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25 February 2022 | Draft

Ukraine versus Iraq -- Humanitarian Intervention versus Invasion?

Russian "peacekeeping" or another "forever war"

-- / --

International promises?
Invasion versus Humanitarian intervention?
Humanitarian interventions?
Forever war?
Politicization of the financial system
Prerequisite demilitarisation?
Problematic parallels: Ukraine, Taiwan, Cuba?
Efficacy of sanctions?
Who benefits? Cui bono?
"You are either with US or against US"?


In a period of intense diplomatic activity regarding Ukraine, President Joe Biden has agreed to meet President Vladimir Putin -- the subject of widespread commentary (Ukraine tensions: Biden agrees in principle to summit with Putin, BBC News, 21 February 2022; Biden Agrees ‘in Principle’ to Meeting with Putin, The New York Times, 21 February 2022). However the talks proposed by France will only take place on one condition -- if Russia does not invade its neighbour, the White House has said (Ukraine crisis: Biden agrees 'in principle' to meeting with Putin as long as Russia does not invade, Euronews, 21 February 2022).

With the emphasis so emphatically placed on "invasion", little is said of the possibility of "humanitarian intervention" -- let alone of the meaning of any form of "promise" not to invade.

Points made in the following document have been further developed subsequently (Severing the Russian Hemisphere as Problematic Global Lobotomy? Engendering a transformative dynamic through the potential of meta-discourse, 2022). Portions of the latter have been amended/extended and published separately for comvenience following the historic vote in the UN General Assembly on 2 March 2022 (United Nations as a Potemkin Institution faced with Potemkin Crises: potential of AI to enable a transformative dynamic through meta-discourse, 2022).

International promises?

The USA has itself proven to be an exemplar of broken promises (Ted Snider, A Brief History of Broken Promises, Anti-War, 4 January 2022). They are a characteristic of domestic politics following electoral commitments. To the extent that an international treaty is the formalization of a promise between nations, the precedent set by the USA in withdrawing from many is significant (Zachary B. Wolf and JoElla Carman, Here are all the treaties and agreements Trump has abandoned, CNN, 1 February 2019).

Understanding of a broken promise made to Russia regarding the expansion of NATO remains a fundamental issue -- if only from a Russian perspective (David N. Gibbs, Claims Over Broken Promises About NATO Simmer at the Heart of the Ukraine Crisis, Truthout, 6 February 2022; Gavin E L Hall, Ukraine: the history behind Russia’s claim that Nato promised not to expand to the east, The Conversation, 15 February 2022).

Global agreements are now vulnerable to a "walk-away" pattern with respect to any past commitments made (New World Order of Walk-away Wheeling and Dealing: creating strategic dependency and vulnerability through confidence tricks, 2018). Reasoned consideration and argument is all the more difficult given the well-recognized tendency of politicians to lie frequently -- if not systematically -- in their declarations and in making promises (John Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie: the truth about lying in international politics, 2012). How is fruitful negotiation to be conducted with such constraints?

Is truth to be expected of Putin or Biden in the emerging period of memetic warfare? By the same token, is truth to be expected by state media -- despite assertions of trustworthiness? The challenge for leaders and media with the power to lie is their consequent inability to prove that they are telling the truth -- if they do so.

The dramatic consequences were made only too evident in the case of Iraq (The Lies that Led to the Iraq War and the Persistent Myth of ‘Intelligence Failure’, Foreign Policy Journal, 8 September 2012; Bush’s Lies About Iraq, The Nation, 11 March 2004; Bush’s "big lie" and the crisis of American imperialism, World Socialist Website, 23 June 2003; Bush Did Lie About Iraq, Consortium News, 26 April 2012). Hans Blix, a former UN weapons inspector, has provided an overview in the light of the memoirs of Tony Blair, John Howard and George W. Bush (Iraq 2003: What the leaders say, and what they leave out, Inside Story, 23 March 2011).

Is more to be expected now of former members of the Coalition of the Willing and their leadership?

Invasion versus Humanitarian intervention?

A striking distinction with regard to interpretation is offered by the famous declaration of President Bill Clinton (Clinton: 'I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman', NBC News, 7 May 2014; Bill Clinton: 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman', The Washington Post, 25 January 2018; Steven Nelson, Bill Clinton 15 Years Ago: 'I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman' On Jan. 26, 1998, US News, 25 January 2013).

