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Earthling: Was Obama right about Russia-Ukraine?

NonZero Newsletter, 18 July 22, If President Obama’s successors had stuck with his policy toward Ukraine, would there be a war there now?

That question is raised by a 2015 New York Times article that Glenn Greenwald unearthed this week. And, though the answer, as with other great historical what-ifs, is “We’ll never know for sure,” you could make a case for “Probably not.” In any event, pondering the question has benefits—such as reminding us how constricted discourse about war becomes once a war is underway.

The Times article was about Obama’s refusal, in the face of bipartisan pressure, to send arms to Ukraine. Obama, the Times reported, “has told aides and visitors that arming the Ukrainians would encourage the notion that they could actually defeat the far more powerful Russians, and so it would potentially draw a more forceful response from Moscow.” 

An anonymous source paraphrased Obama as asking questions like, “Okay, what happens if we send in equipment – do we have to send in trainers?” And, “What if it ends up in the hands of thugs? What if Putin escalates?” In the absence of satisfactory answers, Obama confined aid to things like helmets and night vision goggles.

After he left office, Washington reversed course and sent lethal military aid to Ukraine—billions of dollars worth. And, to answer Obama’s questions: Yes, that turned out to involve sending trainers to Ukraine—as well as conducting NATO-Ukraine military exercises on Russia’s doorstep; and yes, Putin escalated. This doesn’t mean that the former caused the latter, but the sequence of events leaves that possibility quite open.

By early fall of 2021, some American observers were warning that the kinds of fears Obama expressed were being born out. Ted Galen Carpenter of the CATO institute noted that Biden had continued and in some ways accelerated the flow of weapons started under Trump, including weapons that “Russia considers especially destabilizing.” Galen said Ukraine had become “a NATO member in all but name” and called this policy “arrogant, unwise, and potentially very dangerous.”  

In Putin’s famously intense speech on February 21, a few days before the invasion, the flow of western weapons to Ukraine, and Ukraine’s increasingly close relationship to NATO, were central themes. ………………………….

given the power wielded within the Ukrainian military by its famously zealous Azov battalion, it’s certainly possible that assertiveness on the part of American-equipped Azov officers was a factor.  

In any event, these are all good questions. So it’s unfortunate that, since the invasion, they’ve become virtually off limits. If you suggest that things like arming Ukraine or encouraging Ukraine to join NATO raised the chances of war, you’re accused of “reciting Putin talking points” or “justifying” Putin’s invasion (even if you explicitly and repeatedly say that the invasion was wrong and unjustified)………………………..

July 18, 2022 - Posted by | politics international, USA

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