The existing trajectory of U.S. policy risks sacrificing Western Europe for the sake of Ukraine, and U.S. policymakers need to wake up to this risk.
If this were to happen, it would be one of the worst bargains in the entire history of U.S. strategy. Western and Central Europe, and not Ukraine, are and have been for more than a century the area of truly vital U.S. interests on the European continent. Moreover, the crippling of Western Europe and the European Union would destroy Ukraine’s own real chances of future democratic prosperity and stability; for these depend chiefly on links to the E.U., not the United States.
All the evidence at present suggests that the Ukrainian counter-offensive has failed, with only very small gains and enormous losses. Nor is there any evidence-based reason to hope for greater Ukrainian success next year, given the balance of military and economic forces between Ukraine and Russia.
Faced with this reality, there is increasing official and unofficial talk of arming and supporting Ukraine for an indefinite struggle (though of course this cannot in fact be guaranteed given the opposition of one faction of the Republican Party). An analogy has been made to the case of Israel, which developed as a prosperous and secure quasi-democracy while remaining in a state of frozen conflict and unresolved territorial disputes with its neighbors.
Quite apart from the dreadful events of recent days, there are many reasons why this idea is profoundly foolish. They include the fact that if Syria were Russia, Israel would not be Israel. In other words, if Israel had bordered not on a shambolic and impoverished country with a fraction of its GDP and technological capacity, but a nuclear armed power with fourteen times its GDP, Israel would most certainly not have developed as a successful and prosperous democracy. There is no way that the U.S. can secure Ukraine permanently in an open-ended war with Russia.
Perhaps most important of all however is the way in which this vision totally ignores the effects on Europe, and U.S. interests in Europe. This would not matter much if European countries were economically successful and politically stable, but this is rapidly ceasing to be the case.
In the old heartland of the EU, liberal democratic politics are crumbling. Italy is ruled by a radical conservative government. Opinion polls in France suggest that if elections were held today, Marine Le Pen would win by a wide margin. In Sweden — almost unbelievably for someone who lived through the long dull summer of Abbaesque Swedish social democracy — the army is being called on for help in combating violence by immigrant drug gangs, and the radical nationalist Sweden Democrats are the second largest party.
Above all, there is Germany, without which no stable and successful European Union is possible. As German historian Tarik Cyrul Amar has written:
“Germany's perfect adherence to Western policy on Russia and China has an ominous price…We have assumed that the first country to buckle under the economic strain of the war over Ukraine would be Russia. But what if it is Germany that stumbles first? Germans stressed about their economy, distrusting their elites as favoring foreign interests, and disenchanted with centrist values and methods— a picture too familiar for comfort.”
The state elections in Bavaria and Hesse this month showed a surge in support for the right-wing nationalist Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) and Freie Waehler (Free Voter) parties. According to opinion polls, AfD now has the second largest support nationwide, behind the Christian Democrats but pushing the Social Democrats into third place, and far ahead of the Greens and the Liberals.
Up to now, all the traditional mainstream parties have been united in their refusal to form coalitions with the AfD. If continued, the rise in the party’s support will however make this approach increasingly unworkable. Either the CDU will have to form governing coalitions with the AfD (as the CDU’s sister party, the Christian Social Union, has already done with the Freie Waehler in Bavaria), or all the mainstream parties will have to form permanent coalitions to keep them out of office.
The latter course would recall the last years of the Weimar Republic, and would almost certainly strengthen the radical parties still further, since critics of government policies would have nowhere else to go. The most radical proposal is to dub AfD a neo-Nazi party and ban it, but this would lead to massive protests and drive its supporters towards violence. Whatever happens, Germany seems set for a prolonged period of deep political instability and polarization.
The original roots of support for AfD and similar parties in Europe lie in fear of mass migration and hostility to the centralizing (and sometimes dictatorial) tendencies of the European Union. Their support has however been greatly increased by the deepening economic recession into which Germany has been plunged by the rise in energy prices consequent on the war in Ukraine. German economic success in recent decades was largely built on cheap, plentiful and reliable Russian gas.
This factor helped mask worsening structural defects in the German economy, which the present crisis is exposing. Coupled with the end of the Chinese boom and U.S.-driven economic warfare against China, the result is that there is now serious talk in Germany of “de-industrialization.” Should this in fact occur, the political, social, cultural and psychological results could be catastrophic; for the rebuilding of the German national identity after 1945 took place largely on the basis of the “economic miracle,” and the belief that this reflected a superior German model of cooperation between capital and labor, and a strong industry-based middle class (the so called Mittelstand). If belief in these collapses, we could be looking at something akin to a national nervous breakdown.
An unending semi-frozen war in Ukraine would drastically worsen Germany’s — and Europe’s – economic decline and consequent political disorder. Especially if coupled with repeated crises in the Middle East, it would make the restoration of stability in energy prices impossible. Such a conflict would inevitably break out periodically into major battles, possibly leading to new Russian victories. There would be the perpetual risk that an unintended collision between Russia and NATO could escalate towards nuclear war. It should not be hard to imagine what this would do to business confidence in Europe.
