The Continuing Carnage in Ukraine

Photograph Source: – CC BY 4.0

Getting Real About Capitalism-Imperialism and Reckless US Foreign Policy*

Last I looked the blood-drenched inter-imperialist carnage was continuing in Ukraine, where the war continues be the long and gory slog many figured it would be from early in Russia’s invasion.  The bodies continue to pile higher. The monstrous conflict appears likely to go on for years, putting more humans in early graves, maiming and poisoning bodies and minds and the Eastern European landscape well into the future.  Along the way, it remains the leading likely trigger point for a potentially terminal nuclear war and should retain that status unless/until the United States and China really mix it up over Taiwan.

Last April, I went to the shiny corporate downtown Chicago Prudential Tower to attend an elite Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA, the local outpost of the longstanding leading US imperial think-tank The Council on Foreign Relations[CFR]) event featuring an all-too polite debate between two U.S. foreign policy big-shots. In one chair sat CCGA president Ivo Daadler, a smooth-talking white-haired NATO imperialist who was once a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution and director for European affairs on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council. His official bio says that “he is the author or editor of 10 books.”

In the other chair sat George Beebe, the tall and dark-haired director of Grand Strategy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.  Beebe spent more than two decades in government as an intelligence analyst, diplomat, and policy advisor, including as director of the CIA’s Russia analysis unit and a staff advisor on Russian matters to Vice President Cheney.  Beebe and his think tank are known for advocating foreign policy “realism.”

“Idealism” v. “Realism”

The debate reflected a US imperialist division between ruling class elites who identify as “idealists” and those who identify as “realists.”  Here is if a brief summary of that difference from the CFR:

“Idealism contends that a country’s foreign policy should reflect its internal values primarily. In other words, if a government attempts to reduce poverty, defend human rights, or promote religious freedom at home because it believes those positions to be just or moral, then it should strive to do the same abroad. To idealists, that would lead in the long run to a more peaceful world…Realism, on the other hand, approaches foreign policy from the perspective of interests as opposed to values… Realists don’t necessarily deny the importance of human rights or democratic governance; they just believe that the way to achieve peace and prosperity is by influencing how other countries interact with the world instead of trying to change those countries’ internal affairs. Rather than focusing on every humanitarian crisis, realists build power and influence to mold the world in their vision by forming strong alliances, developing military capabilities, or weakening rivals. Realists believe sharing one’s values abroad often has unintended consequences that can destabilize countries and regions.”

Got that? Good. Try to suppress your laughter at the notion that the US government “attempts to reduce poverty, defend human rights, or promote religious freedom at home…”

More Dangerous Than the Cold War Era

In his opening comments, prompted by an imperial CCGA moderator’s broad question on “how the war is going,” the realist Beebe correctly painted a negative picture.  “It’s a bad news story,” he said, pointing out that: Russia has lost any chance of a “normal relationship” with the West for many years to come; Ukraine has seen a 30% decline in its economy and undergone massive damage to its cities and infrastructure; Ukraine has lost ten million emigrants, many of whom will never return and many of whom are the kinds of young people with the most economic potential; Europe is now divided in “ways that are worse than the Cold War” since the new division lacks the orderly rules and checks on chaos and volatility that the Cold War imposed.

I was struck by that last observation.  For Beebe, and I think he’s right, the post-Cold War period is more dangerous than the Cold War era. The chances for European, global, and nuclear war are greater since the fall of the “iron curtain” than when Russia and Eastern Europe were under “socialist” control.

Never Mind

The “idealist” – that is the far more aggressive US imperialist – Daadler had a different take, of course.  He was excited to report that Russia’s military, economy, and political status have been weakened by Putin’s decision to engage in “a war of imperialism…a fundamental violation of everything that international affairs and rule of law stands for.”  He celebrated Putin’s failure to take Kyiv.  He exulted that Putin’s invasion has made Ukraine “a nation with an identity” and that NATO has become larger and stronger, more independent and capable.  Never mind that:

+ Russia’s economy has proved notably resilient in the face of US-led Western sanctions.

