Thursday, March 09, 2023

Tooze in the FT: The west’s limited support for Ukraine fails to measure up

Europe and the US may sincerely want Kyiv to prevail over Moscow but they are failing to match ends with means

In the first 12 months of the war in Ukraine, the condemnation of Russia and rhetorical backing of Kyiv by the governments of Europe and the US has been intense and largely unanimous. But the economic numbers tell a different story. Judged against current potential and historical standards, the war looks like an exercise in calculated restraint.

This is not necessarily a sign of strategic failure. Though the moral force of war may seem to demand absolute commitment, total war is the dream of fascists or revolutionaries. For the rest of us, total war should be an absolute nightmare. War that does not envision the overthrowing of all order must involve the weighing of means and ends, costs and benefits, even in the face of death. And this is true for both combatants and their allies.

Tooze on Substack

What does it feel like to see a major war coming? Not to “sleepwalk” but to wake to the reality that one state, with deliberation and intent is about to invade another with massive military force? With drastic consequences for millions of people and huge loss of life.

We have experienced this before. For many of us that moment came in 2002 and 2003 when we watched with horror the massing of the “coalition of the willing”, including our own country’s forces, for the invasion of Iraq. Around the world the memory of that moment hangs like a shadow over events today. This, indeed, is one of the points brought out by Politico’s oral history of the Biden administration in the autumn of 2021. This remarkable collage of interview segments conveys vividly what it was like for those who were privy to the most top-level military intelligence to face the dawning realization of Putin’s intent.

Tooze on twitter with a screengrab from Politico 

VICTORIA NULAND: Suffice to say that in December I brought all of my shower stuff, a couple of changes of clothes, things to sleep in, a blanket and a much more nutritious array of snacks into the office, because I knew it was unpredictable what our hours would look like.

Nuland, then and now

repeats: Ragozin, from last October and December 2021, beginning with Zagorodnyuk's article in Foreign AffairsUkraine's Path to Victory  

Ragozin. (click the link and read the whole thread):

For context, Zahorodniuk left defence minister’s post on March 4, 2020 - same day as prime minister Honcharuk. Together they soon landed in the US and in the Atlantic Council during the election year devising a new hawkish strategy for resolving Ukrainian conflict.

This resulted in an abrupt change of tack in Zelensky’s policies the moment Biden entered office. It also resulted in Atlantic Council’s radical strategy for resolving the conflict which was published in March 2021, just before Putin started amassing troops at the border.

Enter Biden. His White House takeover in Jan 2021 coincides with Zelensky’s radical change of tack with regards to Russia. Ukraine is suddenly proactive and assertive in the manner that suggests some pre-planning. Ex-PM Oleksiy Honcharuk’s posting to the US is of note here. 

 Le Monde Diplo: Western media as cheerleaders for war

Western journalists are all but unanimous that negotiating with Russia would equal forgiving it its aggression. Nothing short of a crushing victory for Ukraine is conscionable. The risk of escalation is rarely mentioned.

After speeches by British prime minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky at a joint press conference on 8 February at a military base in southwest England, it was time for questions. BBC Ukraine correspondent Natalia Goncharova greeted Zelensky with, ‘I would really like to hug you, but I’m not allowed.’ Ignoring his security service, Zelensky got down from the podium and embraced her to general applause. Then Goncharova asked Sunak, ‘You know that Ukrainian soldiers are dying every day. Don’t you think that that decision about warplanes is taking too long?’ In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, the embedding of journalists with the US military had caused some in the profession to wince; 20 years on, in the Ukraine war, it’s become a journalism of the all-out embrace.

Wapo: In race to arm Ukraine, U.S. faces cracks in its manufacturing might

The war has exposed an inability to rapidly surge production of many weapons needed for Ukraine and for America’s self-defense

SCRANTON, Pa. — A sharp hissing sound fills the factory as red-hot artillery shells are plunged into scalding oil.

Richard Hansen, a Navy veteran who oversees this government-owned munitions facility, explains how the 1,500-degree liquid locks in place chemical properties that ensure when the shells are fired — perhaps on a battlefield in Ukraine — they detonate in the deadly manner intended.

“That’s what we do,” Hansen said. “We build things to kill people.”

Ragozin adds

US arms producers are going to have a decades-long bonanza because of war in Ukraine. Of course it will help them if Putin’s regime remains intact, Ukraine remains a hot or frozen battlefield and a new Cold War ensues.