There is a tendency now for Americans to congratulate themselves on the submission of Europe to American strategy as a result of the war in Ukraine. This underestimates the threat to Europe and of U.S. interests there. The threat, as described, is overwhelmingly an internal one, resulting from a deadly cocktail of economic stagnation, uncontrolled migration, and political extremism, worsened by the war in Ukraine. If present patterns continue, the result will be to cripple Europe both economically and politically.
Economic prosperity and liberal democracy in Europe form a key pillar of America’s own power in the world and therefore a vital U.S. national interest. Without them, America’s own economic power will be gravely weakened, and the prestige of democracy in the world shattered. There will be little point in the U.S. presenting itself as the leader of democracy in Asia if it has collapsed in Europe.
Moreover, the United States waged two world wars and a Cold War in Europe to prevent the great economies of Western Europe from falling under the control of a hostile great power. Until a decade or so ago, no American ever dreamed of seeing Ukraine in this way. If therefore the U.S. analysis is that Ukraine cannot win, for the sake of Europe and U.S. vital interests there, Washington should lend all its efforts to bring about an early peace.
Sophia Ampgkarian contributed to the research for this article.
Anatol Lieven is Director of the Eurasia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He was formerly a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and in the War Studies Department of King’s College London.
Photo: On October 2, 2023, AfD held an election campaign event in Munich, Germany, at Marienplatz. Several left-wing organizations called for a counter-protest (Reuters)
Senator Lindsey Graham had two options walking into the Doha Forum in Qatar this weekend: find a way to triangulate his full-throated support for Netanyahu policies in Israel for the largely Palestinian-supportive Muslim audience Sunday, or wave his own flag without reservation. He went with the latter.
The South Carolina Republican made it clear he was no stranger to the region — he touted a long friendship with his host the Emir of Qatar and lauded the kingdom's role as international mediator and host to America's Fifth Fleet. But he didn't bat an eye to tell this audience — thousands of Muslims assembled from across the Gulf and the broader Middle East, plus attendees from Global South nations and Europe — that the U.S. veto of the ceasefire was one of the few things he thought the Biden Administration got right.
"President Biden ...You have risen to the occasion after October the seventh," he said, addressing the audience Sunday. "I have a world of difference with President Biden on many things. But when he vetoed the ceasefire resolution, he did the right thing and let me tell you why. Every ceasefire Hamas has ever entered has been broken and we're not going to do a ceasefire until hostages begin to be released like promised and would give the Israeli military the time and space they need to make sure that Hamas ceases to be a threat to Israel and the Palestinian people."
"So as a Republican, I am standing behind President Biden's decision, that resolution and the one that comes next."
He also said the only way there will be peace in the Middle East will be to get Iran — the real culprit. And the only way to start building a state for Palestine ith the Israel-Saudi deal the icing on the cake.
"I pledge in front of the world to help President Biden secure the votes in the United States Senate to make it possible for Saudi Arabia to have a defense agreement with us, which would then make it possible for Saudi Arabia, to recognize Israel," he declared. "Before the world I pledge my support, to help reconstruct a new Palestine but none of this is possible until you have a less corrupt younger Palestinian Authority, replacing the one we have. And a Hamas can no longer wreak havoc on Israel, on their own people.”
That potential U.S.-brokered Israel-Saudi deal have been deemed all but dead after the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel. Graham contended that aside from hating Jews, Hamas launched the attacks to kill any hope for that deal to go forward. Observers have come to similar conclusions — that the so-called Abraham Accords had left the Palestinians on the cutting room floor, inciting anger among the militant elements in Gaza. But unlike Graham, these critics' hold that the agreements are the problem — that regional leaders' shouldn't have allowed Israel to shunt the peace process to the side in the first place.
Not only did Graham ignore this fatal flaw of the agreements, he reveled in his own blind spots, choosing to ignore any culpability of the Netanyahu government over the decades leading to the violence and what appears today, an endless bombardment and on-the-ground military operation in Gaza with chances for further talks between the two sides dwindling by the hour. Instead, he appeared to blame Iran for everything.
"The biggest fear of the Ayatollah is that the Arab world, in conjunction with Israel, marches toward the light away from the darkness. (Iran hates) the idea that everybody in this room can find a way to work with Israel and live with Israel where everybody makes money and can live in peace. Because let me tell you, their agenda is different than yours. So I believe we cannot let Iran win."
He said he was committed to a two-state solution, and if there was any moment in his talk where he put any responsibility on Israel it was this: "I'm going to Israel soon and here's what I'm telling Israeli friends — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, none of these Arab countries can help you. Unless you make a commitment for a two state solution. ...To my friends in Israel the best thing you can do to beat Iran is to give the Palestinians a life where they're not dependent upon terrorist organizations that they can live and work and be prosperous."
How Israelis could get there, from here, was not explained by Lindsey Graham, or whether he honestly thought that was possible given the "hell on earth" Gaza is becoming today. But we know he doesn't believe that the civilian crisis on the ground now will reduce the chances for peace tomorrow, because of the way he reacted to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's remarks earlier this month.
Austin said “the lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. In this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
“Strategic defeat would be inflaming the Palestinians? They’re already inflamed,” Graham continued. “They’re taught from the time they’re born to hate the Jews and to kill them. They’re taught math: If you have 10 Jews and kill six, how many would you have left?”
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Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Dec. 10. (Vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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