Jeffrey Sachs: Ukraine Is the Latest Neocon Disaster

Victoria Nuland

By Jeffrey Sachs, CommonDreams, 6/28/22

The war in Ukraine is the culmination of a 30-year project of the American neoconservative movement. The Biden Administration is packed with the same neocons who championed the US wars of choice in Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Syria (2011), Libya (2011), and who did so much to provoke Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The neocon track record is one of unmitigated disaster, yet Biden has staffed his team with neocons. As a result, Biden is steering Ukraine, the US, and the European Union towards yet another geopolitical debacle. If Europe has any insight, it will separate itself from these US foreign policy debacles.

The neocon movement emerged in the 1970s around a group of public intellectuals, several of whom were influenced by University of Chicago political scientist Leo Strauss and Yale University classicist Donald Kagan. Neocon leaders included Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan (son of Donald), Frederick Kagan (son of Donald), Victoria Nuland (wife of Robert), Elliott Cohen, Elliott Abrams, and Kimberley Allen Kagan (wife of Frederick). 

The main message of the neocons is that the US must predominate in military power in every region of the world, and must confront rising regional powers that could someday challenge US global or regional dominance, most important Russia and China. For this purpose, US military force should be pre-positioned in hundreds of military bases around the world and the US should be prepared to lead wars of choice as necessary. The United Nations is to be used by the US only when useful for US purposes.

This approach was spelled out first by Paul Wolfowitz in his draft Defense Policy Guidance (DPG) written for the Department of Defense in 2002. The draft called for extending the US-led security network to the Central and Eastern Europe despite the explicit promise by German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1990 that German unification would not be followed by NATO’s eastward enlargement. Wolfowitz also made the case for American wars of choice, defending America’s right to act independently, even alone, in response to crises of concern to the US. According to General Wesley Clark, Wolfowitz already made clear to Clark in May 1991 that the US would lead regime-change operations in Iraq, Syria, and other former Soviet allies.

The neocons championed NATO enlargement to Ukraine even before that became official US policy under George W. Bush, Jr. in 2008. They viewed Ukraine’s NATO membership as key to US regional and global dominance. Robert Kagan spelled out the neocon case for NATO enlargement in April 2006:

[T]he Russians and Chinese see nothing natural in [the “color revolutions” of the former Soviet Union], only Western-backed coups designed to advance Western influence in strategically vital parts of the world. Are they so wrong? Might not the successful liberalization of Ukraine, urged and supported by the Western democracies, be but the prelude to the incorporation of that nation into NATO and the European Union—in short, the expansion of Western liberal hegemony?

Kagan acknowledged the dire implication of NATO enlargement. He quotes one expert as saying, “the Kremlin is getting ready for the ‘battle for Ukraine’ in all seriousness.” The neocons sought this battle. After the fall of the Soviet Union, both the US and Russia should have sought a neutral Ukraine, as a prudent buffer and safety valve. Instead, the neocons wanted US “hegemony” while the Russians took up the battle partly in defense and partly out of their own imperial pretentions as well. Shades of the Crimean War (1853-6), when Britain and France sought to weaken Russia in the Black Sea following Russian pressures on the Ottoman empire.

Kagan penned the article as a private citizen while his wife Victoria Nuland was the US Ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, Jr. Nuland has been the neocon operative par excellence. In addition to serving as Bush’s Ambassador to NATO, Nuland was Barack Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs during 2013-17, where she participated in the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and now serves as Biden’s Undersecretary of State guiding US policy vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine.

The neocon outlook is based on an overriding false premise: that the US military, financial, technological, and economic superiority enables it to dictate terms in all regions of the world. It is a position of both remarkable hubris and remarkable disdain of evidence. Since the 1950s, the US has been stymied or defeated in nearly every regional conflict in which it has participated. Yet in the “battle for Ukraine,” the neocons were ready to provoke a military confrontation with Russia by expanding NATO over Russia’s vehement objections because they fervently believe that Russia will be defeated by US financial sanctions and NATO weaponry.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a neocon think-tank led by Kimberley Allen Kagan (and backed by a who’s who of defense contractors such as General Dynamics and Raytheon), continues to promise a Ukrainian victory. Regarding Russia’s advances, the ISW offered a typical comment: “[R]egardless of which side holds the city [of Sievierodonetsk], the Russian offensive at the operational and strategic levels will probably have culminated, giving Ukraine the chance to restart its operational-level counteroffensives to push Russian forces back.”

The facts on the ground, however, suggest otherwise. The West’s economic sanctions have had little adverse impact on Russia, while their “boomerang” effect on the rest of the world has been large. Moreover, the US capacity to resupply Ukraine with ammunition and weaponry is seriously hamstrung by America’s limited production capacity and broken supply chains. Russia’s industrial capacity of course dwarfs that of Ukraine’s. Russia’s GDP was roughly 10X that of Ukraine before war, and Ukraine has now lost much of its industrial capacity in the war.

