Noah Carl

In Bombshell Editorial, New York Times Questions U.S. Strategy in Ukraine

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”.

Western Hawks Ignore Risk of Nuclear War

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Biden publicly ruled out a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine, which somewhat lessened the risk of direct confrontation between the world’s two best-armed nuclear powers. (Between them, the U.S. and Russia account for 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile.)

Reassuring though Biden’s declaration was, it by no means eliminated the risk of nuclear war. As I noted in a previous post, John Mearsheimer has opined that the war in Ukraine is “the most dangerous crisis since the Second World War” and is actually “more dangerous than the Cuban crisis”.

The reason being that, from Putin’s point of view, he “cannot lose”. So if his forces were on the cusp of defeat, he might resort to nuclear weapons. Now you might say: what would he really have to gain at that point by unleashing his nuclear arsenal?

But if he’s as crazy and irrational as people claim, he might start a game of nuclear chicken. Rather than simultaneously launching missiles from land, sea and air – a very unlikely scenario – he could fire a tactical warhead at a military target far outside a major city. This would be a way of telling the West: “The war has become existential”.  

I’m not saying this is likely, of course; just that it’s a possibility we should really be taking seriously. (Remember that the amount of consideration we should give to something depends on its probability and the severity of its consequences.) Which makes some of the commentary from Western hawks very difficult to understand.

Dubya’s Latest and Most Sensational Gaffe

When he was president, George “Dubya” Bush became known for “Bushisms” – poorly phrased statements and other gaffes, which often proved to be very funny. For example, there was his observation in 2000 that “human being and fish can coexist peacefully”.

Then there was this 2004 statement: “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

However, Dubya’s latest gaffe may be his most sensational. Addressing an audience at the George W. Bush Institute, he referred to “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq. I mean of Ukraine.” Bush then whispered “Iraq, too”, before saying “I’m 75”.

As many people have noted, this has to be one the greatest Freudian slips of all time. Is Bush just so used to people describing his own foreign policy in those terms that he blurted out “Iraq”, or does he actually believe it himself? Who knows.

But the gaffe does highlight an important point. Like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US invasion of Iraq was both brutal and – legally – unjustified. In 2004, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it was illegal.”

Which puts the lie to any suggestion the U.S. cares deeply about ‘national sovereignty’. When it’s not in U.S. interests to care – or at least not in the interests of certain powerful actors within the U.S. – national sovereignty goes out the window.

Western Audiences Have a Right to Be Accurately Informed About this War

Yesterday, Ukrainian fighters besieged in the Azovstal steelworks surrendered to Russian forces, after a battle lasting almost three months. There’s no doubt this was a surrender: the Ukrainian fighters – who belong to the Azov regiment – were taken in buses to Russian-held territory in Eastern Ukraine (as shown above).  

However, that’s not the impression you’d get scanning Western media outlets like the BBC, CNN and the New York Times. These outlets described what happened as an “evacuation” marking an “end to the combat mission”. Here are the headlines:

• ‘Mariupol: Hundreds of besieged Ukrainian soldiers evacuated’ – The BBC

• ‘Hundreds of Ukrainian troops evacuated from Mariupol steelworks after 82-day assault’ – The Guardian

• ‘Azovstal steelworks evacuated as Ukraine ends combat mission in Mariupol’ – The Times

• ‘The battle for Mariupol nears end as Ukraine declares ‘combat mission’ over’ – CNN

• ‘Ukraine ends bloody battle for Mariupol; Azovstal fighters evacuated’ – The Washington Post

• ‘Ukrainian authorities declare an end to the combat mission in Mariupol after weeks of Russian siege’ – The New York Times

In war, an “evacuation” is when you send boats, planes or vehicles to transport your own troops away from a hostile location. Dunkirk was an evacuation. It is not when the enemy transports your troops to a location under his control after those troops have surrendered. That’s called a “surrender”.

Despite reporting where the Ukrainian fighters were taken (Russian-held territory), some of the articles above don’t even use the word ‘surrender’. One is reminded of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf – nicknamed “Comical Ali” – who became known for his preposterous claims about U.S. losses during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Note: this has nothing to do with being ‘pro-Russia’. This is about journalists using language that actually corresponds with reality. Which prompts the question of why? Why are they going around describing things in transparently misleading terms?

Would the U.S. Side With Ukraine’s Far-Right Against Zelensky?

In a must-read article, journalist Aaron Maté argues that, in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. sided with Ukraine’s far-right – thereby sabotaging President Zelensky’s mandate for peace.

Contrary to what you might assume based on his ‘Churchillian’ stance during the war, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky was elected in 2019 on a platform to make peace with Russian-backed separatists in the East. The war in Donbas had been going since 2014, leaving more than 14,000 dead.

As Maté notes, in Zelensky’s inaugural address he said was willing to “do everything” to make peace:

I can assure that in order for our heroes to stop dying I am ready to do everything. And I am definitely not afraid to make difficult decisions, not afraid to lose my own popularity, my ratings. And if there’s a need I’m prepared to give up my own position – as long as peace arrives.

He also said that, although it “wasn’t us” who started the war, “it’s our job to end it” – and stressed that “we’re ready for dialogue”.

Unfortunately, these overtures towards a diplomatic solution did not go down well with Ukraine’s powerful far-right. The head of “Right Sector” warned that Zelensky “will lose his life. He will hang on some tree on Khreshchatyk – if he betrays Ukraine and those people who died in the Revolution and the War.”