Is a comparison to be made between Clinton's distinction and that regarding invasion? In engaging in a humanitarian intervention in Ukraine, could Putin indeed claim that he was not undertaking an invasion? A precedent is evident with respect to claims made that the US-led action in Iraq, later described as the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, was in fact a "humanitarian intervention". This is widely disputed (Ken Roth, War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention, Human Rights Watch, January 2004). The latter noted:

...the United States-led coalition forces justified the invasion of Iraq on a variety of grounds, only one of which -- a comparatively minor one -- was humanitarian. The Security Council did not approve the invasion, and the Iraqi government, its existence on the line, violently opposed it.

One carefully argued response, justifying the action, is that of Eric A, Heinze (Humanitarian Intervention and the War in Iraq: norms, discourse, and state practice, The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters, 36, 2006, 1).

Recent trends in the conduct of and discourse on humanitarian intervention based on state practice during the Cold War and the 1990s, however, can be interpreted as lending credibility to the Bush Administration’s argument that the resort to force in Iraq can be justified on human rights grounds. In important ways, the war in Iraq conforms to many of the international norms (legal or otherwise) previously invoked by both scholars and governments to justify past humanitarian interventions. Thus, while ambiguous, the emerging normative legal framework relevant to humanitarian intervention serves to afford a certain amount of legitimacy, at least in the abstract, to the Iraq war as a justifiable humanitarian intervention.

The legality of the Iraq war and the legitimacy of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, on humanitarian grounds or otherwise, continues to be disputed, ironically so by Vladimir Putin (Iraq war was unjustified, Putin says, 19 December 2003). It featured in a declaration of the UN Secretary-General at that time (Iraq war illegal, says Annan, BBC News, . 16 September 2004). The nature of humanitarian intervention is a theme in a number of encylopedias, as summarized separately (Humanitarian Intervention, Science Direct).

The Global Policy Forum asks: Can nations, acting through the UN Security Council, fulfill a "responsibility to protect" innocent civilians? Or is such a doctrine just a Trojan horse for great power abuse? (Humanitarian Intervention?). To what extent is this also true of just war theory?

However, in the light of the clarification of Heinze, could any Russian intervention in Ukraine indeed be justified by Putin on similar grounds -- as "humanitarian" rather than as an "invasion"? Could Putin frame it using similar argument to the Bush Administration -- possibly to the UN Security Council, as was done so credibly by Colin Powell? (Seung-Whan Choi, What determines US humanitarian intervention? Conflict Management and Peace Science, 30, 2013, 2).

Putin has however been warned on a previous occasion in that respect (Putin warned against a ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Ukraine, New Europe, 11 August 2014). Like the USA, Russia has framed earlier initiatives in that manner (Alec Luhn, Russia to send humanitarian convoy into Ukraine in spite of warnings, The Guardian, 12 August 2014).

In predicting its outcome, the framing of Ukraine as Iraq has notably been explored by Brandon J Weichert (Putin making Ukraine his Iraq, Asia Times, 24 February 2022) and deplored by Ann Wright (From Putin in Ukraine to Bush in Iraq: illegal invasions must be condemned, Common Dreams, 24 . February 2022). Analysis has been provided by David Petraeus (What Iraq Tells Us About Ukraine, The Atlantic 24 February 2022). The role of hype in framing the comparison is queried by Peter Baker (Is US hype on Ukraine another Iraq? Business Live, 22 February 2022).

Humanitarian interventions?

Comparison could be readily made with US interventions in multiple countries -- purportedly for humanitarian reasons (Foreign interventions by the United States, Wikipedia). Other references of relevance include:

Putin does not need to "invade" Ukraine, and can deny ever having had the intention of doing so. Following the pattern clarified by the USA and its allies, Putin can however launch a "humanitarian intervention" -- and can find credible reasons for doing so, such as "weapons of mass destruction" (Layla Guest, Russian-led military bloc could send peacekeepers to Ukraine – top general, RT, 19 February 2022; Lauren Aratani, Putin orders troops to separatist states for ‘peacekeeping operations’. The Guardian, 22 February 2022). The question of moral equivalence remains a matter of debate (Mirroring Global Moral Equivalence, 2010).

Despite the media reports and assessment by various countries, China frames the situation otherwise (China denies Russia has invaded Ukraine amid fears of a tipping point to new world order, The Daily Telegraph, 25 February 2022; China refuses to call Russian attack on Ukraine an ‘invasion,’ deflects blame to U.S., CNBC, 24 February 2022; China Refuses To Call Russia's War on Ukraine an 'Invasion', Newsweek, 24 February 2022).

In an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, where Russia holds the rotating presidency, the Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that what was happening was not a "war" but a "special military operation". The Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya dismissed that description outside the meeting as "lunatic semantics" ('It's too late': Russian move roils UN meeting on Ukraine, Euronews, 24 February 2022).

