Pausing at the Precipice

The Western response to Russian invasion falls hard and fast. The actions of the E.U., the Anglosphere nations, and Japan are both extraordinary and consequential: multiple NATO states have openly declared their intent to arm Ukrainian forces with conventional ammunition, precision munitions, and even military aircraft. European airspace is closed to all Russian planes. Western capitals have not only announced sanctions on Kremlin oligarchs, but also restrictions on Russia’s central bank. Russian institutions are being removed from the SWIFT system. The Norwegians— in a maneuver sure to be copied—have dumped all Russian assets in their sovereign wealth fund. Olaf Scholz repudiated the last decade of German defense and energy policy with one speech. And now there is talk of bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO.

None of these actions are as audacious as the Russian invasion which precipitated them. They are a natural, proportional, and even predictable response to Putin’s decision to settle the question of Ukrainian nationhood through the force of arms. Yet it is precisely the naturalness of our policy that we should be wary of. A righteous reaction may be a dangerous one. The imperatives of action disguise an ugly truth: in the field of power politics it is outcomes, not intentions, that matter most. Failure to slow down and examine the assumptions and motivations behind our choices may lead to decisions that feel right in the moment, but fail to safeguard our interests, secure our values, or reduce the human toll of war in the long run.

 When confronted with a new geopolitical crisis my thoughts often turn to Michael Mazarr’s 2019 book, Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy. Mazarr’s book is a study of the decision-making process behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq. To discover how the United States leapt headlong into catastrophe, Mazarr read all of the administration memoirs, tracked down all available open-source material on the pre-war debates, and interviewed just about everybody involved save George W. Bush himself. His book (and others like it, such as Draper’s How To Start a War or Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans) pop a few common myths about the Bush administration’s drive to war. The administration did not intentionally mislead the nation into battle; motivated reasoning, not deceit, warped their understanding of events. Oil was never central to the campaign; when it appeared in war council discussions, it did so only under the rosy assumption that Iraq’s oil revenues would be sufficient to cover reconstruction costs. Contrary to the received wisdom in many quarters today, the invasion of Iraq was not about about spreading liberal democracy in the Middle East. That justification for the war came mostly in 2004 and the years that followed, when the WMD threat had been exposed as delusion. Liberalism did not lead us into Iraq so much as keep us there.

Perhaps the most astonishing fact about America’s invasion of Iraq is that the National Security Council never formally debated the decision to wage war. “One of the great mysteries to me,” wrote one NSC principal after leaving office, “is exactly when the war in Iraq became inevitable.”1 His confusion is understandable: there was no moment, no meeting, where the pros and the cons of invasion were laid out in full. No one ever asked “should we invade?” Instead they debated questions like “if we decide to invade, what must we do to prepare?” and “When we invade, what must our objectives be?” Mazarr explains this curious lack of first-order thought, the origin point of the motivated reasoning that produced both flawed intelligence assessments and unnecessarily hasty demands for action, as a byproduct of moral imperatives. Here is how he introduces this framework:


George Tenet, At The Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (New York: Harpers Collins, 2007), 229.

…the second factor I am seeking to highlight: an intuitive, emergent mechanism of judgment that is driven primarily by imperatives—a sense among a nation’s leadership group at a specific moment that a given choice is “the right thing to do” in a sense that is more moralistic than calculatedly rational.

Most conceptions of what is called “rational” decision-making include a few essential claims about the ways in which human beings approach choices. Someone acting rationally is trying to maximize some gain and so weighs various alternatives to judge which one will give the most value in those terms. Such a conception is therefore dominantly “consequentialist.” It is obsessed with outcomes, because only by taking outcomes seriously can one anticipate benefits and costs. It is also what is termed “instrumental,” in the sense that actions aim to produce some outcome that serves the decision-maker’s interests.

But there are powerful alternative models for human judgment, models that emphasize values rather than consequences and paint a picture of decision-makers serving an imperative or norm rather than maximizing objectives. One of these is sociologist Max Weber’s concept of value rationality. Whereas “instrumental rationality” refers to efforts to anticipate possible outcomes and calculate advantage, value rationality describes situations in which people make decisions, not based on what they think will most benefit them, but to fulfill the right thing to do—that is, to do something right for its own sake. I am arguing that, often enough on major foreign policy issues, leaders and senior officials come to be guided by precisely such value-based, rather than instrumental or outcome-oriented, thinking. Rather than what has been called a logic of consequences (weighing the value and cost of outcomes relative to one’s goals), they employ a logic of appropriateness, a form of judgment in which decision-makers are concerned about doing what is right or appropriate given their role and the circumstances.

The resulting mindset looks very much like a commitment to what some scholars have labeled “sacred values.” These are distinct from material interests by their moralistic case; they are, “or ought to be, absolute and inviolable.” They cannot be compromised or traded off against other values; they are absolute rather than instrumental, and must be followed regardless of consequences. In pursuing such sacred values, decision-makers will display “harsh trait attributions to norm violators, anger and contempt, and enthusiastic support” for the enforcement of norms against those who doubt the course of action; they will “censure” and “ostracize” those who disagree. Even sacred values can promote utilitarian calculations, but more often they are “derived from rules that circumscribe certain actions independently of expected outcomes or prospects of success, and that we act in accordance with them because they are the right thing to do.”

Examples of such thinking are legion in the history of US foreign policy. The American commitment to Vietnam was based in part on the idea that the strategic values at stake were inviolable, that fighting communism in Southeast Asia was the right thing to do. The attack on Castro’s Cuba at the Bay of Pigs emerged from a similar sense of obligation; it had to be done, because Castro had to go. More recently, the American commitment to NATO enlargement has taken on a similar moralistic flavor: it cannot be abandoned or even qualified because the countries at stake have a right to make that choice. These and other examples demonstrate how concerns that remain political and strategic can nonetheless take on the aspect of sacred values, and present themselves not as the better or more valuable choice but as the “right” one.2


Michael Mazarr,Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence, and America’s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy (New York: PublicAffairs, 2019), 116-117.

Key to the emerging moral consensus in 2002 was the rapid, intuitive nature of the value judgements informing policy:

In the process, the character of these judgments diverges in another way from the sometimes nearly mathematical calculations of classic rationalism. They emerge through a sort of intuitive imagination, a creative leap to make sense out of events rather than a weighing of anticipated gains and likely risks.… Henry Kissinger has called the practice of imaginative meaning-creation “conjecture.” “The choice between… policies did not reside in the ‘facts,’ but in their interpretation,” he has written. Foreign policy decision-making demands the “ability to project beyond the known.” And in this area, “there’s really very little to guide the policy-maker except what convictions he brings to it.”

