White on White Crime in Eastern Europe: NATO, Onions & But-What-About

A group of people protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Image Description: A group of people protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Summary: A psychopath in Russia just committed a war crime by invading Ukraine. Now he’s a mass murderer as well. Today’s episode examines whether the United States has standing in this fight, the role of NATO since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bullshit narrative surrounding rising oil and gas prices that literally no one is getting right. We also destroy some current popular right wing talking points about Biden, fossil fuel and energy independence. And Max shares one of his favorite stories about onions and explains how it might be the key to saving us all. (Just go with it.)


Chapter One

But What About?

Ukrainian politics couldn’t be further out of my lane, as you may well know, but there are so many parts of this story that will be familiar to Unf*ckers based upon some of the work we’ve done together. So, at the risk of straying out of our lane, I think it’s important to weigh in on the current situation, especially as the fossil fuel chickens have come home to roost and are impacting Americans so dramatically. That’s not to say this will be entirely ethnocentric, as though there isn’t a massive humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ukraine. That, above all, is the only narrative that truly matters right now; but as usual, the domestic pundit class is doing its level best to make this all about America.

Let’s start by putting the conflict in Ukraine in some historical perspective.

It’s really important right now to be deliberate in your media choices. I’ve caught enough of the headlines to see the contortions pundits are going through to try and figure out who’s to blame and what this all means. These are the moments when news literacy really matters, and we should do our best to rely upon sources with the most standing and insight. So I actually wanted to start by sharing my go-to sources for this type of world event.

In terms of events on the ground, I think the best bet is to go directly to the wire services like Reuters. It’s no secret that the big news organizations have shuttered their foreign desks, so even if they’re scrambling reporters to the region, it’s hard to trust that they have the institutional knowledge to interpret events as they unfold. Most of them rely on services like Reuters and the Associated Press anyway, so best to go directly to the source.

In terms of understanding the politics behind what’s happening, I’m leaning on a few sources. The Intercept typically excels during these periods as they have more of a global perspective. Ken Klippenstein, Jeremy Scahill, Murtaza Hussain. These are quality journalists who have a pretty wide lens when it comes to international and military affairs. To contextualize crises such as this, I tend to fall back on independent intellectuals like Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges, whom we’re going to hear from in a moment.

Over in the Substack universe, I can’t say enough about Adam Tooze and his economic analyses. And I think Matt Taibbi will also have valuable input because he actually spent time as a reporter in Russia and even speaks the language, if I’m not mistaken. He recently published a mea culpa for being blindsided by Putin’s aggression, which I respect. So I think anything you read from him will be researched and on point from this point forward. And from a news perspective, I like Al Jazeera for this because it removes the normal anglo-sheen from general reportage, though I’ll make my own assessments of what’s happening in terms of fossil fuels. More on that in a bit.

So let’s start with Hedges to frame the discussion and level set on what’s happening in Ukraine:

“It was unanimous in the understanding that expanding NATO beyond Germany’s borders would be an unnecessary provocation. Remember, NATO was created to protect European countries from a Soviet incursion. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO should have been rendered obsolete. And then there were a series of other violations. President Clinton had promised the Russian government that NATO troops would not be stationed in Europe; now we have thousands of NATO troops. The Minsk Agreement was never implemented. So there were a series of violations, betrayals, that I think stoked the conflict. All that said, to understand is not to condone. What Russia has done is an act of preemptive war. It is a war crime. Under post-Nuremberg laws, it is defined as a criminal war of aggression. So they were baited, but they pulled the trigger, and it is their crime.”

There are a few really important ideas to unpack here as we prepare to dig further into the conflict. The first thing to address is the conclusion of the clip, something that I think the mainstream media is largely getting right: To explain is not to excuse. We can endeavor to understand the Russian perspective without sacrificing our outrage over their aggression.

Two concepts that I’ve heard repeated over and over in the past couple weeks are “Manichaean” and “but-what-about.” The first is an idea that hearkens back to Manichaeism, an ancient religion that was prominent in the Middle East and Asia before Islam swept that part of the world. It’s intended to draw a distinction between good and evil. Essentially, warning against promoting a narrative that Putin is pure evil and all external forces are good. Or vice versa, as Putin attempts to portray Ukraine as a militant state overtaken by Nazi forces.

