Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war anymore. Isaiah 2:4
Neoconservatism is a peace through strength ideology that arose in the 60s, largely as a response to the deep dislike of the nascent New Left movement, most prevalent during the Vietnam protests of that era. Neoconservatives are militaristic, unilaterally-minded, and driven by hate for communist and political radicals, such as authoritarians. The whole point of the Vietnam War, according to Neocons, was to prevent a communist victory. Neoconservatives believed that the extremists on the left in that time were anti-American and deeply resented their anti-war stance on Vietnam. Some of these positions are not entirely off-base. As many extremists on both the left and right today do enact anti-American behavior. On the part of the left, it is condoning illegal entry into the United States. On the part of the right, it is outright insurrection. Today, we call these folks on the new left, the radical left or the woke.
Only this past Saturday, after the government averted a disastrous shutdown by way of a bipartisan effort in Congress, Biden touted the progress we have made in our relationship with Vietnam since the Vietnam War–a most notable boast given the great destruction we caused in Ho Chi Minh. Neocons rose during Reagan’s time and peaked during the Bush II administration leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Of course, many years later, the world learned that in fact, there were never weapons of mass destruction to justify America’s invasion of Iraq after all. Neoconservative philosophy prevails, maintaining America is the leader of the pack in a unipolar world, and must maintain this dominance at all cost. An accurate description for neoconservatism is war hawks who preach American exceptionalism and advocate for neo-imperialism.
The New Left of yesterday has morphed into the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which some 102 Democrats are official members. Does anyone hazard a guess who is in this caucus? The Congressional Progressive Caucus was founded in 1991. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Seattle, WA is the current Chair of the CPC. Neocon ideology has permeated American politics, and is the tie that binds otherwise warring factions in the United States government. If the left and right across the spectrum agree on anything in America, it is in perpetuating war and the outdated fantasy of unilateral military dominance in the world, at any cost. People like Bill Kristol, Hillary Clinton, Victoria Nuland, Michael McFaul and Joe Biden, all are neocons and the modern architects of the current decades old conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Leo Strauss, a philosopher, Nazi refugee and one-time professor at the University of Chicago has been summarily accused of being the founder of the Neoconservative movement. Though this assessment is incorrect. Strauss espoused justice and peace over force. Today, we honor former President Jimmy Carter who just turned 99, but in his time he was reviled for his anti-war policies. He simply was not hawkish enough. Particularly, for neoconservatives like Jeane Kirkpatrick who criticized him for his foreign policy of detente with Russia. Yet, such a policy is severely needed now in the conflict with Ukraine, as detente is the only viable off-ramp to a conflict that can only become exponentially worse for the whole world. There is no good outcome of this conflict for anyone except to call for an armistice now.
Neocons support regime change through passive, timely means. In the case of the current conflict, NATO’s encroachment upon Russia is precisely that which eventually spooked Russia into a defensive mode of self-preservation. Because neoconservatives devalue the economic reality of society, they are not concerned with the fact that an untenable war poses the risk of accelerating the next global depression. For Neocons, this conflict is about moral superiority, military might and maintaining unilateral hegemony and imperialist power and control in a world that seemingly unbeknownst to Neocons, has shifted dramatically from this framework.
One of the enduring values of the study of sociology is the appreciation of scale. Whereas psychology is interested in the individual, sociology is interested in the composite total of many individuals in a given social milieu, at any degree of scale. Thus, we look to international relations to understand the relationship between nations. International relations then are analogous to the relationships between people in family’s, cities, organizations, states, etc. There are three essential camps in international relations. Two of which I will briefly discuss. One camp maintains that the world is in a state of anarchy and thus doomed, as it were, to be engaged in perpetual conflict. Since there is no governing body over the states they are always at war, flexing their military bravado, until the next face off. Thus, human life is subject to the whims of state actors who treat humanity like pawns on a chess board while they play their divide and conquer games. This is not a wholly off the mark assessment, as historically, this is precisely what has appeared to have occurred so far throughout the world and human history.
