US Can’t Deal with Defeat

In the U.S., the strongest collective memory of America’s wars of choice is the desirability – and ease – of forgetting them. So it will be when we look at a ruined Ukraine in the rear-view mirror, writes Michael Brenner.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping during talks in Moscow in March 2023. (Vladimir Astapkovich, RIA Novosti)

By Michael Brenner
Special to Consortium News

The United States is being defeated in Ukraine.

One could say that it is facing defeat — or, more starkly, that it is staring defeat in the face. Neither formulation is appropriate, though. The U.S. doesn’t look reality squarely in the eye. It prefers to look at the world through the distorted lenses of its fantasies. It plunges forward on whatever path it’s chosen while averting its eyes from the topography it is trying to traverse.  Its sole guiding light is the glow of a distant mirage. That is its lodestone.

It is not that America is a stranger to defeat. It is very well acquainted with it: Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria — in strategic terms if not always military terms. To this broad category, we might add Venezuela, Cuba and Niger. That rich experience in frustrated ambition has failed to liberate Washington from the deeply rooted habit of eliding defeat. Indeed, the U.S. has acquired a large inventory of methods for doing so.

Defining & Determining Defeat 

Before examining them, let us specify what we mean by “defeat.” Simply put, defeat is a failure to meet objectives — at tolerable cost. The term also encompasses unintended, adverse second-order consequences.

No. 1. What were Washington’s objectives in sabotaging the Minsk peace plan and cold-shouldering subsequent Russian proposals, provoking Russia by crossing a clearly demarcated red line, pressing for Ukraine’s membership in NATO, installing missile batteries in Poland and Rumania, transforming the Ukrainian army into a potent military force deployed on the line-of-contact in the Donbass ready to invade or goad Moscow into preemptive action? 

U.S. Navy base in Deveselu, Romania, home to NATO’s Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System site, 2019: . (U.S. Navy, Amy Forsythe, Public domain)

The aim was to either pin a humiliating defeat on the Russian army or, at least, to inflict such heavy costs as to cut the ground from under the Putin government.

The crucial, complementary dimension of the strategy was the imposition of economic sanctions so onerous as to implode a vulnerable Russian economy. Together, they would generate acute distress leading to the deposing of Russian President Vladimir Putin — whether by a cabal of opponents (disgruntled oligarchs as the spearhead) or by mass protest.

It was predicated on the fatally ill-informed supposition that Putin was an absolute dictator running a one-man show. The U.S. foresaw his replacement by a more pliable government ready to become a willing but marginal presence on the European stage and a non-player elsewhere. In the crude words of one Moscow official, “a tenant-farmer on Uncle Sam’s global plantation.”

No. 2. The taming and domestication of Russia was conceived as a vital step in the impending great confrontation with China — designated the systemic rival to U.S. hegemony. Theoretically, that objective could be achieved either by enticing Russia away from China (divide and subordinate) or totally neutralizing Russia as a world power by bringing down its stiff-backed leadership. The former approach never went beyond a few desultory, feeble gestures. All the chips were placed on the latter.

No. 3. Ancillary benefits for the United States from a war over Ukraine that would bring Russia low were a). to consolidate the Atlantic alliance under Washington’s control, expand NATO and open an unbridgeable abyss between Russia and the rest of Europe that would endure for the foreseeable future; b). to that end, the termination of the latter’s heavy reliance on energy resources from Russia; and c). thereby, substituting higher-priced LNG and petroleum from the United States that would seal the European partners’ status as dependent economic vassals. If the last were a drag on their industry, so be it.

The grandiose goals stated in No. 1 and No. 2 manifestly have proven unreachable — indeed, fanciful — a blunt truth not as yet absorbed by American elites. Those in No. 3 are consolation prizes of diminished value. This outcome was determined in good part, albeit not at all entirely, by the military failure in Ukraine. 

We now are about to enter the final act. Kiev’s vaunted counter-offense has gone nowhere — at an enormous cost to the Ukrainian military. It has been bled white by massive losses of manpower, by the destruction of the greater part of its armor, by the ruin of vital infrastructure. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken place a memorial wreath at a cemetery in Kiev on Sept. 6. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy, Public Domain) 

The Western-trained elite brigades have been mauled and there are no longer any reserves to throw into the battle. Moreover, the flow of weapons and ammunition from the West has slowed as U.S. and European stocks are running low (e.g. 155mm artillery shells). 

The shortage is being aggravated by newfound inhibitions about sending Ukraine advanced weapons which have proven highly vulnerable to Russian fire. That holds especially for armor: German Leopards, British Challengers, French AMX-10-RC tanks as well as Combat Fighting Vehicles (CFV) like the American Bradleys and Strykers.

Graphic images of burnt-out hulks littering the Ukrainian steppe are not advertisements for either Western military technology or foreign sales. Hence, too, the slow-walking of deliveries to Kiev of the promised Abrams and F-16s lest they suffer the same fate.

Illusion of Eventual Success

The illusion of eventual success on the battlefield (with its envisaged wearing down of Russia’s will and capacity) is founded on a mistaken idea of how to measure winning and losing. 

American leaders, military as well as civilian, are stuck to a model that emphasizes control of territory. Russian military thinking is different. Its emphasis is on the destruction of the enemy’s forces, by whatever strategy is suited to the prevailing conditions. Then, in command of the battlefield, they can work their will. 

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The aggressive tactics of the Ukrainians entail throwing its resources into combat in relentless campaigns to evict the Russians from the Donbass and Crimea.