The “but-what-abouts” are those attempting to downplay Russia’s intervention by reminding the world that the west, America in particular, has been guilty of similar actions in the recent past, most notably with respect to our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

I think these self reflections are actually positive. There is no force of pure light in this scenario, nor is there a force of pure darkness. (Putin could be characterized as pure evil, but the Russian people should not.) Those types of narratives are unproductive and keep us from fully understanding what’s happening on the ground. If we’re to succumb to some sort of Manichaean portrait of this conflict, then it presumes that all diplomatic efforts are firmly off the table, as evil cannot be understood or reasoned with.

But the but-what-about arguments are relevant, as much as the liberal and conservative media would like to refute this. It seems only the far left, or what people characterize as the far left, understands that if a diplomatic solution is ever to be attainable, we might have to take a back seat to those negotiations, as we don’t exactly have the moral high ground given our propensity to overthrow nations in defiance of international law. I’ve noticed pundits and commentators bristle at this, but it’s important because of how we’ve conducted ourselves in recent decades, but also as it pertains to this conflict. We played a definitive role in what has transpired in Ukraine, partly by ignorance and partly through arrogance.

Of course, the right would like us all to believe that a strongman only responds to a strongman, which is why this invasion didn’t happen under Donald Trump. Here’s Laura Ingraham:

“Now of course Putin didn’t attack Ukraine under Trump because he knew that America was stronger and practical under his leadership. Trump was a pro-energy nationalist who wasn’t about to get rolled into supporting Russia’s natural gas pipeline into Europe.”

Lovely narrative, but merely a distraction. Had there been no pandemic and Trump was reelected, I suspect he would have ordered air support for Putin. No, our missteps happened long ago and continued unabated, from Bush senior to present day.

To understand this is to go back to what Hedges was saying about NATO. The long and short of it is that NATO should have been disbanded when the Soviet Union collapsed. Even George Kennan, the chief architect of containment theory, the concept that guided our policy toward the Soviets for the entirety of the Cold War, believed this was the way to go.

I want to reference a passage from Kennan’s now infamous long telegram that informed his theory.

“The Russian leaders are keen judges of human psychology, and as such, they are highly conscious that loss of temper and of self-control is never a source of strength in political affairs. They are quick to exploit such evidences of weakness. For these reasons, it is a sine qua non of successful dealing with Russia that the foreign government in question should remain at all times cool and collected and that its demands on Russian policy should be put forward in such a manner as to leave the way open for a compliance not too detrimental to Russian prestige.”

Kennan understood the Russian mindset, which hasn’t changed all that much since the onset of the Cold War. Their leaders have been cold and calculating for sure, but they have also proven more open to diplomatic persuasion and communication than strong-arm tactics that might otherwise embarrass them. Saving face is tantamount to success.

Of course, Putin is a different caliber of leader, more in the vain of Stalin than Lenin. More precisely, I suppose we should go all the way back to Nicholas. He clearly sees himself as a czar more than the head of a politburo, no matter his allegiance to Yeltsin for putting him in this position. He has great disdain for communism or any form of collectivism. He’s a pure autocrat intent on enriching himself and wielding power. His goal is to reign over a great territory, defined in his mind as reunification of former Soviet glory. He’s a catastrophically corrupt and inept economic leader, as he failed to institute any economic reforms that would break Russia from the grips of a petrostate, its sole source of economic power.

These nuances aside, Kennan’s words remain true in that Putin is a classically cool Russian statesman that wouldn’t respond to bluster and force. Ultimately, if we’re to navigate an acceptable solution in this region it will have to be through clever diplomacy.

Chapter Two

Where Did We Leave Our Cold War Playbook?

Our inability to to understand the Russian mindset is a reflection of our feeble foreign policy. Not one where we reject force and strongman tactics of our own, but the fact that we no longer maintain a professional diplomatic class that understands adversaries and allies alike.

