Timothy Garton Ash’s Awfully Big War

There are some liberals who give liberals a bad name and Timothy Garton Ash is one of them.     They build up their careers posing as thoughtful and nuanced independent commentators, arguing that ‘facts are subversive’, yet when push comes to shove they sing loudly from the imperial hymn sheet and call on the US to fulfill its great mission to ‘reshape the world.’

Last October Ash was criticizing Obama’s foreign policy for being too weak, and pondering whether Hilary Clinton would have been a better choice for president, because she wouldn’t have presented Assad with a ‘red line’ and then not bombed him when he supposedly crossed it.     He blamed Obama for not supporting ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria, and therefore causing the rise of ISIS, even though many of these ‘moderates’ had already gone over to ISIS regardless of what Obama did or didn’t do.

So at that point Ash was a Clintonite interventionist, even though he thought that Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ was a good idea.     Why is it a good idea for the US to start pouring ships and soldiers into the Pacific?   Would it also be a ‘good idea’ for China or Russia to do the same thing and ‘pivot’ toward the Black Sea, Africa or the Pacific?

Ash doesn’t ask these kinds of questions.   He knows manifest destiny when he sees it, and he knows who to call when you want your interventionism done.

Yesterday he demonstrated these gifts with a truly fanatical piece in which he compared Putin to Slobodan Milosovic, claiming that the former was ‘as bad, but bigger’ in his attempt to ‘carve out a puppet para-state’ in eastern Ukraine.     Rousing himself to a pitch of humanitarian anguish Ash warned that Europe was ‘letting another Bosnia happen in its own front yard’ and should do something about it.

What should it do?   Ratchet up sanctions against Russia, get the BBC to counter ‘Russian propaganda’ and above all arm Ukraine, because tough guy Ash knows that there are times in history when ‘ sometimes it takes guns to stop the guns.’   Fortunately for him, cometh the hour, cometh the man, in the shape of John McCain, a man who has never seen a US rival that he didn’t want to bomb.

But never mind that,   because in Ash-land everything that has happened in east Ukraine is entirely the result of a Russian power grab, nothing to do actions taken by NATO, Europe, the Ukraine government, or the rebels themselves, whose relationship with Russia is not nearly the seamless master/servant puppet relationship that he and his fellow interventionists make it out to be.

As always with liberals of this type,   Ash is only advocating this course of action because he really, really wants to stop innocent civilians being killed, and he takes it for granted that all of them are being killed by Russia.     Of course he wants a diplomatic solution, but hard-headed realist that he is, he recognizes that first we need to fight to the last Ukrainian in order to ‘stop the mayhem’ and bring that solution closer, because:

‘To do this Ukraine needs modern defensive weapons to counter Russia”s modern offensive ones. Spurred on by John McCain, the US Congress has passed a Ukraine Freedom Support Act which allocates funds for the supply of military equipment to Ukraine. It is now up to President Obama to determine the timing and composition of those supplies.’

Like so many liberals who have walked this path before him, Ash expects the US to do the job, because ‘ The US has the best kit, it is probably in the best position to control its use, and is less vulnerable to bilateral economic or energy-supply pressures.’

Ash’s recommendations have coincided nicely with the revelation that the US is in fact ‘mulling’ over whether to send ‘defensive’ weapons to Ukraine, and a report by senior Pentagon officials has said that such assistance is necessary ‘to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive.’

This is the company that the great humanitarian is keeping.     If Ash seriously believes that pouring more weapons into Ukraine will help the Ukrainians achieve strategic parity, let alone ‘stop the mayhem’ he is definitely living on another planet, unlike his hero McCain, who has no particular concern how many people die in Ukraine as long as he gets the big war that he didn’t get in Syria.

Let’s consider a few reasons why Garton Ash’s proposals are a bad idea:

a) The Ukraine war has no military solution.   Russia knows that, which is one reason why it hasn’t swatted away the Ukrainian armed forces already.   It it did that, it would become an occupying power and would be bled white.     Nor is it even clear that Putin wants to annexe eastern Ukraine, despite all the Sudetenland comparisons that have been flying around.     It is not even clear whether the Russian-speaking population is universally in favour of union with Russia, even though they might be if the war goes on and the Nazis of the Azov Battalion continue to run amok.

b) This is a conflict that requires conflict resolution, cooperation and compromises.     It must be resolved politically and that demands action by ALL the protagonists; Russia, the separatists, the Ukraine government, the EU, the US, NATO and the separatists, because all of them in different ways are responsible for the unfolding disaster.

c) That solution may involve separation, unless the Ukraine government can give the Russian-speaking inhabitants of east Ukraine a very good reason to remain part of their country – which doesn’t mean force.   If that happens then the ‘international community’ will have to accept it, just as they accepted the secession of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and ultimately Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia – or is secession only to be supported when it’s politically convenient?

d) No Russian leader will accept another NATO-dominated state on its borders.   It doesn’t matter whether they are Putin or somebody else.     A country that has been as mauled as Russia has been in two world wars is not going to allow this to happen without doing everything it can to stop it.

e) It’s no good NATO simply insisting, as its Deputy General Secretary Alexander Vershbow did once again in Oslo today, that it doesn’t represent a security threat to Russia.   When the US allows Russia to carry out military maneuvers in Canada and perhaps install nuclear weapons there, then maybe those reassurances might have some credibility.     Until then, not.   And as for Vershbow’s accusation that Russia has ‘torn up the international rule book’, well NATO simply has no platform to deliver homilies on that score.

f)   Garton Ash’s proposals will not reduce the bloodshed – they will intensify and increase it, and that means increasing the suffering of the civilian population of east Ukraine and probably further afield as well.

g) Escalation is likely to induce Putin to raise the stakes too.     It is likely to build up a really dangerous and uncontrollable dynamic that may well lead not just to a new Cold War, but a hot war with Russia.

That would be total madness, but it’s the game that Garton Ash, McCain & co want the world to play, and we need to ignore their nonsense about   appeasement and say very loudly to our government that we won’t play it.



Goodbye to Uncle Sam?

The US bombardment-that-never-was in Syria has provoked an array of negative responses amongst those who wanted such an outcome, which spans a wide political spectrum. Republican hard-rightists and liberal interventionists alike have expressed alarm at the hesitancy and incompetence of the Obama administration and the war-weary “isolationist” mood of the American public.

Some have described Obama”s decision not to bomb as an abandonment of the Syrian people. Others have described the Russian diplomatic démarche as a dangerous symptom of the waning of US global power a prospect that they regard as a disaster not only for Syria but for the whole Middle East and beyond….

My new piece for Ceasefire magazine.   You can read the rest here