When Your Agenda is the Only Truth
A boy with military training who apparently skipped the class about loyalty to country has given his online gaming friends a bunch of secret Department of Defense documents as a means of showing off. The alt-right and the Fox News types — i.e., the half of the Republican Party and the mainstream media that has repeatedly proved in practice that it would willingly sell its own country down the toilet with flat-out bullcrap merely to appease millions of lost souls by telling them what they desperately wish could be true — is apparently leaping gleefully to the claim that the contents of this Pentagon leak prove that Russia has already won the war, Ukraine is finished, the U.S. government knew all along that this would be the outcome, and that Ukraine’s allegedly upcoming spring offensive is merely a fake news charade designed to suck money out of the U.S. economy and to distract attention from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
To all of which I offer the following:
The ease with which America’s so-called conservatives are excitedly praising an egregious breach of government secrecy in the one arena where such secrecy is a legitimate and necessary part of a national government’s proper function would be terrifying, were it not, at this point, so predictable and farcical. Tucker Carlson feeding Donald Trump leading questions to allow Trump — arguably the biggest liar and most ignorant blowhard in U.S. history — to tell millions of Americans what Vladimir Putin (who was in no way connected with Trump’s presidential campaign and victory, mind you) wants Americans to believe about the war, in order to confuse them into conceding Ukraine to him, would look very much like treason, were we not all resigned by now to the inevitability of modernity fading away in a fit of soporific nihilism.
The fact that certain U.S. analysts or strategists believed certain things at some point (as per these leaked documents) in no way proves those things true. Opinions or assessments are not realities, but merely attempted interpretations of partially-apprehended realities. In the case of a war in particular, and one being fought in a distant land, the sheer fluidity and inherently unpredictable nature of the events from day to day renders any account given along the way, by any source, intrinsically limited and likely to become outdated almost before it reaches print.
Have large parts of Ukraine been destroyed? Obviously. Does much of the U.S. government have reservations about how far Ukraine ought to be encouraged to defend all of its territory rather than cut a deal? Obviously. But have Putin’s forces failed to achieve his objectives on a scale of failure — in terms of casualties, occupied territory, and international intimidation — that no one could have predicted a year ago? Most obviously of all, and also most germane to the actual decisions that ought to be made in the months ahead. No amount of wishful ranting from Trump, Carlson, Greg Gutfeld, Tulsi Gabbard, or the rest of the populists for Putin, can mask the fact that the war is still undecided fourteen months on, that Russia has lost so many men that they have been reduced to mass call-ups of untrained kids and crackpot mercenaries to replenish their frontline forces, and that they are digging trenches around Crimea as we speak, clearly not confident that they can even hold the one piece of Ukrainian land they thought they owned before the war started. But it wins ratings and applause from the tribally hypnotized to chant, “Putin is bad (wink-wink), but he has already won this war, and it was all really started by the Dems and them European socialist transgender clowns anyway, so if you don’t want more Ukrainians to die, you should just give it all to Putin and walk away.”
The anti-Ukraine Putin apologists of the American right are, in both their motives and their sincerity, merely the mirror image of the old “anti-war” leftists of the 1960s: authoritarian sympathizers and admirers of thuggery masking their essential illiberalism and emotional immaturity behind sentimental hokum about “peace” and “the children.” Evidence of this is the fact that these same people, who have railed against the duplicity, incompetence, and perhaps outright subversion, of the U.S. intelligence world for years, in just about every other context, are suddenly perusing these leaked intelligence assessments for all hints of negativity or pessimism about the war, and waving these in the air as knock-down evidence of “what is really happening” in Ukraine, in contrast (they wish to assume) to “what the Biden administration is telling us.” But which is it? Is U.S. intelligence a wokified, compromised pack of incompetents who have been wrong about every important subject for the past thirty years? Or infallible and incisive analysts with every pertinent fact at their disposal and the logical minds required to draw only correct and immovable conclusions from those facts? The correct answer, of course, lies somewhere between those very distant extremes. The agencies involved inevitably lack innumerable facts (especially the ones that are changing every day) that one would require in order to make a foolproof assessment of such a complex situation. The organizations printing these assessments are peopled with many individuals with dubious or at least conflicting political agendas of their own, and therefore inclined to skew or edit the available information to suit their preferred conclusions — much as the faux conservatives touting these leaked reports as Truth are doing right now. And there has never been a modern war, anywhere, in which any country’s intelligence assessments, produced in what is commonly and aptly dubbed “the fog of war,” were completely accurate or trustworthy.