As always, it is usually the biggest bully on the block that wins. In the case of the modern world, that mantle has been owned by the United States since its inception until now. One major problem with this view, however, is precisely what Leo Strauss once wrote, “The problem with the West is it has forgotten its purpose.“ The manifest destiny of the United States is to be a beacon of hope for the oppressed, not the oppressor. Another major problem is that the world has changed. Once, we lived in a world that was not as evidently interconnected in the way that we are inextricably bound today. What happens in any place affects everyone everywhere, eventually. The United States has failed to adapt to the times, and this has caused America an inability to accurately read the room. The United States just did not get the memo: Colonialism and conquest are a thing of the past. Imperialism no longer has a place in the world of now.
State actors on the world stage who led a largely diminished existence until now are now growing in prominence and persuasion. Thus, we have a true situation of Knights at a Round Table. Rather than engage in medieval games of conquer and destroy, which harms economic progress and the national self-interests of the figureheads representing each nation at the table; now is the time for a multipolarity, at which the United States is no longer seated at the head of the table calling all the shots. But rather, is but one figurehead among many sister nations, who must work collaboratively to solve the complex interwoven problems of the world. From an International Relations perspective, the world has changed from a unipolar world to a multipolar world. In the anarchic dog eat dog world of realist international relations, eventually there will be no man left standing.
I prefer the more optimistic view. Cooperation and collaboration happen to define the liberal camp of the IR philosophy and the camp which aligns with my understanding of the world and its limitless potential. We are facing uncommon problems in a world where change now occurs at the speed of light. Artificial Intelligence and the rapid descent and deployment of digital technology has taken the world by storm. We trade transatlantically, and are deeply mired in the business of living across every sector and enterprise known to humankind. We cannot divorce ourselves from our common humanity without destroying ourselves in the process.
The days of engaging in zero sum, winner takes all warfare are over. Simply because the playing field has drastically changed. It is a level playing field now. A once dominant U.S. has not necessarily been diminished. It is just that other stars are now shining brightly, too. One may consider the dynamic framework of 21st century international relations as a transition from a monolithic architecture [unipolar world] to a microservice architecture [multipolar world] uniquely designed for deploying innovative strategies for success in any field of endeavor.
The collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991 was a particular victory for the United States. Remember, the U.S. was not seeking to overthrow Russia by force, but rather with a velvet glove. Regime change for Russia has been a subplot for America since World War II. Even though the Russians were our allies then and fought against the Nazis in the war. The U.S. and Russia have been engaged in a rather tumultuous love affair historically. I hate you, I love you, I hate you, I love you. Why is that? However, when Boris Yeltsin hastened the Soviet collapse, the love affair entered a renaissance period, for America anyway. But of course, things cooled off quickly enough. We have none other than NATO to thank for that. It started in 1991 with their intervention in Yugoslavia. Fast forward to 1999, and Yeltsin strongly opposed NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. Plainly, Yeltsin felt NATO stepped on Russia’s toes in Kosovo. NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe could not be appreciated as anything other than imperialist ambition that posed an existential threat to Russia. Then, as now.
One might best understand the purpose of NATO in the world is to expand, promote and secure European, and thus Western, imperialism. There can be no fight without a foe, and where no foe exists, but the justification for conquest does, a foe is created. Hence, Russia became the scapegoat for NATO’s sole purpose, that is, to maintain colonial hegemony in the world, regardless of the adverse economic and subsequent migratory impact this has globally. Russia is a direct impediment to NATO’s goal of global dominance. The West certainly does not want to share power, this is unthinkable for a unipolar entity. Besides, as long as western nations are okay, who cares if the lesser nations are enslaved, marginalized and suffering. Everyone knows poor people are much easier to control as pawns. In short, NATO is playing today’s cards by yesterday’s rules. The same is true of the neoconservative ideology that has become deeply embedded into the psychological makeup of the United States of America.