NYT: Pentagon Blocks Sharing Evidence of Possible Russian War Crimes With Hague Court

President Biden has not acted to resolve a dispute that pits the Defense Department against other agencies.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is blocking the Biden administration from sharing evidence with the International Criminal Court in The Hague gathered by American intelligence agencies about Russian atrocities in Ukraine, according to current and former officials briefed on the matter.

American military leaders oppose helping the court investigate Russians because they fear setting a precedent that might help pave the way for it to prosecute Americans. The rest of the administration, including intelligence agencies and the State and Justice Departments, favors giving the evidence to the court, the officials said.

President Biden has yet to resolve the impasse, officials said. 

 The FT: The Iraq war left western societies unchanged

Twenty years on, the political and cultural legacy of a divisive war is minimal

...Yes, US casualties were far higher in Vietnam. Yes, a conscript war scars a society in a way that an all-volunteer one can’t. But Iraq was easily the most controversial war fought by a western state in the past half-century. It set citizen against citizen in Britain and Germany as much as in the US (no European nation participated in Vietnam). Those who lived through it might have assumed it would mark our culture for a generation: that pro and antiwar would become signifiers of one’s wider worldview, even one’s tastes, as Leave and Remain now are in the UK. Instead, it is often an ordeal to persuade the young what a saga it all was.

And that, I think, is what makes this 20th anniversary so eerie. At least within the western world, the Iraq war has left little trace.

Tooze adds: "Discuss"

Marlene Laruelle, "Russian Studies’ Moment of Self-Reflection" Russian Analytical Digest No. 293
Almost the entirety. It's hilarious. From Ragozin and Kevin Rothrock.
Anglophone Russian Studies are largely autarkic, existing with little knowledge of (or at least reference to) what is produced outside of the English-speaking world. The very limited references made to the Russian-language literature belie the richness of Russian publications, as any visit to such Russian intellectual hotspots as the Falanster bookstore in Moscow would have shown—at least until the onset of the full-scale war. And this does not even take into account what is published in Russia’s regional capitals, whose publishing markets are segregated from those in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Even within so-called “Western” academia, publications in French, German, and other national languages rarely transcend their national borders to be engaged by the English-speaking literature. By contrast, history and literature seem to have been better able to integrate locally produced scholarship.

A second feature is that in contrast to old “Sovietology,” social scientists working on contemporary Russia are rarely invited to train in and enter into dialogue with the humanities. How many U.S. political scientists studying Russia have read Viktor Pelevin? More globally and more structurally, social sciences struggle to put into practice their self-proclaimed commitment to multidisciplinarity, or at least crossdisciplinarity. Segments of Anglophone political science on Russia, by stressing the need for causal identification study designs, have contributed to an overreliance on data from surveys with experimental designs at the expense of interactions with history, cultural anthropology, sociology, or geography. Here, too, the segregation is largely internal to the “Western” and especially Anglophone realm: Russian publications display much deeper cross-disciplinary approaches. And except in such marginal subfields as Russia’s Arctic policy, climate change, and sustainability policy, there is even less dialogue between the social sciences, geography, and the natural sciences.

A third feature relates to the succession of prisms or lenses used on Russia that have created distortions in analyses. At least four such prisms can be identified. First is a Putin-centric prism that entails looking at Russia through its president, his professional background, his inner circles, trying to identify his ideological gurus, illuminating his supposedly “irrational mindset,” or offering purely instrumentalist analysis of the regime.

Second is a Moscow-centric vision of Russia in which the capital city and its more liberal-minded residents obscure regional perspectives, which are often ideologically more diverse and are generally more nuanced. Similarly, internationally well-connected Russian scholars from the two capitals are frequently seen as the only legitimate “Russian voices” —because they are the only ones known in the West and able to speak its language, both literally and symbolically.

Third is an ethnic Russian-centric reading of Russia in which the ethnic minorities who were so intensively studied in the 1990s have become one of the blank spots of research. This contributes to the difficulties of capturing potentially “hidden scripts” of ressentiment—aggravated by the general Western lack of knowledge of Russia’s national languages and the marginalization of identity politics, seen as a “sub-area” that cannot explain Russia’s general features.

