How Hope Dies

by G. Murphy Donovan (April 2022)

“I hate everything you say, but not enough to kill you for it.”
― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

We received a call from Agata, a friend’s daughter, in Moscow the other day. Her father is an American economist and her mother is a Russian journalist. Agata, like her mother, is one of those Russians who have lost  faith in any near-term evolution of Russian/American politics.  A student, the girl called to assure us that she wasn’t attending any street demonstrations, dangerous on any day in her neighborhood.

Agata’s family is trying to leave Russia, for the moment abandoning their worldly goods, apartment and rural cottage. Their liquid assets, I’m sure, have already vanished. For me, their plight is like a chapter from Doctor Zhivago; educated middle class refugees fleeing from toxic politics, forces beyond their control, perils worse than Russian winter. Just a few short decades ago, I believed that my Moscow friends were living symbols of a new Russian American relationship, an overdue marriage of ancient Russian culture and American democratic capitalism. I was wrong.  My friends are not a metaphor for anything as ephemeral as civilization.

Today we are, yet again, at war in Europe. For the moment, Ukraine bleeds from wounds inflicted by American and Russian failings.

Let’s not pull any punches. This war is not between Russia and Ukraine or Russia and Europe. Like Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia, Libya, Syria, and now Ukraine; the conflict in Eastern Europe is another surrogate war between the United States and Russia. Vladimir Putin is correct about one thing, the EU and NATO are lemmings, subservient to Washington foreign policy whims.

With Ukraine, the stakes for Europe and America are now nuclear, if not existential.

Back at the turn of the Century, before Agata was born, I believed that the fall of the Soviet Union presented a golden opportunity to bring Russia into the western economic/political, if not democratic fold. Alas, that promise ran afoul of the leitmotif of American foreign policy, the belief that the USSR, now Russia, is an evil empire. As a Pentagon Intelligence mandarin once put it to me:

“We can’t justify Intelligence spending or the Defense budget with ragheads (Muslims) in Toyota pickup trucks or gooks (Chinese) selling Walmart junk or Nike shoes. The Russian threat may be a strawman, but it’s a necessary fiction. It’s no accident too that the Pentagon is the largest building in the country. Real war for the Intelligence Community and DOD is the Beltway budget battle. You could do worse than think of the Russian bear as an ally in the annual scrum over tax dollars.”

When I told a version of that war story to Agata in Moscow, she corrected my metaphor. “It’s a rat, not a bear. When you corner a rat, he jumps,” she said, reminding me of the yarn that Putin told about himself back in the lean years of Soviet to Russia transition, those euphoric Détente years. As a struggling apparatchik in St. Petersburg, a rodent once got into Putin’s cramped apartment.

Putin is fond of recalling that the rat attacked when cornered. With those few words, a Moscow schoolgirl in peril, captured the 2022 Kremlin casus belli, the Russian perspective. Rats jump, indeed.

It’s more than pointless to review the why or how we got to where we are today. The past is just indulgence, when the present is so perilous. To make matters worse, it’s not clear to me that we, as a nation, are capable of sober strategic reflection anymore. We seem to see all options today through the prisms of moral, cultural, and political arrogance and superiority. America is incapable of seeing another point of view in domestic or foreign policy.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland testifies before a Senate Foreign Relation Committee hearing on Ukraine

Victoria Nuland, the permanent neo-Brzezinski fixture at the US State Department captured our Ukraine moment best: “Fuck the European Union,” she said during the sponsored Maiden coup of 2014. With that admonition, Europeans bent over collectively and grabbed their ankles – again.

Ganymedes do what they must when confronted by Gods. Alas, Uncle Sam is more than a bit of a strategic metrosexual these days too, albeit still calling the shots for Europe. Ironically, with the war in Ukraine, the White House has weaponized all things except the Pentagon and NATO.

