Cirincione contra Mearsheimer re Ukraine

Sunday, July 31, 2022 6:47 PM

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s a coincidence.—Gore Vidal

Sunday, July 31st, 2022

Dear Friends + Interlocutors,

Some of my “liberal” friends and acquaintances have put me in the doghouse, perhaps permanently. I don’t seem to be condemning Putin’s invasion of Ukraine strongly and loudly enough to suit them. They are outraged and they demand outrage in return.

The problem at this point is, the horses have already left the barn, to coin a phrase, and are galloping down the road. A clique of scheming busybodies in Washington and Europe left the barn door ajar and lit a cherry bomb nearby. 

It was clear what was going to happen—indeed it was planned that way—but the busybodies pretended ignorance and innocence. 

Such was my initial, knee-jerk school-boyish reaction to Joe Cirincione’s “response” to John Mearsheimer’s June 16th, speech in Florence, Italy about the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Professor Mearsheimer, as you probably know, believes the war was caused by “the West”—in sum, by Washington. He is right.

But Joe Cirincione in his just-published article in Russia Matters out of Harvard blames it all on Putin, who is a monster, and is responsible for, “...the increasing authoritarianism of the Russian state and the true horror of Russia’s brutal war and occupation.” Hmm. This sounds familiar.

Joe Cirincione is not a left-winger. He is a reasonable person, an expert in and advocate for nuclear non-proliferation. (Full disclosure: I’m for the total elimination of nuclear weapons world-wide, not just reduction.) He is (or was) affiliated with the admirable Quincy Institute presided over by long-time anti-Establishment critic and strategic genius, Colonel-Professor Andrew Bacevich. 

Nevertheless, Cirincione has somehow managed to swallow whole the Washington foreign policy establishment party-line, dutifully dished up by the NY Times and Washington Post. He’s in the same bag as my infuriated lefty friends and acquaintances when it comes to Ukraine. 

At the same time, he accepts many of Mearsheimer’s premises about the war, which narrative has been laid out several times prior to June 16th, 2022. Mearsheimer has been consistently sounding the alarm on Ukraine for years. 

Alas, to no avail. Neocon and Neoliberal busybodies remain in control of Washington, as they have been since the end of the Cold War. You see the results.

I refer you, inter alia, to Mearsheimer's September 2014 essay in Foreign Affairs, “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault”. And to his September 2015 lecture at the University of Chicago. More recently, the succinct virtual talk to a student group at Cambridge, England in February 2022. 

Joe Cirincione proclaims that he concurs with most of what Mearsheimer says, but he rejects the logical conclusions that follow therefrom. He writes... 

“One can accept key points in Mearsheimer's argument, as I do, without accepting his conclusions. NATO enlargement was problematic; I warned against it at the time and have criticized it more recently, preferring that the newly liberated states of Eastern Europe be brought into the European Union, not a military alliance created to counter the Soviet Union. 

“Some U.S. policies have not taken into account legitimate Russian security concerns, particularly the deployment of missile interceptors in Poland and Romania that serve no useful purpose but, in Moscow’s view, do present a credible military threat, as I have long argued.”

Well, then, where does Cirincione go off the rails?

First, he blames certain European states who, according to him, clamored to join NATO. He cites one example, Poland. So it’s not NATO’s or Washington's fault for marching east, as Mearsheimer proclaims. It’s the fault of countries like Poland who fear Russia.

To riposte that premise—assuming it has merit—Washington could have just said “No!” to Poland or whomever. Washington should have taken a different path, irrespective of Poland and anybody else. Washington could have let Europe be Europe, and withdrawn militarily from Europe, that is, from NATO. 

I repeat from my missive of February 12th, 2022…

The Soviet Union imploded in 1989. The Warsaw Pact shortly thereafter, when the communist satellites of the USSR imploded in turn. A chain reaction. All Well and good. That was that. 

