Romania -- and now Sweden and Finland -- want to join NATO.
In regard to Ukraine, it may have had tight bonds with Russia in the past, but today's Ukrainians obviously want nothing to do with Russia and Putin's crime family and are willing to fight to the death to keep it that way.
The "Leningrad Symphony" is modernist dreck.
On another note, shouldn't the West be thinking up ways to offer Putin a Golden Bridge out of this war?
Ahem, didn't Muscovy start as a backwater duchy between the more significant entities of Kiev and Novgorod?
I always appreciate your analyses. You have a clearer view of current events than practically any commentator now working.
I have one question. What do you think of Lara Logan's assertion that Russia had never intended to invade and capture the entirety of Ukraine but only the Eastern provinces? In that case, their advance would not be stalled, but rather deliberately limited.
There's much to that. Putin wants to reclaim Orthodox territory, including Kiev, since that is the heart of old Mother Russia.