At this point we all ought to be asking a question another Russian, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, posed a century ago: “What is to be done?” The honest answer today is: not much. The Ukraine War ends when Kiev taps out or the Kremlin gets their security demands. Yes, hard as it is to accept; bombs still talk and bullshit still walks.

In many ways the two primary antagonists, Putin and Biden, are political brothers by another mother; each willing to make a point with surrogate body bags. Each also seems to be fighting for political survival – or legacy. Biden’s fate may be sealed as early as next November.

Between now and then, hope dies in slow motion.

Ironically, for Americans and the global lumpen proletariat, the exit ramp from Ukraine, at best, might be a global recession, if not depression. Weaponizing the US dollar might be the worst bad idea ever. Why turn off the lights and close the global kitchen to spite or undermine one man in Moscow? Why punish the Third World for Yankee stupidity? At worst, the off ramp from Ukraine is Armageddon. With that, those ice caps, polar bears, Teslas, and globalization will not matter much. Info copy to John Kerry.

Not that anybody cares at this point, but we should say something about motives or goals.

Clearly, Washington and Brussels want to expand NATO to the Russian border and beyond under some bullshit burka of “defense.”  The ultimate objective appears to be surrounding, crippling, and subverting Russia. Yes, even after the Maiden and Kabul fiascos, regime change is still part of the CIA tool kit. That American neocon goal has been remarkably consistent since 1948. What other purpose could American spetsnaz possibly have in Poland in 2022?

Special Forces and CIA black ops do not do “defense.”

Moscow for its part, sees America as an arrogant bitch who has seen better days, an aging madam willing to sacrifice surrogates, not American lives, to maintain global hegemony. The kinetic difference between Moscow and Washington is doctrinal. The Kremlin still believes in military victory. The Pentagon does not. Surely, Vladimir Putin must find it amusing to see western media whining about exits and off ramps after only a month of fighting.

Vladimir Putin’s next exit goes through Kiev.

Let’s end this sad discussion with one last anecdote. Recall that professional diplomat William Burns used to be our man in Moscow. In 2008, Billie sent a classified cable back to Washington with some prudent advice, “Nyet means Nyet” was the infamous subject line of that classified demarche. (Hat tip to Wikileaks)

Burns was trying to warn about the expansion of NATO to the Russian frontier. Needless to say, our ambassador’s yellow card was ignored. Today, Burns is the director of CIA where his days are spent sorting out the Havana Syndrome, global warming, and other existential strategic threats.

And so it goes as we slouch off towards the abyss. Good luck and God speed to Agata and her family.




G. Murphy Donovan is a former Intelligence officer who writes about the politics of national security.


Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast



12 Responses

  1. If Ukraine was allowed into NATO they could position their missiles not more than 50 miles from the Russian border. What happened when Russia positioned its own missiles less than 90 miles from the US border back in the 60’s?

    No wonder Putin is taking the position he is.

    Like Ian Bremmer said in his analysis ( look it up on you tube) , the opportunity for a peace dividend when the wall fell in 1989 was lost because of the continued belligerence of the U.S. military.
    You look at the billions upon billions of dollars spent on this belligerence and then you look at the open sewer state of US inner cities, its dilapidated airports , its clogged up highway systems , its corporate corruption and broken society, and then you ask yourself “Why are we telling the rest of the world that THEIR systems of government are unacceptable?”

    1. I’m honestly kind of struck by all the talk I’ve been hearing around here lately of how the US acts arrogantly, should keep its nose out of the world’s business and attend to its own troubles, and so forth and so on. I find it interesting because those are viewpoints you’d typically associate with commentators who are more liberal, which isn’t exactly a popular thing to be around here.

      I wonder what you and G. Murphy’s opinion on the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions was when they were just getting under way. I’m not sure why, but something tells me it was something rather different from the opinions you two are expressing now.

  2. You’re a senile old fool who has no clue what he’s talking about. Yes, the Russian way of doing things is clearly so much better than the arrogant, corrupt, etc. US of A. You should move there. I promise you’ll find it a much more pleasant and less repressive place.