Just as the US-led intervention in Iraq had been framed by the military doctrine of "shock and awe" as developed by the US, commentators are already comparing this to the current Russian initiative (Michael Kofman and Jeffrey Edmonds, Russia’s Shock and Awe: Moscow’s use of overwhelming force against Ukraine, Foreign Affairs, 25 February 2022).

Given any comparison with Iraq, it is most curious to note current diplomatic efforts to remove Russia from the UN Security Council (Putin facing efforts to isolate him diplomatically as punishment for Ukraine invasion, The Guardian, 25 February 2022). This suggests an interesting precedent. What of China? What of the USA, given its crafting of Bush's "big lie" within the Security Council -- and the disastrous consequences?


"Peacekeeping" is reasonably well understood from a United Nations perspective, as documented by Wikipedia (History of United Nations peacekeeping; List of United Nations peacekeeping missions). Whilst some countries identify their involvement in particular peacekeeping operations, this is far less evident in the case of the USA, despite maintaining a body with responsibility for such operations: U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

The US may indeed collaborate in UN peacekeeping operations, but it also undertakes unilateral operations defined as "peacekeeping", without any mandate or approval of the UN (US Policy on UN Peacekeeping, Global Policy Forum). It may also decline to fulfil its commitments in that respect (Paul D. Williams, In US Failure to Pay Peacekeeping Bills, Larger UN Financing Questions Raised, Global Observatory, 23 October 2018; Keeping A Piece of Peacekeeping: the United States doubles down at the United Nations, Foreign Affairs, 6 October 2015).

The unilateral interventions by the US may indeed be frame as peacekeeping initiatives, irrespective of how they are mandated internationally (Amber Aubone, Explaining US unilateral military intervention in civil conflicts: a review of the literature, International Politics, 50, 2013). The intervention, whether with or without military involvement, may well be critically framed as "coercive" and unwelcome (Jesús Rojas, The US’ unilateral coercive policies and the truth about Venezuela, The Guardian, 1963, 31 May 2021; Alena Douhan, Unilateral coercive measures, IHL and impartial humanitarian action: an interview, International Review of the Red Cross, IRRC 916-917, February 2022).

As a characteristic of international dynamics, it is to be expected that one country's unilateral "peacekeeping" initiative (however it may involve its allies) is readily held to be questioned by others. The current response to Russia's "peacekeeping" operation is therefore predictable:

The dilemma of interpretation has been highlighted from a German perspective (War of Words: are Putin's moves an act of war or a peacekeeping deployment? DW, 22 February 2022). What of the claims of genocide (Russia's Putin Claims 'genocide' Taking Place In Donbas But Gives No Proof, Republic World, 16 February 2022; 'Genocide' claims could be used as pretext for Russian invasion, US warns, 9News, 17 February 2022). How credible do claims of "genocide" on the part of Ukraine need to be compared to claims of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" -- at least within the context of the UN Security Council? Claims contradicting most of Putin's claim have been quickly made (Fact check: Do Vladimir Putin's justifications for going to war against Ukraine add up? DW, 25 February 2022).

Less evident is how the number of "peacekeeping operations" undertaken by the US might be similarly perceived (Vijay Prashad, Washington Bullets, LeftWord Press, 20202). In the case of Russia, criticism is framed as a breach of international law (Rowan Nicholson, How Russia’s recognition of breakaway parts of Ukraine breached international law -- and set the stage for invasion, The Conversation, 23 February 2022; Thomas Grant, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: what does international law have to say? Lawfare, 25 August 2015)

More challenging is any comparison to be made with the US-led Coalition of the Willing in invading Iraq -- declared to be "illegal" by the UN Secretary-General at that time, as noted above:

Questions were raised at the time -- and continue to be raised -- as to whether the intervention in Iraq was to be understood as a peacekeeping operation, irrespective of any UN perspective (Iraq: International Peacekeepers -- what’s preventing other nations from sending troops to stabilize Iraq? Council on Foreign Relations, 16 February  2005; James Joyner, Iraq War Now Peacekeeping Mission? Outside the Beltway, 17 July 2008; Max Boot, Peacekeeping in Iraq, Commentary Magazine, 10 December 2007).

Given that the interpretation of the Iraq invasion as "illegal" was disputed or ignored by the Coalition of the Willing, it will be intriguing to see how its former members compare it with Russia's initiative with respect to the Ukraine. Is one to be held to be "more illegal" than the other -- or to be held as "more just" according to just war theory?

Forever war?