This is true for one dominant reason: the overwhelming complexity and uncertainty surrounding major national security choices. There are simply too many variables at work, too much nonlinearity, to judge outcomes with any degree of precision. Decision-makers lack the sort of comprehensive information assumed by rational decision-making theories and operate instead in an environment of “deep uncertainty.” And so decision-makers hunt for simplified decision rules—key values or imperatives that can slice through the complexity and offer a clear basis for choice.

Confronting such complex situations, decision-makers cannot read objective truth out of a situation—they must construct meaning from their experience. And the result is that the interaction of senior decision-makers with complex issues is a fundamentally interpretive and imaginative enterprise. Facts in such a world are like images in an abstract painting, or the cloud of shapes on a Rorschach blot—ambiguous and open to multiple understandings. Observers are creating meaning, not simply reading or determining it…

This mechanism of judgment looks and feels to the participants like rationalism. We feel as if we are considering objectives, as if we are goal-directed, as if we weigh various options based on how well they contribute to clearly identified interests we are trying to maximize. In fact, though, what we’re doing is internalizing a mass of information and allowing our unconscious to do mostly involuntary work in bubbling forth judgments. The philosopher Alfred Schütz referred to this approach as “an anticipation of future conduct by way of phantasying.” Judgment is a fundamentally imaginative enterprise. It emerges as a vision, an illusion, an invented narrative; a conviction, a belief—anything but a formally reasoned calculation.

Such an approach to arriving at judgments allows us to see the Iraq decision for what it was: a creeping (or sudden and powerful) feeling that a given course of action was the right one, based on simple rules or convictions that were more moralistic or normative than analytical. And the fact that the decision had this character allows us to better understand many seemingly confusing aspects of it: the moralistic language that surrounded the policy process, the resistance to dissent, and the refusal to take risks seriously. Judgments undertaken in such a frame of mind have more of the cast of faith than of consequentialist decision-making, more in common with revelation than calculation. When people are applying sacred values, they come to have an almost thoughtless conviction in what they are doing. It is right—it feels right, from the depths of their well-honed intuitive judgment—and practical arguments have little place in such a thought process.

George Ball, the famous dissenter in the US escalation decisions for Vietnam, wrote of the fact that analytical arguments simply bounced off people who believed they “must” do something. “To my dismay,” he wrote of the reactions to his prescient arguments that US strategy in Vietnam was bound to fail, “I found no sympathy for these views. Both McNamara and Gilpatric seemed preoccupied with the single question, How can the United States stop South Vietnam from a Viet Cong takeover? How did I propose to avoid it? The ‘falling domino’ theory was a brooding omnipresence.” Official statements of US commitment to South Vietnam, Ball continued, “had the sound and solemnity of a religious oath: ‘We now take the decision to commit ourselves to the objective of preventing the fall of South Vietnam to Communism.” The solemnity of a religious oath—exactly the right way, I think, to understand the convictions that burst to the fore after 9/11.3


ibid, 118-20.

 This is a powerful framework for understanding foreign policy crises. Catastrophic misjudgment rests on the convergence of two elements: an emergent sense that there is a moral imperative to act paired with a breakdown in the formal decision-making processes designed to force policy makers to carefully weigh the potential consequences of their decisions. Combined these elements make for a “pattern of misjudgement” that changes the way officials “weigh the costs and benefits” of their decisions, as they shift from an attitude of “analytical nuance” to “morally charged commitment to acting almost regardless of consequence.”4


ibid, 112-113.

The first element of the diad is inevitable. The demand to “do something” is a certain sequel to the high emotions of danger and outrage—be they emotions prompted by a terrorist attack in the heart of America or an invasion on the marchlands of Europe. The “interagency” system was partially designed with this inevitably in mind. When working properly, it leads officials to confront their own assumptions and emotions. But the system is not infallible. For the Bush administration the default to intuition was the product of a dysfunctional national security team; the bureaucratic acumen and fractious interpersonal conflicts of its leading officials destroyed all procedural guide-rails that might have brought the administration back down to reality.5 We still suffer the consequences of that procedural implosion.


See my essay, “Learning From Our Defeat: On the Skill of the Vulcans,” Scholar’s Stage (26 October 2021)

Today the danger is different. We approach the fifth dawn of a fast-moving war; decision makers are determined to respond to an event which has not yet concluded. This rush to act while action is still possible means that all slow paced proceduralism will of necessity be suspended. In the days to come those in high places will be forced to rely on snap judgements and emotional response to guide their decisions.

Certain ground realities make this danger more pressing. As the dramatic policy reversal in Berlin displays, this war overturns the old assumptions that guided foreign policy across the continent. What new assumptions should guide us in the future have not yet been hashed out. The invasion of Ukraine was a violation of the moral norms upon which the European order stands.  The cognitive shock and moral outrage we feel is deepened by the relative uselessness of our position. Without risk of nuclear escalation NATO’s ability to prevent Ukrainian defeat is limited. This is a humiliating position for the most powerful statesmen in the Western world. Any man forced into such circumstance will feel compelled to find some way to reassert his agency. Our emotions will demand that we do something if only to prove to ourselves that we still have the capacity to act.

This sort of moral resolution is not inherently bad. It is the only wellspring of daring or fortitude. But our daring must accord with the outcomes we desire!  Many of the policies mentioned in the first paragraph of this missive have consequences that will endure long past the end of this war. Have we truly thought through what they might be?

Do we crush the Russian economy because we earnestly think that doing so will unseat Putin, reverse his army’s march in Ukraine, or deter him from similar resort to arms in the future? Or do we do it because we must do something and economic coercion is the only tool in our box?

Have we balanced the strategic effects of removing the Russians from SWIFT from the likely creation of a parallel SWIFT system that we have less leverage over?

 How would America have responded if the Russians had been openly, brazenly arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan? This sort of thing is not unprecedented in the history of Russian-American relations… but it has consequences. What do we think the Russian response might be?

One can make a convincing defense for any one of these measures. It is quite possible that all of them, combined with the other options now being discussed in Western capitals, will successfully blunt Russian aggression, strengthen NATO’s long term defense, or deter countries like China from repeating the Russian playbook in places like Taiwan. It is possible. Yet events are passing swift. The rapidly spiraling deployment of these policies does not suggest a carefully calculated campaign of pressure so much as a rushed attempt to meet the demands of our own moral imperatives.

The logic of the imperative has led the West into disaster before. We must be vigilant lest we blindly leap into catastrophe once again.

If you found this post interesting, you might find some of my earlier essays on foreign policy dysfunction worth reading: “The Skill of the Vulcans,” “The Assumptions of Donald Rumsfeld,” and “Thoughts on Shitpost Diplomacy” may be of interest. To get updates on new posts published at the Scholar’s Stage, you can join the Scholar’s Stage mailing list, follow my twitter feed, or support my writing through Patreon. Your support makes this blog possible.

