Executive summary: Until the public, Congress, and the mainstream media acknowledge the extent of U.S. provocations and responsibility for the war in Ukraine, it will be difficult to get U.S. leadership to agree to support a diplomatic solution to the crisis. So lives will continue to be lost, money will continue to be wasted, and the risk of nuclear conflict will continue to rise. Moreover, the Pentagon budget will continue to grow and U.S. preparations for war with China will continue to be unquestioned.
I exchanged email with someone who works as a researcher for a peace institute. He acknowledged that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine but he thinks the “the vast bulk of the responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine lies with Vladimir Putin.” This researcher wants the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he thinks the U.S. should continue arming Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian aggression.
There are several interesting points to make in response to that researcher’s positions.
First, what does “vast bulk of the responsibility” mean exactly? Does Putin bear 67% of the responsibility (with the other 33% being the responsibility of the U.S. and NATO)? Does Putin bear 75% of the responsibility? 90%? 99%? The researcher is informed enough to know that the U.S. isn’t totally innocent in the crisis, but he didn’t proffer a numeric response to my request for him to suggest a percent.
These questions about degree of responsibility may seem academic and unanswerable — are they even meaningful? — but they are actually quite important. Similar questions are routinely asked in courts of law, and one can ask the same thing about many wars:
- World War I — generally regarded as a stupid, avoidable, unnecessary war, so blame is shared on both sides;
- World War II — generally regarded as the last and possibly greatest “just” war, with Germany (if not Japan, which the U.S. intentionally provoked) bearing almost 100% of the blame (though see Leaving World War II Behind);
- the Vietnam War — generally regarded as unjustified and stupid, so the U.S. bears approximately 50% of the blame;
- the Kosovo war — generally regarded as justified, but recent revelations bring into question the nobility of even that war (in short, the Kosovo Liberation Army that the U.S. supported was, arguably, a terrorist group, and the U.S. launched the war largely to weaken a Russian ally);
- the second war in Iraq — generally regarded as stupid and unjustified (no WMDs, no relation to 9/11), so the U.S. bears over 50% of the blame; and
- the war in Afghanistan — generally regarded as partially justified but, in the end, disastrous.
Some people would argue that wars are always unjust, in the sense that military invasions are always wrong and the best response to a military attack is always a non-violent response.
Getting back to the topic of the war in Ukraine, the evidence shows that the U.S. bears a substantial share of the responsibility for the war in Ukraine. If forced to give a number, I’d say at least 33%. Aggressive NATO expansion right up to Russia’s borders, including support for the 2014 uprising in Ukraine that overthrew a pro-Russian government, and support for far-right, anti-Russian armed groups, represent actions that any reasonable viewer would regard as extremely provocative. Furthermore, the U.S. squashed peace initiatives in Ukraine both before and after the 2022 invasion. For years U.S. diplomats had warned that NATO expansion into Ukraine would result in war. The U.S. would never allow Russia or China to engage in similar military and political expansion along U.S. borders. Heck, the U.S. doesn’t even allow quasi-socialist countries to emerge in Latin America. And the U.S. has launched numerous wars, proxy wars and government overthrows far from its borders with less justification than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, the U.S. regards the entire world as its rightful sphere of influence.
See Senior U.S. diplomats, journalists, academics and secretaries of defense say: The U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine and the links therein for justification for my judgements above about U.S. responsibility for the war in Ukraine.
Numerous alternative media outlets and commentators (e.g., Common Dreams, Truthout, antiwar.com, Scheerpost, The Intercept, Jeffrey Sachs, Matthew Hoh, Chris Hedges, John Mearsheimer, Aaron Mate, Caitlin Johnstone, Medea Benjamin, Nicholas Davies, Consortium News, and LA Progressive), have published articles documenting how the U.S. and NATO provoked the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prior to 2022, scores of mainstream news articles documented the presence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the U.S. support for them. Since the invasion, a smattering of opinion pieces in mainstream media (including even the New York Times) have exposed U.S. culpability in Ukraine. Recently, more and more mainstream media outlets have been jumping on the bandwagon; see, for example, Harper’s Magazine’s Why are We in Ukraine?.
I don’t know how someone who knows the history of U.S. wars and government overthrows worldwide can look at what the U.S. did in Ukraine and not feel that Russia was correct to feel threatened. Even if the U.S. bears only 10% of the responsibility for what happened, it still has a lot of blood on its hands. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia desperately wanted to be integrated into the West and, up to the end of 2021, pleaded with D.C. to come to an equitable peace in Ukraine, but NATO needed an enemy to justify its existence and wanted to weaken Russia. The expansion of NATO provoked the war that is now touted as showing the need for NATO.
As Noam Chomsky said, “The Iraq War was totally unprovoked… In contrast, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was most definitely provoked….A host of high-level U.S. diplomats and policy analysts have been warning Washington for 30 years that it was reckless and needlessly provocative to ignore Russia’ security concerns, particularly its red lines: No NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, in Russia’ geostrategic heartland.”
So, you see, I am not saying that Russia’s invasion was justified. Like many U.S. wars, it was criminal. I am just pointing out that the U.S. is far from innocent in the crisis, as the articles above show.
It’s great that the peace researcher I exchanged emails with acknowledges that the U.S. isn’t totally innocent, and it’s great he wants diplomacy. What I told him, though, was that his push for diplomacy is unlikely to succeed unless people like him — as well as the public, Congress, and the mainstream media — acknowledge the extent of U.S. provocations. After all, if the war was almost entirely due to Putin’s aggression, then U.S. support for Ukraine is noble.
I also said that I take no position on whether the U.S. should arm Ukraine. I should have added: I want an immediate diplomatic solution. I don’t want to arm Ukraine to continue the suffering and the risk of escalation. I want an end to the war. The important point is that the war was entirely avoidable, but the U.S. wanted it and extended it, using the innocent people of Ukraine as pawns in a cynical and deadly geopolitical chess game.
I hope that in this essay I have exposed four myths concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
Myth #1: In wars, such as the war in Ukraine, the blame usually lies entirely on one side. Instead, in reality often both sides share blame.
Myth #2: The Russian invasion of Ukraine was “unprovoked”. That strikes me as a cynical lie, and it’s shameful that mainstream media outlets allow the government to get away with it.
Myth #3: Acknowledging that the U.S. and NATO provoked the invasion implies exonerating Russia for that invasion. (corollary to Myth #1)
Myth #4: Pushing for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine is likely to be effective without exposing U.S. provocations in Ukraine.
Most Americans have backed President Biden and Congress’s arming of Ukraine — though that support has dwindled so that now a majority of Americans oppose more U.S. aid for Ukraine — and didn’t complain when Congress raised the 2024 Pentagon budget to close to $900 billion, while cutting social programs. (The military budget is even higher if you add the slush fund for the war in Ukraine, the costs of the Departments of Energy and Veteran Affairs, and military-related interest on the national debt.) The costs are mostly hidden, in the $33 trillion of national debt, and in the lost opportunity costs of endless wars.
Amazingly, not six months after the disastrous end to the disastrous war in Afghanistan, America was again in a war — this time a proxy war with Russia. Yet neither the mainstream media nor most of the public raised a finger to question the wisdom of the war. And the U.S. is actively preparing for war with China, escalating tensions by sending high-level politicians to visit Taiwan, arming Taiwan with weaponry, and enlisting countries such as Australia to create a noose of military power around China. What could go wrong?
This is why it’s so important to expose how the U.S. government lied about Ukraine, just as it lied about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other wars, proxy wars, and government overthrows. Then, maybe, the perfidy of the military-industrial complex will be exposed and a saner military and foreign policy can be established.