Following Russia's response to the conditional possibility of a meeting between Biden and Putin, a particular framing was immediately offered from the perspective of the USA (Tom Nichols, Putin Chooses a Forever War, The Atlantic, 22 February 2022). The "forever war" theme is based on a military science fiction novel  by American author Joe Haldeman (The Forever War, 1974)

Curiously the theme has been repeatedly associated with the USA itself, most recently with respect to Afghanistan -- and notably by The Atlantic itself:

Politicization of the financial system

An immediate response to the Russian initiative has been the promised implementation of an array of financial sanctions on Russian lawmakers, elites and institutions:

There is a curious coincidence in timing -- if not a similarity in focus and mindset -- to the announcement of the Ottawa police chief who tweeted to protesters::

If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges. Absolutely. This investigation will go on for months to come. (20 February 2022)

This had been approved by the prime minister of Canada (Justin Trudeau Says Canada Will Stand Against Authoritarianism: announces Russia sanctions -- after trampling protesters with police on horseback and freezing their bank accounts, Conservative Choice Campaign, 23 February 2022). Whether financial sanctions are an appropriate instrument remains a matter of debate in the absence of alternatives (Michael Brzoska, International Sanctions: a useful but increasingly misused policy instrument, Vision of Humanity)

Through constraining the banks in response to actions of which governments disapprove, governments are going beyond regulation of the financial system (Gary J. Miller and Andrew B. Whitford, The Politicization of Financial Regulation, Cambridge University Press, 2016). Clearly this will contribute to the continuing erosion of confidence in the financial system. This erosion had been notably exacerbated by the failure to "sanction" in any way most of those complicit in the financial crisis of 2007–2008 (Andrew Ross Sorkin, Too Big to Fail: the inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the financial system -- and themselves, 2009). Those opposing government, or the mainstream narrative, are now well warned with regard to the safety of their assets within the financial system -- presumably including members of any political opposition.

Given the above-mentioned verbal game-playing by Clinton, and current feminist concerns regarding sexual harassment, it is somewhat ironic to note the delicate shift in terminology to "beginning invasion" and "further invasion" (Canada imposes 'first round' of sanctions on Russia over 'further invasion' of Ukraine, MSN, 23 February 2022; Ukraine conflict: Biden sanctions Russia over 'beginning of invasion', BBC News, 23 February 2022; NATO Chief: Russian Move 'Further Invasion', 22 February 2022). Like "encroachment", "incursion" offers other associations (Varieties of Encroachment, 2004; Invasion? Incursion? How do we describe what Putin and Russia are doing in Ukraine? ABC News, 23 February 2022).

Prerequisite demilitarisation?

In response to an international outcry, Russia is reported as justifying its invasion of Ukraine as a necessary effort to demilitarise it -- with Putin calling upon the Ukrainian soldiers to "lay down arms" (TASS, 24 February 2022):

How is this to be compared with the request in the prelude to the humanitarian intervention in Iraq by the US-led Coalition of the Willing (Frederic L. Kirgi, Security Council Resolution 1441 on Iraq's Final Opportunity to Comply with Disarmament Obligations, American Society of International Law, 7, 2002, 12; Iraqi soldiers urged to lay down arms in latest American propaganda effort, Independent, 5 January 2003)? A similar prerequisite was envisaged in anticipation of the annexation of territories by Israel (What does Trump’s plan propose for Palestinian territories? Al Jazeera, 29 January 2020). That plan called for the demilitarisation of all of Palestine and the disarmament of Palestinian factions in Gaza such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

More generally it might be asked how a request to disarm made by a superpower to any country is to be considered reasonable -- if it renders that country vulnerable to attack. The demand made by the US of Iran and North Korea can be explored from this perspective. A comparison might be made with requiring an opponent in a boxing match to be armless before the champion enters the ring.

Problematic parallels: Ukraine, Taiwan, Cuba?

With the intense media focus on Ukraine, the degree of equivalence to the problematic relationship between China and Taiwan and that between the USA and Cuba is readily forgotten, denied or perceived as irrelevant -- with few exceptions:.

This is notably the case with respect to Cuba, despite any comparison with Taiwan:

Missing is any comparison of all three cases together -- or consideration of how the righteous outrage in the case of Ukraine resembles that with respect to the intervention in Iraq -- for some at the time, and for others subsequently. The challenge is all the greater in the light of the problems engendered by other countries with an ambition to be "greater", whether current or within living memory: Germany (Greater German Reich), Japan (Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere), Italy (Italian imperialism under Fascism). The current confusion with the slogans of other countries to be "great again" is unfortunate, as in the case of Greater Israel.