In 2000, Vladimir Putin rose to prominence on the world stage and became President of Russia. He sought to rebuild the fractured relationship with America that Yeltsin eventually fomented. America and Russia initially worked in a cooperative manner under Putin, specifically on the issues of arms control and counter-terrorism. Both China and Russia joined forces with America against the War on Terrorism in 2001. In 2007, Putin gave his world famous speech at Munich. He spoke plainly and what he had to say was perceived as a direct affront to the imperialist ambition of the Western Empire, which from then on labeled him an authoritarian Napoleon hellbent on taking over the world. Putin was critical of the United States’ militaristic belligerence and its unilateral control over world affairs, and he minced no words in saying as much. During that speech, Putin quoted a 1990 promise by NATO not to expand into Eastern Europe. One can only surmise, however, that NATO’s empty promise was little more than lip service. After all, what is NATO’s manifest destiny if not expansion and dominion?
Senator John McCain, now deceased, and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were in the audience in Munich that day. And much like the Democrat in the House on September 30, 2023, they ran home and sounded the alarm. At around this time the U.S. had plans to install a Missile Shield in Europe that Russia opposed. Why was the U.S. circling Russia? Putin presented then President Bush with a counter offer that he of course denied. Subsequently, Putin withdrew Russia’s participation in the Adapted Conventional Arms Forces Treaty in December of that year. Then, in 2008, Georgia fired on Russian peacekeeping troops and this kicked off the Russo-Georgia War. The United States sided with Georgia, thus crystallizing the frost between the U.S. and Russia. The European Union investigated the incident and determined Georgia was at fault in the conflict.
One wonders, who sponsored Georgia’s aggression in that conflict? Surely, Georgia did not arbitrarily decide to pick a fight with Russia. Incidentally, NATO invited both Ukraine and Georgia to enter its fold that same year, 2008. Putin considered this expansion, along with the missile shield in Europe, to be a peculiar confluence of events that posed an existential threat to Russia. Why was NATO provoking Russia? To what end was NATO expanding, if not to taunt and terminate, or at minimum, subjugate? Why the need to erode the mutual trust necessary between nations, for both maintaining and conducting international relations? Isn’t the purpose of denuclearization peacekeeping, particularly in an increasingly complex and interconnected world?
Ukraine is host to a vast region of invaluable resources in the world. This cannot be overstated. Iron, coal, manganese, these flow in abundance in Ukraine. An imperialist, neocolonialist power that is psychologically resonant with militaristic dominance and unipolar control would want to dominate the access to these resources. What other reason might Ukraine be of continued interest to the United States?
Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State from 2009-2013, during President Obama’s tenure. In 2011, Putin was up for reelection and was blindsided by popup protests during the election period. He blamed Hillary Clinton for planting protesters against him. He was labeled an anti-American for calling her out. For her part, she claimed voter fraud in the Duma elections, as Vladimir Putin won by a narrow margin. By now, the reader is challenged to note a pattern that has developed and should be quite familiar today. Voter fraud, election interference, armed protests, these are common refrains in modern political discourse. Tactics. Donald Trump did not invent any of these weapons of political warfare.
Hillary Clinton and living history be damned when in December 2010, Putin charmed the pants off the Hollywood elite at a charity event in St. Petersburg, as he played the piano and sang 'Blueberry Hill' with his notable brand of swagger. In June 2012, Putin attended a bilateral meeting with President Obama at the White House. The purpose was to deepen commercial and economic interests between both nations. For a fleeting moment in time it was almost a remake of Camelot. As though Neoconservative America had forgotten how much it feared, or loathed the communist bogeyman out to take over the world. Not so fast!
Hillary Clinton had political ambitions she blames Putin for destroying, much like a tit-for-tat. She obstructed him in 2011, so he paid her back in 2016. She believed it was her destiny to be the first female president of the United States of America. It had been her dream since she was a little girl. She could not fathom in a million years that perhaps the fault lay with her and not Putin or Russian bots on social media. Clearly, not as many people liked her as she thought. This voter sat out that election. I simply could not in good conscience vote for either candidate on the ticket in 2016. My decision to not vote held firm in the knowledge that the people would get the leader [or lack thereof] they deserved. For as awful as Donald Trump was for the United States of America, and the world, I find Hillary Clinton’s political ire equally menacing. She is simply smart enough to not say the quiet part out loud, most of the time.
