Mr. Tooze. Please allow me to burst your bubble and correct the record. Here is from Mr. George Beebe, Director with Russian Analysis in the CIA during Bush / Cheney regime, you know, the guys that insisted and ultimately forced most of the other major NATO allies to relent to the 2008 Bucharest declaration for an open invitation to Ukraine and Georgia into NATO:

“The choice that we faced in Ukraine — and I'm using the past tense there intentionally — was whether Russia exercised a veto over NATO involvement in Ukraine on the negotiating table or on the battlefield,” said George Beebe, a former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and special adviser on Russia to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “And we elected to make sure that the veto was exercised on the battlefield, hoping that either Putin would stay his hand or that the military operation would fail.”


Basically the USofA leadership was actually gambling that Russia will not keep its word for not allowing Ukraine in NATO. Despite the many years of Russian (and western) warnings that this will not be allowed to happen.

And what else the US was doing? In 2021 entered in a bilateral military alliance with Ukraine. Allowed Ukraine to pas legislation in 2021 to the effect of requiring the government to retake control of all Ukrainian territories, including Crimea by all means necessary, including military. Allowed Ukraine to mobilize in spring 2021 and send troops to Donbas. Then panicked when Russia responded in kind.

Those Ukrainian troops stayed there and were allowed in early February 2022 to start a massive artillery shelling on Donbas, as in preparation for an intervention. On the diplomatic front, the US refused any of the Russian proposals submitted for consideration in late 2022. Never mind the fact that as with Germany and France, (admitted by Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko and Zelenskyi) supported and encouraged Ukraine to not implement the Minsk 2 Accord (a de jure international law sanctioned by the UNSC). While Ukrainians elected with a huge majority Zelensky on his promise to implement Minsk 2 and improve relations with Russia (talk about the will of the people and democracy here).

So basically in early February 2022, Ukraine was prepared to take by stealth Donbas, with a force differential of 3:1 against the militias from Donetsk and Lugansk rebels.

And the bet was that Russia would "stay its hand". And then the result was not as expected. And now it is obvious that Russian action did not "fail".

Also on the diplomatic front, let's remember the Russo-Ukrainian negotiations in March/April in Istanbul, almost ready to by signed off. And then what happens? Boris Johnson flies like a rocket to Kiev (let's remember the week long slog of French and British third rate diplomats in August 1939, sailing on a commercial freighter to Russia to discuss a potential alliance against Germany, who was itching for war against Poland, but had no delegated authority to commit to anything) and Bucha happened and then Ukraine exits the peace negotiations. Coincidence? The word from knowing parties is that it was not a coincidence.

No matter how much you Mr. Tooze and Politico and the rest of the west are trying to whitewash this and gaslight us in focusing on Mr. Putin and Russia, we all know that the focus should be on why did the US not utter and put on paper the following simple sentence:

"Ukraine will not join NATO, now nor ever and it better revert its Constitution to become again a neutral country, as it was prior to the change made in 2019." You know, like Mexico is.

Occam's Razor clearly indicates that the tragedy of Ukraine is all US doing Mr. Tooze and there is no way around this.

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Thanks for this brilliant summary. My comment in this thread also supports (and complements) your analysis.

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"We have experienced this before. For many of us that moment came in 2002 and 2003 when we watched with horror the massing of the “coalition of the willing”, including our own country’s forces, for the invasion of Iraq."

Mr. Tooze pulls his punches here in not declaring the illegal invasion of Iraq as an American-led and American-sponsored operation, predicated and abetted on the ruse of the false evidence "story" of the presence of "weapons of mass destruction". The expression "including our own country's forces" offers an impression/interpretation that Washington was merely a participant.

Does a brand new U.S. administration- in this case the Biden foreign policy team- act as a comprehensive and reliable reset of Washington's credibility in defining or writing "the first draft of history" about the invasion of Ukraine?

Anyone interested in the Pentagon's first draft of how they intend to frame the "narrative" of the invasion of Ukraine might be inclined to check out the Politico "oral history"; but, in my view, Mr. Tooze should have left it at that; he certainly had no need to highlight and step out his own play-by-play chronology of this already "distilled" first pass at history-making. Insulting.

When is a "spy-balloon" not a spy balloon; when is a "lab leak" not a lab leak: the point is to get out ahead with your version, your narrative, then frame that version as a "proven fact".

I have a very "low confidence" in this particular framing of Putin's horrific war.

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Thank-you, it's so cringeworthy now, to read Americans looking-back at Iraq. "Including our own country's forces", indeed.

Another feature of this is how unwilling everybody was to read danger into Putin's actions, when they were so eager to see Saddam Hussein building nuclear bombs, they saw stuff that wasn't there. And called the rest of us blind for not-seeing it.