Whether associated with colonialism or otherwise, variants of the challenge are evident following the acclaimed achievement of greatness, as with Great Britain -- variously faced with aspirations for secession, as with its problematic relation with Ireland and the case of Scotland (Independence of Scotland from a Crimean Perspective: emerging strategic logic of the new century understood otherwise? 2014). The issues have invited speculation (David C. Hendrickson, Scotland and Ukraine: The Ties That Bind? The National Interest, 16 September 2014).

The nature of such challenges is further highlighted by the relation of the UK and Gibraltar, as noted by Dmitry Sudakov:

Being too much obsessed with the topic of Russia's mythical "annexation" of the "Ukrainian" Crimea, the European Union has missed the appearance of a very similar problem in its own territory - Gibraltar. The dispute for this point on the map of the world has been going on between Spain and Great Britain for hundreds of years, but it has become particularly acute against the background of Brexit. London gave to understand that the UK would be ready to defend the peninsula by military methods. (What is the difference between Gibraltar and Crimea? Pravda, 6 April 2017)

That issue was emphasized by Russia’s ambassador to the UN (Return Malvinas and Gibraltar before talking about Crimea, Russia tells UK, MercoPress, 4 February 2017; Give back Gibraltar before criticising us, says Russia, The Times, 4 February 2017).

The case of Kashmir offers yet another example.

Efficacy of sanctions?

Very considerable emphasis has been placed on the imposition of sanctions on Russia, whether prior to the intervention in Iraq, as a threat, or subsequent to that intervention. Curiously over many months, if not years, more sanctions have been periodically imposed -- implying a seemingly endless reservoir, however undocumented its contents.

In the current context, some lists are made of current sanctions imposed by particular countries -- singularly or in collaboration with one another. Sanctions against Russia – at a glance: list of people and organisations blacklisted by UK, US and EU, The Guardian, 25 February 2022; Russia sanctions regime, Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Canada ratchets up sanctions against Russia, cancels export permits, Yahoo News, 25 February 2022). These initiatives are necessarily inspired by that of the US (The White House published its full list of sanctions against Russia, Today Bank News, 25 February 2022; US sanctions against Russia: here's what's in the White House's new plan, AOL, 25 February 2022).

Missing from such documentation is any sense of what sanctions had been previously imposed and when -- or any sense of what sanctions have not been imposed which countries might choose to impose in the future. The EU, for example, declined to impose so-called "nuclear sanctions" with respect to oil and gas supplies from Russia. (EU to consider Russia's expulsion from SWIFT in third sanctions package, Euronews, 25 February 2022; Why is booting Russia off SWIFT the one key sanction the US and Europe are still holding back on? ABC News, 25 February 2022)

The range of undiscussed possibilities is evident from a question raised (Could Russia be banned from Eurovision 2022? Euronews, 24 February 2022; Eurovision Song Contest: Russia will be allowed to compete despite deepening Ukraine crisis, Yahoo News, 25 February 2022; Russia banned from Eurovision 2022 as organisers say it would bring contest 'into disrepute', Eurovision, 25 February 2022).

Also possible are so-called secondary sanctions of those recognized as only indirectly complicit, including relatives and friends (Secondary economic sanctions: effective policy or risky business? Atlantic Council, 20 May 2018). Are the major space and energy projects, involving contractual collaboration with Russia, now to be considered at risk? (Russian space program chief says US sanctions could 'destroy' International Space Station partnership, Space, 26 February 2022; Mission to Mars with Russia now very unlikely European Space Agency says, The New York Times, 28 February 2022; US sanctions on Russia hit ITER council, PhysicsWorld, 20 May 2014).

Systematic lists are made of development aid to various countries -- and by various countries -- although no such documentation would appear to exist with respect to sanctions as its counterpart. Whereas the forms of aid are assiduously categorized, no such systemic understanding of sanctions appears to have been formally elaborated. Whether or not considered to be of relevance to the abhorrent actions of other countries (including members of the UN Security Council), rather than sporadic announcement of sanctions to be acclaimed, a more systematic list (potentially applicable to individuals) might include, for example:

The range of such sanctions might be more appropriately organized (and ranked in terms of severity), as with the "defense readiness condition" of the USA (DEFCON) or the threat levels of the UK. Their administration, and the transition from one level to another, could be most appropriately handled by the United Nations. As a reaction to human rights violations, the system might be termed HUMCON, for example. Clearly an appropriate level of sanctions could then be applied by tranche to any countries charged with such violations, whether or not they were considered as severe as Iraq or Ukraine.

