It’s been a long time since my last blog post, and I left y’all on a cliffhanger eagerly awaiting my top 3 picks for best Ukraine war analogies. Many apologies for the long delay! In my defense, I am moving no more slowly than the Russian Army. Fortunately, nothing has changed about that conflict, so my top three picks ring just as true today as they did a couple of months ago when I made the list. Without further ado:
3. The Texas Revolution/Mexican-American War
This is a great moment in American History, because it’s really the first time that we embraced the imperial ambitions that made us, for better or worse, the most powerful nation on Earth in the 20th century. For those of you who are not from either the US or Mexico, or whose history is a little rusty, the Texas Revolution was fought by a growing population of Texas settlers – mostly from the United States – against the government of Mexico, led by President/General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Revolution is most famous for the high-profile victory of the Mexicans against the settlers at the Alamo, but was ultimately a loss for Santa Anna, who was humiliated in defeat by Sam Houston’s forces at the Battle of San Jacinto, leading to the creation of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Later on, the annexation of Texas by the United States led to a broader war that ended with a complete Mexican defeat including the occupation of Mexico City by the US Marine Corps – the famous “Halls of Montezuma” mentioned in the USMC’s theme song.
So how does this conflict compare with the Russia-Ukraine war? It’s pretty straightforward, really. You’ve got a situation where a sizable chunk of the population of country A (Mexico/Ukraine) identifies more with people in neighboring country B (America/Russia) than it does with the ruling elite that theoretically governs them. On top of that, Mexico’s government was becoming increasingly concerned with the non-Mexican character of the Texas population and became pretty solidly anti-Anglo, adopting a type of ethno-nationalism centered around, basically, speaking Spanish. Just like the efforts of Ukro-nazis to astroturf “Ukranianness”, Mexico was only nominally a thing at this point, having only recently gained its independence from the Spanish Empire, and being comprised (as it is today) by wildly different ethnic groups that don’t mesh very well.
So Santa Anna’s government really disliked the white settlers in Texas and made their lives fairly miserable, and they hated him for it. Ultimately this set the stage for a conflict with the United States, just as Kiev’s abuse of Russian-speaking Donbass inevitably led to conflict with Russia. Just like Donbass, Texas had a long and very ambiguous history of occupation and settlement, leading to neither side having a particularly strong claim on it, so Mexico City didn’t have a strong case for holding on to it when the locals demanded to leave. We’ll revisit this again in a moment, but one has to ask, if Santa Anna hated the settlers so much, what was the point of forcing them to continue to be Mexicans? Was it worth getting his country into a war with the much more powerful nation to his north just to hold onto a territory that hated him?
Ultimately, Mexico suffered the same fate that Ukraine will suffer – total defeat, massive destruction of its cities from enemy shelling, and loss of a greater chunk of his country’s territory than would have been lost if they had just let the settlers go to begin with. The only question is, will Zelensky end up fleeing in stolen civilian clothes to avoid capture after blundering his army into a totally disastrous defeat like Santa Anna did? You’d hate to see it.
2. The Iraq War
I’m surprised you don’t see this comparison made more often, because it’s the only one that really puts Russia in a bad light that isn’t a “everybody I don’t like is Hitler” meme. If one wants to reject all of the historical claims Putin makes about the Russian-ness of Ukraine, the emptiness of so-called Ukrainian nationalism, and the desires of the people of Lugansk and Donetsk, then what you’re left with is a good old-fashioned pointless imperial adventure, with a stronger country invading a weaker one on trumped-up humanitarian justifications that nobody actually believes. And of course, the obvious analogy is to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. After a handful of gangsters blew up the World Trade Center towers in 2001, the US went nuts, launching wars against whole countries instead of, you know, against the tiny group of miscreants that actually did the attack. If you weren’t alive back then you just can’t appreciate how thoroughly the US fucked itself up over 9/11. But the crown jewel of the fuck-ups was the invasion of Iraq.
Iraq literally had no connection to 9/11, and was a bulwark against Islamism and terrorism in the region for decades. Whatever Saddam Hussein’s flaws, he was an avowedly secular leader, and his Ba’ath party was vehemently opposed to the religious rule, fatwas, jihads, etc that led to 9/11. The destruction of his government – achieved at great expense in blood and treasure by the US government – was like manna from Heaven for Muslim terrorists, who rapidly filled the vacuum left behind, later creating the multinational ISIS caliphate that persisted until President Trump destroyed it in 2017.
But let’s not focus on the consequences of invading Iraq, let’s think about the justifications for doing it. The US accused Hussein of stockpiling “weapons of mass destruction” – specifically chemical and biological weapons – in abrogation of the agreements that ended the first Gulf War. They presented all sorts of evidence of this fact to the United Nations, and declared that the US had the absolute right to unilaterally invade Iraq to confiscate or destroy these weapons before they ended up in the hands of our terrorist enemies. Of course this was all bullshit; there were no weapons, as multiple inspections proved long before the invasion occurred. The real reason for the invasion was likely some combination of a personal vendetta by the Bush family against Hussein, a desire to secure Iraq’s oil reserves, and just rank corruption on the part of US elites who held financial interests in the companies who made bombs and the construction contractors who re-built the things those bombs blew up. The whole world was aghast at our invasion of Iraq, but we didn’t care, we just powered on ahead.
