There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.Søren Kierkegaard
I am obviously not going to gloat about correctly calling Russia invading Ukraine. I have taken a lot of contrarian positions over the years – about specific developments in finance and economics, about the coronavirus, and so on – but this is the first instance where I genuinely wish I had been wrong.
Watching these unthinkable atrocities unfold, I could not help but wonder why so many people in foreign policy circles, in the chattering class, and in the gutter of partisan politics, simply refused to accept what facts on the ground suggested was an obvious outcome. What motivated so many observers on both the political right and the political left to deny, passionately, that Putin would invade Ukraine? It was something he had already done in recent history, for crying out loud. The idea of him denying Ukraine’s sovereignty and attacking its people was not some hypothetical or thought experiment. You have literally seen it happen before.
Furthermore, why would anyone believe that Putin would not follow through on some vast operation after spending a year (and clearly a lot of money) to amass hundreds of thousands troops, supply lines, battlefield hospitals, battleships, fighter jets, attack helicopters, etc. on the border?
Why would anyone believe that the threat of economic sanctions would be effective at deterring him? Do they not think Putin is capable of simple cost-benefit analysis? Did they think Putin would undertake this project without thinking about the structure of an international response? Did they not consider that in the age of cryptocurrency and easy black markets the Russian elite has had nearly a decade to devise creative ways to avoid the personal impacts of sanctions and even test them out? That he’d plan to sell his commodities to China instead of Europe?
How could anyone see prefabricated causus belli, speeches declaring war that were prerecorded – the man did not even bother to change his clothing to make it look authentic – and so on, and not consider that maybe, just maybe, this madman is totally out of fucks to give and does not care about being isolated on the world stage? He’s so accustomed to walking all over western democracies that he’s lazily phoning in the false flags.
I mean, really, let’s look at Putin’s history and see if we notice a pattern here:
2008: We will not invade Georgia. (Oh, look, Putin invaded Georgia – incidentally during the last Olympics held in China.)
2014: The little green men destroying Crimea are not Russian soldiers. Russia is totally not invading Ukraine. (Oh, look, Crimea now belongs to Russia. How did that happen?)
2022: We are not going to recognize “separatist” areas. We are not going to invade Ukraine. Okay, so we are going to invade Ukraine, but it will only be “peacekeeping” in the separatist regions. Okay, so maybe we are going to start bombing areas hundreds of miles away from those regions, but it’s just to put a responsible government in Ukraine. We’d never occupy Ukraine. We’d also never move beyond Ukraine.
How silly is it to believe that the man who poisons his political opponents with radioactive materials and had no qualms about shooting down a passenger jet with hundreds of innocent people on board (also not that long ago) is well on his way to being a war criminal? And yet, there we were, with “experts” and partisan internet warriors telling you Russia was hosting military exercises (that just happened to involve upwards of 70% of Russia’s available ground force – totally normal) so shut up you mid-wit RINO warmonger Chicken Little.
(The “warmonger” smear has become so ubiquitous that it has lost all meaning. You are now ridiculed as a warmonger for merely acknowledging that a conflict is likely. Biden, who cut and ran in Afghanistan and refused to send troops into Ukraine is a “warmonger.”)
The intelligence agencies were yelling at the top of their lungs for people to make preparations and evacuate. The political class on both sides was telling them to stay, this is just a dumb strategy to create panic and destroy their economy and who trusts the spy agencies anyway. Millions of people stayed in the path of a savage war criminal – who could have taken their babies and elderly to safety in an organized fashion – for the fake concern of saving an economy that any sober observer could tell you would inevitably be annihilated anyway. Take a fucking bow.
Only a few days later, Putin is on national television threating to nuke NATO countries if they dare to interfere with his war machine / human meat grinder. And frankly, I can see that happening regardless, even though he has successfully made it so no one is coming to Ukraine’s rescue. The man seems to be having a psychotic break from reality and wants his place in history, even if it is among Hitler and Stalin. This is the most dangerous personality type throughout history. The lesson of two world wars was not that underestimating a madman and waiting to get involved will be rewarded with fewer lives lost.
Several decades of proxy wars have given Americans the luxury belief that war is merely a form of bureaucratic overreach and we can avoid unnecessary loss if we can summon sufficient apathy about global affairs. You know what? Sometimes you are not the one making the declaration of war. Sometimes a third party brings the war to you, whether you do something to provoke it or not.
You are watching a psychopath wipe a country with 40 million innocent people off the map for no reason except that he can. Do you really think he needs our good behavior to avoid nuclear war? Can you not see the pattern that is right in front of your face, again?