The "I just can't believe it" caucus of journalists may be best represented by Canadian geopolitical analysis Gwynne Dyer, who wrote this column right after Biden warned everybody a day or so before:


"Unfortunately, I can’t recant. Even the massed choirs of all sixteen US intelligence agencies (I’m not making that up), singing the Hallelujah Chorus and imploring me to believe, cannot persuade me that the Russians are coming. Only when I see their massed tanks rolling across the Ukrainian border will I accept that Putin is that stupid." (Feb 14, 2022)

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One can understand an administration putting out a "first draft of history"; i.e. propagandistic bullshit; "I was determined to ensure that we had done everything we possibly could think up to first try to head this off" (Jake Sullivan) - Oh? Did they try implementing the Minsk Accords? Merkel and Holland have both said publicly that the entire exercise was a ruse to give NATO time to build up Ukraine militarily. One would like to think that any historian worth his salt would read this stuff a bit more critically.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

The author of this self-serving report conveniently forgets how many times Ukraine was described as a "red line" for Russia, not to mention the number of times that Victoria Nuland and other prominent neocons were sent to convey Washington's refusal to negotiate.

For that matter, the Biden Administration and its foreign satraps were planning and implementing sanctions well before the war started. So the war hardly came as a surprise. And I haven't even mentioned the RAND corporation's recommendations regarding using Ukraine as bait to bog down Russia. Which is precisely what the West did.

Meanwhile, I suggest that Professor Tooze, as a student of WWI, review Lord Posonby's Ten Commandments of War Propaganda, in particular Commandments 1-4 (although all ten apply here).

1. We do not want war

2. The other side is solely responsible for the war

3. The enemy has the face of the devil (or in the order of “ugly”)

4. The real aims of the war must be masked under noble causes

5. The enemy knowingly commits atrocities. If we commit blunders, they are unintentional

6. We suffer very few losses. The enemy’s losses are enormous

7. Our cause is sacred

8. Artists and intellectuals support our cause

9. The enemy uses illegal weapons

10. Those who question our propaganda are traitors

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Yep the whole idea of "waking up" to an inexplicable war in 2021-22 is incompatible with the 2019 Rand Corp. article.

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Not to mention a whole bunch more facts.

Incredibly self-serving, the same way Bush-era warmongers claim to have been misled about non-existent Iraqi WMDs, but nobody ever stood trial.

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Here is the most noteworthy line to me:

"There were three priorities early on: Support Ukraine — nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, bolster NATO and avoid a war with Russia."

The priorities are at odds. So the priorities were neither cohesive nor ever going to form a coherent policy.

Unequivocal support for Ukraine, e.g., refusing to compromise on ultimate NATO membership for Ukraine, and bolstering NATO undoubtedly made war more probable.

We'll never know.

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RE: "Bolster NATO" as an objective...

It's interesting that this didn't seem to include "Bolster the economies of the EU." Sanctions have greatly weakened the EU economies. There is no end in sight to the economic damage and its ripple effects throughout Europe. Yet I'm stunned by this quote of AT, who is clearly an astute economist: "Sanctions might hurt Russia, but the war as such was not seen as such an occasion or opportunity."

Really? We imposed sanctions and crippled Europe's economy, anyway? This does not comport with this quote of Sullivan "A lot of our planning was worst-case scenario planning." Did they consider the worst-case outcome of sanctions for Europe? I doubt it.

My recollection is that the U.S. thought sanctions would be so effective that they would cause the Russian economy to collapse. I don't recall any consideration of the risk sanctions were going to pose to Europe, and the wranging on how they'd be implemented. Either AT is wrong or the U.S./NATO/EU decision makers didn't understand economics at all; and/or they just sleep-walked into the sanctions disaster.

I hope Mr. Tooze will explore the history of the intel behind sanctions decisions in early 2022. Was everyone just shooting from the hip? Sanctions didn't seem to work before except as PR....

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RE: "Bolster NATO" as an objective...

This objective seems to have been forgotten. NATO has given Ukraine so much weaponry and ammo that Europe's security and NATO readiness have been greatly undermined. If Russia invades, what will NATO fight with? This now gives Putin immense power and leverage to dictate the end game--has anyone thought of that? What a fiasco!

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Because no one really believes Russia will invade NATO, this was always all about Ukraine and Russia demanding security guarantees.

And the fact that NATO and the US didn't even PRETEND to negotiate in the wake of Russia's proposal in December shows they wanted this war.

And the first package of sanctions against Rússia was decided a few days before the invasion, actually.