Unable to achieve any breakthrough, they invited themselves to a war of attrition much to their disadvantage. It has been succeeded by this summer’s all-out last fling which has proven suicidal.  They thereby played into the Russians’ hands.  Hence, while attention is fixed on who occupies this village or that on the Zaporizhhia front or around Bakhmut, the real story is that Russia has been dismantling the reconstituted Ukrainian army piece by piece.

Sumy, Ukraine, after Russian drone strike on July 3. (National Police of Ukraine, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

In historical perspective, there are two instructive analogies. In the last year of World War I, the German high command launched an audacious campaign, Operation Michael, on the Western Front in March 1918 using a number of innovative tactics (featuring commando squads and stormtroopers equipped with flame-throwers) to punch holes in allied lines. After initial gains that brought them across the Marne, attended by very heavy casualties, the offensive petered out and allowed the allies to roll over their gravely depleted forces— leading to the final collapse in November. 

More pertinent is the Battle of Kursk in July 1943 wherein the Nazis made a massive attempt to regain the initiative after the disaster at Stalingrad.  Again, after some noteworthy success in breaching two Soviet defense lines they exhausted themselves short of their objective. That battle opened the long, bloody road to Berlin. 

German soldiers pause during the Battle of Kursk. (Bundesarchiv, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

Ukraine, today, has suffered huge losses of even greater (proportional) magnitude, without achieving any significant territorial gains, unable even to reach the first layer of the Surovikin Line. That will clear the road to the Dnieper and beyond for the 600,000 strong Russian army equipped with weaponry the equal of what the West has given Ukraine. Hence, Moscow is poised to exploit its decisive advantage to the point where it can dictate terms to Kiev, Washington, Brussels et al.

The Biden administration has made no plans for such an eventuality, nor have its obedient European governments. Their divorce from reality will make this state of affairs all the more stunning — and galling. Bereft of ideas, they will flounder. How they will react is unknowable. We can say with certainty one thing: the collective West, and especially the U.S., will have suffered a grave defeat. Coping with that truth will become the main order of business.

Here is a menu of options for handling it:

Redefine what is meant by defeat, victory, failure, success, loss, gain. There is a new narrative that is scripted to stress these talking points:

  • It is Russia that has lost the contest because heroic Ukraine and a steadfast West have prevented it from conquering, occupying and reincorporating all of the country.
  • By contrast, Sweden and Finland formally have joined the American camp by entering NATO. That complicates Moscow’s strategic plans by forcing a dispersion of its forces across a wider front.
  • Russia has been politically isolated on the world scene. That is because North America, E.U./NATO-Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand have backed the Ukrainian cause. Not a single other country has agreed to apply economic sanctions; the “world” does not include China, India, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa et al.
  • The Western democracies have displayed unprecedented solidarity in responding as one to the Russian threat.

This narrative already has been given an airing in speeches by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland. Its target audience is the American public; nobody outside the Collective West buys it, though — whether Washington has registered that fact of diplomatic life or not.

Retroactively Scale Back the Goals & Stakes 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks at weapons and an underground bunker in the Kiev Oblast on Sept. 7. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy, Public domain)

  • Make no further reference to regime change in Moscow, to toppling Putin, to crashing the Russian economy, to breaking the Sino-Russian partnership or to fatally weaken it.
  • Speak of safeguarding the integrity of the Ukrainian state by denying that the Donbass and Crimea have been permanently severed from the “mother country.” Emphasize that your friends in Kiev are still titular, legitimate leaders of Ukraine.
  • Aim for a permanent ceasefire that would freeze the two sides in existing positions, i.e. a de facto division a la Korea. The Western portion then would be admitted to NATO and the EU, and rearmed. Ignore the inconvenient truth that Russia would never accept a ceasefire on those terms.
  • Maintain the economic sanctions on Russia but look the other way when needy European partners make under-the-table deals for Russian oil and LNG (mostly through intermediaries like India, Turkey and Kazakhstan) as they have been doing throughout the conflict.
  • Put the spotlight on China as the mortal threat to America and the West while disparaging Russia as just its auxiliary.
  • Highlight symbolic gestures like the strikes by top-of-the-line supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles transferred from the U.S., Britain and France that can inflict damage on prominent targets in Russia itself and Crimea (with crucial technical support from American and other NATO personnel). This act is akin to rabid fans of a football team that just lost to a hated rival who puncture the tires on the bus scheduled to take them to the airport.

Cultivate Amnesia 

U.S. helicopters on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway during the evacuation of Saigon, April 1975. (DanMS, Wikimedia Commons)

Americans have become masters in the art of memory management. 

Think about the tragic shock of Vietnam.  The country made a systematic effort to forget — to forget everything about Vietnam. Understandably; it was ugly — on every count. Textbooks in American history gave it little space; teachers downplayed it; television soon disregarded it as retro. Americans sought closure — we got it.

In a sense, the most noteworthy inheritance from the post-Vietnam experience is the honing of methods to photoshop history.  Vietnam was a warm-up for dealing with the many unsavory episodes in the post-9/11 era. That thorough, comprehensive cleansing has made palatable presidential mendacity, sustained deceit, mind-numbing incompetence, systemic torture, censorship, the shredding of the Bill of Rights and the perverting of national public discourse  — as it degenerated into a mix of propaganda and vulgar trash-talking. The “War on Terror” in all its atrocious aspects.

Cultivated amnesia is a craft enormously facilitated by two broader trends in American culture: the cult of ignorance whereby a knowledge-free mind is esteemed as the ultimate freedom; and a public ethic whereby the nation’s highest officials are given license to treat the truth as a potter treats clay so long as they say and do things that make us feel good.