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The EU is acting from an essentially Realist perspective here – arming Ukraine and imposing heavy sanctions is about buying time to rearm while inflicting as much damage on Russia as possible. Projecting force outside your borders is expensive, so crippling Russia’s economy is an non-violent way of substantially increasing the EU’s security from a irredentist regime.

The whole aim of sanctions is to guarantee that Russia is forced to abandon it’s aggressive foreign policy one way or another since that country will be plunged into a 1990s-style crisis within a year at this rate.

What will likely happen is the EU decides sanctions will remain in place so long as Putin is president of Russia, which might be perceived in Moscow or Beijing as actively seeking regime change.

“The EU is acting from an essentially Realist perspective here – arming Ukraine and imposing heavy sanctions is about buying time to rearm while inflicting as much damage on Russia as possible. ”

That’s not a realist perspective. The realist perspective is either trying to save Ukraine, which means promising to remove all sanctions on Russia (including Crimea/Donbass related), if Ukraine is permanently demilitarized, neutralized, acknowledges the Russian language, and acknowledges Crimea/Donbass. How is it realist to alienate the power that’s going to be controlling Ukraine for the next hundred years?

Sanctions will have a modest effect on the Russian economy. China remains an all-weather friend.

“The whole aim of sanctions is to guarantee that Russia is forced to abandon it’s aggressive foreign policy one way or another since that country will be plunged into a 1990s-style crisis within a year at this rate.”

Then make the sanctions work. Promise to remove all the sanctions if Russia abandons its aggressive foreign policy. Is Europe doing that? Is Europe setting out explicit conditions for sanctions removal? I’m not seeing that.

“since that country will be plunged into a 1990s-style crisis within a year at this rate. ”

It won’t. The result will be greater Russo-Chinese economic integration.

The European response makes sense from an American perspective, not a European one.

If Russia is blockaded from the west like apartheid South Africa and is forced to trade and negotiate with the rest of the world through China, that won’t be a relationship of equals. China won’t do that for free, and China will have Russia grabbed by the balls the same way Russia thought they had Europe grabbed by the balls because they depended on Russian gas.
This means Russia becoming a vassal State of China, China getting a cut of every Russian export, and a monopoly of foreign investment in Russia, with Russia unable of doing anything that could anger China.

For the first time since their time as vassals of the Mongol Golden Horde, Russia will be subservient to Asiatics, and also, to ones who nominally are still communist.

The world’s third largest economy by PPP, growing at a decent pace, is also an all weather friend.

China isn’t the country demanding Russia give up Krim.

Forced to negotiate with the rest of the world through China? Why? Last time I checked Russia had a Foreign Ministry that can negotiate with anyone they want. Not sure why you think they have to ask China’s approval to negotiate?

Russia can trade with many countries outside of China on mutual terms. Russia can trade natural resources for items and currency they need. How does this make them a vassal of China?

I think you need to re-evaluate your thinking.

The idea is if the West blocks Russia. How well integrated was the USSR with, well, anybody? (Besides maybe India)

Just a quick note: The Russians and Chinese openly and brazenly armed insurgents in Vietnam as did the Pakistanis in Afghanistan. We didn’t do much of anything in response to those actions except give the Pakistanis money. How the Russians would respond I do not know. But if it comes to arming an insurgency, Poland would have great incentive to do that without our assistance.

True, but it was still an open and brazen supply of an enemy. Also I forgot to mention we openly supplied the insurgents in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation and they didn’t do much about it.

The main difference from Irak (apart from the attitudes of the people living there towards the west, as compared to those in Ukraine), is that in Ukraine there is no much time to ponder cautiously how to proceed, lest the Russians managed to close the whole western border of Ukraine behind the new iron curtain, and then declare it casus belli nuclearum if any munitions are being tried to get through it to help Ukraine’s forces from the NATO countries. So time to act is now. Please remember also what Reagan did in response to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
And see also what Garry Kasparov wrote today:

Especially this paragraph:

“Support Ukraine militarily, immediately. Everything but boots on the ground, meaning every advanced weapon, intelligence and cyber-capability. It has to be now. If Ukraine falls, Putin will bleed it dry to compensate for sanctions and dig in, as he has in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Victory in Ukraine is also the only way to avoid doing this all again, when Putin needs new targets to distract from the disastrous state of Russia.”

There is zero chance Ukrainian forces can win a victory over Russian forces. The only way to save Ukraine is by using sanctions as carrots and sticks for Russia and forcing the Ukrainian leadership to come to their senses re: recognition of Crimea and Donbass, demilitarization, denazification, end of sanctions on pro-Russian political forces, etc.

A Putin apologist? Acquiescing to Putin’s demands will result in peace for Ukrainians? There were no Russian separatists in Donbass prior to 2014. To suggest otherwise is a failure to understand Ukrainian domestic issues. Denazification? Demilitarization? You would require that a sovereign nation relinquish their military in the hopes of living in peace? Perhaps much like the promises of peace when Ukraine gave up its nuclear arms in the1990’s after the USSR collapsed.

“Acquiescing to Putin’s demands will result in peace for Ukrainians?”

Doesn’t matter. Ukraine will have peace anyway. The question is if it’s under Russian or local rule. Russia will not tolerate a hostile Ukraine.

So, a non hostile Ukraine is one that doesn’t have an army. Which means that it will stop being an independent country. So, say it clearly and honestly: Russia will not tolerate a sovereign Ukraine.

Also, you didn’t answer Nelson’s point. Where were the separatists before 2014?

And how are they going to “not tolerate it”?

The hatred Ukrainians have now for Russia is so immense that Putin essentially will have to keep an occupation army there indefinitely. And so long as the West can maintain a foothold in Ukraine, we can keep bleeding Russia dry there with an insurgency.

So congrats, Putin. You’ve just recreated the late stage USSR just like you always wanted in your most fervent dreams.

My, my – how quick you are to write off a country, fiercely proud of its culture and traditions which harbors an equally fierce hatred of everything Russian going back to the Holodomor when Stalin deliberately starved to death 20M of their population and displaced from the land as many more. You must be an ivy educated federal intelligence bureaucrat given the way you’ve carpet bombed this site with your foreign policy acumen – member of the Council on Foreign Relation no doubt as well.

Stalin, famous uh… Russian.

The part of Ukraine which is most Banderite was precisely the portion which never experienced the 1932-3 famine.

>20 million

No. Those were the Soviet casualties in WWII.