+ Russia appears to have the resources to maintain its partial occupation of Ukraine for years to come.

+ Russia  is drawing closer and closer to the United States’ economic and military rival and superpower China in response to NATO’s expansion and Western sanctions.

+ The Russian state continues to be at least a nuclear weapons superpower (no small thing!) with the capacity to blow up Europe and indeed the world if its perceived security needs are not acknowledged and met on its long, repeatedly invaded Southwestern border.

+ Putin’s invasion has produced not outrage but shrugs from a global South that finds it darkly comic for the great imperialist war criminal Uncle Sam to accuse Russia of imperialism and violating international law. (The US has invaded, toppled governments, murdered millions, and otherwise interfered in the internal social, economic, and political affairs of the vast global periphery for many decades.)

+ Support for Zelensky’s US- and NATO-fueled war is far from unanimous across Europe, which has paid heavy prices (heightened energy costs, trying to accommodate a large migrant influx, and more) for the conflict.

+ The additions of Finland and (soon) Sweden to the US-led NATO alliance heightens Russia’s dangerous and understandable sense of menace from the West.

+ The US-led Western funding and equipping of Ukraine’s war effort helps feed Russian nationalism (Russian “national identity”) under the leadership of the revanchist authoritarian Putin.

Daadler: Let the Carnage Continue!

Where is the war headed? The CCGA moderator asked Daadler and Beebe what outcomes they foresaw and what chances they see for “a diplomatic solution.”  The “idealist” (more aggressive imperialist) Daadler was pleased to project a continuing “war of attrition.”  He loves that Putin miscalculated on an easy invasion and has been “weakened” by a war that Daadler claims has so far killed 50,000 Russian soldiers. Daadler compares this welcome (to him) death toll with Russian fatalities in the two-year Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which helped provoke the collapse of the Soviet Union: 15,000.  He clearly has Russian regime change in mind.

“Who over time will have sufficient capability to change the military status quo?,” Daadler asks, predicting that “neither side is likely to have that for many, many years. And that you will be in this situation where this conflict and the line of conflict may move back and forth.”


Daadler sees a bloody “standoff…likely to go on for many years” with Kyiv having been decisively “moved to the West” and Ukraine standing in much the same relationship to the US and NATO as Israel. This, for Daadler, is a good thing. The Ukrainian tragedy is refreshing for the former Clinton advisor. Daadler digs the bloodbath, hoping it will topple the evil Russian head of state. He  acknowledges that Ukraine is “unlikely to get all its territory back,” concedes the risk of “nuclear escalation,” and claims to worry that “Russia” could “do the unthinkable.”  But for the “idealist” Daadler, it’s all good.  He is coolly content to see Washington and NATO push the envelope of potential apocalypse to further “weaken Russia” and cancel Vlad.

So , let the carnage continue for “many, many years”!

Daadler is basically a War Pig.

There is a Diplomatic Solution: Stop Trying to Turn Ukraine Into a US Military Outpost

The “realist” Beebe has a more serious, mature, humane, decent, and, well…realistic take on the unfolding catastrophe in Ukraine. While acknowledging the criminal Putin’s failure to capture Kyiv and turn Ukraine into “a Russian vassal state,” he observes that Putin is quite capable of keeping Ukraine out of NATO and preventing  it from becoming what Beebe calls “a US military outpost.” Putin “cannot conquer Ukraine,” Beebe says, “but he can wreck it and undo its capacity to be a functioning state.  He can destroy it” (my paraphrase from notes taken at the CCGA event.) [1]

There is a diplomatic solution, Beebe thinks, but getting there means re-framing the peace terms.  If it’s all about territory, Beebe argues, the prospects are dire. No end to the carnage is likely if negotiations are framed around land and geography.  There is a possibility for peace, however, “if you frame it geo-strategically, around Russia’s fears of a US military outpost on their border.  This,” Beebe rightly notes, “is how Russian has talked about this forever…If we can find common ground around geo-strategic issues,” Beebe thinks, “we can tackle territory.”

