More and more, we’re told outright war isn’t just necessary and right, but the thing that will solve America’s existential problems
Robert Kagan, neoconservative writer and husband to Deputy Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, wrote a piece called “The Price of Hegemony” in Foreign Affairs last week that was fascinating. If I’d written his opening, people would denounce me as a Putin-concubine:
Although it is obscene to blame the United States for Putin’s inhumane attack on Ukraine, to insist that the invasion was entirely unprovoked is misleading.
Just as Pearl Harbor was the consequence of U.S. efforts to blunt Japanese expansion on the Asian mainland, and just as the 9/11 attacks were partly a response to the United States’ dominant presence in the Middle East after the first Gulf War, so Russian decisions have been a response to the expanding post–Cold War hegemony of the United States and its allies in Europe.
Kagan went on to make an argument straight out of Dr. Strangelove. Instead of doing what some critics want and focusing on “improving the well-being of Americans,” the U.S. government is instead properly recognizing the responsibility that comes with being a superpower. So, while Russia’s invasion may indeed have been a foreseeable consequence of a decision to expand our hegemonic reach, now that we’re here, there’s only one option left. Total commitment:
It is better for the United States to risk confrontation with belligerent powers when they are in the early stages of ambition and expansion, not after they have already consolidated substantial gains. Russia may possess a fearful nuclear arsenal, but the risk of Moscow using it is not higher now than it would have been in 2008 or 2014, if the West had intervened then. And it has always been extraordinarily small…
A month after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, blood seems to be rushing to all the wrong places across the Commentariat, which has begun in earnest the predictable process of asking the public to dismiss fears of nuclear combat. Headlines of the “We’ll take those odds” variety are springing up everywhere, from the Seattle Times (“Atrocities change the nuclear weapons calculus”) to Radio Free Europe (“Former NATO Commander Says Western Fears Of Nuclear War Are Preventing A Proper Response To Putin”) to Fox (which had on Sean Penn, of all people, to say to Sean Hannity, “Countries that have nuclear weapons can remain intimidated to use them, and we’re seeing that now with our own country”). This is fast becoming a bipartisan consensus. Check out Republican Adam Kinzinger’s recent comment:
Most of us look back at 9/11 and wish we’d tried to narrow the scope of the problem, not expand it in grandiose ways and make it the central fact of the lives of every person on the planet. We were told right away that 9/11 meant so much more than a policing problem, that instead of a few nut-jobs slipping through the net, bin Laden’s Twin Tower attacks heralded an inevitable, and desirable, Final Battle between new and old worlds. We’re going through something similar now. The pundit excitement over the final clash between “Democracy and Autocracy” perhaps being at hand reminds me exactly of the open praying for signs of the Apocalypse I once heard among the Rapture-ready flock of pastor John Hagee in San Antonio.
We saw a ton of this thinking after 9/11. World-domination advocates who’d been laughed out of meetings for years were taken seriously overnight. Rigid with jingoistic fervor, they were suddenly in print and on air everywhere, bursting with “plans for everyone,” as Iggy Pop put it. Such people always rush to the front of the debate in these moments and they’re always listened to, until about ten years later, when it quietly becomes okay to reflect on a question we probably should have pondered in the moment, i.e. “Hey, are these people crazy?”
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