I believe your assessment is correct, however the likelihood of Zelensky choosing to accept those terms are very unlikely. By supplying more military aid, it only feels like we’re prolonging the inevitable and increasing losses on both sides.

That’s a positive.

The West can easily afford the weapons we send to Ukraine. If Russia is converted to the late-stage USSR (with a basketcase economy, draining occupation and all), they’re not going to have the ability to wage a major war against the West even if they want to.

That’s the realist perspective.

That’s the shortsighted realist perspective. Sure we weaken Russian power, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll collapse anytime soon. Meanwhile we’ve driven them into the arms of the Chinese, who are our true threat in the future, when we could’ve easily have made Russia a friend instead.


We can only make Russia a friend with Putin gone and a leader willing to bring Russia in to NATO. A Russia that launches a WWII-style invasion unprovoked against a liberal democracy can’t be considered a friend.

Russia’s a decent partner to have, but I think people really overrate how important they are because of memories of the Cold War. Their conventional military has shown itself to be a paper tiger and far lags the US/NATO (and I would say China). They’re essentially Iran+Turkey with a bunch of nukes.

The big piece on the chessboard is India. They’re the only state that could potentially be another superpower besides the US and China, and they’re the ones we really should try to pull to our side.

To me it looks you show a mental attitude similar to that of the said US administration vis-a-vis Iraq: one marked by lack of first-order thought. The first-order thought would have considered matters like this
and this
Also, it would have been considering speculations like these
The point is not that we should see eye to eye, but – when the perceptions of more-or-less sophisticated analysts of same subject, belonging to a same civilization are diametrically opposite, by all likelihood they’re being played against each other. And that’s worth rebelling against.

So, I didn’t read much of these links, but it’s clear that at least one of these guys isn’t in touch with reality. That “best military in the world” or whatever he called Russia would get wiped off the floor by NATO in a conventional war. It’s suffered roughly 8K casualties in what, 6 days? Going against a force that has a fraction of the top weaponry and is heavily outgunned in the air. And that’s not even counting POWs and deserters, which also number in the thousands now.

And if anything, it’s losing material at an even more unsustainable rate than men.

Ukraine puts out Russian losses almost daily. A Twitter account called Oryx ( validates the loses that are visually confirmed. The equipment losses tend to be about half the Ukrainian numbers. But note that not all equipment losses would be photographed (yet) with some still in battle zones and other places where civilians would not venture. The real losses are probably halfway between the 2. Russia’s losing roughly 0.5-1% of their original invasion force every day. If you do that math, it becomes obvious that that’s an unsustainable rate of loss.

Oryx is a Dutch Turkish disinfo peddler and many of his ‘visual confirmations’ are garbage or charred Ukrainian tank/APC hulks. For all the gullible natsec/miltwitter ers who retweet the guy may know, he’s getting paid by Erdogan’s son in law to wildly overhype Bayrektar drones.

Soundly agreed here. See my tweets from today:

“What do the EU-15 policymakers think is going to happen to Ukraine a year from now, ten years from now, etc., exactly?”

“It wasn’t a year ago. It will be a year from now, ten years from now, etc. Unless the EU stops it by offering Russia very attractive concessions.”

“An angry, impotent response is the worst of all worlds. North Korea has made itself invulnerable. It did not (at least, in the twenty-first century) amplify errors by funding terrorist groups against the South.”

“The reasonable reaction to seeing a country in your region invaded is to hope you won’t be next. Thus, lower the hostility to Russia and spend more on internal defense.”

“If Europe actually cared about protecting Ukraine, it would promise to remove all sanctions on Russia (including Crimea/Donbass related), if Ukraine is permanently demilitarized, neutralized, acknowledges the Russian language, and acknowledges Crimea/Donbass.”

“Yes, the reaction is insane. Ukraine will be a part of Russia ten years from now, twenty years from now, a hundred years from now. What have Germany, France, Finland earned from their hostility to Russia at such a crucial time?”

“The sympathy happens AFTER the invasion is completed, not during it.”

“Europe probably had an insane reaction because they are American puppets. The Arab world supports Russia.”

“My thoughts on Russian invasions:
Ukraine: no risks, only benefits
Finland: both risks and benefits, probably a net asset
Sweden: probably a net liability, but again, both risks and benefits”

“Apparently the Euros have not learned their lesson. Perhaps it needs to be taught a second time.”

“Should Russia invade Finland as retaliation for it sending arms to Ukraine?”

(111 votes, 53% in favor)

“Big whoop. The sanctions will be removed in less than a generation.”

“If I really believed Russia could invade Finland, if I were the cute Finnish PM, I would be all talking about the friendship of peoples, the danger of NATO expansion, the importance of taking Russia’s interests seriously, stuff like that.”

“If I were Putin, at this point I would be drawing up plans for an invasion of both, or at the very least Finland.”

reply: “that would almost certainly trigger a major war”

“Doubt it. They’re not NATO members, and by this point everybody would be afraid of Russia, not simply hating it.”

reply: “Yes. That’s a big of it. It’s implied if it can happen there, it can also happen in western europe. Not true but people feel that way

People didn’t even care about Balkan wars to this extent”

“…yeah if that were true, Finland and Sweden would not be painting enormous targets on their backs by sending arms into the conflict.”

“My guess for why Europe is torpedoing relations with Russia? It’s a puppet of American imperialists. Torpedoing relations with Russia is not in Europe’s interests, it is in American imperialists’.”

So, I didn’t read most of it until the end, but torpedoing relations with Russia (and constraining it) most definitely would be in the interests of Europe because Europe doesn’t want a big belligerent neighbor with imperialist ambitions. Or have to fear Russia. As for taking over Finland. LOL. Some of the folks you quote are so out of touch with reality. After Ukraine, Putin will barely have an army left. In a non-nuke world, if NATO wanted too, they could wipe out Russia’s AF and Navy if they wanted to right now.

Your point that nations need to think carefully about the possible consequences of their actions is a good one. (Interestingly, it seems to me to be the European nations who are acting much more aggressively in the current situation than the US – which makes sense if you realize that while US intelligence was warning of Russia’s invasion for a while, European countries including Ukraine itself didn’t really believe it would happen until it actually did. The resulting unexpected shock is perhaps in some sense comparable to the effect 9/11 had on the US.)

One thing I would add to your essay is that those who oppose Western intervention currently are also often doing so out of moral convictions – that non-intervention is the right thing to do – rather than a carefully reasoned cost-benefit analysis. A lot of the people I see in the US saying we shouldn’t assist Ukraine have broader antipathy towards the US government and sympathy towards Putin, whether it’s left-wing socialists or right-wing reactionaries. These are the sort of people who think the conflict is fundamentally the fault of the US and NATO expansion to begin with. I’ve seen several right-wing people talk about how Ukraine has been brainwashed by US promotion of LGBT rights and Putin is the one man who can fight back against the decadent West, things along those lines. I think this, and the context of the past several years of US politics when being pro- or anti-Putin was strongly connected with partisan identification, makes it harder for liberal-minded Americans to oppose intervention, since it feels like allying with Trump supporters.