So, in the U.S., the strongest collective memory of America’s wars of choice is the desirability – and ease – of forgetting them. “The show must go on” is taken as the imperative. So it will be when we look at a ruined Ukraine in the rear-view mirror.

The cultivation of amnesia as a method for dealing with painful national experiences has serious drawbacks. First, it severely restricts the opportunity to learn the lessons it offers.

In the wake of the inconclusive Korean War where the United States suffered 49,000 killed in action, the mantra in Washington was: no war on the mainland of Asia ever again.

Yet, less than a decade later the U.S. was knee-deep in the rice paddies of Vietnam where America lost 59,000 people.

After the tragic fiasco in Iraq, Washington nonetheless was gung-ho about occupying Afghanistan in a 20-year enterprise to construct a similar Western-leaning democracy out of the barrel of a gun.

Those frustrated projects did not dissuade the U.S. from intervening in Syria where it failed once again to turn an intractable, alien society into something to its liking — even though it went to such an extreme as a tacit partnership with the local Al-Qaeda subsidiary. As Kabul showed, the U.S. didn’t even take away from the Saigon denouement the lesson in how to organize an orderly evacuation.

U.S. paratroopers prepare to board an aircraft at the Hamid Karzai International Airport  during the evacuation of Kabul, Aug. 30, 2021.  (U.S. Army, Alexander Burnett, Public domain)

At the very least, one might have expected that a reasonable person would have come away with an acute awareness of how crucial is a fine-grain understanding of the culture, social organization, mores and philosophical outlook of the country the U.S. was committed to reconstituting. The U.S. has manifestly not assimilated that elementary truth. Witness the  abysmal ignorance of all things Russian that has led the U.S. to a fatal miscalculation of every aspect of the Ukraine affair. 

Next: China 

Ukraine, in turn, is not cooling the ardor for confrontation with China. An audacious, and by no means a compelling, enterprise that is ensconced as the centerpiece of Washington’s official national security strategy.

Senior Washington officials openly predict the inevitability of all-out war before the end of the decade — nuclear weapons notwithstanding.

Moreover, Taiwan is cast in the same role as that played by Ukraine in the American scheme of things. So, having provoked a multi-dimensional conflict with Russia which has failed on all counts, the U.S. hastily commits itself to the nearly exact same strategy in taking on an even more formidable foe. This could be classified as what the French call a fuite en avant — an escape forward. In other words: Bring it on! We’re geared up for it. 

The march to war with China defies all conventional wisdom. After all, the nation poses no military threat to U.S. security or core interests. China has no history of empire-building or conquest. China has been the source of great economic benefit via dense exchanges that serve both sides.

Therefore, what is the justification for the widespread judgment that a crossing-of-swords is inescapable?  Sensible nations do not commit themselves to a possibly cataclysmic war because China, the designated No. 1 enemy, builds radar warning stations on sandy atolls in the South China Sea? Because it markets electric vehicles more cheaply? Because its advances in developing semi-conductors may outclass those of the U.S.?

Because of its treatment of an ethnic minority in western China? Because it follows the U.S. example in funding NGOs that promote a positive view of their country? Because it engages in industrial espionage just the way the United States and everybody else does? Because it wafts balloon over North America (declared benign by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week)?

None of these are compelling reasons to press hard for a confrontation. The truth is far simpler — and far more disquieting. The U.S. is obsessed with China because it exists. Like K-2, that itself is a challenge for the U.S. must prove its prowess (to others, but mainly to ourselves), that it can surmount it. That is the true meaning of a perceived existential threat.

The focal shift from Russia in Europe to China in Asia is less a mechanism for coping with defeat than the pathological reaction of a country that, feeling a gnawing sense of diminishing prowess, can manage to do nothing more than try one final fling at proving to itself that it still has the right stuff — since living without that exalted sense of self is intolerable.

What is deemed heterodox, and daring, in Washington these days is to argue that it should wrap up the Ukraine affair one way or another so it might gird its loins for the truly historic contest with Beijing. The disconcerting truth that nobody of consequence in the country’s foreign policy establishment has denounced this hazardous turn toward war supports the proposition that deep emotions rather than reasoned thought are propelling the U.S. toward an avoidable, potentially catastrophic conflict.

A society represented by an entire political class that is not sobered by that prospect rightly can be judged as providing prime facie evidence of being collectively unhinged. 

Amnesia may serve the purpose of sparing our political elites, and the American populace at large, the acute discomfort of acknowledging mistakes and defeat. However, that success is not matched by an analogous process of memory erasure in other places.

The U.S. was fortunate, in the case of Vietnam, that the United States’ dominant position in the world outside of the Soviet Bloc and the PRC allowed it to maintain respect, status and influence.

Things have now changed, though. The U.S. relative strength in all domains is weaker, strong centrifugal forces around the globe are producing a dispersion of power, will and outlook among other states. The BRICs phenomenon is the concrete embodiment of that reality.  

Hence, the prerogatives of the United States are narrowing, its ability to shape the global system in conformity with its ideas and interests are under mounting challenge, and premiums are being placed on diplomacy of an order that seems beyond its present aptitudes.

The U.S. is confounded.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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53 comments for “US Can’t Deal with Defeat

  1. Patrick Powers
    September 23, 2023 at 21:27

    American foreign policy can be summarized as “we will bury you.”