We have fully assumed the arrogant stance of a great power that still believes it can bend the world to its will. No matter how disastrous our engagements, we’re seemingly incapable of facing the reality that our foreign entanglements since World War II, perhaps with the exception of the Cold War, have failed miserably every single time. Point to one intervention, occupation, assassination or war that has been successfully prosecuted with a clear intent and positive outcome. It doesn’t exist, because we believe our own hype and press that we are infallible, unbeatable and always righteous.

The simplest explanation for our success, if you can call it that, in prevailing in the Cold War is Kennan’s belief that containing the Soviet empire to the post-war borders would inevitably lead to collapse so long as we exercised patience. Again, Kennan:

“And as long as they are not overcome, Russia will remain economically a vulnerable, and in a certain sense, an impotent, nation, capable of exporting its enthusiasms and of radiating the strange charm of its primitive political vitality, but unable to back up those articles of export by the real evidences of material power and prosperity.”

Kennan understood that the mechanisms of the communist regime would ultimately fail against the backdrop of an increasingly productive and expansionist economic capitalist system taking root everywhere but the Soviet states. We can litigate Kennan’s failure to apply his theory with respect to the war in Vietnam, or how he was actually far more enthralled with Russian culture and dismissive of American culture, which he considered shallow and hedonistic, marked by rampant consumerism and a false sense of nationalistic pride. As the estimable Louis Menand wrote of Kennan years ago in the New Yorker:

“And when he imagined the day the Iron Curtain lifted, a day that his own policy recommendations were intended to bring about, he dreaded what would happen to the Russians after being exposed to “the wind of material plenty” and its “debilitating and insidious breath.” Although he long advocated the reunification of Germany, he took little satisfaction when it happened. It was just the result, he thought, of agitation by young East Germans motivated by the hope of “getting better jobs, making more money, and bathing in the fleshpots of the West.” He wondered whether this was what we had really wanted when we set out, more than forty years before, to wage a Cold War.”

The bottom line is that Kennan’s intense knowledge of the Russian people and understanding that the Soviet perversion of communism was inherently flawed accurately predicted the containment theory would ultimately produce the outcome the west desired.

Baked into this awareness was an acknowledgement that Russia had a very valid historical rationale to prevent any encroachment on its territory. And that includes Ukraine. Ukraine is an enormous buffer zone in Eastern Europe, with abundant agricultural resources and access to the sea and other critical parts of the continent. Yes, it’s a fully independent state deserving of self determination today, but there’s a fraternal bond forged in blood that we don’t fully appreciate.

There’s something else that we don’t think about enough with respect to the Russian experience prior to the Cold War that pervades Russian policy and persists in its people. Russia, as it was territorially defined for the first half of the Twentieth Century, was constantly under threat from outside forces. For context, The United States lost more than half a million Americans in World War II. The Russians lost in excess of 25 million. Think about that for a moment and how that impacts a national psyche. Under Soviet rule, they had another 40 years to remind their people that it was the communist army that sacrificed the most to vanquish the Nazis and save the world from Hitler. You cannot simply undo something so deeply ingrained in a people just by exposing them to blue jeans and MTV.

So when NATO wasn’t disbanded after the collapse, as the world promised it would be, it was a diplomatic thumb in the eye. As a Brookings article from 1999 points out:

“George F. Kennan had called the expansion of NATO into Central Europe “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” Kennan… believed, as did most other Russia experts in the United States, that expanding NATO would damage beyond repair U.S. efforts to transform Russia from enemy to partner.”

NATO is purely a military construct. It doesn’t exist to govern trade or anything of the sort. It existed to create a balance of power to the Soviet state and should therefore have been disbanded when the Iron Curtain fell. As the decades wore on and adjacent states to Russia were admitted to NATO, it only served to provoke the Russians further. When we allowed bases and weapons installations in these territories, it moved from diplomatic provocation to threat. And when we allowed for the possibility, no matter how remote, that Ukraine might someday be part of NATO, it gave Putin the opening to claim that Russia was being surrounded by military force.