Even if these assessments, construed as pessimistically as possible, were one hundred percent accurate, the idea that in the name of “transparency” and “telling Americans the truth,” the Biden administration, which claims to be supporting Ukraine’s war of self-defense, ought to casually release such assessments to the public, thereby undermining morale, subverting Ukraine and its regional allies, and promoting defeatism at home in the face of a long confrontation with a serious global aggressor, is, to put it mildly, something less than conservative in its moral and political orientation. Since when was it the role of government, in time of war, to throw up its hands and cry, “We’re done for! We’re done for!”? Is it not of the essence of government, in a time of war, to show leadership, not defeatism? Intransigence, not cowardice? Determination, not quivering surrender in the face of some bad reports from the front?
And of course, to conclude, we must all remind ourselves that these reports are not from the front, are not coming from agencies with a great track record of intelligence assessment, are in fact being produced within a national government that has infamously faded and slinked away from almost every major conflict in recent decades, in a seemingly unstoppable avalanche of internal pessimism and purposelessness, a lack of clear goals or principles that has depleted much of America’s credibility on the world stage — exactly the worst mental condition of a national leadership in times of crisis.
On the morning after Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, there were reports, produced and disseminated by the Kremlin and its apologists, that the Ukrainian leadership had already fled the country and that the populace ought therefore to admit defeat and accept their fate. In reply to these reports, President Zelensky and his leadership group stood outside with a smartphone on the dark, quiet streets of Kiev, and calmly, confidently assured their countrymen that they were still very much in Ukraine, and had no intention of leaving without the fight of their lives. Did he and they believe, at that moment, that victory would be easy, or that there was no bad news to report? Of course not; quite the contrary. But Zelensky and his lieutenants understood that at that moment, as indeed at every subsequent moment for the fourteen months since that night, the most important role of the national leadership, apart from strategic decision-making, would be the projection of defiance and dignity in the face of authoritarian brutality. They have kept up their brave face with remarkable aplomb. America, by contrast, has not had a genuine brave face to keep up since Ronald Reagan left office. Her intelligence community, therefore, may be little more than an intellectual reflection of this national squeamishness from the established leadership.
But none of this will stop the pragmatic and self-serving voices of today’s American “right” from proceeding with their endless dive ever deeper into the abyss of populist demagoguery and anti-American conspiracy mongering. Notice how often their rhetoric, which at times pretends to be merely anti-war and fiscally conservative, is couched in, or buttressed by, open mockery and invective directed against Volodymyr Zelensky himself. From Marjorie Taylor Greene to Candace Owens to Tucker Carlson to Greg Gutfeld, there is a strong need among these cowardly sycophants still sleeping on the steps of Donald Trump’s lie factory to belittle and besmear the man whose existence and public position has proved to be the living exemplar of everything their pretend (though passionately hated) hero Trump has failed to be, the living rebuttal to their Trumpish lionization of the deluded flop Putin, and the living proof that Ukraine is still standing, still valid, still there as an answer to all their myopic and childishly tribal explanations of what this war is really all about. For the truth about the audience these public liars are either serving or joining with their pro-Putin desperation, is that all their conspiracies and radical bluster are nothing but a facade to obscure the mountains of fear and incompetence with which they face the real world, a world they cannot accept because they lack — and sense that they lack — both the personal character and the political leadership necessary to withstand reality’s hard truths and intractable dangers.
They hate and mock Zelensky because they know they could not do what he has done, because his daily life is exposing the triviality and insubstantiality of theirs, and because they know that he has roused a small nation to greatness in the face of existential danger in a way that their puny heroes cannot arouse their own huge nation to anything but screaming incoherently at the television in the face of their own existential danger.