  2. John Manning
    September 23, 2023 at 15:28

    You just don’t get it. Victory for NATO/USA in the Ukraine war is the destruction of Ukraine. It is the certain way of preventing a Russia – Ukraine union.
    The irony is that they are using the Ukrainian people to do the job. If you think that strange then just look at the history of Africa since the 1950’s.

  3. Longtrail
    September 23, 2023 at 15:00

    You were introduced to me by Andrei Martyanov. I’m grateful for the introduction. You wrote an excellent piece and there are great comments.

  4. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    September 23, 2023 at 14:52

    Beg your pardon, the next threat to the U.S. after Russia via Ukraine is China ? The Donkeys braying and trapped now in Donbass must be out their heads to dream of taking on China especially near its home turf. Hypothetically even with its old status restored the US couldn’t pull off an elephant in the China shop act even in its dreams now. By the way this is an eye opening piece by the learned Professor but the American elites need first to be adequately sober to learn anything useful from it,this is not the case at present !

    September 23, 2023 at 12:38

    Don’t forget the War of 1812. The failure of American arms was reflected in the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war. It addressed none of the grievances that had allegedly caused America to declare war. Britain’s initial demands for a cessation of hostilities had included the surrender of Maine and the northern parts of New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York, as buffer zones against another American attempt to annex Canada, and the payment of substantial war reparations. U.S. delegates agreed to accept the generous British offer to simply restore the pre-war status quo. In return for a U.S. agreement never to invade Canada again, Britain agreed to abandon her Indian allies living on tribal lands desired for U.S. expansion. The first American peace movement began soon after the war as Americans reflected on the sobering truth that none of the war’s publicized objectives had been gained from its enormous cost in lives and money.

  6. wildthange
    September 22, 2023 at 20:34

    Maybe our fantasy is that god is on our side and if we don’t act quickly we will lose the advantage gained by the fall of godless USSR due to a Polish religious revival. Do we fantasize winning a nuclear war with a fantasy of divine intervention?
    We may have to wake up from a 2000 year old fantasy?

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    September 22, 2023 at 11:34

    America could never stand it when any other country/people were better off than America. What an odious nation.

    • James White
      September 22, 2023 at 12:24

      It has never been more embarrassing to be an American. The U.S. stomps around the world like an enraged ape, tearing people’s lives apart and making everything worse than if we isolated ourselves. My advice to my fellow citizens is to first, get over yourself. Second, stop voting for the same corrupt losers who maintain the status quo before it consumes us all. The uniparty must go.

      • Longtrail
        September 23, 2023 at 15:01

        I feel just like you.

    • Longtrail
      September 23, 2023 at 14:56

      Vera, you nailed it! Bravo!

  8. Peace Frog
    September 22, 2023 at 10:25

    The interesting part is this … when you lose a world war against a major power, how the losers of that war ‘deal’ with defeat really does not matter. They can lie, they can make up excuses, etc, etc, etc, and not one word of it matters.

    America has in its very short memory span never fought a war against a power. America was only a bully beating up on the weakest nations in the world. Thus, even when they are defeated by Afghanistan, they can still spend their BS to try to cover their rears and protect political careers. But, if you lose a real war, that does not matter.

    For example, the Americans still have this strange belief that even if NATO loses its Ukraine war, the US will still be able to dictate the terms of the peace. Yeah, right.

    An old saying, forgotten by the war-loving Americans, is that wars are easy to start, but hard to end. America has done everything between calling the Russians names, waging economic warfare against them, and bombed their cities and killed their journalists and soldiers. Don’t expect the Russians to be particularly generous when the Americans have to sue for Peace.

  9. Sam F
    September 22, 2023 at 07:53

    An excellent summary and analysis by Michael Brenner.

    The US military and secret agencies are out of control, a bully faction elevated to classical tyranny over their own democracy, as always by inventing invisible enemies far away and demanding power as defenders, which requires ignoring all defeats and insisting that cultural conflicts have only military solutions.

    The same process of tribalism and tyranny is at work throughout all cultures and factions, exploiting the social and economic dependencies upon tribal groups, which cause fear of tribal leaders, an invitation to the tyrant personality to invent enemies and demand power.

    Countering this requires:
    1. Liberation of citizens from tribal dependency, which requires education to recognize and avoid one’s own tribal dependencies, to recognize and discredit the tyrant personality;
    2. Rejection of propaganda narratives throughout mass media and political parties;

    That requires:
    3. Constitutional amendments to prohibit all funding of mass media and elections other than registered and limited individual donations;
    4. Rigorous prohibition, monitoring, and enforcement of all economic influences and rewards of public officials and all of their relatives, associates, and related economic entities for life, with seizure of all questionable assets;
    5. Organizing public discussion and debate under well-regulated independent entities (see that protect all viewpoints and produce debate summaries for public access, as well as entertaining versions for the lazy;
    6. Organising cross-cultural exchange and popular education to build public ability to see the faults of their own tribal groups, and search out the good points of groups with conflicting views, to find the truth and facilitate peace/

  10. Jeff Harrison
    September 21, 2023 at 23:27

    Excellent observations and an excellent statement of the US’s flaws. I have concluded that nothing will get better until the US collapses.

    • Peace Frog
      September 22, 2023 at 10:37

      The question is, will the American Oligarchs accept such a collapse or a defeat in a war, without using all those Nukes that they spend $Trillions to have on hand for just such an emergency. That question is the reason why the Doomsday Clock is now measured in Seconds rather than in Minutes.

  11. Theresa Barzee
    September 21, 2023 at 21:53

    Oh my gosh, thank you for this all-embracing try at our present precipice moment. This was a bear hug of a piece. Very worth reading. Am hoping to encourage more of same with donation this month. Huge appreciation for writers for Consortium News!

