The war in Ukraine began a year ago today, on February 24, 2022, when the Russian military rolled across the eastern border of their country. But in many ways, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the endpoint of a much longer story. The propaganda campaign designed to convince Americans to take sides in this conflict — a conflict that has nothing, strictly speaking, to do with them or with America — that effort began many years earlier.
We’d peg it to July 22, 2016. That’s the day that WikiLeaks published thousands of emails from the servers of the Democratic National Committee in Washington. Those emails proved that party officials had rigged the Democratic process, the primary process, in favor of Hillary Clinton, and against the insurgent populist candidate that year, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Within days, the chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, resigned in disgrace. The WikiLeaks scandal broke on the same day that Hillary Clinton chose her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine, and it overshadowed the nominating convention that followed.
But, more significantly, the WikiLeaks scandal threatened to split the Democratic Party into pieces. More than 13 million Bernie Sanders voters, many of them young people, learned that the process they had always believed in, was in fact a sham. They had been cheated.
Democratic leaders had to act quickly in the face of this, to deflect blame from themselves onto someone else. The DNC’s servers, they claimed, had been hacked by the Russian military. The goal was to hurt Hillary Clinton, whom the Russians feared for her strength and wisdom, and to help Donald Trump, whom they controlled. Russia hacked the servers, in order to hack the election. That was their story. The Washington Post ran with it the first day, as if it were true.
But there was never any evidence that it was true. Almost seven years later, there is still no evidence. The DNC’s story about its servers is a lie. But, as a political strategy, that lie worked flawlessly. Russia made the perfect villain. It was a White, Christian country with a traditional social structure. It was everything the Democratic Party already opposed. The foreign policy apparatus in Washington was happy to hate Russia again. After 40 years of Cold War, hating Russia was muscle memory.
So, soon the leaders of both parties in Washington signed on to the Russia collusion hoax. It had the twin benefits of paralyzing the Trump administration, which it did, and justifying the expansion of the national security state. As the years passed and the rhetoric intensified, hysteria set in. After awhile, anyone with a heterodox opinion — from right-wingers to avowed-socialists — could be accused of working secretly for Vladimir Putin. Many were accused, and some were destroyed by it. It was a textbook witch-hunt, far more effective than McCarthyism.
And unlike McCarthyism, it never ended. Russia remained America’s greatest enemy, even as China emerged as America’s greatest threat. Over time, the lie that Democrats told to hide their crimes in the 2016 primaries, came to dominate America’s foreign policy, and then to imperil America itself. For generations, statesmen and diplomats worked to prevent other great powers from aligning as a block against the U.S. The idea was pretty straightforward: You might be able to beat one strong country, but if a couple of strong countries ever got together, you would lose. This is why Richard Nixon went to China: to make sure the Chinese government didn’t align with Brezhnev, with the Russians.
Donald Trump understood this very clearly: "Russia will never be our closest ally," he said. "But if Russia ever becomes China’s ally, we’re in deep trouble." The combination of natural resources, military and economic power — and sheer population — would make the Russian-Chinese alliance the most powerful force in the world. The United States would soon be dethroned, we’d be taking orders. As Trump put it, there is no reason to make Russia our enemy and there are many reasons not to.
It was a sound case, but official Washington ignored him. Their response, shouted in unison: "Shut up Putin stooge." And then they set about trying to provoke a war with Russia. Now they have succeeded.
But the war we are fighting in Ukraine is not against Russia alone, but also against Russia’s newest ally, the People’s Republic of China. What Donald Trump predicted has happened, and in the worst way. If the war in Ukraine continues, we will lose no matter how it ends. The world order is being reshuffled as we watch, and by the time it’s over, the U.S. will no longer be at the top of the deck. That is very obvious to the rest of the world.
But what’s fascinating is how few Americans seem to understand what's happening or its consequences. But how would they know? No one in American politics or media will tell them the truth. Since the first hours after the invasion, Americans have been fed a steady diet of increasingly absurd lies about Ukraine. Google and Facebook have joined with the Biden administration to censor any factual information that contradicts the official storyline. It’s dystopian.
Joe Biden’s first remarks about the war gave no hint we’d be sending advanced weapons systems and American military advisors to Ukraine, then supporting the entire Ukrainian government and its pension system with hundreds of billions of U.S. tax dollars. No, Joe Biden mentioned only sanctions, which are free. Sanctions he suggested would be enough. Here he is, a year ago today:
PRESIDENT BIDEN 2022: The Russian military has begun a brutal assault on the people of Ukraine without provocation, without justification, without necessity... This aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse. America stands up to bullies. We stand up for freedom... Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences. Today, I'm authorizing additional strong sanctions.
Strong sanctions. That'll do it. Now, the goal at that point, a year ago today, you may remember this, was to push Russian forces back into their own country to reverse the invasion. And that seemed reasonable to most people. It did not seem like the beginning of a third world war, but it was exactly that. And by December, Lindsey Graham was confident enough to say so out loud. Here he is.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: How does this war end? When Russia breaks and they take Putin out. Anything short of that, the war is going to continue to ask the Ukrainians to give Russia part of their country after all this death and destruction is not going to happen. To signal a cease fire, Russia will take the opportunity to rearm and come at them again. So we're in it to win it and the only way you're going to win it is to break the Russian military and have somebody in Russia take Putin out.