A distinction is clearly required between sanctions which constitute effective infliction the genuone punishment required and those which are merely symbolic or may be perceived as somewhat ridiculous, thereby putting the mechanism into disrepute (Godfather of Vladimir Putin’s daughter among latest names on EU sanctions list, The Guardian, 1 March 2022; Russian vodka pulled from US shelves, RT, 28 February 2022).

However the significance of regular media coverage of "new sanctions" over months past is usefully reframed by a headline (EU, US, UK and Canada announce sanctions targeting Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov, BBC News, 25 February 2022), but with the comment:

The EU, the US, the UK and Canada have moved to freeze foreign-held assets of Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, after Europe was accused by Ukraine’s president of failing to act hard and fast enough against Russian aggression.The initiative is largely symbolic, as the Russian president is unlikely to have identifiable personal wealth abroad, but the move followed recognition that appeals for action from Volodymyr Zelenskiy had to be heard. [emphasis added]

Forewarned, it is appropriate to ask whether Russian elites and Putin's entourage would have rendered their personal wealth similarly unidentifiable prior to the Russian intervention in Ukraine.

The imposition of sanctions has been criticized as "an illegitimate form of collective punishment of the weakest and poorest members of society, the infants, the children, the chronically ill, and the elderly". It is has been claimed that sanctions imposed by single countries or by an intergovernmental body like the United Nations are themselves "illegal" or "criminal" due to, in the case of economic sanctions, the right to development or, in the case of military sanctions, the right of self-defense. Russia's Deputy Ambassador to the UN has argued that only Security Council sanctions are legal (Russia, China reject ‘unilateral’ sanctions by US, Global Village Space, 8 February 2022).

Some countries have survived over decades despite an array of imposed sanctions, most notably Cuba, Iran and North Korea. Russia has already made clear that it can survive despite the array of sanctions envisaged (The US embargo against Cuba turns 60 with no policy change on the horizon, El Pais, 7 February 2022). With the current media focus on personalized sanctions against Putin, it is useful to recall the efficacy of the more "extreme sanctions" against Castro by the US (Assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, Wikipedia).

There is a growing body of research questioning the efficacy of sanctions (Sanctions: what are they good for? DW, 4 June 2021).  After decades of sanctions against Cuba, Christopher Sabatini concludes in the case of Cuba:

There is the legitimate concern that the sanctions hurt the very people that the policy claims to defend. They also serve as a rallying point for the Castro regime and a way to cover up for its own economic failures. But the most damning indictment of the embargo is that in its almost 50-year history it has failed to achieve its objectives.

If the matter is the efficacy of sanctions, then the US embargo on Cuba does not meet the test. It’s not limited to Cuba. None of the cases of regime change that many of the embargo advocates love to cite, communist Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and South Africa had embargos as tight or isolating as those imposed on Cuba for nearly half a century. There’s a reason for that. It’s basic logic. (US-Cuba Sanctions: Are They Working Yet? Chatham House, 20 August 2020)

Sanctions can be recognized as a direct cause of fatalities -- which they are purportedly designed to alleviate (Jacob G. Hornberger, The Evil of Sanctions, The Future of Freedom of Foundation, 23 February  2022). With respect to Iraq, the Global Policy Forum notes:

From the earliest days of the sanctions, critics have pointed to many serious flaws, including the humanitarian suffering of innocent civilians, the lack of clear criteria for lifting, and the failure of the sanctions to put direct pressure on Iraq government leaders .(Criticism of the Sanctions)

The point was made in a notorious interview with Madeleine Albright, during her period as US Ambassador to the UN. On May 12, 1996, Albright defended UN sanctions against Iraq on a 60 Minutes segment in which Lesley Stahl asked her, We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it? -- to which Albright replied, We think the price is worth it.


The Iraq intervention was primed by a process of spin, notably characterized as "egging the dossier" (Paul R. Pillar, The Iraq War and the Power of Propaganda, The National Interest, 14 September 2011; Anup Shah, Media, Propaganda and Iraq, Global Issues, 30 March 2003; No 10 weapons dossier over egged, says scientist, The Times, 4 Sept 2003; David L. Altheide and Jennifer N. Grimes, War Programming: the Propaganda Project and the Iraq War, The Sociological Quarterly, 46, 2005, 4).

