Two conservative takes on Ukraine policy and one left analysis
Oh, Lord! Max Boot is still offering the world his foreign policy advice.
Max Boot, Very Serious Person, gives advice on Ukraine
Boot was one of the most visible Iraq War enthusiasts in American media back in the day. He now claims to be repentant. But in 2003 - which turned out to be the first year of a long war - he was gushing with enthusiasm over it:
Coalition forces in the second Gulf War were less than half the size of those deployed in the first one. Yet they achieved a much more ambitious goal-occupying all of lraq, rather than just kicking the lraqi army out of Kuwait-in almost half the time, with one-third the casualties, and at one-fourth the cost of the first war [the Gulf War of 1991]. ...
Far from having a 3 to 1 advantage in lraq, coalition ground forces (which never numbered more than 100,000) faced a 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 disadvantage. That the United States and its allies won anyway-and won so quickly-must rank as one of the signal achievements in military history....
It was a "spectacular success," he gushed. And "a relatively easy U.S. victory."
Ah, those were the days, huh, Max? The American liberation army sweeping away the uncivilized heathen regime and bringing the blessings of civilization, democracy, and - not to be forgotten - women's rights. And, of course, doing away with (imaginary) "weapons of mass destruction."
Now Max has advice about the current Ukraine war, which he shares in This is no time to hesitate in Ukraine Washington Post 06/05/2022. Despite the title, Boot is cautiously reflective about his advice - no, just kidding! It's Max Boot, after all:
Putin reportedly calculates that he can still win the war by waiting for the will of the West to erode, and there are many in the West who have given him encouragement. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger suggests that Ukraine must cede territory for peace, and French President Emmanuel Macron insists that Russia must not be “humiliated.” Meaning Putin should be rewarded for his unlawful aggression?
This is the counsel of despair, and it is divorced from the facts on the ground. A recent poll finds that nearly 80 percent of Ukrainians say their country is moving in the right direction, and many Ukrainian refugees are returning home. ...
This is not the moment to lose faith in Ukraine. This is the moment to redouble our support for its freedom fighters. [my emphasis]
We're in a macho adrenalin contest, people! Mano a mano! We're eyeball to eyeball and we've gotta make the other guy blink!
Fortunately, there are relevant lessons that we can learn from the disastrous Iraq War that Max Boot in mid-2003 was confident had already been "spectacular success." One of those lessons is: Never Take Advice On Wars From Max Boot Seriously.
Max doesn't mention anything about Russia having, you know, "weapons of mass destruction." Maybe he figures since it turned out that Iraq had none, Russia must not have any, either. Besides, adrenaline and testosterone are the only things that really matter anyway, right, Max?
Also, if you think the Ukraine refugee emergency in Europe is practically over - you are probably Max Boot.
Another conservative, Chrlstopher Caldwell, also has an essay on the current war, The War in Ukraine May Be Impossible to Stop. And the U.S. Deserves Much of the Blame. New York Times 05/31/2022
Caldwell is pretty conservative. He thinks the Mean Libruls are too whiny. (Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties, 2020) and worries about them thar Muslim immigrants (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West, 2010)
He also did an admiring essay on Robert E. Lee last year. (There Goes Robert E. Lee: His eclipse in American life. Claremont Review of Books Spring 2021)
Caldwell relies on the positions of a conservative French politician, Henri Guaino, to argue that Biden "is giving the conflict a momentum that may be impossible to stop." Somehow, Caldwell manages to argue that "Russia is most directly to blame for the present conflict in Ukraine" but somehow the US made the conflict inevitable.
The polemics over what role Western policy played in leading us to the point of Russia invading Ukraine have often struck me as weird. Of course, Russia was going to worry about NATO expanding toward its borders. But Caldwell wants us to believe that a particular the US-Ukraine strategic partnership agreement signed in November 2021 that set the invasion in motion. That looks more like a way to dump on the Biden administration than a realistic analysis. And for all the problems Russia is having in its current war, but arguing that "by 2014 [Russia] barely had a modern military at all" is clearly overstating the case.
He cites Noam Chomsky and Henry Kissinger offering cautions about prolonging the war unnecessarily and the need to make some kind of concessions during the peace process. And then uses that to launch into the vague conclusion that seems to be saying that the Biden Administration is incapable of doing anything but constantly escalate the war no matter what, which at this moment seems to be a big leap:
The United States is making no concessions. That would be to lose face. There's an election coming. So the administration is closing off avenues of negotiation and working to intensify the war. We're in it to win it. With time, the huge import of deadly weaponry, including that from the newly authorized $40 billion allocation, could take the war to a different level. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine warned in an address to students this month that the bloodiest days of the war were coming.
This sounds an awful lot like trying to cover all the bases without actually having to take any actual position about what an alternative course he would prefer to see.
Yanis Varoufakis has some actual ideas about negotiation
Former Greek Finance Minister, economist, and current Member of the Greek Parliament is not only familiar with game theory but was at the center of one of the most high-stakes negotiations of the last decade over the Greek debt crisis. He actually has coherent thoughts on The Peace Process Ukraine’s Supporters Should Support Project Syndicate/https://www.yanisvaroufakis.eu/ 06/06/2022. he makes this important observation about the sanctions on Russia:
While the war is going badly for Putin, the economic war is working rather nicely for him. Granted, underprivileged Russians are suffering, skilled workers are fleeing, and many industries are running out of parts. Even so, according to Robin Brooks of the Institute of International Finance, a gigantic current-account surplus is in the making (projected to reach $200-250 billion in 2022, up from $95.8 billion in April). No wonder the ruble has recovered fully.
This massive windfall allows Putin’s regime easily to finance a long-term war of attrition in Ukraine. Many Russians will be impoverished, and their economy will be condemned to long-term stagnation. But on Putin’s chessboard, ordinary Russians are mere pawns whose sacrifice is acceptable, if not necessary, to inflict long-term damage on Ukraine while waiting for ruptures to appear within NATO – especially once the fickle Western media turn their attention to other matters. [my emphasis]
And he offers a plausible scenario about how successful peace negotiations might look, though he knows as well as anyone that the specifics of the actual deal matter a lot:
A fair deal, we must agree, should leave everyone somewhat dissatisfied, while constituting a great improvement over every feasible alternative. Both sides must make gains that far exceed their losses, without losing face. To honor the Ukrainians’ aspirations and valiant resistance to Putin’s aggression, the envisaged peace treaty must decree that Russian troops withdraw to their pre-February 24 bases. To deal with sectarian clashes in the Donbas and surrounding areas, the Good Friday Agreement (which ended the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland) can offer tangible guidance on conflict resolution and governance. And, to assuage fear of military re-engagement, a wide demilitarized buffer zone around the Russian-Ukrainian border ought to be included. [The "around" means on both sides.]
Would Putin agree? Possibly, if the treaty offers him three things. Putin will want most sanctions lifted. He will also want the issue of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 to be kicked into the long grass, to be resolved at some undefined time in the future. And he will want security guarantees that only the US can provide, including the lure of a seat at the top table where new security arrangements in Europe must be hammered out. Ukraine needs similar security guarantees from both the US and Russia, so Ukraine’s friends should be planning such arrangements, under the auspices of the United Nations, and involving the US and the EU. [my emphasis]
The point about a settlement on Crimea is not something that doesn't seem to be discussed as much as I might expect in the commentaries I've read and heard. Caldwell seems to be arguing that Russia's claim to Crimea is pretty obviously valid. Actually, no, it's not. But some scenario like Varoufakis indicates that would leave Crimea for some extended period of time in a "frozen conflict" situation seems like a realistic possibility.