Ukraine: Our Elites Are Gaslighting Us to the Brink of Nuclear War
I grew up during the Cold War. Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes, for winning it. Unlike some, I’ve never had a “liberal” phase, but have always been conservative — both politically and theologically. What are the odds, then, that I’d find myself agreeing with Noam Chomsky? Yet, here we are. That prominent socialist-libertarian approves of Benjamin Abelow’s new book, How the West Brought War to Ukraine. And so do I.
Get Dr. Abelow’s Book
The subtitle of this short (88 pages total, 62 pages of text) work is Understanding How U.S. and NATO Policies Led to Crisis, War, and the Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe. Forget about ginned-up threats like climate change, or fictional ones like fungus-addled zombies. Be afraid, be very afraid, of the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal feeling backed into a corner. For that’s what the West, mainly the U.S.A., has done to Russia, according to Dr. Benjamin Abelow. He explains how this happened — and why. With a B.A. in European history (UPenn) and an M.D. (Yale), he is clearly intelligent and has the requisite background to cover the topic, if not quite on an expert’s level.
But that’s not what Abelow aims for. His book — booklet, really — isn’t intended to provide a deep dive into Ukrainian and Russian history. Rather, it’s a layman’s guide to just how, frankly, stupid, American policies toward Russia have been for decades. The situation it describes is at once maddening and frightening.
Security Concerns for Me, But Not for Thee
The major flaw in the American treatment of Russia, since the end of the Cold War? An inability, or outright refusal, to grant any validity to Moscow’s perspective on security. True, Stalin did bring down an Iron Curtain after World War II. But only after the Nazis had killed 20 million Russians. And before that, there was Napoleon’s invasion, as well as others. Russia gets invaded. Repeatedly. The U.S. has never had such concerns. As Abelow points out, for 200 years Washington has enforced the hemispheric “stay off my lawn” Monroe Doctrine — which mostly encompasses areas not bordering our country. Yet our policy makers have not been willing to grant the Kremlin the same right for places that do border Russia.
Lots of Sweet Little Lies — and Provocative Actions
When the Cold War ended in 1991, Western leaders repeatedly promised Boris Yeltsin that NATO would not expand eastwards. But it soon did, anyway, engulfing Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and eventually, by 2004, the Baltic states. The problem was that these bordered Russia, ringing the country with a foreign military alliance. How would we like a Mexico allied with China?
Starting in 2008, NATO officials began discussing incorporating Ukraine, despite Russia stating this was unacceptable. Many know that in 2014 Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula (which Khrushchev had made administratively part of Ukraine, instead of Russia, under the USSR).
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What many don’t know is that the U.S. had involved itself in Ukraine before that. Supporting, if not assisting, the overthrow of President Yanukovych. In turn, Washington ramped up “non-lethal” aid to Kiev; but also put Aegis defensive missiles systems in Romania which, according to Abelow, can also deploy offensive missiles — including nuclear ones.
In 2017 the Trump Administration switched to providing Ukraine with lethal weapons, and two years later pulled out of the 1987 ABM (anti-ballistic missile) treaty. Then in 2020 NATO conducted live-fire exercises in Estonia, only 70 miles from Russia. In late 2021 President Biden told President Zelensky that joining NATO was up to the Ukrainians. Two months later, Russia invaded. Really, Abelow suggests, who could blame them?
Pay No Attention to That Genius Behind the Curtain
It’s not as if knowledgeable folks weren’t issuing warnings. The man who came up with the policy of “containing” the Soviet Union, George Kennan, did so way back in 1997. Expanding NATO would be a “huge mistake,” for it would constitute “turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove the Soviet regime” (p. 38). Kennan in his 90s was more perceptive than anyone currently in Washington. But anyone who expresses similar sentiments now is accused of falling for “Russian disinformation” and even of being a “traitor” (p. 46). Like Tucker Carlson.
What About ‘Whataboutism’?
Much of Abelow’s book deals in “whataboutism.” “What if Russia put missiles in Canada or Mexico?” “What if Russia put troops in the Western Hemisphere?” These are questions worth pondering. But is it really true that “the provocations that the United States and its allies have directed at Russia are…so serious that, had the situations been reversed, U.S. leaders would long ago have risked nuclear war with Russia” (p. 49). Well, ask yourself: what would Washington do if the Russians blew up one of OUR gas pipelines?
Not Forced, but Justified?
Who’s to blame for the death and destruction in Ukraine? “In a proximal sense,” writes Abelow, it is of course Putin. But “policy makers in the U.S. and Europe bear significant responsibility” (p. 56) as well. It was Westerners who:
- Expanded NATO to Russia’s borders.
- Put missiles in Romania.
- Helped overthrow the Ukrainian government in 2014.
- Unilaterally abandoned a missile treaty going back to the Reagan Administration. And
- Held live-fire military exercises right next to Russia.
So maybe we should deem Putin’s invasion of Ukraine not as “the unbridled expansionism of a malevolent Russian leader, but as a violent and destructive reaction to misguided Western policies” (p. 1).
American Politicians Can’t Handle the Truth
These inconvenient truths which Abelow so ably spells out run afoul of mainstream thinking in both the Republican and Democrat parties. The former are led by many who can’t, or won’t, acknowledge that the USSR died in 1991 and that Russia just ain’t it. The latter lashed themselves to a mast of “Russia collusion” when Trump came down the escalator in 2015, and can’t let Putin-as-Palpatine go. Idiots in both parties tell tales, “basing existential decisions on false premises” (p. 2). The horrifying problem is that the sound and fury they conjure up signifies far more than nothing. It may engender nuclear war.
Timothy Furnish holds a Ph.D. in Islamic, World and African history from Ohio State University and a M.A. in Theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and, later, civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor and sometime media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults The Stream on International Security matters.