US bet on Ukraine conflict turning into a strategic failure
Published: Jun 01, 2023 08:03 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

The war in Ukraine appears to be heading toward either a bloody stalemate or a successful Russian war of attrition. Against this backdrop, some argue that Washington's worst geopolitical nightmare may come true due to the Ukraine war. To the extent this is true, and US elites have only themselves to blame. By all appearances, the US has entered a phase of decline when geopolitical gambits that are meant to forestall the end of imperial hegemony only hasten its demise.

When Russia launched the military operation in 2022, many on the left were surprised that Russia did it, as it did not seem to be in the Russian national interest to do so. There had been many alarms raised in the US warning of an impending Russian invasion. But after the Iraqi WMD and Russiagate hoaxes, it is easy to understand why many thought US officials and the corporate media were, as ever, lying.

One veteran journalist who clearly saw what was coming was Joe Lauria of Consortium News. This outlet was founded by the late Robert Parry, a legendary journalist who was forced to leave corporate media because his journalism routinely exposed the hypocrisy, duplicity, and criminality of US foreign policy.

In a February 4, 2022 article, Lauria wrote that, the US plans to weaken Russia by imposing punishing sanctions and bringing world condemnation on Moscow depend on Washington's hysteria about a Russian invasion of Ukraine actually coming true.

There is a history of the US baiting adversaries into wars that the power elite believes will redound to the benefit of US hegemony. Such was the case when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. 

There is much reason to surmise that the US thought similarly about a Russian war against Ukraine. The strategic importance of Ukraine to Russia was well understood. After Russian military operations began, it was eventually reported that prior to February 2022, US officials had held a grim assessment of Ukraine's chances in a war that Zelensky was apparently not trying to avoid. The Intercept wrote, "The Central Intelligence Agency was so pessimistic about Ukraine's chances that officials told President Joe Biden and other policymakers that the best they could expect was that the remnants of Ukraine's defeated forces would mount an insurgency, a guerrilla war against the Russian occupiers." 

Months before the war, Yahoo News, citing CIA insiders, reported that the US "is training an insurgency, [teaching the Ukrainians how] to kill Russians." Echoing some of the darkest elements of the Cold War, the CIA had undertaken "stay-behind force training" in Ukraine.

In hindsight, we can discern that the US pursued NATO expansion into Ukraine knowing that this was a red line for Moscow - just as a Russian military alliance with Mexico would be unacceptable for the US. We now know that US officials had a grim assessment of Ukrainian chances in a war that the US understood was likely to result from Ukrainian statements and actions. We see that prior to the invasion, the US rebuffed Russian diplomacy aimed at defusing the crisis. 

Rather, the US apparently wanted to use the war to damage Russia by getting the country mired in a long occupation and bloody insurgency. The US also sought to establish a sanctions regime that would cut Russia off from foreign trade, especially with Europe. This context helps explain why the US and UK scuttled peace talks that could have ended the war in Ukraine back in April of 2022.

Because the crackpot realists of the US power elite so badly misjudged the military, economic, and diplomatic aspects of the conflict in Ukraine, the war has served to accelerate the demise of US hegemony. As professional US imperialist Fiona Hill recently acknowledged, "The war in Ukraine is perhaps the event that makes the passing of pax Americana apparent to everyone." 

US leaders have only themselves to blame. The pursuit of open-ended global primacy was always madness. In decades past, US leaders tried and failed to turn the US away from empire. Now that the curtain is falling on US global hegemony, can new post-Biden leadership succeed where these men failed?

The author is a US historian and political scientist who runs the American Exception podcast. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn