Even if Russia were to invade Ukraine, the US should not go to war
The case against war does not depend on whether Russia invades.
I am on my way out the door at the moment and probably shouldn’t be trying to write this so quickly, but Joe Biden has just announced that a Russia will invade Ukraine soon and I think the left continues to make a serious mistake in its response.
The left is rightly skeptical of the administration’s claims that an invasion is imminent given the US government’s record of flat-out lying to justify war. Even if we did not have new reasons to believe that it’s lying this time around — objections from the government of Ukraine itself, for example, and the administration’s continued refusal to provide any sort of evidence — it makes perfect sense to default to skepticism.
But while I think it’s important to voice our skepticism, there are two reasons that I don’t think this should be our primary argument against war.
The first is that even if Russia did invade Ukraine the United States should still stay out of this conflict. It’s difficult to think of a tolerable outcome in that situation even if we did commit to war, but the more likely outcome is that Ukraine’s allies would make partial gestures of support that would only succeed in prolonging war before our eventual defeat. Our involvement would also inflame our relationship with Russia for the foreseeable future, of course, and while this might succeed in making Hillary Clinton feel good, it would only have terrible consequences for everyone else, particularly ordinary Russian civilians. Finally, our involvement could very well escalate this from a limited conflict in Ukraine to a broader conflict with NATO.
The second is that even if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine, the Biden administration may very well decide that it has — and if it does, this will instantly become convention wisdom in the media and among most Americans. It will also, of course, become conventional wisdom that the left got it wrong, that it simply does not understand this situation, and that no one should take its case for peace seriously.
Consider NATO’s recent allegation that Russia conducted a false-flag operation against Ukraine. As far as I can tell there are only two conclusions we can draw from this. If Russia did conduct a false-flag operation, then it is behaving aggressively and we do have reason to be concerned about invasion. But if Russia didn’t conduct a false-flag operation, then we know that NATO is telling the public elaborate lies and trying to justify war with false claims about Russian aggression. Either way it seems likely that in the near future, the left is going to have to defend itself from a widespread belief that we were wrong to doubt that an invasion was imminent.
This is just bad rhetorical positioning. We do, again, have very good reasons to think that the administration is lying to us and cannot be trusted, and we should be open about this. But we also, in my view, should make it very clear that the case against war is the one I have outlined above. That critique will be much more difficult for the war hawks to lie their way out of.