Again, this is posturing on both sides. Just as Obama didn’t believe in his now infamous “the '80s called and wants their playbook back” debate with Romney that Russia was a modern threat, the west blithely mistook any inaction as acceptance. That was until Crimea was forcibly and also illegally annexed amidst a disinformation campaign on the part of the Russians, and the ultimate gaslighting experiment that became a proving ground for Russian disinformation campaigns. We know all too well how good they’ve become at that.

It’s why Putin has pockets of support within Russia. By tapping into toxic nostalgia of Soviet glory, he is pushing a hot button among a large segment of the Russian population that is subjected to a daily barrage of Russian bullshit, much like much of the U.S. population believes the false narratives propagated by U.S. oligarchs that control the media landscape here at home.

Chapter Three

The Blame Game

Mike Pence on Fox Business:

“There’s a truth of history that weakness arouses evil. When you look at the record of this administration, it’s almost inarguable that the unilateral capitulation to Russia on Nord Stream 2, on the New START Treaty, the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, all created the conditions where Putin felt emboldened to once again redraw the lines of Europe by force.”

Someone unzipped the mouth of former Vice President Mike Pence’s gimp mask long enough for him to speak with Maria Blowahardo this week. Mustering up his best impression of a human, Pence dutifully reviewed the right wing talking points that make no sense. But the right knows this and also knows that their audience doesn’t know the difference. We fucked up Nord Stream 2. Took it in the ass on the New START Treaty. And showed the world how weak we are by pulling out of Afghanistan. Of course the biggest message is that Biden alone is somehow responsible for the price of oil, while simultaneously trying to kill us by buying oil from foreign nations.

Louisiana Senator John Kennedy talking about President Biden on Jesse Watters Primetime:

“He wants us to stop producing oil and gas, give up our energy independence, and his new policy is we should buy oil and gas from foreign countries that hate us, like Russia, so those foreign countries will have more money to buy weapons to try to kill us.”

Here’s Larry Kudlow, saying Biden is waging war on the fossil fuel industry:

“Biden could have been open arms and generous. Instead, he was his usual mean and nasty self with a bizarre radical left attack on our fossil fuel industry. Take a listen…”


(Biden speech excerpt - See if you can spot what the fuck Kudlow is talking about. I can’t.) Biden: “But…it’s no excuse to exercise excessive price increases or padding profits or any kind of effort to exploit this situation or American consumers. Russia’s aggression is costing us all, and it’s no time for profiteering or price gouging.”

So let’s quickly dismantle these talking points so we can keep the conversation on point. As you can imagine, I’m chomping at the bit to dig into crude prices.

So, Nord Stream 2. The fact that it’s number two should tell you there’s already a Nord Stream 1. Just like there’s a Keystone Pipeline already. Don’t get me started. The media breathlessly covered how twisted the United States was over the prospect of Nord Stream 2, which would effectively bypass Ukraine and bring natural gas more directly into Germany, Russia’s largest customer.

As it stands, Russia has to pay billions in fees to Ukraine for the existing pipeline access. So it made an economic decision to control the flow of gas and cut the fees substantially. So the set up is that the U.S. was in a pickle. Do we support a pipeline that fucks Ukraine, but saves our German allies and the Russians a fuckton of money? Or do we attempt to block the construction of the pipeline, as Ted Cruz has been trying to do?

How about this? We have no fucking say in this one way or another. It has nothing to do with oil prices. Nothing to do with energy independence or national security or any other bullshit talking point they cook up. We don’t get our oil or gas from Russia. We don’t. This is a sovereign nation making a sovereign economic decision. You don’t have to like that answer, but it’s still a fact.

Fuck you Ted Cruz.

The New START Treaty. Signed in 2010. Designed to limit nuclear arms in the U.S. and Russia. A pretty solid fucking idea, even if it’s literally the bare fucking minimum. The Trump administration couldn’t get it done. Couldn’t get the extension signed. But Biden got it done. As is. So now the right is trying to rewrite recent history by saying that Trump was playing hardball. He wasn’t. His state department was just that fucking inept. Nothing more to see here.

Fuck you Mike Pence.

We signaled weakness to Russia by leaving Afghanistan. I’ll just leave this clip of Russians leaving Afghanistan after losing their war here.