And you better believe that China is 100% on board with his plans and expects his support for theirs in return. They were the only developed country that thought their embassy in Kyiv was safe and there was no reason to evacuate. They are playing right into Russia’s disinformation game by saying that the invasion you can watch unfold live on CNN is not really an invasion.
This conflict is not about imperialistic fantasies. It’s about smashing the west. It’s about replacing the dominant west with a new dominant east. Right now, the delusion remains that our enemies will be content with a little more real estate.
How to get away with murder
I have spent a lot of time over the past couple months sitting back and observing everything that is said on Twitter about Ukraine. It has taught me a lot about how Russian and Chinese propaganda has seeped into every aspect of American political discourse. I never paid much attention to it during the past two election cycles, mostly because reading everything anyone said about Trump, Hillary, and Biden would drive me insane. But this has been instructive at seeing the pipeline from Russia’s domestic propaganda operations to fringe news media and large social media networks in the United States. I could see how outlets like the Federalist, Tucker Carlson, Buck Sexton’s podcast, the Ruthless podcast, Candace Owens and the Daily Wire, essentially launder Russian propaganda for conservative circles. (The same thing is happening on the aggressively online left.) Some of them fully realize they are doing it, I think. I am sure Tucker Carlson is aware at this point that he’s a regular feature on Russian state television. But most are useful idiots who think they are the smartest people in the room – the insiders that really “get” it.
Also interesting is how the far-left and the far-right have almost zero daylight between them anymore. The culture war garbage both fringes consume all day every day, the way they fetishize civil war or a “national divorce” – that is all the work of Russia and China because it helps them in their goal to remake global influence. Both the far-right and the far-left see the United States as an irredeemable kleptocracy. Both nurse their symbolic Armageddons. Unsurprisingly, if you want to see the people most militant about getting rid of NATO, it’s these culture warriors. The socialists in the basement hate NATO because they think national security is a distraction from cancelling their student loans. MAGA hates NATO because they think being the “policeman of the world” is a waste of time and money. Both said Russia would never invade Ukraine, don’t you remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. You could ask them what they thought the battlefield hospitals were for, why was Putin constructing and re-constructing pontoon bridges, and they’d scream blah blah blah yellow cake Deep State new world order.
These dictatorships have invested a lot of effort in choreographing troll armies that personally interact with ordinary Americans on social media to goad them toward ever more extreme views and hatred for the government. These folks are incapable of noticing it precisely because they love the attention – they even see the attention as evidence of how prophetic they are. You know how Facebook and Twitter were built to be addictive by using strong emotions and the need for immediate feedback/approval to provide a chemical hit in the brain? The Russians and Chinese have figured out how to use that same chemistry to play ordinary Americans like a fiddle and even give them violent tendencies toward their fellow countrymen. The mob outrage gives the fringes pleasure; they love it so much they want to swim in it. That’s a very powerful force that can be harnessed by bad actors. It’s also a modern interpretation of a well-established psyop used before war.
You look at the joy the anti-NATO crowd derived from excusing Russia ahead of these atrocities for the Twitter and cable news panel glory, and it’s not any different from looking at a heroin addict who just pumped their favorite poison into their veins. And many of them will be the first to tell you it’s other people who are possessed by evil.
To what end?
Honestly, my worst fear is that we are experiencing the cumulative effect of two superpowers who have been working in concert to weaken western democracies for many years. I fear we were getting played under Trump, both with his promotion of Russian interests and wrecking western economies with coronavirus paranoia. (There had never been anything like a lockdown in public health before until China set the example for us to follow.) And I fear we are getting played now under Biden. I worry that all of this is aimed at pulling the US into an existence-threatening global conflict that years of manufactured culture wars, bitter division, and a military weakened by foreign policy disenchantment have made us uniquely incapable of responding to.
It’s pretty clear to me there was indeed something to the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. There was not a “Deep State” conspiracy – our intelligence agencies nailed the Russians meddling in the election the same way they nailed the Russian invasion of invasion of Ukraine.
It is a fact that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC used many millions of donor money to craft a fake dossier about Trump. Their preferred fixer was forced to admit it under oath before Congress, and much of this has come out in defamation suits against Christopher Steele in the UK. I am sure Putin was well aware that the Clinton campaign was sniffing around for this information and he loved orchestrating a network of goons to feed her bizarre narratives. He obviously knew that this content would be shopped to Obama’s politicized FBI and the media, who would turn it into the mother of all 24/7 news cycles, and used it to create an atmosphere of distrust in the United States’ foreign service.
