The closing act on Ukraine

The closing act on Ukraine Featured

Last of 3 parts

ONE of the more somber assessments of America's behavior as a world hegemon comes from an eminent member of its establishment, Richard Hass, outgoing president of America's prestigious think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Having no official role in either political party, it nevertheless has unmatched expertise and connections in formulating foreign policy. The CFR is a microcosm of American hegemony, with its disciples and true believers coming mostly from a diverse segment of the upper crust of American society, including business, academia, government officials and the intelligence community. Their influence in shaping American discourse on foreign policy for the last 100 years is invaluable.

Thus, Haas's pronouncements that "the United States has become the most profound source of instability throughout the world" are serious indictments, not simple musings, in light of America's role as the world's lone hegemon and its impact on recent developments, particularly leading towards this third part of my column on the Ukraine war. "The closing act" could be a loose term, as it is pregnant with nuances. It could mean the end of the Ukraine war — the defeat of Ukraine and triumph of Russia or vice versa — or the perpetuation of a never-ending one. There is a precedent. The Korean War (1950-1953) is technically still going on, with no final peace treaty signed between the protagonists, North and South Korea — but simply an armistice agreement. This could be the template for the closure of the Russo-Ukraine war.

America's global role

Since the USSR's collapse ended the Cold War, the world has metamorphosed into a unipolar US-dominated construct — militarily and economically ascendant with considerable social and cultural influence. America broke away as a child of European monarchical traditions to evolve into a fiercely independent nation with a bias toward individual freedoms, translated as liberal capitalism and a free market economy, promoting itself as a beacon of democracy, providing leadership from WW2 onward, growing economically, rising with "the tide that lifts all boats," and enforcing its own imprint of order and the rule of law. But power concentrated, bereft of checks and balances, leads to abuse and misuse. Decision-making on world affairs became unilateral, solving mounting crises here and there to the exclusion of other less dominant powers.
But America's appreciation of its global role — eclipsed by its own hubris — lends itself to a paucity of diverse perspectives; thus, it is oblivious to the changing realities of geopolitics impelled by the emergence of other competing powers and worsened by the resentment of allies. Historian Paul Kennedy described this succinctly in the late 1980s as "imperial overstretch," when an empire dominating its era extends itself beyond its military and economic capabilities. We have precedents for this. The British Empire, for example, rose in the 16th century "where the sun never sets" on its global holdings and influence, reaching its peak in the early 20th century. By a similar token, America is overstretched!

A unipolar world

In establishing a world order, America's default response to any perceived deviation threatening or distracting its global role is to wage war, under whatever pretext, imposing its sense of order and the rule of law. This is perhaps the interpretation of Richard Haas' insights. Since the end of World War 2, America has started, been involved in, and intervened in more than two dozen conflicts, more than any other country in the world, thus earning for itself the sobriquet of the world's "warmonger" — all achieved purportedly to uphold democracy and preserve a way of life according to its tenets. But America's actuations and motivations are suspect.

The Vietnam War (1964-1975) used the Gulf of Tonkin incident as a pretext for increased involvement. The eventual US withdrawal and defeat saw the two Vietnams unified under communist rule.

The Afghanistan War (2001-2021). Taliban terrorists harboring al-Qaida was the US's justification for its invasion after 3,000 were killed on September 1 at the World Trade Center. This righteous excuse for revenge cost the US $2.3 trillion and killed 200,000 civilians. Now the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan.

The Iraq War (2003-2011). Citing Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the US invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. The war led to a protracted insurgency and sectarian violence, claiming 1.03 million civilian casualties in 20 years. The US leadership knew there were no WMDs prior to the invasion.

These three perfidious interventions are just samples of a dozen more cases, from Lebanon (1958) to the Central African Republic (2013-2014) to Ukraine (2022).

It can be argued that these wars and interventions were for a noble purpose. But also mixed among these motherhood statements above are geopolitical considerations involving US and Western economic interests, access to resources, and the hegemonic desire to exert influence and maintain global dominance, advancing specific political and military objectives.

Current US involvement —Ukraine's final act

At the summit in Lithuania, NATO evaluated the Ukraine war, setting the strategic direction it would take. Unsaid perhaps is the war fatigue setting in on all protagonists — with the US/NATO in a pissing contest with Russia on who can outlast and outsuffer who, playing chicken with the nuclear trigger.

One scenario sees Zelenskyy retaking occupied territories, particularly Crimea. This is going to be bloody, as Putin has now had the time to reinforce and fortify the only viable entrance for the armies of Ukraine — the Isthmus of Perekop, the strip of land connecting the peninsula to southern Ukraine.

Five to 7 kilometers across at its narrowest strip, this is the gateway to Crimea and, "from antiquity, was the site of furious battles that decided the fates of empires." This could be a veritable killing field unless the US and NATO provide what Zelensky demands — F-16 jets for air cover and the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).

The US's reluctance to place this advanced weaponry in the hands of Zelenskyy is perhaps due to two related concerns. American incongruous foreign policy has been to help Ukraine win the war but stop short of providing all logistics for this to happen. This is in the DNA of US foreign policy, as evidenced by its eight years in Iraq and 20 years in Afghanistan. America goes to war not to lose but not necessarily to win — puzzling!

With these new weapons, Zelenskyy and some Ukrainian generals may go rogue, raining these newly acquired cruise missiles on major Russian cities, giving Putin no option but to respond with his own tactical battlefield nukes. And all bets are off!

The alternative scenario is that Ukraine/US/NATO continue to change the dynamics, somehow convincing Putin that this war is unsustainable on the battlefields and on the home front, where economic sanctions continue to be tightened, hoping that all this chaos will go away through negotiated solutions. Ukraine may not get back 100 percent of its territory, but NATO membership and a Marshall-like reconstruction plan similar to that in post-World War 2 Europe can be incentivized.

Or just hope for a quick regime change in the Kremlin — the downfall of a weak Putin and his replacement by any of the Siloviki.

But again, hope is not a strategy.
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