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Stick to economics, Tooze, if you had you would be looking at the US declared intention to remove NS2. Hersh has uncovered that the plan was long time coming and that the build up of arms in Ukr was designed to create the Russian response. Baker's agreement for Nato to go not one inch beyond Germany and Johnson intervention in Mar 2022 when a deal for peace had been agreed in Istanbul shows that McGoverns MICMAT is alive and well.

The economic question is whether to accommodate China's rise or die fighting it.

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I have to disagree with this AT quote: "[Mearsheimer's account has] little or nothing to say about the ...decision to not just pull the trigger but to launch entire armies into battle." I think it does, and it explains the collective cognitive bias of the West, including Adam Tooze. That bias held then (and apparently it still blinds) that Putin's decision to "launch entire empires into battle" was, as Sullivan is quoted as saying, "a crazy thing to do." That's thinking like an American, not like a Russian. Our people still don't understand Russia, its history of survival of Western invasions over the past 250 years, or even the recent history of U.S. meddling in Ukraine since 2014, and U.S. aggressions in the Middle East. Fully understanding Mearsheimer and others means understanding that, for Putin, the only question was one of timing. Remember, November 2021 was only three months after the ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan. Democrats just lost the House, and Biden's approval was at a low. The nation was weary of war. A winter offensive in early 2022 was perfect timing. It was by no means "crazy." Actually, so far Putin has been brilliant.

I recall in his economic history of WW II Adam Tooze talks about Germany--after Munich 1938--realizing they didn't have enough artillery shells for more than a brief war, so the delay was crucial to later success in 1939. Germany furiously expanded artillery shell production. Putin caught the West totally unprepared for the kind of artillery-intensive war in Ukraine was to become, because that is now the fatal deficiency. NATO was supposed to be prepared for a conventional land war, and it didn't have adequate artillery shells on hand? It is now practically out of artillery shells now? How will Europe defend its borders now?

To me, the big story --maybe Adam can help write its history--is how, with so much funding of defense and intelligence gathering by all the NATO countries, the West was caught so flat-footed throughout the 8 years of Russia's arms build-up. It reminds me of the sleep-walking of France and Britain in the crucial years of 1938-40.

I think it all comes down to collective cognitive bias, stupidity and hubris. The best historian of this phenomenon, it seems to be, is Barbara Tuchman in her "March of Folly." The West's March of Folly since 2014 should be an new chapter in this history.

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A vivid example of how historiography in media res resembles watching (constructing?) a movie - the frisson of vicariously experiencing the thoughts and emotions of dramatis personae with little or no regard for the larger historical context and forces at play. Amnesia inducing. The titillated viewer leaves the theater sated but none the wiser.

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Mar 9, 2023·edited Mar 9, 2023

I think the overwhelming lesson the people interviewed here drew was that the global reaction to Crimea essentially guaranteed the war, because it made Putin believe his enemies were too chickenshit to actually stop him. Hence, demonstrating to China that we are not too chickenshit will ensure peace. I find it hard to disagree. The approach of continual dialog and compromise, where no transgression ever crosses a red line, seems tactically prudent, and smart people are attracted to it (see also: Obama's about-face on Assad's use of chemical weapons). Yet on a strategic level, these tactical movements guarantee a Minsky moment where geopolitical stability creates the conditions for a massive, catastrophic destabilization.

Last, we should harshly criticize the patronizing and reductive heuristic of attempting to predict someone's behavior by supposing they will pursue what is in their best interest. That superficially reasonable approach commits the twin sins of arrogance (I know what's in your best interest better than you do) and naivete (I assume that all people act rationally all of the time).

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Obama's "about-face" in Syria was the right decision.

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Concerning the last sentence: what is the alternative to supposing the pursuit of one's best interest? To suppose nothing? Then what? You have to start somewhere and as long as you are ready to change your views that's not a bad starting point, methinks.

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Yes- after seeing the Obama/Biden reaction to Georgia 2008 and Crimea/Donbas 2014 and the Biden Afghanistan debacle he probably wasn’t expecting much, though to be fair he thought he would control Ukraine and he had deliberately prepared Russia for sanctions. Russia cut fiscal spending during Covid (!) and had the largest budget surplus in the OECD in 2021 plus hundreds of billions in a rainy day fund (he didn’t count on thst getting seized).

Putin misread US politics, forgetting that the appeasement and entreaty of Russia done by Obama/Biden had been replaced in 2016 by the Dem base buying into a false “Russian collusion” narrative, a belief that Russia hacked the election with $100k of Facebook spending and that corrupt, jingoistic Ukraine was now a hero of Biden’s base after Trump’s impeachment. This all would have been irrelevant if Russia has controlled Ukraine, but Putin’s failure and poor planning and the UA’s resilience and bravery meant that a tough stance by Biden would play well with his base.