But it is also becoming quite clear that there is something to the Trump-Russia connection. As someone who was willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt despite incredible misgivings about his character, I have tended to believe Trump’s highly erratic behavior since the 2020 election was simply him being a sore loser or going a little crazy from the stress of everything. Votes being routed to secret servers in Germany? Having the vice president override the electoral college? Calling a protest that his own communications staff organized a false flag? Getting dumped by his accounting firm and responding by calling for Hillary Clinton’s execution? This is seriously cuckoo shit. (And, no, I am not “taking his comments out of context” – I read primary sources for everything, I know exactly what he was saying, and it really is this insane.)
But it wasn’t until Trump started talking about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that I really started see it. Trump was parroting Putin and the propaganda Putin feeds his domestic audience about what is happening in Ukraine. In his interview on Buck Sexton’s show, he seemed to genuinely believe that Putin was on a “peacekeeping” mission. He echoed the commentary that Putin made in his address to the Russian nation saying that Ukraine was not a legitimate country and that its current president – the man who has been personally down in the trenches with the Ukrainian army as they get blitzed, quite unlike draft-dodging Trump – was installed in a sham election. He praised Putin’s big, beautiful tanks and said he wished Putin would bring those tanks to our border and do for the US all the great things Putin was doing for Ukraine. Trump was saying this about the man who is threatening to nuke our country. Let that sink in for a second.
I found these words shocking to listen to. It literally gave me chills listening to a former president side with our enemy. And he did it so blithely, with the confidence of someone who had moved his base to such a place that they would willingly accept that their political demigod’s take on Ukraine was indistinguishable from China. Here we are, possibly on the brink of another world war, and he’s trying to convince his followers that the Axis powers are worth cheering for.
(This was echoed by MAGA hero Mike Flynn, who spoke of Russia’s “legitimate” security concerns and “ethnic” concerns – a coy reference to Putin’s claim that he was going to “denazify” a country that has a Jewish president. Candace Owens wouldn’t even stop there – she disgustingly blames the United States for this massacre. Tulsi Gabbard wants us to let Putin decide who is allowed in our military alliances. She also evidently does not know there are already NATO countries that border Russia. Tucker Carlson decided to blame the people who were about to get slaughtered. Just insanity.)
The most charitable interpretation of this is that Trump is an idiot who gets his news from Russia Today. But I look back at who he had organizing his political life when he was campaigning and when he was in office and it’s hard to be charitable.
I think most MAGA people see folks like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone as random Washington DC personalities. But they actually came from the same lobbying firm – Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. The firm was founded by Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Charles Black back in 1980. Donald Trump was their first client.
This lobbying firm happily did a lot of business with corrupt dictators, so much so that it was nicknamed the “torturer’s lobby” in DC circles. They made millions on contracts with dictators in Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Angola’s UNITA rebel group, many others. War criminals, not unlike Putin. This is how Manafort and Roger Stone became so wealthy. You can think of them as Trump’s version of the Clinton Foundation.
In the years leading up to Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine, it became a big controversy that Trump’s inner circle overlapped with Putin’s dealings in the country. This is why I find it somewhat hilarious how many MAGA people delight in asking how things would be going now if Trump were president, by which they mostly mean that they miss having an alpha male around. Trump has already told you that he endorses what is happening, however. And that’s not a new development in his milieu.
This lobbying firm represented the pro-Russian Party of Regions of former President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine. Yanukovych was booted from power in 2014 after massive public uprisings by generations of Ukrainians who wanted to leave their Soviet past behind and fully embrace a western identity. Putin took this very personally – his frustration with the cultural collapse in the USSR is what made him want to join the KGB and eventually become Russia’s dictator. This lead to the first Russian invasion of Ukraine. Trump’s circle and Hunter Biden’s circle in Ukraine actually had some interesting overlaps.
Here is a very, very detailed timeline of events for both Trump’s and Biden’s involvement in Ukraine over the years from Just Security. I highly recommend reading the entire thing, as it will be a tremendous source of perspective as you try to follow this historic moment.
The United States seriously needs to get its act together. And by “United States,” I do not mean the United States government. I mean the people of the United States. Stop consuming political junkie sites that exist for no other reason than to cultivate the emotion of hate in you. Get rid of the shitposters, national divorce proponents, and conspiratorial types in your social media feed. Stop looking for political saviors. Start thinking about what people are saying for real and ask yourself what factors are influencing that.
We may be about to have our world rocked, and you will need a balanced mind to navigate whatever comes next. Again, I hope I am wrong about that.