Even the New York Times wrote in February of this year that Zelensky’s Government could be overthrown by far-right groups if he “agrees to a peace deal that in their minds gives too much to Moscow”.  

What Zelensky needed to face down the far-right, Maté argues, is support from the U.S. If America had backed his pledge to broker a peace deal, he’d have been able to do so without fear of threats or intimidation. But the U.S. didn’t back him, and Zelensky’s pledge went unfulfilled.

Data From Iceland and Australia Confirm: Vaccine Effectiveness Is Overstated

Back in March, I wrote a post noting that excess mortality data from Europe and Israel were hard to reconcile with claims of 90% vaccine effectiveness against death. However, I also noted that some countries data were consistent with very high vaccine effectiveness against death.

The two examples I gave were Australia and Iceland – both countries with very high vaccination rates. By the end of 2021, each country had double-vaccinated 77% of its population, compared to only 70% in the U.K. and only 63% in the U.S. (see below).

At the time I wrote the post, Iceland had only seen a minor uptick in excess mortality, while Australia had not seen any at all – despite both countries experiencing major outbreaks in the winter/spring of 2022. If countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Israel had seen deadly post-vaccination waves, why hadn’t Iceland and Australia? That was the puzzle.

More Politicians Admit: We’re Fighting a Proxy War With Russia

There can no longer be much doubt that the West is fighting a proxy war with Russia. The goal is not simply to defend Ukraine’s territory and safeguard its sovereignty, but to “see Russia weakened” – in the words of U.S. defence secretary Lloyd Austin (a former board member of Raytheon Technologies).

In a previous post, I reported what the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO said in a recent interview with the New York Times: “I think we are in a proxy war with Russia. We are using the Ukrainians as our proxy forces”. Since then, several U.S. politicians have confirmed this is a proxy war.

On 2nd May, Democratic Congressman Jason Crow tweeted: “The United States is not interested in stalemates. We are not interested in going back to the status quo. The United States is in this to win it and we will stand with Ukraine until victory is won.”

Speaking to Fox News on May 6th, Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton explained: “At the end of the day, we’ve got to realise we’re at war. And we’re not just at war to support Ukraine. We’re fundamentally at war – although somewhat through a proxy – with Russia. And it’s important that we win.”

Then on May 11th, Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeted, in defence of his decision to approve the latest $40 billion aid package: “Yeah, because investing in the destruction of our adversary’s military, without losing a single American troop, strikes me as a good idea. You should feel the same.”

Our Ministers Didn’t “Do Okay” Against the Coronavirus

Matthew Syed’s latest article in the Sunday Times is titled “Now we know our ministers did OK against Covid, but I hear no apologies”. And while Syed may not have chosen the title (that was probably his editor), he did write this: “The truth is that on the whole, and with only a few exceptions, ministers did their best in unenviable circumstances.”

Syed’s basic argument is as follows. The recent WHO report reveals that, in terms of excess deaths, Britain “is roughly in the middle of the bunch when compared with similar nations”. Therefore, those who slammed the Government for its handling of the pandemic were wrong, and really ought to apologise.

The article isn’t all bad. For example, Syed skewers those unhinged left-wing commentators who accused the Government of pursuing ‘eugenics’ for not locking down sooner, and chides his fellow journalists for asking ‘gotcha’ questions, rather than trying to get useful information out of politicians.

Yet for every swipe he takes at those who say the Government didn’t do enough, he also takes a swipe at those who say the Government did too much. And his basic argument – the one I outlined above – doesn’t work.

Why Haven’t Non-Western Countries Sanctioned Russia?

While Western leaders have achieved a certain amount of unity amongst themselves vis-à-vis sanctions against Russia, they’ve failed to convince many non-Western countries to join them – only traditional Western allies like Singapore, Japan and South Korea (which some people already consider part of ‘the West’).

Major players like China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Israel and Saudi Arabia have all so far refused to sanction Russia. Here’s a map of the current state of play (only the purple countries have actually imposed sanctions):

Sanctions against Russia

What explains the Western/non-Western schism on this issue? Is it just that Western countries are more ‘moral’, or that non-Western countries don’t care about people dying in Ukraine? I don’t think so.

As the foreign policy analyst Trita Parsi notes in this piece for MSNBC, different non-Western states have their own reasons for not joining Western sanctions, but there are some reasons that apply across the board. (Parsi’s piece is worth reading in full.)

On Energy, the EU Is Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

On Wednesday, I asked whether the EU’s proposed embargo on Russian oil – to be phased in over the next six to eight months – really makes sense.

It now seems the proposal may be dead in the water, as Hungary has said it will exercise its veto. Speaking to the BBC, the country’s Secretary of State for International Communication and Relations described the proposal as “unacceptable”, claiming it would “ruin the Hungarian economy”.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who compared the proposal to dropping an “atomic bomb” on the Hungarian economy, said his country would need five years to transition away from Russian oil, adding that one and half years is “not enough for anything”.

As the FT explains, oil imported from Russia isn’t refined in the same way as oil imported from other sources, so massive investments would need to be made in Hungary’s refineries to process the new oil. Hungary currently gets 65% of its oil from Russia, as well as 85% of its gas.

According to Reuters, Orban also questioned “whether it was wise to make investments on that scale for a result in four to five years time, while the war in Ukraine was happening now”. As I noted in my post on Wednesday, the proposed embargo is unlikely to have much impact on the war itself.