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Excuse me, but the Georgia invasion happened in the summer of 2008 when Bush and Cheney were still in charge. That was a warning to the West of Putin's "Red Line" which we ignored. Obama, on the other hand, was quite rational on the subject of Ukraine, saying that Ukraine would never be as important to the U.S. as it is to Russia, and the U.S. needed to face that fact. Too bad Obama threw his support to Biden after the Georgia (of US!) primary of 2020. He probably regrets that decision now. As one who voted for Biden, I sure do.

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This is neither the time or the place, but the head of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort, sent internal campaign data to a Russian military intelligence agent. Calling the collusion narrative "false" strains credibility.

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It strains credibility that somebody still believes in elements of Russiagate hoax which has been proven end to end BS.

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Hopefully all involved will have imagination to think about the possible regarding China but thankful that we didn’t have the previous administration at the helm during the last year. Ukraine serves as a reminder of what we take for granted.

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What does it feel like to see a major war coming?

It certainly feels great, exhilarating even for the names interviewed in the ridiculous gaslighting Politico propaganda attempt. Reason - because these same actors are largely responsible for the current war, wanted it for a long time, and made deliberate decisions to provoke it. Let's recap:

- after many attempts, much funding and planning, US succeeds in regime change operation in Ukraine though the Maidan coup.

- new Ukrainian "leadership" is directly handpicked by US, the new regime depends on US support and Biden is appointed as sort of vice-roy or pro-consul to rule over the newly acquired vassal state. Muscle on the ground are neo-nazi inspired brownshirts which commit atrocities against population not willing to recognize the coup regime (e.g. Odessa massacre)

- the new regime has 2 ideologies - virulent Russophobia and worship of Nazi collaborator Bandera and his ethnic cleansing policies. Predominantly Russian provinces rebel (Donbas), or break away (Crimea).

- Civil war breaks out, Kiev regime buys time to arm and fortify behind Minsk agreements which it never has intent to implement, incessantly and indiscriminately shelling Donbas (estimated civilian death toll is 14000). In all of these it has tacit support of its western sponsors

- In the meantime, US abandons ABM, INF and Open Skies treaties. This means that any number of weapons systems could be installed on territory of Ukraine if it enters NATO, completely covering and dominating European part of Russia.

- US continues with further regime change attempts to surround Russia with hostile regimes - Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan (and currently, Georgia again)

- All attempts by Russian diplomacy to reach out to US and NATO and ensure that Ukraine remains neutral and won't host nuclear weapons are rejected and ridiculed

- Emboldened Zelensky regime starts talking about re-acquiring nuclear weapons, and in preparation of attack to retake Donetsk/Luhansk starts a massive artillery barrage.

Russian intervention is simply a continuation of their oft stated policy by other means - ensure Ukraine remains neutral and Russian ethnic minority is safe. Unable to reach these goals through negotiations and diplomacy, they embark on military operation to enforce this outcome. In the very early stages, it almost looked that they would succeed because tentative negotiations are tried along the lines of these two main points. This is unacceptable to Politico's list of interviewed luminaries and they make sure a number of handlers are sent to Zelensky to remind him that the purpose of Ukranian nation and state is to be the battlefield and provider of cannon fodder to inflict strategic defeat on Russia, critical before moving on to China.

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Just in case anyone missed it.

"And just like that, my clothes fell off!" Anybody remember Kenny Everett? Disingenuous doesn't cover it. Won't be buying any book version.


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Highly recommend On the Origins of War by Donald Keegan. Unfortunately no e-book available. It lays out an interesting template for how nations go to war. Ex-post the wars of course seem somewhat inevitable but the build up is highly contingent on actions that can be misread by the eventual adversaries.

The Politico article was an interesting read.

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Excellent. Thank you. That dividing line between the build-up of resentment (a la Mearsheimer), and unleashing the dogs of war is a terrible threshold which, as you say, we are incredulous to see crossed. But the irrationality of the decision to cross that line reminds me not so much of Iraq, but of the Cuban missile crisis (see granular account by Max Hastings in his book Abyss). Kennedy cudgelled his brains to work out the rationality of Moscow's moves. But the answer lay not in reason, but in emotion, miscalculation, bluff, ignorance - and it is this, that historical decisions can be taken for weird, counter-productive, illogical reasons, that intelligence assessors would do well to bear in mind. Of course, had the US military chiefs (esp Curtis LeMay) had their way, we would be saying the same about them.

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All this is very interesting and informative, including the comments. Could the failure of the Russian military to perform be seen as a something that western intelligence should have been aware of? BTW, George W. Bush was president until January, 2009, not Obama/Biden.

Paul Giles

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They didn't sleep properly and had a bad diet. Waaaa.

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