Relatively little is said of the role of propaganda in reframing perception of the Ukraine conflict from one side or the other -- or from both. This is necessarily naive in a period of information warfare transforming into memetic warfare. For Glenn Greenwald, every useful or pleasing claim about the war, no matter how unverified or subsequently debunked, rapidly spreads, while dissenters are vilified as traitors or Kremlin agents (War Propaganda About Ukraine Becoming More Militaristic, Authoritarian, and Reckless, 28 February 2022). Greenwald argues:

When critical faculties are deliberately turned off based on a belief that absolute moral certainty has been attained, the parts of our brain armed with the capacity of reason are disabled. That is why the leading anti-Russia hawks such as former Obama Ambassador Michael McFaul and others are demanding that no "Putin propagandists" (meaning anyone who diverges from his views of the conflict) even be permitted a platform, and why many are angry that Facebook has not gone far enough by banning many Russian media outlets from advertising or being monetized...

It is genuinely hard to overstate how overwhelming the unity and consensus in U.S. political and media circles is. It is as close to a unanimous and dissent-free discourse as anything in memory, certainly since the days following 9/11....

Again, no matter how certain one is about their moral conclusions about this war, these are urgent questions that are not resolved or even necessarily informed by the moral and emotional investment in a particular narrative. Yet when one is trapped inside a system of a complete consensus upheld by a ceaseless wave of reinforcing propaganda, and when any questioning or dissent at all is tantamount to treason or "siding with the enemy", there is no space for such discussions to occur, especially within our minds. When one is coerced -- through emotional tactics and societal inventive -- to adhere only to one script, nothing that is outside of that script can be entertained. And that is all by design.

For Daniel McAdam:

The media and the war machine... want us to take sides in the Russo/Ukraine war. To those of us with long histories in military conflicts in which the US foreign policy establishment, media, and military have an interest, the terms are always framed as white hats and black hats – and you had better choose a side!...The US government never fights in the self-interest of the elites. It only fights (directly and by proxy) for the freedom and liberation of others. If you doubt that you are un-American... Never mind about the past or how US intervention created the circumstances that led to whatever horrible outcome we witness. (Ukraine: The Propaganda Wars, Ron Paul Institute, 26 February 2022)

For Tom Nolan:

Everything we are seeing in U.S. media surrounding U.S. interests in Ukraine is a massive propaganda operation with the headquarters in the U.S. State Department and U.S. intelligence community. The sense of sympathy you are feeling is part of an intentionally manipulative operation from within this DC matrix. The images, pictures, videos, speeches, soundbites and the cinematography broadcast by U.S. corporate media are all purposefully intended to create a very specific outlook within the American people toward the issues in Ukraine. ('Question All Of It' - The Current Western Propaganda For Ukraine Is Epic In Scale, OilPrice, February 2022)

In this context it is therefore instructive to engage in the thought experiment of reversing the names of the protagonists in any report on the current conflict -- or substituting the names from a previous conflict. A related exercise is to determine how abominably abhorrent can the image of the leader of the opposition be reframed. To what extent was such framing characteristic of a previous conflict? For example, as with Saddam Hussein, it is of immense propaganda value to be able to offer any suspicion of evidence of Putin as a racist, a criminal, a sadist, a pedophile, a cannibal, a misogynist, or the like -- no matter how extreme.

Who benefits? Cui bono?

In comparing the Ukraine and Iraq disasters, there is a case for noting who benefits in practice from such interventions. The question of cui bono dates from recognition in the Roman Empire of its relevance to clarification of complicity in engendering and sustaining such patterns.

There is a curious irony to the benefits derived by the key players engendering the Iraq disaster -- Bush, Blair, Powell, for example -- in contrast to the impoverishment and humiliation sought through sanctions for those engendering the Ukraine disaster -- Putin, Lavrov, and their colleagues. This recalls the ambiguity of the term "sanction". Confusingly, the word may be used to suggest "approve of", especially in an official sense, as in the law sanctions such behaviour, implying that the behaviour in question enjoys the specific approval of the law.

"You are either with US or against US"?

There is a fundamental issue with regard to the analysis and commentary above. As noted by Wikipedia, this follows from the common political communication in which the phrase you are either with us, or against us and similar variations are used to depict situations as being polarized and to force witnesses, bystanders, or others unaligned with some form of pre-existing conflict to either become allies of the speaking party or lose favour. The implied consequence of not joining the team effort is to be deemed an enemy.

An example cited is the statement of the former US President George W. Bush, who asserted after 9/11, at the launch of his anti-terrorism campaign in the form: Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists (Bush: 'You Are Either With Us, Or With the Terrorists', Voice of America News, 21 September 2001). The phrase was fundamental to assembly of the Coalition of the Willing to intervene in Iraq -- despite widespread world protest against the initiative. It could be said to have implications for support for the Global War on Terror formulated at the time.

