There is a disturbing aspect to the discourse in Washington, D.C., and European capitals surrounding the war in Ukraine that seeks to quash any dissent from the official narrative surrounding NATO’s military support for Ukraine. As the world was thrust into Cold War 2.0, the Western commentariat dusted off the wide brush wielded for decades by the cold warriors of old, labeling critics of the policy of massive weapons transfers to Ukraine or unquestioning support for the government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Russian stooges or puppets. This is a dangerous trend that encourages groupthink over a potentially nuclear conflict.
Citizens have every right to question the role of their governments, particularly in times of war. Some of the dynamics around policing criticism of Zelenskyy or the Ukrainian government or the U.S. support for it are reminiscent of the efforts to stifle criticism of Israel through charges of antisemitism. Not only is this an intellectually bankrupt line of attack, but it also runs contrary to the vital principle of free debate in democratic societies. It also seeks to relegate to a dungeon of insignificance the vast U.S. record of foreign policy, military, and intelligence catastrophes as well as its abuses and crimes by pretending that only lackeys for Moscow would dare question our role in a foreign conflict on the other side of the globe.
Russia is fighting not just Ukraine, but also NATO infrastructure.
Russia is hardly a victim here. Vladimir Putin seems comfortable abetting a new cold war, and his unjustified attack against Ukraine has offered the U.S. and NATO a golden ticket to ratchet up militarism, European defense spending, and weapons production. At the same time, it is true, as Moscow alleges, that Russia is fighting not just Ukraine, but also NATO infrastructure. It is also true that prominent sectors of the U.S. security state want this war primarily to bleed Russia, and last year the White House had to walk back President Joe Biden’s off-the-cuff remark about Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” The whole enterprise is an incredible boondoggle for the war industry, which now gets no-bid contracts baked in to build the defense “industrial base.”
The idea that Putin could not have foreseen the likelihood of NATO coming to Ukraine’s defense — particularly with Biden, not Donald Trump, in the White House— is ludicrous. For years, through his actions and words, Putin has made clear that he has no respect for Ukraine as a sovereign nation, a sentiment that has only become more entrenched over the past year. The U.S. and its NATO allies, for their part, poked at Putin in an effort to back him into a corner he ultimately decided he would not accept. Still, he alone chose the path of invading a neighboring country, and for that, Putin should answer. At the same time, discussing the role of Western powers in bringing the world to this point should not be taboo, nor should it be used as a prompt to smear those raising relevant issues as doing Moscow’s bidding.