  12. John Puma
    September 21, 2023 at 19:51

    US “aptitude” for diplomacy?
    It’s not aptitude but, rather, seething contempt.
    For diplomacy US can only muster, however “sincerely,”
    the Mafiaesque: “Obey or die”

    • Peace Frog
      September 22, 2023 at 10:32

      America has obviously already shot or otherwise fired/blacklisted/disappeared all the ‘diplomats’. There is not a person in the War Dept (says ‘State’ outside the door) who knows what ‘diplomacy’ is. Being a ‘diplomat’ is not a successful path for career advancement in America, not even in the ‘diplomatic service’. You don’t think Blinkie earned his promotions through ‘diplomacy’, do you?

      At this point, corporate America only knows four letter words. If they need to hire a diplomat to fix this mess for them, they’ll have to outsource.

  13. Greg Grant
    September 21, 2023 at 18:29

    Chomsky argued rather convincingly that we actually won the Vietnam War. The primary objective was to make sure Vietnam didn’t provide an example for anybody else to follow. In other words, the domino effect was truly the biggest fear. And by the time we left Vietnam it was a smoldering disaster that was not able to set the example it otherwise would have had we just left them alone. We cannot allow any country to set an example of independence. That explains most of our foreign policy since WWII.

    • Tony
      September 22, 2023 at 08:30

      Yes, he does make that argument.

      There are degrees of defeat/victory.

    • AA from MD
      September 22, 2023 at 10:01

      That also explains the aggression towards Cuba

  14. Chris Cosmos
    September 21, 2023 at 18:01

    I think the general trend here is that an understanding is emerging that money is at the root of the endless war regime. Money is being made hand over fist–this isn’t just a slight skimming off of the Pentagon budget–we are faced with massive criminal fraud. Waging war is certainly not a good thing but to wage war to make money is stunningly immoral.

    I think most people understand they are being lied to by the propaganda organs yet, they still act as if they believe them. How is that possible? Because the vast population of diverse peoples that make up the US population needs a common cultural language even if it consists of a false narrative. Most human beings do not believe in truth or reason–I think the ruling elites understand that which is why they have no problem getting away with massive crimes.

  15. Rob
    September 21, 2023 at 16:55

    Great analysis. However, one error in the piece bears mentioning. Neither the United States nor any other NATO nation possesses hypersonic missiles, though they are, and have been for quite some time, “in development.” Only Russia and China have hypersonic missiles, and the former has already put them into use in Ukraine with devastating effect.

    • Navsiakii
      September 23, 2023 at 19:55

      The photograph in this article of the Russian drone strike in Sumy, Ukraine, is of an apartment building.

  16. ray Peterson
    September 21, 2023 at 15:37

    How convenient, the forgetfulness of war’s tragedy and the
    corporate media’s encouraging of it. But not to leave out
    that America’s “War Industry” (Christian Sorensen, 2020),
    reaps obscene profits as much for losing wars, since now weapons
    have to be replenished, then even if the ruling power elite
    was victorious.
    Authentic journalism remains imprisoned with Julian Assange.

    • Jeff Harrison
      September 21, 2023 at 23:35

      You should read General Smedley Butler’s book War is a scam. As Gen Butler is a two time winner of the Congressional medal of honor, I suspect he knows what he’s talking about. Furthermore, he was approached by a number of captains of industry to perpetrate a coup so that Roosevelt could be replaced. This gets to being serious sh*t.

      • CaseyG
        September 22, 2023 at 17:52

        Hi Jeff Harrison:

        YES! “WAR is a RACKET,” is a wonderful and well worth reading historical book.

  17. bobzz
    September 21, 2023 at 15:30

    Were Barbara Tuchman alive to day, she could add another chapter: “America leads the West on the March of Folly.”

  18. rosemerry
    September 21, 2023 at 15:01

    Before moving to what “defeat” is, surely the objectives of the USA’s policies, now in Ukraine and to follow with China, need to be reflected upon. Any normal human reading those listed here would have to wonder why on earth any of them were relevant for a nation with no specific external threats and a desire for peace. AHA, that is what the USA strictly avoids. PEACE!! It needs to be no.1, it needs to do it by violence, bullying, bribing, deception, NEVER by cooperation and even helping other countries to work together without conflict. The wicked Chinese have win-win, cooperative agreements with governments of all types, not just “authoritarian” or even communist ones. Russia has asked for at least 15 years for fair treatment of its own security. While NATO insists it is defensive and NOT out to destroy Russia , it places nukes closer and closer and has moved 1000km to the east since the Cold War ended. The 2014 overthrow of the government in Ukraine by the CIA/Nuland mob(!) was treated patiently by Russia via legal means for 8 years. Russia made no attempt to “take over Ukraine”-in fact would not let the Donbass republics leave Ukraine- just wanted human rights and for Ukraine NOT to join NATO. We now hear only of “unprovoked” and “full-scale Russian invasion” and all the known facts about this corrupt/ Nazified land (on youtube all through 2014 to 2022) are ignored.
    A country that can only react by violence and cares only about the well-being of its rich corporations is not sane.

  19. Anon
    September 21, 2023 at 13:17

    Thanks professor Brenner… got this reader early with the “tenant-farmer” quote followed by tragic truthtell blitz!

