Neocons are twisting themselves into rhetorical pretzels to make the case for one big war — with the U.S. right in the middle of it.
A memo must have gone out this week to all unreconstructed neocons directing them to propagate the idea that the conflicts in Israel and Ukraine are “one war,” and that the stakes of this one war are so high — civilization itself hangs in the balance! — that the United States must get deeply involved in both of them.
I know it sounds idiotic, but that’s the line. President Joe Biden peddled a version of it in an Oval Office speech Thursday, saying Hamas and Putin represent different threats but “both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”
This flimsy talking point made the rounds earlier in the week when neocons like Jonah Goldberg and Matthew Continetti both argued that Israel and Ukraine are “the same war on two fronts,” as Goldberg put it. Everyone knows about Iran’s support for Hamas, he said, but the “more vital question is of Russia’s involvement.”
And what, pray tell, is the connection between Moscow and Hamas? Well, you see, Iran supports Hamas, and Iran and Russia both depend on oil revenue. Both are sanctioned by Western governments and “Global instability keeps the petrodollars flowing.” See the connection? Wake up, sheeple!
As for Israel and Ukraine, Goldberg claims they are both “flawed but decent democracies facing enemies who seek to erase them from the map.”
This is like a Kamala Harris speech on foreign policy: Israel is a country. Ukraine is a country. Because they are both countries, they have much in common. Both are at war. War is when good armies fight bad armies. Ukraine and Israel are good. Russia and Hamas are bad. Therefore, Israel and Ukraine are fighting the same war.
Seriously though, setting aside obvious facts like Israel is one of America’s closest allies and Ukraine is not an ally at all, let’s start with the fatuous notion that Israel and Ukraine are both “flawed but decent democracies.” Even before the war, Ukraine ranked well below a bunch of Third World “sh-thole countries” on nearly every democracy matrix, and was only slightly better than Russia on most corruption indices. A 2021 report by Freedom House pegged Ukraine as a “transitional or hybrid regime,” not a democracy, and rated it only “partly free.”
Once the war began, it got worse. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shut down the free press, banned all opposition political parties, and canceled elections. Ukraine is now a one-party state where the party controls the news media. That doesn’t sound like any democracy I’ve ever heard of, and it certainly isn’t anything like Israel, which has a free press and free elections — things that aren’t just characteristics of democracy but prerequisites for it.
What about Biden and Goldberg’s notion that Ukraine and Israel both face enemies that want to wipe them off the map? I get that demonizing foreign adversaries is a way to gin up support for endless and unpopular foreign adventures, but the comparison here is ridiculous. Russia is a rational authoritarian state, not part of a fundamentalist Muslim terror network trying to start World War III. It doesn’t want to annihilate Ukraine, it wants to absorb it into a greater Russia (Putin himself has said so repeatedly).
We can all recognize Putin is the aggressor in this war while also admitting that the difference between Russians and Ukrainians is mostly a regional accent. Given the unique historical circumstances and the realities of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, the best thing we can do to help Ukraine is to push it to negotiate a political settlement with Russia — something we should have been doing before the first shot was fired.
That of course is impossible in Israel, which isn’t fighting to keep “occupied lands,” as Ukraine is, and would likely give 99 percent of the West Bank and Gaza back to Egypt and Jordan if it could. Acting like there’s some equivalency between the Donbas and Gaza isn’t just historically illiterate, it’s insulting to Israel. As for Hamas and its allies in Tehran, they don’t want to rule over the Israelis or absorb them into a greater Palestine, they want to drive them into the sea.
But I don’t want to beat up on Goldberg too much because he’s not the only one spouting this nonsense. Continetti over at The Washington Free Beacon published a somewhat less ham-fisted version of the same “one war” argument this week. He says both conflicts stem from two big mistakes by President Biden that weakened American deterrence: the Afghanistan withdrawal and the revival of the Iran nuclear deal. The Afghanistan debacle convinced Moscow there would be little cost in an outright invasion of Ukraine, and Tehran took advantage of Biden’s diplomatic overtures to unleash regional mayhem.
Both observations are correct as far as they go. American weakness abroad usually results in revisionist powers pursuing their revisionist goals, as we saw during the entire Obama presidency and again during Biden’s term. But Continetti takes these observations much farther than they can reasonably go.
Without explaining what core U.S. interests are implicated in the Russia-Ukraine war, or what a Ukrainian victory in that conflict might entail, he simply asserts that Biden “must recognize that Ukrainians and Israelis alike man distant ramparts in a war for the civilized world,” as if a Moscow-dominated Ukraine represents the same kind of civilizational threat as an Iranian-dominated Middle East. But of course it doesn’t. The former would mean a return to the status quo ante 2014 in Ukraine (which might be where we end up even with a Ukrainian “victory”). The latter would mean nuclear war.
But never mind that. How do we save civilization? Congress must dole out funds to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan right away — and that’s just for starters, says Continetti. “Then Biden must tell Congress that this money is a down payment. The next step is a much larger appropriation. America must commit to a conventional and strategic arms buildup that will instill fear in Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, and Beijing.”
One could argue that given the decrepit state of the U.S. military and the unstable state of world affairs, a conventional and strategic arms buildup is long overdue. But that’s not what Continetti is arguing. Remember, civilization itself is at stake, which here serves as a rhetorical legerdemain to skip over how, exactly, the U.S. under Biden’s leadership is supposed to reverse decades of industrial and military decline, keep funding the quagmire in Ukraine, while also supporting Israel, Taiwan, and maintaining U.S. military readiness.
As Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts noted in a recent op-ed, the U.S. has overcommitted resources to Ukraine at the expense of allies like Israel: “In January, the U.S. raided one of our major arms stockpiles in Israel, designed to support our allies in that region, and instead transferred 300,000 155mm shells to the war in Ukraine.”
Such details don’t concern the likes of Goldberg and Continetti. For them, all revisionist powers meld together into a single enemy, all foreign conflicts become essentially the same, and all of them require U.S. intervention. They really think this way, so at least they’re being honest. The neocon mind comprehends only one war — a forever war that must be fought over and over, decade after endless decade, no matter the cost, no matter how pyrrhic the victory. No thanks.
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