“Finding some way of addressing Ukraine’s legitimate security concerns, America and Europe’s legitimate security concerns, and also finding a way to address Russian concerns is necessary,” Beebe says. “Unless we are willing to address that, I don’t think there are prospects for a negotiated settlement to this war. But if we are, if we’re willing to talk about that, then I think the territorial issue might be able to be kicked down the road … and in the meantime, bring this conflict under control.”

There have been inklings of progress on these terms, Beebe notes, but it has been “Ukraine, not Russia that pulled back from geo-strategic negotiations.”  (Here Beebe might add that Ukraine suspended such talks under pressure from its imperial masters in London and Washington.)

In a classic and I think welcome “realist” judgement, Beebe says that the United States most “vital national interest” is not to trying to change the internal politics of Russia but rather  preventing  a widened and potentially nuclear war sparked by Russian “fears of national humiliation…what JFK warned about after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962” (never mind that JFK and Washington’s own fears of national humiliation helped bring the world within an eyelash of nuclear war in October of 1962).

Reckless Joe

In George Beebe’s view, the Biden administration’s position – also Ivo Daadler’s “idealist” position – that  “we won’t talk about Ukraine’s NATO membership” is reckless: “it makes peace impossible.”

The US irresponsibility has worsened since the CCGA session I attended. Biden has recently signed off on F-16s for projected future NATO member Ukraine – an incredibly provocative step loaded with escalatory potential. This matches earlier US and UK efforts to sabotage negotiations around Russia’s existential and geo-strategic issue (no NATO/US outpost in Ukraine) and earlier Biden caves to Zelensky’s insistent pleadings for state-of-the-art missile systems and tanks.

The “idealist” White House position is clear: let the Ukrainian and Russia bodies pile higher and the risks of nuclear war heighten in the name of the purported conflict between “democracy” and “autocracy,” with the US-led capitalist-imperialist and plutocratic West absurdly claiming to represent the former.

That’s what passes for “idealism” in US foreign policy circles and war media.

Beyond the Spectrum of Acceptable Debate

Beebe’s position is of course far preferable to Daadler’s but is still stuck in the killing confines of imperial and nationalist ideology. It is in “the national interest” to avoid a nuclear World War III?  Try this: it’s in the interest of all humanity for two capitalist-imperialist nuclear superpowers not to escalate a proxy war into global Nuclear Winter. It’s in the interest of humanity to overthrow ruling class governments and capitalist-imperialist states that could put the species and planet at such insane and grave risk in the first place!  

When an imperial “idealist” like Daadler absurdly posits that the United States has a legitimate claim to meaningfully oppose imperialism, a serious student of US “foreign policy” should try to suppress laughter long enough to list off some of the major hits of US mass-murderous aggression across the planet (and not only on its immediate borders or in its own regional sphere of influence): the taking of the Southwestern United States from Mexico in the name of “Manifest Destiny” during the Mexican-American War; the seizure and suppression of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines; repeated lethal US interventions in Latin America; regular political interference including the toppling of governments and sponsorship of US-friendly dictatorships the world over; the US crucifixion of Southeast Asia (killing as many as 5 million Vietnam, Cambodians, and Laotians between 1962 and 1975); the Orwellian invasion and occupation of Iraq (with a death well over 1 million); the destruction of Libya…the list goes on and on when it comes to the imperial crimes of Washington, the top imperial aggressor state of all time.  Perhaps Daadler would like to read the cartoon book Chomsky for Beginners and Seymour Hersh’s reporting on the United States’ destruction of the Russian-European Nord Stream Pipeline last year.

