Team Justice vs. Team Peace (with Zarina Zabrisky)
We gave peace a chance. Putin took advantage. We can't make the same mistake twice.
Start with a hypothetical: It’s the year 2050. The United States is at the nadir of its power. After acquiring nuclear weapons and an elite intelligence service, the Mexican Federation gets taken over by a sociopathic strongman—let’s call him Putinez—hellbent on reclaiming all the land the United States took from his country in the 19th century.
“We’re going to take back what is rightfully ours,” Putinez declares, to great fanfare. “We’re going to take back what was stolen from us!”
A Mexican-funded insurgency takes hold in Dallas and Houston and Austin. Texas declares independence and immediately joins Putinez’s Mexican Federation. The rest of the U.S. doesn’t particularly like Texas, and there is zero public appetite for war, so President Noem decides to let the Lone Star State go without a fight—although she does impose toothless sanctions on some Mexican oligarchs. The U.S. and Mexico come to an agreement, and Noem remarks that sometimes, it is essential to make hard choices to preserve the peace.
Eight years later, without any provocation at all, Mexico invades California. They put mines on all the beaches in San Diego, and kill the killer whales at Sea World. They blow up the Hollywood sign and Cedars-Sinai. They shell Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. They start massive fires that threaten homes all over Los Angeles. Missiles strike targets as far north as Napa Valley. Google headquarters is strafed by artillery fire. The Golden Gate Bridge collapses.
But this time, the Americans are resolute. No way Putinez takes the Golden State! And the American defense forces succeed. They manage to kill many Mexican soldiers and destroy many Mexican warships and tanks. President Ocasio-Cortez sets up shop in Sacramento, where foreign leaders make pilgrimages to pledge support, and she becomes an international hero, much admired for her courage.
But after four months of war, the rest of the world begins to tire of hearing about all the atrocities Putinez’s men are committing in L.A. Op-eds in major newspapers toss around words like compromise and concessions and hard choices. Ocasio-Cortez should accept defeat in California to “preserve peace,” say the talking heads on conservative news outlets. Inflation is the real problem, and high energy prices.
What few want to acknowledge is that the war is completely the fault of Putinez and the Mexican Federation, and that only Putinez can bring peace—by withdrawing his occupying forces.
That make-believe analogy isn’t perfect, but you get the idea. There is no moral ambiguity to what’s happening right now in Ukraine. Conservative foreign policy wonks of a certain age delight in blaming the war on Bill Clinton and NATO expansion, but that’s both reductive and ridiculous. Russia invaded Ukraine at the whim of a single, deranged individual— a dictator surrounded by Jeffrey Clarks. It is a war of aggression. It is not a war of necessity. One man is to blame for all the suffering in Ukraine, the inflation all over the world, the spike in gas prices, and the coming famine in the developing world: Vladimir Putin.
That’s right: the coming famine. The Yale professor Timothy Snyder, who literally wrote the book on tyranny, explained it two weeks ago, in a short thread:
“The horror of Putin’s hunger plan is so great,” Snyder writes, “that we have a hard time apprehending it.”
Let me rephrase: PUTIN IS GOING TO MAKE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE STARVE TO DEATH BECAUSE HE’S GETTING HIS ASS KICKED IN UKRAINE. His hope is that the global food shortage, and the resulting mass migration, will sway public opinion, and allow him to keep the Eastern swath of the country that Russian occupiers now sort of control.
If there were any lingering doubts about Putin being a genocidal maniac, that should remove them with the force of industrial-strength turpentine. That is Hitler-level psychopathy. A man like that cannot be negotiated with; a man like that cannot remain in control of a nuclear mafia state; a man like that can only be defeated. And yet there are those who insist that peace can be achieved by coming to the (extremely long and empty) table with this serial liar and recidivist treaty-breaker.
Peace. Engagement. Diplomacy. Dialogue. Cooperation. Those are words thrown around by Putin’s apologists in the West. And this gaslighting began long before the invasion of Ukraine.
Here is what Rand Paul said in August 2018, after he hand-delivered the letter from Trump to Putin:
The letter emphasized the importance of further engagement in various areas including countering terrorism, enhancing legislative dialogue and resuming cultural exchanges. . . .
The world is a complicated place, we are in close proximity to Russia in Syria and other places, and I think it would be a very big mistake not to have open lines of communication.
This echoes remarks Donald Trump made in Helsinki a month earlier, standing beside his idol Putin:
. . . American leaders have to understand that diplomacy and engagement is preferable to conflict and hostility. A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world.
. . . . [I]f we’re going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we’re going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests. Too often, in both recent past and long ago, we have seen the consequences when diplomacy is left on the table. . . . Nothing would be easier politically than to refuse to meet, to refuse to engage. But that would not accomplish anything.
As president, I cannot make decisions on foreign policy in a futile effort to appease partisan critics or the media or Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct. Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia forwards the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.