So if interventionists are thinking with moral values rather than a cool head, I don’t think anti-interventionists are broadly speaking the voice of reason here either.

I think anti-interventionalists are even more addled-brained. Putin’s military being exposed as a paper tiger really limits him. This “don’t fight a nuclear power directly” business seems more like a sacred value than anything.

If Putin’s conventional forces can be easily flattened by NATO and all he has are nukes, what power does he have? Does Putin have a death wish? Do the other people who’d have to sign off on a nuclear launch?

As I read this excellent piece, I thought of a quote I recently heard. “Making the right decision is easy. Knowing what the right decision is can be very difficult.”

Success is attained by making right decisions. How do we learn to make right decisions? By acquiring experience. How do we acquire experience? By making wrong decisions. John Wayne.

One can only hope those who voted for Biden (Obama’s third term) have learned by now what a disaster that vote was.

Characteristic insight, but a key omission: the decision makers today don’t cohere. They aren’t a tight coterie of presidential appointees, as they were in your examples. Dozens of European leaders are listening to each other, to their own citizens and advisors, and being courted by the Biden administration. I assume that they are subject to the default asymmetry of collective action: it is easier to reach consensus on what to oppose than on what to favor.

Never act in anger – it clouds and distorts your judgment. The same thing is being said here. As to the present situation, there is no question the Biden administration did all it could to provoke this war. They threatened Putin with a Ukrainian NATO membership, via China. There should be no rallying around these mendacious fascists, who would be more than happy to involve the US in another catastrophic war. In that regard, we might have had $90B in weapons we might have given the Ukrainians if not for their gross incompetence. Considering the brand of traitors they have so far proved to be, the prudent thing to do would be to reserve one’s support of them.

Perhaps one reason for the quick reaction here is that speed is of the essence to prop up the Ukrainians before the Russians completely wipe out their conventional formations. Unlike the speed-to-war aspect of Iraq, which never made sense except to attempt to shush domestic opposition from forming, in this case it makes a great deal of sense to act quickly to supply Ukraine while there are still fronts to be supplied. Waiting another week likely would have been too late, so acting swiftly to send arms makes sense here.

The sanctions on the other hand do feel somewhat slapped-together. It’s also not clear if it has been clearly communicated what aspects would lead to the withdrawal of what sanctions. Plus, some Western commentators and perhaps some political leaders seem to be going towards goal-inflation of regime change in Moscow, which even the most painful sanctions seem to be unlikely to cause. Caution on this front seems a bit more warranted, though there’s something to be said as well for a unified, costly response in increasing the credibility of future threats.

But I would also say for those who say that Ukraine must disarm and be permanently “neutralized”: do you actually believe that any Ukrainian politician could agree to that right now? Zelensky would go from 90% approval to 9% approval if he signed a peace deal like that right now. Plus, there’s zero guarantee that Russia would actually honor any kind of neutrality at this point; there would be more separatist shenanigans and salami tactics that would eventually chop up what’s left of Ukraine if Ukraine disarms. Unfortunately, it may be the case wherein the only viable option is to “bleed the armies” of both sides until the prospect of a rump Ukraine looks good enough for the Ukrainians to accept and the Russians gain sufficient respect for Ukrainian non-conventional resistance to avoid another bloodbath in the future.

Putin’s capacity to wage ware is not unlimited. In fact, he has a manpower problem. Like the western countries, the birthrate in Russia has not even been kept at steady state levels. And even though he has committed to heavy military spending, he is plagued with a lot of obsolete equipment. There’s one other factor i.e. the vastness of the country. The more he takes, the more he has to defend – and the Ukrainians are motivated by the defense of their own homeland, and they know the land they are defending.

It isn’t mentioned much now, but Chechnya had quite a bit of urban combat. It did not go particularly well for the Russians. Interestingly, just as the Germans developed special urban fighting vehicles (the Brummbar) after experiences in urban combat during WW2. The Russians did the same, and they were seen in the deployment area prior to fighting getting started.

From this:
“The Russian soldiers who entered the Chechen capital city of Grozny in December 1994 did not expect a fight. They were confident that their enemy, a rebel force seeking independence for Chechnya from Russian rule, was untrained and unorganized; that the sight of tanks
in the streets would be sufficient to make them back down. The Russian soldiers had no reason to think otherwise. Their commanding officers had told them there was nothing to worry about.”

The urban combat in Grozny didn’t go well for the Russians, but they eventually did get what they wanted in the Second Chechen War despite the casualties. The fact Russia *has* endured multiple cases of urban warfare with relatively high casualties suggests that there might be considerable tolerance for casualties now as well (and that we should be cautious about reading too much into individual cases of upset parents on social media and such). Ukraine is a lot bigger geographically than Chechnya and Kiev much bigger than Grozny, but it also doesn’t have the defensible mountainous hinterland of Chechnya either and I’m not sure how the residents of Kiev would deal with utilities/Internet being cut off. Russia may be content to simply occupy most of the rest of the country and bombard/starve Kiev into submission at this point too.

Yeah, an understatement. Ukraine is 30 times bigger than Chechnya. Russia didn’t bring in a force 30 times bigger than it did for the Chechen wars.

It’s clear that a lot of people on this thread have in mind a fantasy version of the Russian military raher than the one that is performing shockingly bad in Ukraine.

Huh? The lesson from Vietnam is that a much less populous country can win over a much more powerful populous one if it is willing to tolerate much more pain.

And you’re delusional if you think the Russian tolerance for this war is anywhere close to the Ukrainian one.

And this war is nothing at all like Vietnam. Was there a blitzkrieg -style invasion in Vietnam? If anything, it’s closer to Korea.

“The lesson from Vietnam is that a much less populous country can win over a much more powerful populous one if it is willing to tolerate much more pain.”

North Vietnam was not less populous than South Vietnam.

“And you’re delusional if you think the Russian tolerance for this war is anywhere close to the Ukrainian one.”

The Russian leadership’s isn’t close; it’s much higher. Putin cannot afford to lose the war.

“Was there a blitzkrieg -style invasion in Vietnam?”