Fuck you again Mike Pence.

How about Senator John Kennedy’s assertion that Biden wants us to stop producing oil and buy it from countries that want to kill us?

I don’t know what to say here. I really don’t. We’re the largest oil and gas producer in the world. We have proven reserves and strategic reserves. We control the financial markets that drive fossil fuel prices. We are a net exporter of fossil fuels. We have approved drilling licenses that oil and gas companies are just sitting on. Less than 2% of the oil we import into the United States comes from Russia. It’s ceremonial, more than anything, to demonstrate good faith in the past. Biden reaching out to the Maduro administration in Venezuela is bizarre. I’ll grant you that. But, if anything, it’s his weird way of showing the world that we have options, even if we don’t need them. The bottom line is that everything Kennedy is saying is complete and utter bullshit.

Fuck you John Kennedy.

Lastly, Kudlow claiming that because Joe Biden told oil companies not to use the war in Ukraine as an excuse to fleece Americans at the pump, he’s somehow waging war on our beloved fossil fuel industry. I think Unf*ckers have this one down, so let’s just skip directly to the fuck you.

Fuck you Larry Kudlow.

Having said that, it’s time to face the music and dig into oil prices again. Because we did a lot of work on this recently, you’re ready for a pretty revolutionary concept and a story that I think you’ll really enjoy Unf*ckers.

Chapter Four

Oil and Onions

One of my favorite stories from Emily Lambert’s book The Futures involves onions. Yes, onions.

Sam Siegel owned cold-storage facilities on the outskirts of Chicago, which held and distributed, among other things, onions delivered by farmers from around the country. Vincent Kosuga was a boisterous, larger-than-life farmer and amateur chef from the Catskills who grew onions that would find their way to Siegel’s warehouses. According to those who knew him, the man could cook just about anything, as long as the recipe called for onions. Perhaps his greatest concoction, however, was the scheme Kosuga cooked up while trading onions on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (the “Merc”) with his storage partner-turned accomplice, Sam Siegel.

Both men made good money hedging their onion farming and gathering operations by trading onion futures in the 1950s at the Merc. Like most of the men they traded alongside, Siegel and Kosuga possessed iron constitutions for risk. To outsiders, theirs was a bizarre world filled with a ragtag bunch of gamblers who spoke furiously with their hands, called one another by their trading nicknames and kept mostly to themselves. It was an insular existence. Then, one day, Siegel and Kosuga’s activities drew an unwelcome light on the clandestine world of commodities trading.

According to Lambert, here’s how it went down. Because Kosuga controlled a large portion of onion growth and both men had the capacity to store excess supply along with the financial wherewithal to purchase contracts for delivery from other onion growers, they effectively controlled the price when the product came to market. It was a classic “corner.” When the harvest came in 1956, they bet against the same growers they contracted, by placing sell orders in the Merc while simultaneously dumping their excess inventory, thereby flooding the market with onions and driving prices into the ground. In an instant, Siegel and Kosuga made millions while many farmers went broke, buyers were left bewildered and onions were rendered worthless.

Their plan worked so well that President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Onions Futures Act in 1958 to prevent the trading of onions forever. Onions, it seemed, were too important to the American way of life to allow unscrupulous speculators to monkey with.

Remember this story as we once again work through what’s happening with oil prices today.

So oil is $115/barrel as of this writing. Absolute fucking bullshit. If you’re new here, I offer this full throated bullshit because Unf*ckers sat through an excruciating episode all about how crude oil is priced.

We walked through Leo Melamed’s creation at the Merc to trade everything from dollars to heating oil, to Jeffery Sprecher’s Intercontinental Exchange being recognized as a foreign exchange by the Bush administration, even though it’s based in Atlanta. This essentially allowed for rampant speculation, fueled by leverage to pump up trading volumes on commodities. We talked about the unholy alliance of oil companies and investment banks who make money when prices go up, when prices go down and everywhere in between because they’re the ones manipulating the pricing.

But surely this is different, right Max? After all, there’s a war on and Russia is the second largest producer of oil in the world.