Or was it? Ever wonder why NATO did not also disband soon after the Warsaw Pact did? It would be logical. It would confirm the new, enlightened status in a non-communist Eurasia.

There is no legitimate justification for a military alliance between Europe and the U.S. when there is no actual enemy to fight. The Soviet Union was a genuine threat to Europe, and had been since its inception during World War I. Now it was gone.

The new arrangements included the reunification of Germany, all peacefully achieved in 1990. A wonderful and natural occurrence, although one which both London (Maggie Thatcher) and Paris (Francois Mitterrand) ardently opposed behind the scenes.

Not only did NATO not disband, but soon it started expanding eastward toward Russia proper, incorporating former Russian satellites. Washington had promised Moscow not to do that, to help facilitate German unification, among other reasons. So much for Washington's promises. 

Now NATO is at the front porch of Russia and the Kremlin is naturally alarmed and concerned. Vlad Putin put it succinctly at his recent annual press conference: “The United States is standing with missiles on our doorstep. How would the Americans react if missiles were placed at the border with Canada or Mexico?”

And further: “Sometimes it seems we are living in different worlds. They said they wouldn’t expand, but they are expanding.” The question is to ask yourself is why? Why would NATO, under a determined neocon and neoliberal leadership of Washington, want to expand? 

Please recall what George Kennan said prior to the implosion of the USSR: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

In short, the very concept of NATO, its raison d’être is superannuated. If the Europeans wanted to form some kind of military alliance on their own, even including Russia, in the aftermath of the Cold War, that would be their business. 

The Europeans have an economic alliance called the EU. It seems to be working. Why not expand it to include Russia? After all, Russia is part of Europe and Russia has what all of Europe, especially Germany, requires. To wit, oil and gas and raw materials. 

Why establish an enlarged transatlantic military alliance, under the direct control of Washington, clearly aimed at and threatening Russia? From Europe’s economic point of view and well-being, and from the outlook for world peace, it makes no sense. It is madness. You see the result.

Secondly, Cirincione cites Putin’s growing authoritarian rule in Russia. Is that relevant? I mean, let’s get serious, please. Are we going to go to war with China because its government is a one-party state? How about attacking Saudi Arabia? 

My understanding is that Putin is a popular leader among his own people. Why is Washington obviously pushing regime change in Russia through a proxy war? Is it because Putin has been such a success in bringing Russia back from the brink of ruin?

Thirdly, Cirincione cites the war itself as something missing from Mearsheimer’s analysis. But Mearsheimer has not argued that the war in Ukraine is not bad. War is hell and this is why it should be avoided.

Fourthly, Cirincione retreats to the catch-all expedient of wartime atrocity propaganda. We are the good guys; Putin is the bad guy. Foreign policy is sidelined. Head for the bomb shelters.

If Washington had followed Mearsheimer’s common sense advice, the present Russo-Ukraine war, all the death and destruction, could easily have been forestalled. But that was not on Washington’s agenda. Conflict and confrontation were. 

The goal is to decouple Europe from Russia, while concurrently expanding the American sphere of influence in Europe. This should be obvious in retrospect.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the late Professor Stephen Cohen who taught at Princeton and earned his Phd from Columbia. He was a Russia specialist and friend of Professor Mearsheimer. Like Mearsheimer, Cohen placed the blame for the Ukraine crisis in 2014 on Washington, not Moscow

They did a joint interview during the Trump Administration on the subject of Russia and Ukraine. They seemed to be in complete agreement. Cohen warned about NATO expansion in a forceful lecture before the Carnegie Council in 2010, recently posted on YouTube.

I feel confident that if Professor Cohen had lived to see the Russo-Ukraine war, he would still be in agreement with Mearsheimer and, in fact, would feel vindicated. Stephen Cohen was most articulate and a Russia expert. He would have been a tremendous help today in helping Mearsheimer obliterate the widespread nonsense and hysteria.