In April of 1966, I found myself as a very junior marketing kid in the board room of DuPont in Wilmington, DE. We were introducing a new product to the chairman of a major carpet manufacture. Part of the meeting was to have DuPont’s chief economist give an overview of our country’s economy. At the end of his speech, the manufacturing chairman whose son he announced was of draft age asked the economist how long he thought “this thing [war] in Vietnam would last.” The economist replied that he had just completed a 60 day study with a large group of our county’s multi-disciplined experts from industry, the military and CIA. The study covered every facet on North Vietnam’s economy and military including steel and weapons production, agricultural crop production, harbor vulnerability, weather patterns, etc. He had just returned from Washington where this group had reported their findings to President Johnson. Their conclusion was that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong could not survive the war past Christmas on that year.
The war ended to the exact month nine years later!

LOL. Did you forget another major direct participant in the Vietnam War?

And the Russian leadership’s willingness to last isn’t the only variable that matters in the equation. Humans aren’t robots, Putin is repressive but doesn’t inspire the fear of Stalin (yet) and doesn’t have a NKVD to shoot troops who retreat (that tactic wouldn’t even work in the current Ukraine war anyway). Oh, and the Ukraine side is enticing Russian soldiers to surrender. Putin could keep sending troops in to Ukraine but that doesn’t mean they would fight and die for him (or do it that well).


I have been disturbed at calls and actions to sanction Russian-origin professors (probably the planet’s most ardent group of Putin-haters), and even saw one Twitter-famous PoliSci professor demanding sanctions on *India* (he deleted the Tweet, but not before it got picked up by Indian commentators and started circulating in that sphere).

I expect the masses to respond to this with pure id, but am disconcerted to see educated people displaying the same emotionality-if not worse.

Thanks Tanner! I have been agitated by the manner in which Western bureaucracies’ responses seem to be feeding off of each other to grab blunter and blunter objects for attacking Putin. And it seems, too often, that attacking any individual Russian will do. No sports, limited bank accounts and limited access to Western markets, denied visas, and what-have-you. This is bizarre and often unjust and seemingly not thought through, and perhaps even, a mistake.

But it seems inevitable from a public choice perspective. Western countries have excellent institutions of media, sports, and finance, and so they respond to threats using their comparative advantage. However, that cost is not borne on the battlefield, but by Russian bureaus and citizens. The arms’ shipments at least address the issue. However, then, disrupting shipments will start to seem like fair game, no? Especially when those fighters arrive?

Furthermore, like you wrote about Rumsfeld, there is a strong belief that an example needs to be set for other countries. In this case China. Today, we are trying to send a signal to China about what they can expect the reaction from the US to be should a move be made on Taiwan. Ukraine is not nearly as important to the global system as Taiwan. But an example “must be set.”

At the same time, volunteer brigades have not been ruled out in Ukraine. And if Western countries allow some of that to go on, which they seem to be okay with so far, then we are only half a step removed from a much larger theater for this war.

Where are the off-ramps? Where are the other equilibria which keep this war limited?

Yeah, the virtue signalling doesn’t accomplish much but starving Russia economy definitely impacts Putin’s ability to wage war.

And as I mentioned, we armed insurgents against the USSR in Afghanistan while the USSR flew “volunteer” fighter pilots against us (and China sent over massive “volunteer” armies) in the Korean War.

This is one of the best well laid out explanation of leaders shortcomings to approach to war. Not to mention it also explains a lot about our leaders approach to economics!

That is an excellent summary. Too many people on this thread just throw around fantasy plans without knowledge of how the real world actually is.

Do you have a link to the map at the top of the post? I’d like to look at a larger version if one is available.

Um, dude, the USSR was openly brazenly flying fighter jets against us in the Korean War. Commie China was openly brazenly sending massive armies against us in that war. How did we respond then?

Anyway, in this case, the sacred values, populist outrage, and realpolitik align when it comes to sanctions.
Even though their conventional forces have been shown to be a paper tiger, a Russia that is richer than end-stage USSR simply can’t be allowed because even after Putin, you could end up with the same situation where you have some dude divorced from reality who thinks that Russia’s natural resources means he has the wherewithal to start a WWII-style invasion in (Eastern) Europe. Let him mess around in the Caucasus or Central Europe or maybe even the Middle East if he wants.

So I say the sanctions stay forever.

It does essentially throw Russia in to the China camp (as a junior partner/client state, which Putin would hate, but tough shit; don’t start WWII-style invasions in Europe).

And the West really needs to extricate itself from China.

Divide the world again in to 2. Block China and Russia (and Pakistan) (and whoever wants to join them in Central Asia). Woo India (only thing that would permanently tilt them to the Western Alliance is fear of China, but I think we can count on China to stupidly antagonize India). Tie the Americas, the rest of the Western Alliance (includes Japan, SK, ANZ, and Taiwan) and India together in to an economic system.

Allowing authoritarian anti-Western regimes who could grow in to major powers to profit from the liberal Western trade system was a huge mistake, but I like my chances with the Western Alliance given demography. It goes without saying that the US must stay as a draw to the best and brightest from everywhere.

And in the 21st century, Africa will be the prize.

The only alternative to keeping Russia isolated and starved (a modern version of late-stage USSR or a giant version of current Iran) is to absorb it in to NATO.

That actually is the ideal, but it would have to happen after Putin is somehow gone.

You are too kind.
They are not.

As for consequences the consequences are always borne by others—-

Speaking of others; after DOD turned down the system on January 6 why would war of any kind be risked?

Sincerely, Cordially and with a Dead Eye to consequences ~

An Other

“the likely creation of a parallel SWIFT system that we have less leverage over?”

There does not seem to be widespread understanding of what SWIFT is. It is a communication network among banks that is highly secure and predates the internet by a couple of decades. The messages passed between the nodes of the network implement the credit transfers that move money between banks. But, the importance of the network is not the net it is the nodes — the banks.

It is axiomatic that all dollar transactions must settle through the Federal Reserve system and its member banks. The authority of the US government over that system is absolute and unquestioned. An interbank communication system that does not include the US banks cannot settle dollar transactions except by physical delivery of Federal Reserve notes. That is simply not going to happen.

The real issue then is the role of the dollar as the world’s most important currency. There have been threats to remove the dollar from its dominant position for as long as I have been an adult ( I am 75). Back in the 1960s it was General DeGaulle who wanted to replace the dollar with gold.

All of these plans have died on compared to what. The Euro was going to be a replacement. But the Euro banking system has skated on the ragged edge of insolvency since 2008. The Japanese banking system was hollowed out when the Japanese Bubble burst in 1990. The Swiss have actively fought foreign investment in their Franc. The UK is too small.

That leaves China. They won’t do it because they are terrified by their own people. An international reserve currency must be freely convertible and tradeable. The Chinese took some steps towards that a few years ago and saw about a trillion dollars worth of their reserves evaporate in a few months. Because every Chinese person who had money scrambled to get it away from the regime.