Beebe said nothing about the essentially psychopathic nature of Daadler’s position or the epic historical hypocrisy of Daadler’s fantastic/Orwellian notion of the US as a force for democracy and against imperialism.  He did not mention the stark racial hypocrisy involved in the United States’ apparent position that the greatest tragedy unfolding in the world and requiring “idealistic” US intervention is in Caucasian Europe. Calamities and catastrophes far worse regularly unfold across the non-white global periphery that the US and its Western allies – absurdly conflated with “the global community” and “the world” in US ideology – have long imperially oppressed.

Beebe might have but did not perform the useful geopolitical inversion that Noam Chomsky often and sardonically employs: ask Daadler and CCGA audience to imagine how the United States would be responding if Russia and/or China were treating a Canadian province or a northern Mexican state as a political, economic, and military outpost and saying that they looked forward to the North American jurisdiction’s future entry into a Russia- and/or China-led military alliance.

Beebe naturally did not mention the underlying social systemic, historical-material base for the growing post-Cold War conflicts between the world’s three great nuclear superpowers: the inherently expansionist, competitive, and imperialist “logic” of capitalism. Such “Marxist” understanding is verboten in polite circles of privilege, never mind its scientific accuracy.

Beebe did not call for the de-nuclearization of the world – an obvious precondition for human sanity and safety in coming years. Nor did he or anyone attending the CCGA session think to mention the terrible ecological price of the Ukraine War: not just the direct carbon footprint of war but more indirectly and significantly the mad dash for digging up and burning fossil fuels that the conflict has set off thanks to the suppression of Russian oil and gas exports to the West. The Ukraine War has worsened the biggest issue of our or any time – capitalogenic global warming – and proved to be yet another way for the fossil capitalist ruling class to insidiously push that issue – the bourgeois transformation of planet Earth into a giant Greenhouse Gas chamber – to the margins of public consciousness.

Still, George Beebe is certainly the lesser evil, so to speak, compared to the Orwellian lunacy and imperial recklessness of Ivo Daadler and Joe Biden and Anthony Blinken et al., who are carried away by what the late and great radical anti-imperialist US historian Gabriel Kolko identified as the critical and dangerous illusion of US “foreign policy” – the notion that a giant and complex world should and can be controlled from the banks of the Potomac River.  The United States, as Kolko argued in his brilliant 2002 book Another Century of War? “reacts to the complexity of world affairs with its advanced technology and superior firepower, not with realistic political response and negotiation.” The results of this “vainglorious and irrational” predisposition – imperialism cloaked as idealism – are catastrophic now as in the past.

*This essay first appeared on The Paul Street Report. It is largely based on a polite intra-imperial debate that was quite professionally staged at the posh Chicago Council on Global Affairs (the Midwest Metropolis’s outpost of the august US ruling class Council on Foreign Relations) on April 17th of this year. I attended the festivities, mistakenly avoiding the wine bar and failing to get in the Q & A line in time to advance the proper Marxist-Leninist line on the subject matter. See the debate here to judge how fairly, faithfully, and adequately I have captured the debaters’ positions. I have not seen the video and have relied here on my notes and memory. Some of my paraphrases may be off by a few words. I’ve been reluctant to write much on Ukraine because it’s been very hard to trust information. The “fog of war” includes endless propaganda and distortion on all sides. Also, “the left” seems to have polarized in creepy ways, with some lefties I know idiotically aligning themselves with Putin and other lefties I know idiotically aligning with Zelensky and though him with US/NATO (leading to unpleasant portside accusations of betrayal from both sides when one dares to take up the topic for an internationalist anti-imperialist perspective). Revolutionary socialists align with neither side, reflecting firm opposition to the capitalist-imperialist system that gives rises to recurrent deadly wars.


+1. Here I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s thesis on how the US actually “won” the “Vietnam War”: by so devastating Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia that no serious systemic alternative to US led global capitalism could emerge from Vietnam’s war for independence.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).