In 2013, a rebellion began rising up against President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine when he refused to sign an agreement that would have aligned Ukraine more closely with the European Union. While Russia influenced Yanukovich to refuse to sign the agreement, this would run counter to the interests of NATO and neoconservatives in America like Victoria Nuland of Ukrainian ancestry, then Ambassador Michael McFaul, Bill Kristol, then vice president Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, et al. All of whom have played instrumental roles in shaping the modern architecture of the manifest destiny of Ukraine.
In 2014, the Ukraine Revolution, or Maidan, kicked off. It was a violent conflict between protesters and the state forces in Kyiv that ended with more than 100 dead. Just as the U.S. backed Georgia in 2008, the U.S. backed Ukraine in this effort in 2014. A Ukrainian government was put into place after Yanukovich’s ouster. He was voted out 328-0, but claimed voter fraud, and this caused a Russian outcry.
Russia’s response was to annex Crimea, while Russian separatists claimed Donetsk and Luhansk, sparking the Donbas War. After Russia annexed Crimea, the United States responded by providing Ukraine with military aid. The story of time, history repeats itself. With Yanukovich out, an interim government was put in place, the constitution was restored to 2004 terms, and the agreement to be more closely aligned with the EU was signed. Moreover, there was an active movement to de-Sovietize Ukraine, which was understandably perceived by Russia as Russophobia. There were many ethnic Russians in Ukraine who now became the subject of ethnic persecution, specifically in Donbas. The West calls it annexation, the East calls it self-determination. Russia responded to what it believed was a coup designed to minimize Russia’s role in the world, if not more literally, erode its manifest destiny.
Alas, we arrive at the Minsk Agreements. A series of international agreements to end the conflict in Donbas between Ukraine and Russian separatists. The Minsk Protocol of 2014 was effectively an attempt at armistice, a ceasefire. Germany and France presided over this three-body problem between Ukraine, Russia and Europe. Invariably, the protocols did not work. Then, in 2015, there was Minsk II. The most notable aspect of Minsk II was the agreement by Ukraine to allow for the autonomy of the people of Donbas, a Russian majority, to self-govern. Other provisions, like Ukraine Constitutional reform [no de-Sovietizing Ukraine], release of prisoners of war, ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons were also included in the agreement. The problem with Minsk II is that none of these actions ever took place. There was no international accountability required. Hostilities and tensions merely grew while simmering on the surface.
Meanwhile, a comedic upstart who did an excellent job of satirizing the political situation of the United States’ involvement in Ukraine’s affairs was setting the stage to turn parody into reality. Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president of Ukraine in May 2019, during Donald Trump’s tenure. We all remember the infamous, “Do me a favor though” phone call. After all, Trump was hellbent on proving Biden is as crooked as the day is long, particularly with his involvement in Ukraine. It is no secret that Ukraine is de facto an oligarchy where powerful forces are notably aligned with American interests, as the vital resources of Ukraine’s territory are what they share in common. Infinitely more than the Ukrainian people, it is the wealth that these resources generate that matter to the oligarchs and Neocons alike. The people are merely pawns.
In March 2019, Ukraine voted for President Zelenskyy. The tide had very quickly and ominously turned for Russia. The following month, in April 2019, Russia issued more than 500,000 passports to Russians in Donbas, making them Russian citizens. Ukraine perceived this as an intent to annex the territory. In September 2020, Zelenskyy approved the New National Security Strategy with NATO, with the clear intent to become a member. In November 2020, Americans voted for Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. Former president Donald Trump refused to concede or even acknowledge the reality that he lost the election. He spent the next couple of months orchestrating a violent insurrection that took place on January 6, 2021, and that ultimately amounted to a failed coup. Two weeks after this failed coup, on January 20, 2021, Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America.