The dollar won’t be replaced becuase there is nothing with which to replace it. Whether or not the Russians are permitted to use SWIFT is not the real issue. The real issue is whether Russian banks are permitted to do business with American banks or foreign banks that do business with American banks.

There is no alternative.

Gold backed stablecoins / cryptoruble / cryptoyuan for the Russia/China bloc (Weibo and Chinese Internet are staunchly pro-Russian with only a few neutral or generally antiwar voices).

With some Non Aligned Movement country set benchmark / basket of cryptocurrencies for the new NAM centered on South and East Asia with Africa / LATAM thrown in.

Balaj Srinivasan has written about this prospect of a bipolar WorldWarWoke split world and what it would mean for India even before this war. So far the Russophilic Indians shrugged off Biden Administration’s CAATSA sanctions threats over Delhi staying neutral in the Ukraine war. The contrast between the Indian Hindu heartland’s Russophilia and the overall tech Brahmins bowing to the Establishment’s otherizing and mass deplatforming of all things Russian could become almost as yawning as that between American neocons of a certain background and their pragmatic cousins in Israel, who badly need the grain to flow from the Black Sea ports now under Russian boots. Ukrainian Azov warriors preventing Indian students from leaving Kharkov on buses aren’t helping Kyiv’s image in India either.

Putin invaded a country that was minding its own business because he thought he could. What makes you think he won’t keep going? These sorts of arguments were put forth to appease Hitler and look how that turned out. The only right answer here is do everything possible to precipitate a regime change because if we don’t this will happen again and again. Are we willing to live with the threat of nukes over our heads every time we don’t give this sociopath what he wants?

This is right. As Kamil Galeev noted, it’s Putin that has instigated wars and crisis for political advantage. To think that he would stop doing so if we appease him is as stupid as thinking appeasing Hitler would work out well.

I don’t know and you don’t know how this will play out long term, but Russia is clearly winning the conventional war no matter how deep the denial runs in DC or how fast and furious the Ukrainian propaganda is flying on Twitter. For all those in these comments saying two weeks of hard fighting and taking hundreds (not yet thousands) of casualties proves ‘the Russian military is a paper tiger’, I would invite you to watch retired US Army Colonel and Gulf War 1 hero Douglas Macgregor’s assessment of the Russian campaign here from Fox Business:

Keep in mind, the Russians are attacking a well dug in enemy that has had eight years to fortify towns and villages in the Donbass with weapons stashed in basements, and one who is cynically (knowing the collective West especially US natsec/miltwitter) will give them a pass for it, using eastern Ukrainian civilians as human shields, placing their remaining armor and artillery / MLRS next to residential apartment blocs and schools.

Look at the maps. The Russians have already seized a territory roughly the size of England in under two weeks. I know the standard response from the angry generals on CNN is that they control ‘nothing’ in that landmass and that their logistics are getting shot up. But the facts remain the Ukrainians mobility is next to nil, they are trapped in festung towns with little more than civilian vehicles to move around like the Wehrmacht when they were running out of gas and diesel in late 1944 early 1945. Even the Russians ‘stalled’ drive on Kyiv required flooding entire floodplains around the reservoirs north of the city and has left only one major highway not currently cut or under fire control. The main job of the Kyiv task force has been to draw away reinforcements from Dnipro that otherwise would help the 45-60,000 Ukrainians in the Donbass attempt a fighting breakout. This weekend the ‘cauldron’ or ‘kessel’ lid nearly slammed shut, the ballyhooed counteroffensive around Kharkov was smashed. It turns out NATO’s style of fighting does not work very well against an enemy that has air superiority that the US has always taken for granted since World War II. The Ukrainians did some clever stuff with their air defense and who knows maybe that indicates someone trained in Poland studied how the Serbs used their air defenses and constantly kept them on the move and mostly switched off to survive and down NATO aircraft in 1999. But the Russians are going to shift tactics to more high altitude bombing and drone strikes forcing the few surviving Ukrainian non MANPADs to light up and then kill them with Kh31 anti-radiation missiles.

It was no accident that this excellent essay was written by the host of this site as someone who lived on Taiwan and admitted on Twitter that Taiwanese army and reservist training is something of a joke. I think Tanner is aware of possible Russian retaliation for the CIA flooding western Ukraine aka the Ukrainian nationalist Galician heartland with NATO weapons for a guerrilla war could be felt on the other side of the planet with Russia intensifying its military partnership and even willingness in case of war over Taiwan to supply the PLA with satellite / RU underwater drone targeting data and hypersonic missiles to sink USN/JPN/AUSN ships.

I see a lot of spin here but the facts are:
1. The Russian forces are losing 0.5-1% of their invasion force a day (roughly a third of BTGs already ineffective or destroyed).
2. When they try to organize an attack vs Kyiv, they can only muster a handful of BTGs that didn’t achieve much.
3. They’re running low on smart munitions and will only have dumb bombs soon. With NATO flooding the Ukrainians with weapons and Russia industry now crippled by sanctions, how exactly will Russia take out MANPADs or much of anything else?
4. They haven’t been able to take over much in weeks. So far, they have only been able to take over 1 of the 20 largest cities in Ukraine (and Kherson fell during the early bitzkrieg phase). So how are they going to subdue the rest of Ukraine?

And yeah, I do trust the expertise of generals who have studied Russian forces over you. What evidence do you have to support your position that the Putin would surely win?

And no, the Russians still don’t have complete air superiority and are losing aircraft at an unsustainable rate.

The “NATO style of fighting” actually seems to be working quite well at grinding down Russia’s military.

I tried leaving a comment previously, but either comments are closed for this thread or my comment was deemed out of bounds by the host. I hope the former is the case.

I’m an American, who grew up in a US Air Force family. I live in the Midwest, with a Midwestern IP address. I know where to put the article ‘the’ in a sentence unlike many native Russian and Ukrainian speakers writing in English. And I’ve lived and worked around Russians and a few Ukrainians for years.

First I’d like to stipulate as an American Russophile that I think Vladimir Putin has repeated the tragic 1914 mobilization error of the Tsar Martyr Nicholas II. Putin has stepped into a US/UK/NATO prepared ‘bear trap’ that has been eight years in the making. This will almost certainly be a long war, with an insurgency that will drain Russia long after the conventional fighting ends in some sort of ceasefire, most likely along the Dnieper River line.

That being said, retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor is also correct, notwithstanding the miltwitter and woke Democratic veteran outrage that greeted his remarks this weekend on Fox Business. Neither Volodomir Zelensky, nor many of the Ukrainian leaders (particularly the thugs of the SBU who summarily executed one of Ukraine’s peace negotiators) who plan to scoot once the red pincers close in on the map and live abroad in well compensated exile are heroes. They will leave the real heroes behind and head to their mansions or condos in Europe, Canada or the US.

