A Recipe For World War
By Martin LeFevre
In an ominous echo of the Cold War, Ukraine is a proxy between two fading former superpowers. What has started in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine. Putin’s Russia is hell bent on regaining territory and prestige it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And in an imploded America, President Biden is hell bent on asserting that “we are still the leader of the free world” and the protector of the UN and international order. It’s a recipe for world war. “I am here today not to start a war, but prevent one,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on February 24th when he parachuted into the UN Security Council. He had to temerity to reprise Colin Powell’s lie at the Security Council before the fait accompli of United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. A tone deaf Joe Biden said Putin had started a “war of choice.” The egregiously immoral and illegal Iraq war killed hundreds of thousands of people, destabilized the region, and ignited a wave of global terrorism that it was supposedly designed to snuff out. For the United States to stand on the collapsed scaffolding of its bygone moral authority is shameful and treacherous. Disturbingly, President Biden has spoken of the first signs of “bipartisanship” in the United States in years, and how the US is in “lock step with the EU and NATO in determination, unity and resolve.” Nothing like a war to unite Americans, and restore NATO and the Trans-Atlantic Alliance. Does anyone believe it will work? I was in what was still Leningrad in January 1990 as Vladimir Putin began his political rise in the city Peter the Great built. I had been invited by high-level people in Moscow to explore economic cooperation between the United States and a collapsing and nearly destitute Soviet Union. I found smart and educated Russians everywhere I went, hospitable people with tremendous goodwill toward Americans, looking to us to show them how the market could work in Russia. Raised in Michigan by a fervently anti-communist mother, she would often say, “When the Russians finally throw off the chains of communism, we Americans will be there to help them build a democracy and market.” It went in one ear and other the other by the time I was fifteen. But something obviously stuck, and was operating metaphysically, because while living in San Francisco in 1989 I began meeting Russians, culminating with a now quaint-sounding program called, “Soviets, Meet Middle America” in the autumn of that year. The Berlin Wall had fallen only months earlier, and my American partners and I agreed the end of the USSR would be measured in months, not years as nearly all Western analysts at the time believed. Our motto was: “Let’s combine the best with the best of former superpower enemies to bring about an ecologically and ethically sound market.” It sounds absurdly naïve now, but we had the backing of billion-dollar companies and individuals in California, from emerging tech to aerospace to consumer goods. And for a few luminous weeks, both in America and Russia, it looked like my vision could be realized. Besides apparatchiks and nomenklatura that winter in the dying days of the USSR, I met many ordinary Russians, people who weren’t communist party members and didn’t even believe in Gorbachev. In the end, the key person said nyet to my vision, took the job I got her in Washington, obtained a doctorate in the USA, and has had a career at Columbia and the Harriman Institute. So we got the worst with the worst — Putin and Trump. President Biden is the last gasp of American exceptionalism. It still had some reality with Barack Obama, though he squandered the opportunity to change the course of the country. With the Biden Administration however, American exceptionalism is figment of their imagination. Regarding squandered opportunities, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his Secretary of State, James Baker, promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand beyond unified Germany if the USSR allowed the eastern European countries to be free from the Soviet yoke. Instead the United States expanded NATO to the Russian border, and rode a high horse of triumphalism, repeating ad nauseum, “we won the Cold War.” Ukraine, which had been part of Russia as far back as Peter the Great can remember, wants to join Europe. Good, but why did Kyiv keep pleading to join NATO, when it was never on the table and it drove the dictator bananas? As the newspaper of record in the United States obtusely put it, “Mr. Putin has reinvigorated an alliance that spent years confused about its purpose once it lost the adversary it was formed to contain, the Soviet Union.” Sure, but for how long? Along with Putin’s revanchism, the confrontation between Russia (increasingly aligned with China) and America and its European allies has set the stage for world war. As Donald Trump and his Fox mouthpieces are cheering Putin on, Democratic and Republican hawks are praising the obscenely bloated US military. They’re saying inane things like, “This is why we spend so much on the military [10 times more than all the rest of world’s militaries combined]; not to make war, but as a deterrent, to stop war.” As Putin oversees nuclear missile exercises, out of the other side of their mouths they invoke the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and portentously proclaim how this battle for Ukraine could easily turn into a “global war.” Despite President Biden grimly declaring, “Putin is not remotely contemplating using nuclear weapons,” isn’t there the real and present danger of their use? Russia is actually very weak. It’s worth remembering that America retains the largest economy in the world, while Russia has an economy about the size of Italy’s.The Biden Administration is giving a global lesson in how being right on one level can be wretchedly wrong on another. Out of the American darkness for which they are utterly un-self-knowing, they could be bringing about the very thing they allegedly fear the most – a wider war in Europe. The Ukrainian people correctly feel they have the right to live free, in the way they want to live, and not be told by a dictator next door that they must live the way Russians live – in fear and cynicism. Ukraine’s right to self-determination is not synonymous with outmoded notions of sovereignty however. Rooted in the atavism of tribalism/nationalism, “sovereignty” is giving rise to the ancient human sickness, extolled as the highest virtue in America and Europe: “I am ready to kill or be killed for my homeland and country.” To a religious philosopher, this terrible convergence raises the question of whether there’s an inverse and perverse trajectory to human history. Is man utterly incorrigible, or can we change course? The West has reached the dead end of militaristic deterrence, as well as the dead end of the post-World War II international order largely built by America. More importantly, in the global society, humankind has reached the dead end of tribalism/nationalism, and the old conceptions of the supremacy of separate nation-states. Oleksiy Honcharuk, who served as prime minister of Ukraine in 2019 and 2020, said, “Russia’s invasion could be the start of a third world war. We should realize it, because Putin will not stop.” A much wider war may be inevitable. But the chance for humankind to change course will be present at the end of it. Can enough of us seize it? The awakening human being is the only thing that can give rise to a psychological revolution that ends man’s ancient, pathological pattern of tribalism and its modern expression, nationalism. Fundamental change begins within the individual. If just 1% of people around the world no longer emotionally identify with particular groups, but feel themselves first and last to be human beings, it will finally change the basic course of man.
|War in Ukraine
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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com