How about this? No. It’s not different. Not yet, at least. Right here, and right now, nothing has changed and yet oil prices are double what they were pre-pandemic during the same time period. Double.

Again. I’m not talking about tomorrow or the next day. I’m talking about right fucking now. Manny, what time is it?

MANNY: Uh, it is… Right fucking now. 

Right. The largest buyer of Russian oil and gas, the European Union, has pledged to cut the purchase of Russian oil. Pledged. And the UAE has already stepped in to say OPEC would increase production to try and offset the loss of Russian oil on the market. Later. If necessary. Not… when 99?

99: Right fucking now.

Right fucking now the world’s oil producers are making out like bandits. And by the way, that includes Russia. You heard me. That includes Russia. As Adam Tooze writes:

“The overall figure matters, because in gas, the flow continues unabated and, with European customers now paying even more exorbitant prices, Russia is benefiting from a staggering surge in revenue. According to Javier Blas of Bloomberg, at the start of the year, Russia was earning $350 million per day from oil and $200 million per day from gas. On March 3, 2022 Europe paid $720 million to Russia for gas alone.”

Let’s go back to basics for a moment. The world is drawing down on reserves, but also increasing production. At the moment and in all projections, supply is forecast to meet demand, regardless of interruptions or sanctions. What this should indicate is that global prices have the ability to remain stable. The dollar is stable and is, in fact, back to pre-pandemic levels. So the two primary rational inputs to crude oil pricing—supply and demand and dollar value—are stable. Would taking Russian oil off the global market impact pricing? Yes. But it hasn’t happened yet. Which means the increase in pricing is related to fear being baked into the spot pricing for crude.

Let’s think about this rationally for a moment, then return to the lesson we learned in our crude oil episode. Then we’ll revisit Sam Siegel, Vincent Kosuga and Leo Melamed to drive this motherfucker home.

Crude oil prices in the '50s and '60s remained relatively flat throughout the largest expansion of the U.S. economy in history. Then along came the ‘70s. Historians like to point to the dual shocks in Iran as the reason that oil prices hit two separate peaks. The embargo and the revolution are indeed the inflection points of these spikes, which took oil first from the 20s to the $60 range, then toward the end of the decade from the low 60s to a high of $137 per barrel. Were these spikes related to the disruptions? Yes. But the relative severity of the increases outpaced anything we experienced during the Second World War and the post-war economic boom.

So these spikes in the ‘70s are real. Through embargoes and sanctions, we literally removed a significant amount of supply from the market and prices went haywire. Now, let’s go back to Leo Melamed for a second. When Melamed created the market for fossil fuels to be traded on the IMM at the Merc, the volume was small. Essentially, there was no one to buy the contracts because the idea of hedging oil futures was alien to oil and energy companies. Then came the spikes in the ‘70s. Even the small number of contracts made a fortune because volatility is the trader’s friend. It wasn’t enough to convince the energy companies just yet, though not for lack of trying. Here’s Lambert again from The Futures:

“To drum up business, some New Yorkers paid visits to Texas. The exchange sent some pretty young women to explain the concept of futures to men at oil companies. Brokers also went to Houston and ably entertained oil executives at the state’s great natural wonder, strip clubs. However, others like Steve Errera, who had left the exchange and set up an energy brokerage business, gave seminars about futures markets. He gave many of them, including a three-hour talk at Exxon, where two lawyers and thirty people listened carefully.”

It’s all a game to them. It’s a casino. Except the house staked the players with your money and put the odds in their favor. It’s a rigged system, and you’re not in on it. Here’s a quick passage from Naomi Klein, who, as usual, perfectly encapsulates the disease that accompanies our oil and gambling addictions:

“Though petrodollars underwrite these players and forces, it’s critical to understand that oil is a stand-in for a broader worldview, a cosmology deeply entwined with Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery, which ranked human as well as nonhuman life inside a rigid hierarchy, with white Christian men at the top. Oil, in this context, is the symbol of the extractivist mindset: not only a perceived God-given right to keep extracting fossil fuels, but also the right to keep taking whatever they want, leave poison behind, and never look back.”