Was Biden settling an old score? He has proven to be nowhere near as innocuous as the voters had bargained for in 2020. American voters thought that they were getting an old guy who liked ice cream and telling dumb stories no one really cared to listen to. We were biding our time till we found a replacement. Many Americans voted for him purely to oust Trump. As the saying goes, macho-man-let’s-blow-up-the-world-Biden was just not on anyone’s bingo card. One cannot help but recall a comment Putin made about Biden once, however. He thought he was someone to be wary of, to take seriously. After Biden was inaugurated, all was seemingly well in the world, as much as anyone could tell anyway.
Then, in March 2021, Zelenskyy, emboldened by the backing of the new Biden administration whose neoconservative point guards long proved antagonistic to Russia, signed a decree authorizing the de-occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol. The age-old fear and dread returned. Russia questioned why these imperial colonialists seek to topple and destroy Russia? In response, Russia began to deploy materiel and troops to the borders surrounding Ukraine and Crimea. One may surmise that the trauma that the threat of survival poses is deeply embedded into the Russian psyche. NATO has been provoking encroachment since 1990, posing a particularly poignant existential threat to Russia. A threat that has loomed large in the background, but most notably reared its head in 1999 with the Soviet Collapse, 2008 in Georgia, and 2014 in Ukraine. Zelenskyy’s September 14, 2020 agreement with NATO may be viewed as a major turning point in this latest conflict.
No sooner than March 2021 unfolded, a call between Putin and Sergey Glazyev, a top advisor, was intercepted and the West Wing wasted no time in filling the airwaves with the invasion buzzword. That was all we heard for almost a year. The narrative was drafted and dispatched across the media in regulated drips. In June 2021, Biden and Putin had a vis-à-vis at the Geneva summit in Switzerland. It was of this meeting that Putin remarked that Biden is a man to take seriously. Biden made a strong impression on Putin. Whatever happened between them that day, it eroded any semblance of the trust necessary to maintain peaceful international relations. Where Trump was all bark and no bite, the opposite could be said of Biden.
Still, in June 2021, Russian troops were withdrawn from the border, though materiel remained in place. Russia then presented another agreement to the West seeking a guarantee that Ukraine did not join NATO that was ignored. Then, in October 2021, Dimitry Medvedev, Chairman of the Security Council of Russia, wrote an article declaring Ukraine a “vassal of America.” He determined it was impossible to get Ukraine to come to an agreement regarding NATO. America and Ukraine had every intention of Ukraine joining NATO, it was clear as day. Thus, once again, Russia began to deploy troops at the border in October 2021.
In December 2021, Biden had a talk with Putin. He threatened Putin with severe punitive action if there is a continued military escalation. Russia presented an offer to the United States again seeking a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO. When this request was ignored, Russia unleashed its military operation to claim Donbas, and to secure the rights of Russians in Donbas from persecution. This gambit was largely a security measure on the part of Russia. Ukraine cannot join NATO while engaged in overt military conflict.
More importantly, vested interests in Ukraine, by way of Russian military presence, prevents NATO from preemptively striking against Russia and declaring all out war while Russia is sleeping. The goal was never to demolish Ukraine, but rather, to force Ukraine to the table to strike a lasting deal. Still, in nearly every respect this has played out as a War of Attrition on both sides. America sought to break Russia’s resolve with sanctions the likes of which have never been seen, and Russia sought to break Ukraine by destroying Ukrainian infrastructure piecemeal.
Prodded and seemingly fortified by Western belligerence and machismo, Ukraine doubled down in the face of the impossible and declared to fight for its valor. Zelenskyy was heralded an international hero in the press. But Ukraine does not have an aerial advantage in this conflict and did not stand a chance against the Russian Army in any meaningful sense. Fueled by weaponry sent from Western allies around the world, who committed to help from afar, Ukraine has depended largely upon America to bolster it up for a win. Of course, during this time, as the people of Ukraine are being displaced and cities throughout the country strategically targeted and destroyed, one notes that Ukraine’s first lady has occasion to engage in a glamorous Vogue cover shoot. One might consider this tone deaf at best and highly inappropriate at worst. After all, her people are dying and being displaced.
