The False Comfort of Illusions
by Bill Astore | Aug 11, 2023
When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with. — Anaïs Nin
War, among other things, is a place of illusion. With the Russia-Ukraine War, the illusions are many. For the mainstream media in America, the illusion promoted is this: Ukraine, a quasi-democratic country, is enduring an unprovoked invasion by authoritarian Russia, now in its 18th month. The freedom-fighters of Ukraine have been greatly assisted by benevolent military and economic aid freely offered and given by the Biden administration and NATO countries. Ukraine fights for a noble cause that the U.S. should and must support, since allowing Russia to prevail would lead to further unprovoked Russian invasions of other freedom-loving peoples in Europe.
It’s an illusion that’s comforting for Americans to live with, since it flatters us while vilifying an old enemy, the former Soviet Union and now Russia. It’s flattering to the Biden administration, which can pose as a stalwart defender of Ukraine, and certainly flattering to U.S. weapons makers, who can pose collectively as the new arsenal of democracy. It’s an illusion, moreover, that elides or disguises any economic motives the U.S. might have in supporting Ukraine so generously since the war began.
The best illusions, the most seductive ones, have elements of truth to them. Yes, Russia did invade Ukraine; yes, Russia is authoritarian; yes, Ukraine has defied the odds and stymied Vladimir Putin’s designs; yes, NATO and U.S. weaponry has been important to Ukraine’s endurance. But partial facts are generally not impartial.
Briefly put, NATO expansion eastwards since the collapse of the Soviet Union is seen by Russia as provocative, constricting, and aggressive. Ukraine itself is very much an imperfect democracy, rating “high” on government corruption indices. U.S. meddling in Ukraine, especially in 2014, is most certainly problematic. The destruction of the Nordstream pipelines and subsequent profits by U.S.-based energy companies can’t be ignored. And, not surprisingly, U.S. weapons manufacturers are enjoying boom times. Not only does Ukraine need weaponry and ammunition, but U.S. and NATO stocks of the same must be replenished as arms and ammo are gifted to Ukrainian fighters. Nor is Ukraine completely free of neo-Nazi influences, which is to say that the situation is muddier and more complex than the comfortable illusion that’s so often sold by the mainstream media.
Which brings me to CNN’s report today, that showed up in my morning email:
President Joe Biden is asking Congress for more than $24 billion in aid for Ukraine and other international needs as he works to sustain support for the war amid signs of softening support among Americans. The request — which includes more than $13 billion in security assistance and $7 billion for economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine — sets up a potential battle with Republicans in Congress. Biden has promised support will last “as long as it takes,” but an increasingly skeptical Republican Party has cast doubt on US involvement going forward. This comes after a CNN poll released last week found 55% of Americans believe Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine.
As the Russia-Ukraine War drags on with neither side apparently having a quick victory in sight, questions accelerate. How much are Americans prepared to pay to Ukraine? Is an open-ended, “as long as it takes” commitment truly wise? What happens if the war escalates even further? And, perish the thought: What happens if someone uses a nuclear weapon or another form of WMD?
Many Americans today are in dire straits. Credit card debt for Americans recently exceeded $1 trillion and rising. The Biden administration has failed to provide promised and significant student debt relief; a public option for health care; a $15 federal minimum wage; while acting to break a railroad strike and promoting more fossil fuel drilling on fragile federal lands as well as offshore.
Americans are not stupid to wonder about the priorities of the Biden administration and why Ukraine gets a blank check as Americans continue to suffer. Illusions may be comfortable, but they don’t put food on the table or pay health care bills. And the price they come at may be high indeed, which is one reason, I think, a majority of Americans are none too comfortable with this illusion.
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