So come back with me for a second to ponder the price of oil. Think of Sam Siegel and Vincent Kosuga. How Eisenhower and Congress responded when it was discovered that they were fucking with the price of onions. Banned forever from futures trading. Onions! A matter of national security. Too precious to be fucked with. Forever banned from the exchanges. Now think of all the harm that has been caused in the world by allowing petrostates to extract fossil fuels from the ground and endless profits from our wallets.

Chapter Five

Bring It Home, Max.

Let’s lay out some cold, hard facts.

  • Vladimir Putin is a murderer and a dictator. Now he’s a mass murderer and war criminal. Prior aggressions and war crimes carried out by the United States do not change this fact.

  • A war on the European continent is horrifying, given the history of World Wars that began in this part of the world.

  • It’s estimated that the United States war in Iraq killed 200,000 Iraqi civilians. When you include Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen in these figures, the United States is responsible for killing nearly 900,000 people over the past 20 years, with reverberation death tolls thought to be much higher.

  • Our prior protracted war killed 2 million Vietnamese civilians, 1.1 million North Vietnamese fighters and 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers.

  • Nearly 400,000 people have been killed in South Sudan since 2013.

(Peruse the Conflict Tracker on the Council on Foreign Relations website someday to review conflicts in the world ranked by whether or not they’re of any importance to us. I find it a sobering, but rather honest read.)

  • Russia is a nuclear power, and its head of state publicly stated that he would use nuclear weapons if he felt it was necessary. I’m not minimizing this at all. No one in a position of authority should ever talk about using nuclear weapons.

Unless you’re Ted Cruz talking about “carpet bombing” ISIS and making sand in the Middle East “glow.” Or Donald Trump declaring he would never take nuclear war in Europe “off the table.”

This isn’t a but-what-about. This is a cold hard reality that when a superpower talks about using nuclear weapons against brown people, or when it carries out an unprovoked invasion and occupation and kills hundreds of thousands to millions of brown people, or when black and brown people fight against one another, causing a humanitarian crisis and hundreds of thousands of casualties, the white western world is pretty fucking silent.

White on white crime, on the other hand. That’s a sin. A cardinal sin.

The diplomatic end to this conflict is pretty evident and straightforward. Disband NATO. If we use Kennan’s logic regarding the Russian psyche, this is the diplomatic end that would allow them to save face. Of course, we’ll never do that, because the flip side of the psychological coin is that we’re the masters of cutting off our nose to spite our face in an attempt to save it.

20 years in Vietnam with no clear objective. 20 years in Afghanistan with no real objective. We’ve ceded policy design to the military industrial complex and have eliminated the diplomatic class of politicians in this nation, leaving us incapable of navigating any channel that doesn’t involve a military solution.

We could end price gouging of fossil fuels tomorrow, if we had the courage to wrest control of the financial markets from the gamblers and speculators who run it today. If only we considered fossil fuel as vital to our national security and economic interests as we did onions.

Relics of yesteryear like commodity exchanges and NATO have ossified and become institutionalized. We no longer possess the political imagination or intelligence to extract ourselves from these harmful ideas that cause more heartache to the public than any good they ever did, because they serve to benefit the wealthy neoliberal class of corporate oligarchs in this and other western nations who profit from our misery.

All we’re left with is the toxic rhetoric of failed military and neoliberal states that leverage the power of corporately owned media to sell us lies and distract us from the realities they created. A reality that left a madman in charge of Russia who was incapable of developing an economic model beyond petroleum. A madman willing to annihilate a fraternal nation, threaten nuclear war and sacrifice his own people as pawns in his twisted game. A reality that leaves oil and gas companies and Wall Street traders in charge of oil prices. A reality that has effectively removed any talk of saving the planet from global discourse.

It’s an old adage to ask who is benefitting from a situation and, in the case of Ukraine, it’s pretty clear. Oligarchs, both foreign and domestic, the military industrial complex and Wall Street. In good times and bad, they hold the high ground and have a winning playbook all at the expense of the people they control.

NATO is a relic. Treat oil like we did onions. Thanks for welcoming me back, Unf*ckers. I missed you.

Here endeth the lesson.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).