Even the most severe sanctions were all to no avail, as they have proven ineffective at breaking Russia. The opposite might be true, actually. Russia is strengthening bilateral ties with other nations, many of whom are hostile to the United States, or at minimum less than neutral. Further, America is not operating from a place of strength. By this, it is not meant the Neocon bravado that purports America is the baddest bully on the block. Joe Biden continues to flex those feathers accordingly. Rather, the weakness is in our military readiness and resources. Our army is currently 10,000 soldiers shy of meeting a comfortable quota as I write this.
As a deeply polarized nation, partisan politics are impeding political progress such as military appointments, and this deeply imperils military preparedness. We are not oil independent. We have become reliant on the good will of other nations, forced to placate our formerly declared enemies. Why? Bad governance. Back to that radical left wing movement that spawned neoconservative ideology in the 60s. These same folks have an active campaign to promote clean energy in order to combat climate change, and while a good thing overall, the strategy they enact is not logically feasible.
A transition to clean energy is desirable, but one cannot cut off access to oil until the transition is complete. American politicians, instead of serving the people, are self-serving nincompoops with a lust for power, as opposed to a desire to serve humanity and improve living conditions for Americans. They placate special interests who keep them in power. The world is barely recovering from the effects of the pandemic. America is saddled with inflation numbers not seen in more than 30 years. We are always on the brink of recession. We have a problem with our borders and drugs and weapons and mass shootings and homelessness.
To sustain this never-ending war in Ukraine is simply not a viable option. The reality is, absent direct intervention on the part of any western nation, that would declare a War on Russia and thus herald World War III, this conflict can never amount to more than a War of Attrition for Ukraine. Russia will keep going until Zelenskyy breaks, or an economic depression destroys America. In the meantime, Russia is building up its infrastructure and strengthening its alliances. All while America has given away $112 billion dollars of American money to Ukraine that could have gone to building up American infrastructure.
The days of America playing conquer and destroy, that blatantly disrespects the sovereignty of other nations through regime change sow-the-seeds-of-democracy military operations and warfare, are over. America's morally superior mission of democratizing the world is not unlike the way Christians treat proselytizing. They impose their ideology on others without respect or consideration for the cultural and religious heritage of the people whose manifest destiny and power of agency they brazenly impinge upon. There are different strokes for different folks. There is more than one way to be in the world. We must respect the values and the differences of people who are unlike us in some cultural or religious or political way.
Neoconservatives have one good option and several not so good options available right now. Stop funding the war! The proposal for armistice is to ratify an international treaty between Ukraine and Russia per the guidelines of the Geneva Convention, that stipulates Ukraine will never join NATO. Russia retains Crimea as collateral. The residents of Donbas, largely comprised of ethnic Russians, are recognized by the international community as dual citizens, where Ukraine and Russia share a joint custody, as it were. Rather than offer military aid to Ukraine, and furthering chaos and destruction, something America has done quite well around the world, recall Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, offer humanitarian aid to help people whose lives have been horribly disfigured. America must own its part in this conflict and not seek to save face by blaming Russia for its culpability in this fiasco.
The other options are for America to continue to fund the conflict, of course at the expense of the well-being, safety and security of the American people, all while many more Ukrainians continue to die or be displaced. Continuing to fund this conflict will accelerate a global economic collapse, a depression worse than 1929, stoking unimaginable instability around the world. Presuming the U.S. is not planning to declare open warfare on Russia, funding the conflict in Ukraine is a gross misallocation of resources. It’s like filling a cup with water that has no bottom. No matter how many times you fill the cup, it will remain empty. What the United States can do is provide asylum to Ukrainian refugees, by taking responsibility for destroying their lives with the ill-informed imperialist, neoconservative ideology that has plagued Russia since the cold war. What will it be?
It is my hope that America will realize that to lead from the front a nation must act like a leader and work cooperatively with its sister nations to achieve win-wins that facilitate successful outcomes for the whole world. I pray America is able to adapt and overcome. It’s a whole new world. Choose peace and prosperity for all.
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