Last month, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a one-time Democrat who is now a regular on Tucker Carlson’s propaganda program, repeated in a series of tweets what she’d said on the Laura Ingraham propaganda program:
We’re already in a hot war with Russia, and it’s going to get a lot hotter because the Biden Admin’s stated goal is the complete destruction of Russia’s economy & military. Russia has made it clear that if faced with this prospect they’ll have no choice but to use tactical nukes. Once the nuclear Pandora’s Box is open, it’ll be impossible to close. The path the Biden Admin has us on will lead to WWIII & nuclear Armageddon. Our country, families & world will suffer beyond comprehension. Obviously this isn’t what the American people want. We want peace & prosperity. But we have to fight for it. It’s not too late. With upcoming elections, the power is in our hands to stop this insanity by supporting those, D or R, who are committed to ending this war with Russia & use our treasure for the American people.
The bold-face type in those passages is mine; the bald-faced propaganda is straight out of the Kremlin.
Notice how adroitly Gabbard slips in the nuclear boogeyman. In another thread, she insists, “This is not fear-mongering to point this out,” but it is exactly that. Yes, duh, Russia is a nuclear state, and we must proceed with requisite caution. But Russia having nukes doesn’t give it license to invade, and slaughter, and rape, and pillage, and destroy, with absolute impunity. If Putin’s brute squad invaded New York, we wouldn’t be sitting on our hands for fear of nuclear attack. If Putin’s brute squad invaded London, we wouldn’t be sitting on our hands for fear of nuclear attack. Wait, bad example, Russia already owns London. . . if Putin’s brute squad invaded Paris, we wouldn’t be sitting on our hands for fear of nuclear attack. If Putin’s brute squad invaded Berlin or Prague or Warsaw, we wouldn’t be sitting on our hands for fear of nuclear attack. Why should Mariupol and Kharkiv be any different? There is a line somewhere. Why should we wait for Putin to murder millions before we hop to?
Yet the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Donald Trump and Rand Paul want peace and compromise and engagement with Hitler 2.0. So, apparently, does Emmanuel Macron of France, who has met with Putin several times: two short men at a very long, very tall table. I don’t recall Charles de Gaulle flying to Berlin to suck up to Hitler.
The editorial board of the New York Times, too, has taken this collaborator’s stance. “[I]t is still not in America’s best interest to plunge into an all-out war with Russia, even if a negotiated peace may require Ukraine to make some hard decisions,” the board wrote in a recent op-ed.
A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal. Though Russia’s planning and fighting have been surprisingly sloppy, Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.
In the end, it is the Ukrainians who must make the hard decisions: They are the ones fighting, dying and losing their homes to Russian aggression, and it is they who must decide what an end to the war might look like. If the conflict does lead to real negotiations, it will be Ukrainian leaders who will have to make the painful territorial decisions that any compromise will demand.
“Confronting this reality may be painful, but it is not appeasement,” the board writes—a brazen bit of Orwellian doublespeak.
As I wrote in my critique of this op-ed, “Putin is a thief. Putin is a war criminal. And Putin is a liar. There is no negotiating with a man like that. Biden knows this. So does Zelenskyy. It’s only the Times Editorial Board that hasn’t figured it out.”
Zarina Zabrisky, today’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast, who is in Odesa covering the war for Euromaidan Press and other publications, spoke on this topic. “There’s a very simple explanation for all of this—the fashionable term, I think, is Peace Team versus Justice Team. So, the so-called Peace Team, that the New York Times gladly jumped on, is just nothing but the Russian lobby,” she says. “I’m sitting in Ukraine, I have nothing to lose. Call things what they are.”
It is rare in this 50-shades-of-grey world when things are starkly black-and-white, but there is no ambiguity—none—about the cause of the war in Ukraine. Putin is to blame, full stop. And anyone saying otherwise is spewing Russian talking points.
“One country in this world currently is breaking all international laws, and nobody in their sane mind, unless they’re brainwashed or compromised by the Kremlin, should be in this Peace Camp,” Zabrisky says.
“There’s only one camp: Justice.”
The journalist and writer Zarina Zabrisky calls in from Odesa, Ukraine, to talk to Greg Olear about the situation on the ground in Ukraine, the popularity of President Zelenskyy, the enigma of Macron, the Putin sympathies of the New York Times, the Davos conference, the fallacy of Team Peace, and what the future may hold for Putin and Russia. Plus: “867-5309 (Ginni).”
I will be spending the next week and a half working on a project that requires me to be incommunicado for the next week to ten days. (It’s all good!)
This will be the last new PREVAIL dispatch until Sunday, July 3, and the last new podcast episode until July 8.
The Five 8 will return next Friday, July 1, and I will likely not be on Twitter or checking emails until then. See you in July!
Photo credit: G20 Argentina. Putin arrives, 2018.