  20. r.rebar
    September 21, 2023 at 12:41

    tax dollars were spent — corporate profits went up — what’s not to “like”?

    industrial-military dictatorship of the rich-inc. knows government-funded murder makes more money than anything else.

    every one of these supposed failures were great successes for the criminals “calling the shots”…

  21. Caliman
    September 21, 2023 at 12:20

    Hmmm, defeat after defeat after defeat. Gosh, it’s almost as if this amazingly high-priced Pentagon and State dept of our is staffed by a bunch of incompetents, right?

    Or is it? While I do not disagree with the author that part of the justification and objectives for the Ukraine Caper were indeed the weakening of Russia, the strengthening of NATO, the separation of Russia from western Europe (and weakening of the latter through energy starvation), and the laying of the brickwork for the real prize of the famous pivot to and reduction of China, I feel these are all secondary issues and serve more as narrative and justification for the political types for the real reason why we do what we do and succeed brilliantly at doing: the military-security-corporate Keynesianism model of governance that the US has been engaged in for the past 80 years.

    Win or lose is not the issue, nor is success of failure in the stated aims. The point is and always has been the care and feeding of MICIMATT. Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria? Proper success metrics are not control of territory, women’s rights, “freedom and democracy” or any such clap trap devised for the rubes. The proper metrics are hundreds of billions for military/security corporations, hundreds of generals assigned, media ratings through the roof, think tanks employed, university professors funded, etc.

    Ukraine is the same on a bigger canvas, as the War on Terra (TM) was losing the hearts and minds of Americans. The sheer number of new contracts to fill for the Mil corporations just replacing the old junk getting blown up and needing replacement are going to keep them occupied and highly profitable for the next generation. Get some China action in on the deal and the naval and missile makers can get some too. And so, we are all happy … unless an accident sets off WW3; but that’s a risk the profit takers are willing to take.

    • Observer
      September 22, 2023 at 17:15

      Thanks. Just came her to say how good comment this is.

  22. James McFadden
    September 21, 2023 at 12:11

    Richard Barnet’s “Roots of War”, written near the end of the Vietnam war, gives us insight into the culture of national security managers like Blinken and Sullivan. Below are some brief extractions from that book that capture this culture which transforms lawyers and bankers into killers and pillagers. These managers have only one theory of how the world works and can’t/won’t consider that it might be wrong because their entire career has been based on that model. We shouldn’t expect a change in policy until these managers (who value prestige, resolve, toughness, domination and power above all else) are fired.

    [It all begins with their] “rat-psychology model of international politics [where] all responses of world opinion are based on either fear or greed … To the extent that ‘world opinion’ was considered at all, it was used more as an argument for escalation … no thought was given to the actual impact of the war on the American economy and the American society … assumption that they had limitless resources … [The] first lessons a national security manager learns … is that toughness is the most highly prized virtue … to be repelled by mass homicide, is to be ‘irresponsible’ … [they are] fascinated by lethal technology … weaponry is revolutionary … violence as routine … killing in the national interest … Those who recommend more killing … do not seriously jeopardize their position … To solve a political problem non-violently requires extraordinary patience, understanding, and objectivity. The national security manager is lacking in all three … [He is] contemptuous of the specialist who gets bogged down in facts … [They have a] religious faith in technology, believed that managerial talent was a substitute for understanding … people at the top knew virtually nothing about the reality … neither the time nor the energy to change theories … cannot afford to compromise his ideology with uncongenial facts, for his power rests on his reputation for being able to manipulate events in accordance with a theory … information … tends to reinforce his prejudices … filtering out anything that contradicts official wisdom … They saw no need to understand foreign societies they thought they knew how to manage …”

  23. James White
    September 21, 2023 at 11:54

    There was a scene in Dr. Zhivago where Lara’s daughter shows a coloring she drew of the (now dead) Tsar to Lara and Zhivago. ‘He’s an enemy of the people.’ she said. Zhivago replied, ‘But he didn’t know he was an enemy of the people.’ The daughter said, ‘Well he should have, shouldn’t he.’ Unlike the terminal Tsar, Blinken, Nuland, Sullivan and Biden are likewise tragic but were never benign. They knew exactly what they were doing when they meddled in Ukraine with Biden as VP. Undermining the pro-Russian government and replacing it with one that was hostile to ethnic Russian-Ukrainians. All of the European heads of State, save for Orban and possibly Erdogan clucked along with the marginalization of Russia like a chorus of old hens. Over 14,000 ethnic Russians were murdered in Ukraine while NATO turned a blind eye. Now that a half million Ukrainians are dead, expect no soul-searching coming from the perpetrators in Washington and Brussels. They have made it clear that they could not care less about the genocide in Ukraine that they are responsible for. They will find someone else to blame, if need be. Accountability is only for the little people. Never the elite.

  24. Hal Freeman
    September 21, 2023 at 11:40

    An excellent and insightful article. Wow.

  25. September 21, 2023 at 11:23

    Thank you Michael for putting things so clearly and incisively. I am still worried that Biden will embark on one more massively horrible blunder to top off this fiasco. I just hope he doesn’t do something totally irreparable.

  26. September 21, 2023 at 11:21

    Unpleasant and inconvenient verities that strongly imply that quite a while ago, the United States, under the leadership of its Deep State (the unofficial agglomeration led by the military-industrial complex augmented by the intelligence community against which Ike warned us in November of 1960) has crossed the boundary between sanity and insanity, and is doing so repeatedly, refusing to learn from history (which has long been replaced by fictitious narratives), and, as in the definition of dementia erroneously credited to Albert Einstein, believing that results will change while our actions remain the same.