In orchestrating current opposition to Russia's actions, the USA has placed itself in a similar position -- hence the provocative typographical presentation in the title above. As a strategic framework, the phrase inhibits -- or even prohibits -- any critical approach to the default reaction to the disaster in Ukraine. With the outpouring of media coverage in every country condemning Russia, in conformity with that requirement, the question is where any sense of perspective is to be articulated -- and at what risk.

There is universal condemnation of violence as abhorrent. This indeed merits continuing articulation, despite the remarkable enthusiasm for its expression in entertainment, namely a daily diet of media violence (possibly surreptitiously encouraged as a form of marketing by the military-industrial complex). The question is should such articulation preclude any alternative exploration of its manifestation.

The comparison above between the Iraq intervention and the Ukraine intervention is one approach to exploring the incidence and dynamics of interstate violence. Any comparison with Iraq is clearly a provocation for many who would prefer to forget the crafted lie enabling it (as noted above). Similarly forgotten in media coverage are the Iraq War casualties to which it gave rise -- variously estimated to range from 151,000 violent deaths as of June 2006 (per the Iraq Family Health Survey) to 1,033,000 excess deaths (per the 2007 Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey). 

It could be asked how many useful "ways of looking" at such violence merit consideration, rather than the active repression of alternatives perspectivres as effectvely traitorous? It is already obvious that support for the "other side" is a noted form of expression -- worthy of total condemnation, in this case from a pro-Ukrainian perspective. Expression of an anti-war perspective, irrespective of those responsible, is another recognized mode. Analytical comparison of such events is another mode -- one inviting condemnation and recrimination as questionably comparing the incommensurable ("apples and oranges") and suggesting equivalence where none should be found by the righteous.

There is a case for recalling the insights of the much-cited poem by Wallace Stevens (Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, 1917). How many ways of looking at the Ukraine disaster merit exploration? This can be argued more generally, and with respect to uncritical promotion of universal vaccination, for example (Interrelating Multiple Ways of Looking at a Crisis: beyond the pandemic discipline of the one right way, 2021). The marked tendency of protagonists to assume they are necessarily and absolutely right inhibits what has been highlighted by John Keats, another poet, as negative capabilty -- namely the capacity to admit the possibility of being wrong. The inhibition is all the greater when groupthink is cultivated in all responses to a strategic challenge.

One framing of potential interest is the enthusiasm for 2-sided competitive ball games, and the manner in which -- as sports -- these reinforce political and military psychodynamics between opposing sides. Can any US-led, NATO-inspired opposition to Russia be witnessed vicariously as a ball-game -- evoking enthusiasm for one side and abhorrent condemnation of the other in anticipation of its humiliation? How is this perspective to be contrasted with abhorrence for the violence of such games, irrespective of the merits of the sides? Why has society been unable to engender and appreciate 3-sided or 4-sided games, for example, as separately explored (Destabilizing Multipolar Society through Binary Decision-making: alternatives to "2-stroke democracy" suggested by 4-sided ball games, 2016). Does the uncritical focus on 2-sided games recall the worst of bullying, crowd psychology and lynch mobs?

Given its rarity, consequent on the widespread reinforcement of polarized discourse, there is a case for noting arguments offering a "meta" perspective, potentially consistent with the anticipated emergence of a metaverse (Future Psychosocial Implications of the Metaverse, 2022). One valuable articul.ation is offered by Charles Eisenstain (The Field of Peace, 28 February 2022). With respect to the righteousness of each side, Eisenstein notes:

In the case of Zelensky, the righteousness is obvious: foreign troops have invaded my country’s territory and are killing my people. The horror of the onslaught is plain for all to see. In the case of Putin, the righteousness comes, I suppose, from an historical narrative of NATO expansionism, missiles on Russia’s borders, oppression and mass killing of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine, and so forth. The point here is not that each side is equally right. It is that each side believes it is right. In that mindset, justice and righteousness are the result of victory over the opponent. Short of the opponent’s total capitulation, to make any other peace is to compromise justice.

To that Eisenstein adds:

We are rightly appalled at the invasion of Ukraine. But where were these sensibilities when our own countries and alliances invaded Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and countless other countries? In many cases these invasions wreaked devastation far, far beyond what Ukraine has suffered. The point here is not to distract from Russia’s action with what-about-ism, nor is it to decry hypocrisy. I am more interested in results, not in blame. I want our peace work to be effective. It will not be so, if it selects only the wars of our enemies. [emphasis added]

More subtle -- in contrast to the uncritical quest to crush and eliminate any opposition -- is the potential of adversarial collaboration, as articulated by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman (Adversarial Collaboration: an Edge Lecture).

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