Last but not least is a Western-centric prism imposed on Russia, its regime and society, which are always com- pared to the West’s as the obvious normative benchmark. This approach, which treats the West as the only mirror of Russia, blatantly excludes views of Russia from non-Western perspectives. Scholars from countries neighboring Russia have increasingly called to be recognized as agents in interpreting Russia on the basis of their own experiences. Scholars from the Global South, too, look at Russia and at the West through their own prisms and experiences, including a vivid postcolonial approach.

Where do we go from here?

Acknowledging academic inequalities in knowledge production—of which there are many—would be a first step. The most obvious starting-point is probably that native scholars and indigenously produced work should be acknowledged as critical additions to the field that cannot be ignored. But there are other knowledge hierarchies, too: of English-speaking works over non-English ones; of Western-centric views over those from the post-Soviet world and from the “Global South”; of political science—the “reigning” discipline through which (Western) understandings of the Russian regime and society are developed—over sociology, cultural anthropology, history, and the humanities.

A second step would be to favor more granular and grassroots approaches that would allow for thicker conceptual knowledge. The Post-Soviet Affairs special issue shows us the path: it would entail, among other things, changing the questions we ask; being cognizant of the issues related to aggregative approaches and the need to blend survey data with qualitative analysis; going back to long-neglected ethnographic methods; looking at societal transformations over the course of generations; focusing on vulnerable segments of the population (both classes and ethnic groups); borrowing from social psychology to study ressentiment-based politics and collective emotions; and opening up to new comparative frameworks.

This is a transformative time for the Russian Studies field. Russia scholars have the opportunity—and duty— to both rethink the systemic features of their field and to contribute to changing the lenses applied to Russia in the hope of contributing modestly to new pathways for the peaceful coexistence of the nations that share the Europe-Asia continent.
Remember, the humanities are dying. "The End of the English Major"
Leiter reads the New Yorker too.

In 2022, though, a survey found that only seven per cent of Harvard freshmen planned to major in the humanities, down from twenty per cent in 2012, and nearly thirty per cent during the nineteen-seventies. From fifteen years ago to the start of the pandemic, the number of Harvard English majors reportedly declined by about three-quarters—in 2020, there were fewer than sixty at a college of more than seven thousand—and philosophy and foreign literatures also sustained losses. (For bureaucratic reasons, Harvard doesn’t count history as a humanity, but the trend holds.) “We feel we’re on the Titanic,” a senior professor in the English department told me.

Students lacked a strong sense of the department’s vaunted standing. “I would never say this to any of my English- or my film-major friends, but I kind of thought that those majors were a joke,” Isabel Mehta, a junior, told me. “I thought, I’m a writer, but I’ll never be an English major.” Instead, she’d pursued social studies—a philosophy, politics, and economics track whose popularity has exploded in recent years. (Policy, students explained, was thought to effect urgent change.) But the conversations bored her (students said “the same three things,” she reported, “and I didn’t want to be around all these classmates railing on capitalism all day”), so she landed uneasily in English after all. “I have a warped sense of identity, where I’m studying something really far removed from what a lot of people here view as central, but I’m not removed from these cultural forces,” she told me.

English professors find the turn particularly baffling now: a moment when, by most appearances, the appetite for public contemplation of language, identity, historiography, and other longtime concerns of the seminar table is at a peak.

"philosophy, politics, and economics track whose popularity has exploded in recent years."

Isabel Mehta's choices describe the situation of humanism in a world of ideological instrumentalism and moral certainty: positivist, leftist or capitalist. She didn't want to know the history; she can't take it seriously, but she does it anyway, because she needs to tell her stories. Her LinkedIn page reminds me of Nwanevu.

I can't not think of LinkedIn as embarrassing. But that reminds me of my mother's reaction when I told her a friend of a friend had asked me to ask her for an introduction to a friend of hers. Her eyes widened: such things were not done. Mehta went to my high school, which means she probably was there for more. I got in, in the last year of elementary school, through the matriarch of one of the oldest families in Philadelphia, whose grandson was a staff lawyer at the ACLU. These were the days when the ACLU was principled, and frankly fun. The school had a few scholarship kids from my neighborhood but I never thought to mention to anyone that I was the only white or demi-white kid in the school who had a sibling who'd gone to the public school the scholarship kids had succeeded in avoiding. I'm not sure anyone would have gotten the joke. In my 20s I told my mother I was a tradesman. She was horrified. I said I was a carpenter and she was relieved. She's thought I meant I was "in trade".

Agnes Callard again, this time in the New Yorker. She now admits what was always obvious.

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