So we're going to, says Lindsey Graham confidently, continue pouring billions into Ukraine until they, "take Putin out."
Does Putin know this? Well, we have no idea. We're not allowed to see Russian media in this country. That's too much information for Americans to handle. But if Putin does know that we plan to kill him, wouldn't he fight back with nuclear weapons? Why wouldn't he fight back with nuclear weapons? No one in the United States seems to be allowed to wonder that, much less have a conversation about it out loud.
Instead, we're treated to more lectures about democracy. Ukraine is a democracy, we're told. That's why we're on the side of Ukraine. The problem is that is a lie. Ukraine is not a democracy. Ukraine is a corrupt one-party state. Ukraine has none of the freedoms that define democratic governance: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. Ukraine is the least free place in all of Europe and probably for that reason, it is Joe Biden's favorite place.
So for those who understand what is actually happening and what Ukraine is actually like, it is very frustrating to watch Biden say this again and again. It is galling to be lectured about democracy by a man who took power in an election so sketchy that many Americans don't believe it was even real.
Joe Biden has never had the majority of Americans' support for a single day of the Ukraine war. In fact, Joe Biden is far less popular in the United States than Vladimir Putin is in Russia. That is not an endorsement of Putin. It's just true. And it says everything about Joe Biden's tenuous legitimacy. Democracy? Please. We're adults. Stop lying to us.
So what happens next in this war? Well, according to our elderly Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, the war in Ukraine will go on forever, and so will our support for Zelenskyy.
SECRETARY YELLEN: Let me make clear, the United States and the allies, our support for Ukraine will be lasting and is unconditional.
Unconditional support for Ukraine. Unconditional support for a nation most Americans know nothing about and couldn't find on a map. Unconditional support – that's a profound statement. Outside of your immediate family how many people would you pledge unconditional support to? How many countries would you pledge unconditional support to? This is insane when you think about it.
But the people in charge of this disaster aren't thinking the way that most Americans do. The Atlantic magazine commemorated the anniversary of the war by commissioning a piece today by Tom Nichols. Nichols is a thoroughly silly foreign policy establishment parasite, who apparently is taken seriously by other ne'er-do-wells and dumb people in Washington. But the piece is fascinating. In it, he inadvertently reveals the point of this war in the clearest possible terms: "Now we are faced with the long grind of defeating Moscow's armies and eventually rebuilding a better world."
Oh, defeating Moscow's armies and building a better world. Perfect, thank you, Tom Nichols. Adding those items to this week's to-do list.
Unspecified in the piece is exactly how we plan to do this, how we plan to defeat Russia and its ally, China, and then build utopia. The piece is notably light on details.
Now you'd feel a little better hearing all this if Tom Nichols and others like him in Washington had a track record that suggested they could do any of this, a track record of competence and success. They don't. Nichols himself seems to spend most of his life arguing with other people on Twitter. He's never achieved anything at all that we're aware of, but then virtually none of them have achieved anything. Biden's chief Ukraine strategist, Victoria Nuland – you would not hire her to plan spring break. She couldn't do it. She doesn't have the skills.
Now, these very same people, these demonstrably incompetent people, say they plan to rebuild a better world. All right, that seems ambitious. How about starting with Baltimore before moving on to total global transformation? Shouldn't we fix the biggest city in Maryland first?
Under the leadership of people like Tom Nichols and Victoria Nuland, neoliberal geniuses with grand plans, Baltimore has devolved into third world chaos. But then so has Iraq, so has Libya and so has every other place these people have decided to, "rebuild."
It should spur a moment of silence and self-reflection in the U.S. State Department that the moment Western diplomats and NGOs left the country, Afghanistan got safer. There are far fewer killings in Kabul now than there were 18 months ago. Pedestrians in Kabul can walk to dinner at night without being murdered. Now, that fact doesn't tell the whole story of Afghanistan, of course, but we shouldn't ignore that fact. It means something.
If you spend billions trying to make a place better, and it gets worse, you have an obligation to think about why. Maybe you're doing it wrong. Maybe you're not as powerful and clever as you thought you were. Maybe there's a problem with your formula.
But none of this ever occurs to people like Tom Nichols and Victoria Nuland and for that matter, Joe Biden. The more discredited they are, the more self-confident they become. They see every failure as evidence that their talents are more desperately needed than ever. What is this? Well, it's called hubris.
Hubris is the delusion that causes people to mistake themselves for God. They imagine they have power and wisdom and foresight they don't actually possess, that no human does. Hubris is a species of mental illness. These people are unwell. They're crazy and there's nothing more dangerous than that.
Hubris has caused more suffering than polio. It's caused more deaths than smallpox, and apparently we're in the middle of another epidemic of it.