The most likely outcome of the current fighting is that Russia will conquer a large swath of Ukraine, perhaps leaving Ukraine landlocked or nearly so. Frustration will rise in Europe and the US with the military losses and the stagflationary consequences of war and sanctions. The knock-on effects could be devastating, if a right-wing demagogue in the US rises to power (or in the case of Trump, returns to power) promising to restore America’s faded military glory through dangerous escalation.

Instead of risking this disaster, the real solution is to end the neocon fantasies of the past 30 years and for Ukraine and Russia to return to the negotiating table, with NATO committing to end its commitment to the eastward enlargement to Ukraine and Georgia in return for a viable peace that respects and protects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

7 thoughts on “Jeffrey Sachs: Ukraine Is the Latest Neocon Disaster”

  1. It’s great to see Jeffrey Sachs try to contextualize the proxy war as part of the neocon track record of the last 30 years. But at this point it is hard to see how the US/NATO would simply decide to return to the negotiating table. The time for negotiation was the last 8 years in order to finalize and implement the Minsk II agreement. But as we now know, for Ukraine and their US masters, that agreement was just a ploy to buy time to train and equip the Ukraine military to ensure ” interoperability” with NATO. In short, Ukraine was turned into a de facto NATO member over the last 8 years. As a result, Biden/Blinken/Sullivan /Nuland and their NATO lapdogs will just continue to “double down” in a war of attrition. Unfortunately, this means the Russians have only one choice–eliminate as many Ukrainian soldiers as possible, thereby depleting their ability to continue fighting. This is now a war that will determine the future global architecture—will it continue to be a unipolar world (born in 1991 with the disappearance of the USSR) or will there be a transition to a multipolar world? It is quite clear that the neocons, all unipolar zealots, have no intention of surrendering global hegemony to Russia and China without a fight to the finish. It is hard to see how this madness finally ends. We just have to hope the madness does not end in a nuclear conflagration.

  2. In the ninth paragraph, the author asserts that the Neocons falsely believe they can dominate the world, despite the fact that they have consistently failed to do so. This implies that the neocons are stupid, to keep trying the same MO over and over, a premise which I cannot accept. If they are not stupid, then why do they keep doubling down on failed policies? The only logical conclusion is that their real goals are different from their stated goals, and this policy is fulfilling that hidden agenda.

    My own idea of what that hidden agenda may be is not something one can say in public without severe blowback, so I’ll keep it behind my teeth.

  3. This is quite long, but I think it’s important. It’s from a video made by The Duran’s Alex Christoforou recently about Ukraine. I had never heard this before:
    Matt Rutte land grab…Topic 611
    Starts around minute 15

    There is no difference between the climate agenda and the grift in Ukraine. It’s all about washing money, stealing money, and centralizing power. All of it.

    That is why what is happening to the farmers is all about the farmland. It has nothing to do with nitrogen and green reforms. They want the land. They want to grab that land. And when the state grabs that land it’s going to dole it out to their oligarch buddies. Right? That’s what they’re going to do: Neoliberalism at its best. That’s why they’re putting together these ridiculous requirements–no nitrogen, no livestock, and all these things. They want to drive the farms off that land. It’s a story as old as time….

    In 2014,15–you had the Maidan coup. The Biden family decided to get involved in an energy company known as Burisma. The energy players–they understood that there were a lot of resources in the east of Ukraine. A lot of resources. Natural resources. But they had a problem. People were living on the land that these resources were located under. And so they had to figure out a way–all of us–the Biden family, Burisma, other big energy players involved; the new Maidan coup government–Poroshenko in Kiev. How in God’s name are we going to get people off of this land, out of these villages. And how are we going to get our hands on all of these natural resources in the very rich area of East Ukraine? How are we going to get our hands on all these things?

    And so Biden made a whole bunch of trips to Ukraine, and eventually they came up with one solution: start a war. Bomb them off the land.

    There’s no difference–what’s happening in Ukraine and what they are trying to do in The Netherlands. Maybe a different approach.

    In Ukraine they wanted to just bomb the people off the land, so then they can get their hands on all the energy reserves and all the natural resources in the East.

    In the case of The Netherlands they are using a bogus nitrogen legislation reform thing to drive the farmers out of business, so then they can take their land–the whole green reform, “Save the Planet” excuse that they always use in order to grab more assets.

  4. Jeffrey Sachs was a leading architect of “shock therapy” in Russia during the “bandit” Era of the 1990s. That policy impoverished millions and enriched a select group of oligarchs and a few of their Western “friends.”

    1. Yes, I’m very aware of Sachs’ background. I covered it in my book. I’ve had debates with other Russia experts I know as to whether he has some kind of regret for the damage he contributed to and whether he should be trusted in his newfound role as a more rational commentator.

  5. It’s about time their citizens has the cohones to state the obvious.
    Mr Biden is into corrupt Ukraine up to his neck..(Maidan sponsor, Hunter money laundering, involvement in biolabs CIA Pentagon and NATO infestation. US gov = evil. US citizens = ignorant. everyone else = useful idiots. SO TERRIBLY SAD for UKRAINE

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