An Optimistic Take on Ukraine

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Francis Fukuyama discusses some ramifications of the war in the Ukraine -- from simmering tensions in the Balkans to the prospect of China invading Taiwan -- and offers perhaps the most blunt prediction of military defeat for Russia I have heard so far:

As of today... (Image by Viewsridge, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
I'll stick my neck out and say that Russia may be heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Putin has, at this point, committed the bulk of his military to this operation: there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. His troops have been stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face supply problems and constant attack. All this is a good lesson for China which, like Russia, has built up seemingly high-tech military forces in the past decade but they have no combat experience. The miserable performance of the Russian air force would likely be replicated by the People's Liberation Army air force, which has no experience managing complex air operations. We may hope that the Chinese leadership won't delude itself as to its capabilities the way the Russians did when contemplating a move against Taiwan. So let's not be prematurely defeatist. A Russian defeat will make possible a "new birth of freedom," and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy. The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to those brave Ukrainians. I look forward to a time when I can return to a peaceful Ukraine and resume the slow, boring work of fortifying democracy.
Fukuyama is optimistic, and it is interesting to contrast his take with that of the Financial Times, which sees three possible outcomes "a prolonged war; a peace settlement; or a coup in Russia," with about a one-in-ten chance for the last. (I personally don't see a "settlement" with the likes of Russia as substantially any different than a prolonged conflict.)

I am cautiously optimistic of a Russian loss, but my enthusiasm is tempered by the knowledge that a religiously-motivated madman with zero empathy remains in charge of Russia.

This is someone who may not be capable of admitting defeat or responding to adversity rationally, much less gracefully.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo Gus, yeah, I think especially of Hitler marching troops into the Rhineland in 1936 in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles, and France and Britain doing nothing. If they had acted, Hitler's plans would probably have been scuppered; instead, they simply encouraged further aggression from a stronger position, covered over, as usual, by Hitler's disavowal of expansionist aims. Had there been stronger response to Russian actions in Crimea, Syria, and Georgia, perhaps Putin wouldn't have so boldly attacked Ukraine. But there simply wasn't the will to resist Hitler in 1936, and there wasn't the will to resist Putin before such a flagrant act of aggression. The best solution now would be a coup; everything else will bleed so many innocents, and all in the name of Putin's desire essentially to control land for a revived fantasy of the Third Rome, and to hell with the wishes of anyone living there.

The bigger problem is that Putin's not obviously preeminent against Western Europe like Hitler was; the PRC is comparably strong and rather more cunning. While Xi might be regretting backing Putin, he and his circle probably also see great opportunities to peel off mineral-rich territories or concessions from a dependent Russian client state pouring its blood and iron down a Ukrainian drain. This does not seem outside the realm of possibility.

I'll also note the moral equivalence I've seen among some right-wingers: We didn't tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba; why should Russia tolerate NATO on its borders? Even geopolitically, however, it's not a suitable parallel: Why should Berlin, Paris, and Rome tolerate Russian client states on their doorstep? And more, why should Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius? They know Russian rule, and their demands to join NATO show quite clearly what they thought of it. (Putin of course likes to muddy the waters by talking about "NATO expansion," as if a defensive alliance is "expanding" in the same way he is trying in Ukraine.)

The latest irritation is the right-wing attempts to paint Zelensky as just a wanna-be tyrant. Ukraine was utterly corrupt, and he's just the excrescence of it, and so you have court-stacking, the banning of several TV networks, and now the suspension of opposition parties. What they studiously avoid is that Zelensky was elected on an anti-corruption platform; the action decried as court-packing (actually an early dismissal of the Constitutional Court) was in response to the Constitutional Court rejecting a number of his anti-corruption measures, apparently at the behest of a leading Russian puppet (this appears to describe Medvedchuk quite well), several of the TV networks suspended were owned by Medvedchuk and used to destabilize the state at Putin's behest, and the leading opposition party whose operations were suspended is run by Medvedchuk. Yes, there's a lot to quibble about there, but first, the Ukrainian constitutional regime is not the American--are his actions unconstitutional there? (Calling it "court-packing" is clearly just designed to jerk knees.) Blank-out. Is the constitution full of egregious mismeasures? Maybe, I don't know, but neither, I'll warrant, do any of the right-wing detractors of Zelensky.

Snedcat said...

And a bit at the end of the last comment that went over the limit: Don't you wish we had someone else as president right now? (And no, I do not mean Trump; he was too unfocused even when he was in the right, which was more often than the left admits but much less often than his supporters claim.) His policy over Iran is certainly effectively treasonous, and everything else of his doings is appalling, and yet it's like the powers that be chose just the candidate for veep ideally suited to make one wish for Biden's continued health.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes, I wish we had a different President, to put it mildly.

And no, not Trump, also put mildly.

Snedcat said...

I should add that recently I discovered a one-time Objectivist peddling the same soundbites I mentioned above about Zelensky on Facebook (and I think word-for-word the same) and concluding that Putin is preferable to the Deep State because at least he talks straight (!!!). The mind boggles.

In any case, the one point worth noting is that, as so often, he simply reposted a tweet without looking into its source--in short, he showed no use of the critical faculty at all. If you track it down on Google, you find dozens of repetitions of the same assertions all going back to one source, always one with Russian connections. Do this a few times, you recognize the pattern instantly--one-sided context-free Russian-leaning soundbites. (You find the same pattern on the left, of course; the misrepresentations of Rand and Social Security show exactly the same pattern, which is of course how I became sensitized to the pattern in the first place: One hatchet job repeated in simplified soundbites a thousand-fold.) It sounds old-fashioned and persnickety, perhaps, but if you're going to judge second- (or nth)-hand news, you have to do something as basic as follow it back to the source so you can judge it (doubly so when it sure looks like something you wish were true).

It's the sort of thing that just leaves me wondering: Does he even see the need to do that? Or is even that too much mental effort? It really does seem to be a widespread mental fatigue symptomatic of the Internet. Stereotypically, many people just float by on its surface, clicking on links and reading tweets without putting forth mental effort--it's just a way of passing time. The things they see just end up unexamined mental sludge, some sort of consensus opinion they arrive at unthinkingly. (I'm not just jabbing at stereotypical right-wingers, of course. I've seen far too many lefties who do the same thing on their side of the online mainstream, but with the added smug self-satisfaction of following the "fact-checkers," who are comparable to the Russian propaganda farms in the way they brazenly claim factuality and accuracy at the very moment they're peddling nothing of the sort.) It seems like a combination of fatigue and malaise as they just nod, "I thought so," instead of stopping to think, "Is that so?," and become megaphones for someone else's message.

Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write, "Yes, I wish we had a different President, to put it mildly."

And now we have his stupid gaffe in Poland. I've actually seen a couple of Biden fans comment here and there that it's no big deal because he's just saying what everyone's thinking. Except it's not the President's job to just spew what everyone's thinking--and it tells you a lot about their own social skills that they think "he's only saying what everyone's thinking" is in any way a good defense. (And if Trump had said something like, which is of course entirely possible, you can be sure they wouldn't be defending it.) And of course the weird right-wing lot are saying it's entirely intentional because Biden wants war so Hunter can continue getting $50K and a line of blow per Stinger. (Funny but hardly serious criticism, despite them thinking it's God's truth.) This administration is such a mind-numbing mixture of incompetence, woke cultism, and (most likely) advancing senility all driven by do-the-opposite-of-what-(our-looniest-followers-say)-Trump-did that the mind just reels. Massive train wreck in slow motion, and we're all the passengers.