  3. Just in the interest of civility, Anton; an ad hominem attack is not an argument, not here or even in Russia.

    1. I’m sorry, but as a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, I firmly believe in doing like he does and telling it like it is. If you’re offended by that then that’s tough cookies.

  4. Does the Budapest Memorandum obligate USA/NATO to support/protect the territory of Ukraine? Wasn’t that assurance a condition for Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons?
    Are international security and peace agreements the farce they appear to be, or equivalently, a serious hoax as hudna, until the next power play is vomited on innocent citizenry?
    When will we devise predictive psychopathology testing of political and military officer candidates? Before we populate the Moon thereby proving our Luna-cy?

    1. Believe you are correct Howard. Unfortunately, all those early 21 Century assurances or understandings were informal, not that they, any piece of paper, might have made a difference in the long run. The “red” or Russian threat is now a cultural artifact that sustains the ideology, fiscal, and foreign policy of both American political parties. There are few alternative voices with the political juice to make a course change. In the end, the difference between winners and losers may be pain thresholds. Things always get a lot worse when the conversation moves from bullshit to bullets.

  5. In a rude mood to make room for more doom: What happens after Russian missiles destroy weapons/ammunition supplies due for Ukrainians, while still located in depots in Poland or other countries bordering Ukraine in the west?
    Will NATO or we be pleased, and keep cool our taken umbrage.
    Is anyone filming this catastrophe for the forthcoming hit tragi-comedy, ‘Fiasco Follies”
    Will the sequel focus on conflict between existing Muslim refugees and the new Ukrainian Christian refugees competing for resources in Europe?
    Other than military equipment suppliers/manufacturers/black marketeers, who benefits? Will all politicians leaving office be no wealthier than when they entered? Any funds left to bury the honorable dead victims ?

  6. If you believe official pronouncements, Washington and Brussels seek no wider war. However, NATO plans do do what is necessary to keep the fight going, right down to the last Ukrainian if necessary. Lavrov is correct. Ukraine is a proxy war. Neither Putin nor Biden can afford to allow Ukraine to quit.

  7. GMD has repainted the abstract Guernica in realistic black-and-blight of Ukraine. With megalomanic psychopaths in opposing leadership roles, the puppet show of volunteers and conscripts swimming in shallow pools of blood and mud and snow entertains too many soulless observers.
    *** Guernica Revisited in Ukraine ***
    [A broken rhyme and rhythm and reason ]

    Some slain in some forest, their struggle now at rest /
    Some dead decaying, hands bound, in open graves at best./
    Some unburied after many days, unhurried lying on the street/
    Have all their patriot patriot spirits Heaven-soared to some reward/
    Oh so bitter-sweet?/
    ** The victim’s violation? Their simple sane humane belief./

    The children for their awful sins, their bodies broken broken, torn,/
    Damned for daring to be born to an aborted life, cut short, forlorn./
    Given choice would they have birth demurred, preferred,/
    To be delivered all unaware, still-born, and then interred?/

    Who gave the murderous orders, the cruel inventions/
    Who implemented their intentions?/
    Who were the masters, monsters of the mayhem?/
    Who are the guilty, gutless, cowardly henchmen?/

    May they all, from the human race be dismembered
    For the horrors that they rendered/
    For the brutal deeds they defended/
    And outrageously, their criminal obscene actions, their innocence pretended./

    And we, bystanders, allowed it all:/
    ‘Not our responsibility’/
    ‘Not our fault’/
    ‘Not our call’/
    ‘Realized on Realpolitic realities’/
    Which are, in reality, in truth, bare-faced graceless gall./

    And after this atrocious show is done/
    And the shame and blame game of greed and power is played/
    And by some self-righteous vermin ‘won’,/
    What will be next, degenerated where by whom,/
    Who will dare to care again for more than their fair share .. of doom?/

    But justice demands, commands remorse, so beware/
    Our children, retribution for our sins, must now prepare to bear.

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