The New York Times is by no means an ‘anti-war’ newspaper. In the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it lent credibility to fabricated claims about “weapons of mass destruction” (later issuing a mea culpa). And in 2013, it said that U.S. policy in Syria “may have to change now that Mr. Assad’s forces are accused of using chemical weapons.”
Which makes its latest editorial on the war in Ukraine something of a bombshell. Back in March, the Editorial Board said the world must “coalesce around the same message to Ukrainians and Russians alike: No matter how long it takes, Ukraine will be free.” Now its stance appears to have shifted.
The Board writes, “A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal,” and if it comes to negotiations, Ukrainian leaders will have to make the “painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.”
“Mr. Biden,” the Board writes, “should also make clear to President Volodymyr Zelensky and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will confront Russia” because Zelensky’s decisions must be grounded in a “realistic assessment” of “how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain”.
The Board says this is “not appeasement”, but rather what governments “are duty bound to do”.
As to why regaining all the territory Russia has seized since 2014 is “not a realistic goal”, the Board notes that “Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down”.
The Board criticises U.S. officials for “bellicose statements” that “do not bring negotiations any closer”, referring to Biden’s remark that “Putin cannot remain in power” and Austin’s remark that “we want to see Russia weakened”. It also points to the “extraordinary costs and serious dangers” of escalation.
This is by far the least hawkish editorial I’ve seen in a major Anglophone newspaper since the war began. While hedging a little, the New York Times is basically saying the best way to end the war is through some kind of compromise – as people like John Mearsheimer and Noam Chomsky have argued all along (and as I’ve been suggesting here at the Daily Sceptic).
I have to admit: I’m genuinely surprised to see America’s ‘newspaper of record’ break ranks with the foreign policy establishment on this one, especially given the recent votes in the U.S. Congress – where every single Democrat (and the vast majority of Republicans) voted to send Ukraine another $40 billion in mostly military aid.
It’ll be interesting to see whether any other papers follow suit.