Please note, this is an approximate translation provided by Google Translate

The Ukraine War Runs on Prevarication


By James W. Carden

The Biden administration’s Ukraine PR campaign echoes messaging on the Vietnam War beat for beat.

That the tide of the war in Ukraine has turned in Russia’s favor is now too obvious to ignore—unless, that is, you are a high ranking Biden administration official, in which case 2024 will likely lead to some sunlit upland of victory and prosperity for Ukraine. 

Consider the comments made a week apart at the end of January by the then-Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and one of her successors in the office of the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O’Brien. Upon her departure from the Ukrainian capital, Nuland (who is believed by many to be among the principal advocates behind the decade-long proxy war between the United States and Russia) declared, “I leave Kiev tonight more encouraged about the unity and the result, about 2024 and its absolute strategic importance for Ukraine.”

“I also leave more confident that,” she continued, “as Ukraine strengthens its defenses, Mr. Putin is going to get some nice surprises on the battlefield and that Ukraine will make some very strong success.”  

Around the same time, at a talk given at the German Marshall Fund, O’Brien expressed his optimism about the future for Ukraine: “We believe Ukraine will be stronger by the end of 2024 and in a better position to determine its—its future.”

Nuland and O’Brien’s statements are the Beltway equivalent of happy bedtime stories the establishment tells itself in order to keep the wolves of reality, conscience, and failure from the door. They are highly improbable accounts of the current situation on the ground where, according to former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine has suffered 500,000 dead in its war with Russia, losing “30,000 people a month in the war as killed and seriously wounded.” 

Even the New York Times, which has been among the administration’s most dutiful accomplices, has reported on what it describes as Ukrainian “suicide missions” across the Dnipro River. According to a December 16, 2023 report, “several soldiers and marines spoke to journalists out of concern about the high casualties and what they said were overly optimistic accounts from officials about the progress of the offensive.”

These reports fly in the face of the repeated insistence on the part of the president and high administration officials that the Russians are not just losing, they have lost. 

We see President Biden telling reporters in July 2023 that “there is no possibility of him [Putin] winning the war in Ukraine. He's already lost that war.” Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, in a meeting with NATO defense ministers a year ago this week, declared that “Russia has lost; they've lost strategically, operationally and tactically.” That very same week, appearing on CNN, national security adviser Jake Sullivan likewise declared that, “Russia has already lost this war.”

The media, as usual, was only too eager to play along. Thus, the New York Timescolumnist David Brooks told his readers, “The war in Ukraine is not only a military event; it’s an intellectual event. The Ukrainians are winning not only because of the superiority of their troops. They are winning because they are fighting for a superior idea.” Almost exactly a year ago, January 2023, readers of the Washington Post were informed by reporter Liz Sly that, “if 2023 continues as it began, there is a good chance Ukraine will be able to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky’s New Year’s pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year—or at least enough territory to definitively end Russia’s threat, Western officials and analysts say.”

David Bromwich, a Yale University Professor and author of The Intellectual Career of Edmund Burke, has written,

The greater the improbability of an official explanation, the more pressing is the need to shore it up with unchecked reiterations, confirmations, enhancements. So the kingdom of untruth expands, without boundary or restraint. An officially sanctioned account of this or that event is affirmed by bureaucratic oversight and announced to the populace by a cooperative press and media. A consensus is thereby established that floats free of any concern with veracity.

If we are being lied to about the progress of the war—and we are—what do you suppose are the odds we are also being lied to about the causes of the war?

The war, we are serenely and repeatedly informed, was neither caused by NATO expansion nor by Ukraine’s post-Maidan ethno-nationalist agenda, nor by its refusal to implement the Minsk Accords, nor by Zelensky’s threat, made in Munich in February 2022, to acquire nuclear weapons—but by Putin’s revanchism. 

This is a point reiterated even in irrelevant contexts. In a speech on October 23, only two weeks after Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel, Biden declared, “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy—completely annihilate it.”

Strobe Talbott, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State and president of the Brookings Institution, believes that Putin’s “endgame” is to recreate “the Russian Empire with himself as tsar.” Kathryn Stoner of Stanford is of the opinion that “this is a war on Ukraine’s democracy and has nothing to do with Russian fears of it one day joining NATO.” While readers of a recent article in the New Republic would learn that “Putin has actually made it pretty clear why he invaded Ukraine: He wants to force the country to rejoin Russia, in an effort to reestablish the Soviet Union.” 

If we are being lied to about the causes of the war, are we also then being misled about what is at stake in eastern Ukraine? Probably. Here the parallel with the government’s mendacity during the war in Vietnam period becomes too obvious to ignore.

Recall in the first case that the template, that of the Cold War, is essentially unchanged, even in some of the particulars, not least in the comparisons of Ngo Dinh Diem and Volodymyr Zelensky to Winston Churchill. The South Vietnamese government (avaricious, corrupt) had the right to American arms by virtue of its right “to determine [the nation’s] future.” The Ukrainian government (avaricious, corrupt) likewise has the right, we are endlessly told, to be allowed to “shape its own destiny.”

Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Domino Theory, long derided in the years following Vietnam, has made a comeback. Thus, President Biden’s declaration on December 6, “If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there. It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going…. Then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops,” echoes that made by President Johnson in July 1965:

This is really war. It is guided by North Viet-Nam and it is spurred by Communist China. Its goal is to conquer the South, to defeat American power, and to extend the Asiatic dominion of communism. There are great stakes in the balance. Most of the non-Communist nations of Asia cannot, by themselves and alone, resist the growing might and the grasping ambition of Asian communism.

Following the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, the philosopher Hannah Arendt observed during the Vietnam era, “the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy…but was destined chiefly if not exclusively, for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.” Two years on, we citizens have been serially lied to by the Biden administration and the media about the war’s causes, its stakes, and its progress. The question that should, but of course will not, be addressed in the aftermath of this latest American misadventure abroad is: Will we ever learn?           

James W. Carden served as advisor on U.S.-Russian affairs at the State Department during the Obama administration.        

© 2022 The American Conservative,