Also, those dismissing the Russian military here as ‘a paper tiger’ simply because it has lost a half dozen jets and similar number of choppers and has taken hundreds of casualties do not understand modern warfare against a non-sanctions starved, non-Pashtun or Iraqi opponent. In short, I have serious doubts the US would do much better if it were going up against an enemy that NATO had lavished billions of dollars in weapons and training on and which had opportunities to learn how to avoid being swiftly encircled and nearly annihilated by vastly superior massed fires as they were in 2014.

The Ukrainians are all things considered fighting well and making skillful use of their urban terrain while keeping their SAM crews alive and constantly on the move. But the Zelensky government like its Poroshenko led predecessor is also lying to the Ukrainian people about the scale and scope of the Ukrainian Army’s casualties, just as they did during the first direct Russian intervention in the Donbass War of August 2014 and again at Debaltsevo in February 2015.

Finally if this war does drag on, not only will Russia’s wholesale economic integration into the Sinosphere radically accelerate, but China can also send Russia weapons and a Mongol, Iranian or other Russia friendly national foreign legion can be formed to kill NATO’s foreign legionnaires/volunteers along the Dnieper. And this is before we consider the massive arms, CSIR and unblockadeable by the US Navy grains/energy supplying force multiplier role Russia can play for China in the event the Chinese invade Taiwan.

Also looks like both comments posted above. Apologies for some duplication of material between the two. For those still doubting, see Bill Roggio who writes over at the distinctly hawkish, not at all Russia friendly Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and his article published in the often jingoist UK tabloid Daily Mail:

Or for that matter, David P Goldman aka Spengler’s German military sources who know a thing or two about ‘kessels’ and what the Soviets/Russians learned from Guderian and Manstein during WW2:

The Russian use of drone swarms and loitering munitions, which were used with demoralizing effect on well motivated and dug in Armenian soldiers during the Azerbaijan-Artsakh War, first in urban combat then in counterinsurgency is something I doubt NATO/CIA have contemplated. Anymore than they’re ready for the Russian Eurasian Foreign Legion.

Once the higher altitude capable Soviet legacy SAMs are mostly eliminated, unmanned An2 transport aircraft can be loaded with Russian Lancets (their version of the Israeli Harops Azerbaijan used) as bait for the few remaining SAM crews coming across from Poland. Then drones lase a target and either shoot a missile at it or let the Harop-skis autorotate down to destroy an insurgent basement meeting or arms cache.

NATO has loitering munitions too. And all of Russia’s “allies” in that Eurasian alliance they set up has refused to send over troops (hence why Putin is recruiting Syrians, etc. to be cannon fodder). But I see little indication that they would be anything but cannon fodder. You seriously think that even if some Iranians join the fight, they would be effective?

And why are you a Russophile to begin with? Aligning yourself with a psychopathic autocrat out of touch with reality seems dumb to me.

BTW, I see that you’re casting aspersions on Zelensky. Are you denying that he is risking his life? Are you denying that Putin is hiding out in a bunker deathly afraid that his people will turn against him?

I don’t know you. And you don’t know me. I don’t forecast what I want to happen but I what I think will happen. I said at the outset of my comments here that Putin had repeated Tsar Nicholas II’s mistake of plunging his country into a war that its most ruthless enemies desperately wanted to exploit to bleed it. I added that Russia cannot digest the vast bulk of Ukraine. The country is simply too damn big and the Russian manpower too lacking.

But there’s a flip side to that coin of desperately sought ‘moral clarity’ in this second Cold War comparable to the US/CIA/State Dept propping up many bad ‘anti-Communist’ regimes in the last one. And it is one a lot of the national security and media establishment is going to be confronted with the longer this war drags on. The Ukrainian soldier and territorial volunteer have every right to defend their native soil and hometowns. But the Ukrainian state is a nasty, deeply corrupt, false flag executing and vicious when cornered beast. Which does not give a rat’s ass about the lives of its citizens in the Donbass, and which did nothing to win ‘hearts and minds’ in that region but pay meager pensions pensioners were required to cross the front lines to receive, and paint sidewalks in blue and gold putting up flags everywhere. That’s it.

BTW, if Putin fell in to a trap, then he is a total retard. So why do you support a psychopathic war criminal who is a retard?

Another note: What distinguishes my takes from yours is that the you see fundamental factors as fundamentally important and the primary drivers of public opinion. I see the wild swings and inconsistencies in public opinion and ascribe the differences to institutional factors. There is as little point going back to pre-mass media drivers of public opinion to understand the current formation of public opinion as there is to going back to the horse and buggy era to explicate modern urban design. Just by observing the media from the outside, I do not believe for a second media is primarily demand-driven rather than supply-driven -was there really so much demand for Ferguson stories in 2014? In the realm of media, supply is precisely what creates its own demand. If Trump, the true leader of the Republican Party, told Republicans Russia is actually great and Ukraine is a fake country, 70% of Republicans would believe it the first week. 100% the next five years. If the MSM told everyone the same, 90% of Democrats would believe it in the first week, 100% in the next six months. Nobody cared about the Trump-backed coup in Bolivia except socialists. Also, I don’t believe for one second “European values” -abortion on demand, mass immigration, gay marriage, feminism, neo-Naziism in perhaps the country that needs it the least- are conservative values. The Richard Spencer take on Ukraine is the wrong one.

Compare and contrast also the media reaction to the 2018 Turkish invasion of Syria to the 2019 one. Exactly the same event, done by exactly the same people against almost exactly the same people. Many orders of magnitude different Western media reactions. Kayfabe is the rule, not the exception, in foreign policy reporting in the West.

For that matter, if Americans really supported the “forces of democracy”, why did they not approve of the reunification with Crimea?

Iraq war of 2003 is the most unusual war of modern history. Iraq 2003 seems to be unique, as it has no discernible reason whatsoever (outside of Washington DC).
Normally, wars have reasons (think, volumes written about “causes of WW1”). As time passes, participants write their memoirs, documents are declassified, new facts are uncovered, different views become known – and explanations of the causes become even more voluminous.
Not so with Iraq war – it seems to be the only war in the modern history started purely because of internal DC politicking, with no connection to outside world (including Iraq itself).

Therefore, American experts and pundits should not use Iraq war as a basis for their analysis. Iraq was not “normal”.

War in Ukraine is “normal” – it has reasons and causes (starting from Putin’s view, that “Ukraine does not exists, Ukraine is not a real country”). Internal politics in Washington DC have very little to do with it.