  27. Selina Sweet
    September 21, 2023 at 11:11

    Two observations. All these machinations by Nuland, Blincken, Sullivan seem to possess as much real world blood and guts consciousessness as can be found in video games aficianados and drone operators calling out for pizza and rootbeer for their breaks. Players. I keep wondering what in heck about these three qualified them for their jobs? Their connections? The second. Our “deciders” (the aforementioned) and Biden operate completely independent of and oblivious to the American citizenry. They have as much connection to us as Superbowl coaches have with their fans.
    The passive citizenry looks on at a group responsible for one failed war after another that’s cooking up a global nightmare with China to promote the agenda of corporations who don’t pay taxes, stuff their CEO’s with money, crush unions, replace original research with buybacks, and destroy the environment and exacerbate climate catastrophe.

    • Robert
      September 21, 2023 at 13:29

      I share your opinion about Blinken, Sullivan, and Nuland. Apparently the Deep State is much deeper and wider than anyone outside of D.C. realizes. Ask Trump because he found out very quickly that the Swamp was at least 50 X wider/deeper than he thought it was on the day he became President. And truth be told Trump was no match for the Swampers. In football terms, Trump lost 42 to 7. He would do better in a 2nd term, maybe lose 28 to 14.

      After the Afghanistan exit debacle I thought the war mongers in D.C. would cool their heels for at least 2 years before their primal instincts took over again. That proved to be way too optimistic. But I still have some optimism left. I think that the people of Taiwan are way smarter than the people of Ukraine and therefore a war with China will not occur.

      • Michael
        September 23, 2023 at 10:59

        I was thinking the quick exit from Afghanistan was due to the urgency to get to the next project…Ukraine.

    • James White
      September 21, 2023 at 16:00

      “Lemme tell you something,” Biden said to his friends after asking where their young kids would be going to college, according Richard Ben Cramer’s famous election book “What It Takes.”
      “There’s a river of power that flows through this country. . . . Some people—most people—don’t even know the river is there. But it’s there. Some people know about the river, but they can’t get in . . . they only stand at the edge. And some people, a few, get to swim in the river. All the time. They get to swim their whole lives in the river of power. And that river flows from the Ivy League,” Biden said at the time.
      This gives some insight into who Biden is and what he thinks of himself. Biden has always been below-average in every pursuit. As the son of a used car salesman, Biden’s game is all about sales. The sleaziest, most cynical brand of sales. Biden always needs to touch other people. The body language message of this touching, is that it puts him in the power position. The one being touched is the inferior. It is a pacifier that Biden can’t live without. When his creepy sniffing and touching of little girls and women was exposed, his handlers made it clear that his habitual ‘putting the arm’ on everyone had to stop. Even now there are times that he can’t resist getting inappropriately physical with women, girls and young children.
      Being a non-Ivy leaguer, in a club full of them, makes Biden desperately insecure. He surrounds himself with Harvard graduates. But what kind of Harvard educated world shaker would want anything to do with working for dopey Joe? The answer is Ivy leaguers who are themselves deeply insecure. Harvard does turn out more than a few clunkers. Biden would not be able to tolerate anyone who is obviously smarter than he is. Nor would any really bright Harvard graduate want to work for Biden. So what Biden gets are mediocrities and yes-men. Consider his choice for Vice President. The only player in DC who is a bigger phony than Biden and arguably even duller. Joe wasn’t hiring any whip-smart upstart who would expose his weaknesses. He found someone who checked two victim class boxes. But more importantly, a VP guaranteed to be less popular than Joe, no matter how low Joe’s popularity sunk. Biden’s cabinet is likewise a potpourri of box-checking rogues and political hacks. As we say in the software business, garbage in, garbage out.
      Of course Joe established Hunter Biden in the family business. Joe taught Hunter the only game he ever learned how to play. Selling Joe Biden. A deal where Joe Biden, with zero talent, gets something in exchange for access to the power of Joe’s office. Other terms for this commercial arrangement are bribery, corruption, influence peddling, even extortion and treason.
      Leaving Hunter’s sinecures aside…
      The University of Pennsylvania received tens of millions of dollars from anonymous Chinese sources, with a marked uptick in donations when then-former Vice President Biden was announced as leading the Penn Biden Center initiative. UPenn publicized the formation of the Penn Biden Center on February 1, 2017. After that announcement, UPenn’s donations originating from China more than tripled. Not only were these donations made while President Biden explored a potential run for president and launched his campaign, but also as his family and associates pursued lucrative financial projects with partners in China. (From Congressman James Comer’s committee on oversight and accountability.)
      Between 2017 and 2019, UPenn paid President Biden more than $900,000, and the university employed at least 10 people at the Penn Biden Center who later became senior Biden administration officials—including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. Financial disclosures filed with the Office of Government Ethics reveal UPenn paid these Biden associates between $79,000 and $208,000. Following President Biden’s 2020 election victory, he selected the UPenn president, Amy Gutmann, and the chairman of UPenn’s board of trustees, David Cohen, to be ambassadors of Germany and Canada, respectively. The former managing director of the Penn Biden Center, Dr. Michael Carpenter, now serves as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In the Obama-Biden Administration, Dr.
      Carpenter had responsibility over Russia and Ukraine while serving at the Department of Defense. The Committee is concerned top UPenn officials offered lucrative, foreign-funded salaries to President Biden’s closest political allies to secure senior posts in a future Biden Administration and foreign actors funded those salaries to influence a future government.

      • Sam F
        September 22, 2023 at 08:10

        Thanks for the UPenn info; odd that funding from China created an anti-China administration.

        • James White
          September 22, 2023 at 10:23

          My pleasure Sam. The many facts about the Biden crime family corruption are posted in plain sight on Comer’s government website. The $20 million in grift is all that has been uncovered -so far, at this stage of the investigation. Estimates run over $50 million. None of which includes the 10’s of millions that poured into the Penn-Biden ‘center,’ from Chinese donors who are very obviously transactional. Put another way, the money is not flowing to Biden because of Joe’s popularity in China or among the Chinese government. Those tens of millions are an investment from Chinese people who have reason to expect a return on their investment. If a single member of Congress asked Zelensky about Biden’s history of meddling in Ukraine as VP, I must have missed it. Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley says the U.S. is rich and can afford to waste another $100 billion on Ukraine next year with no accounting of where it goes. $33 trillion in debt is not what I consider rich. Milley’s comment is rich, however.

  28. Horatio
    September 21, 2023 at 11:03

    I understand that new estates are being built around Washington and beyond as a result of the money generated by the MIC and kickbacks to members of Congress. In this way the U.S. has won the Ukrainian war. The pivot to Asia will reap even greater rewards. The founding fathers spoke passionately against foreign wars. George Washington in his final address warned against entangling alliances. The wisdom of the ages has been thrown under the bus. The problem with Americans is a short memory and the inability to be guided by past experiences.

    • David Otness
      September 21, 2023 at 18:57

      “The problem with Americans is a short memory and the inability to be guided by past experiences.”
      Their / our intentional dis-education is the largest contributor to this profound ignorance.

  29. mgr
    September 21, 2023 at 10:43

    Excellent as always. Israel, as an example, has enshrined it’s supposed victimization at the hands of the world with the cry that “they deny our right to exist!” In reality, and like the US, it is Israel that denies the rights of others (Palestinians) to exist. And as Mr. Brenner has correctly pointed out, it is the US that is the world’s denier of other’s, China, Russia, etc., right to exist. Why? Simply because a bully mentality lives in perpetual fear and if your boot is not on their neck, panic!

    Psychological projection is a real thing. In Ukraine, every accusation of barbaric Russian actions is in fact a description of what the monstrous Kiev regime has itself been doing, often to its own people. It’s almost scary how iron clad this rule of projection is. Of course, everyone is an enemy in the eyes of the US because the US has become the enemy of everyone else with no good intentions toward anyone, even its vassals (aka fools).

    I think Ukraine is going to greatly end all that. Until now, the US has been able to hide its intentions behind a multi-generation marketing veneer of “moral authority.” That illusion was well on the way out but Ukraine has indeed pushed it over the edge. Certainly from this point on, the US, also dragging along its vassal states (goodbye EU), any remaining shred of that delusion in the world has been swept away.

    Moral authority is another iron clad rule. It’s seems invisible and hard to pin down. Naturally so because it reflects the totality of one’s character and actions. It seems weak and ineffectual compared to military or financial might but that is a shallow view. Moral authority, much like the oil in an engine, is ubiquitous. It simply makes everything else work. Without it, every action grinds and wears. Ukraine, I believe, has cracked the US crankcase and the oil of moral authority has leaked out. It took generations to develop it and now it is gone for good. I guess it had to be Biden and his, as Ray McGovern says, “sophomores,” the pinnacle of mediocrity, to bring this home. From now on, US efforts for anything in the world will be much like a an engine trying to run without oil.

    The US with its military and financial might could not be defeated in a frontal attack. Rather, what Russia and China were forced to do was to let the US reveal itself and its intentions (empire) for what they really are for all to see. I believe the judo word for this kind of technique is “kazushi,” meaning putting one’s opponent off-balance. In a judo technique, one first leads his or her opponent into a position of “off-balance,” and then applies a technique to easily throw them to the mat. Putin is an 8th degree black belt in judo, quite rare, “tenth dan” is the top.

    Judo is also known as the “gentle art” and in fact Putin has taken a very “gentle,” relatively speaking, approach. If you don’t know judo, you may not quite grasp the eloquence with which Putin has led the US and the West to undermine itself of its own accord.

    • Valerie
      September 21, 2023 at 12:07

      Good analysis and analogies mgr. I like the judo one. Hoist by their own petard indeed.

      • mgr
        September 21, 2023 at 13:26

        Valerie: Thank you. Yes, “hoisted by their own petard.” Well put.

    • David Otness
      September 21, 2023 at 19:01

      Wise words, mgr san.

      • mgr
        September 22, 2023 at 08:31

        David: Arigoto to you, David san.

  30. Drew Hunkins
    September 21, 2023 at 10:13

    Another group who can’t deal with reality is all the brainwashed lemmings (typically a majority of the population) who always lap up the pervasive and hysterical corporate-militarist propaganda. These are the folks who know it all and condescend to the few of us who know the score at the time. These people rarely if ever come out with mea culpas.

    Two obvious examples come readily to mind: the runup to the Iraq war in 2002/early ’03 was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Then again in 2016 to 2020 and even the present day, many still think the Kremlin interfered in the ’16 prez election. Maddening.

  31. dfnslblty
    September 21, 2023 at 09:37

    Follow the $$$
    It matter not about defeat — ¿How much money is gained?
    usa doesn’t feel the pain of death destruction.
    We’re not allowed that lesson.
    Stop Wars!

    • JonnyJames
      September 21, 2023 at 12:05

      True, how many trillions $$ were transferred from the public purse into private hands is the question. Meanwhile, the Duopoly Dictatorship says the govt. is “broke” again and need to cut Medicare and SS. But more trillions for the War/Weapons/Surveillance complex. This will continue until the empire eventually collapses under its own corruption.

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