Sound familiar? The most ungenerous interpretation of Putin’s motives for invading Ukraine are no worse than our motives for invading Iraq. So perhaps beyond anything else, what rustles my jimmies about the Biden regime’s scruples regarding Ukraine is that they are so deeply and completely hypocritical. It’s a disgusting sin that nobody ever paid a price for what we did to Iraq – or what that war did to our country and its soldiers, for that matter. But the line Biden takes toward Russia just highlights that nobody in DC has even internalized that what they did was wrong. These people pretending that the US government is somehow morally superior to Russia‘s make me want to vomit. It should not be lost on you that the one political leader in the United States to call out his predecessors for their rape of Iraq was mercilessly attacked for doing so. Biden wants to say that Putin is a mad-dog killer — but the actions of the Global American Empire over the past two decades dwarf anything Putin has ever done in terms of pure cynical brutality, and damn near everybody on Earth outside of the US politico-academic machine knows it.
And now for the #1 best Ukraine War comparison –
1. The (First) American Civil War
The great irony of the Russia-Ukraine war is that it’s being fought over the idea that Donbass has no right to secede from Ukraine – which itself seceded from the Soviet Union only a generation or so ago. It’s like if the South had won the US Civil War, and then fought a second war to keep Florida from seceding from the Confederacy. But more to the point – the current United States of America is built around the notion that its constituent states absolutely do not have the right to leave the Union. Abraham Lincoln killed three quarters of a million people to illustrate that fact. To Lincoln, the US was a natural whole, its people united by the ‘mystic chords of memory’, connecting all the states together in a single, historically inviolable whole.
Well, some of us don’t think much of Mr. Lincoln’s attitude there – the argument is strong that the North and South represented (at least) two completely separate ethnic groups in 1860, and still do today. My own feel is that the US Civil War was on some level a continuation of the English Civil War two centuries prior, since the two sides in both those wars largely formed a single dichotomous bloodline who never stopped hating each other for even a moment. If it hadn’t been slavery, it would’ve been something else that sparked the conflict, because the South and the North were obviously two separate nations trying to share a single government, which never works out in the long run.
But let’s put aside my neo-Confederate revisionism and just take Mr. Lincoln at his word: the US is an inviolable whole, united by its common history, and it’s worth massive sacrifice and warfare to preserve it even when parts of it are temporarily deluded into thinking they can leave it. This is nearly identical to President Putin’s long historical explanation arguing that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people. In Putin’s telling, Ukraine is purely a political invention from Soviet days, and Russian and Ukrainian peoples are a single ethnic group going back to the Viking age. He sees the current incarnation of Ukrainian nationalism as goofy and artificial – and worse, as a cynical tool to try to break Ukraine away from their natural allies to benefit the Global American Empire. Sure, there are reasonable national security concerns for Russia if Ukraine joins the GAE – and America’s founding fathers reasoned that the Union had to preserved to avoid North America suffering the constant strife that characterized European history. But beyond those temporal concerns, Putin outlined much more ancient and deep issues at play, positioning himself as the preserver of a Slavic nation that is older and more important than any particular political concern of the present day.
Of course the big difference here is that Lincoln prevented the splitting of the US before it really happened, whereas the USSR disintegrated 30 years ago. But the circumstances were quite different of course – Russia of the 1990s was a miserable, impoverished nation thanks to 80 years of rule by leftists (just look what they’ve done to the US is less than two years!), and was in no position to prevent its disintegration. And in one of the great geopolitical blunders of history, the US and the rest of the GAE just let the Soviet Union disintegrate, instead of helping to hold it together just under a more liberal government. But it’s not that hard to imagine scenarios where the CSA could have succeeded in seceding – i.e., Lincoln could have lost the 1864 election – only for the war to reignite decades later to prevent the South from signing on with some foreign alliance of one kind or another. Would Lincoln II have been justified in bringing the South back into the Union by force? If Lincoln I’s positions are sound, then surely Lincoln II would be so justified – and so would Vladimir Putin be justified in bringing back the natural Russian lands of Ukraine into political union with Russia.
But it’s really incumbent here to ask whether Lincoln was right or not – are mystical notions of nation-hood worth holding on to? What did Ukraine gain by trying to hold on to Donbass besides destruction? And if Russia wins the war and ends up seizing all of Ukraine, what will it gain by trying to force the Western Ukrainians — i.e., the Ruthenians and Gallicians — to give up their notions of Ukrainian statehood? Trying to maintain a political union between factions that despise each other is a thankless, rewardless game – a fact that the United States of 2022 should think about very seriously as we contemplate what will happen if Donald Trump runs for president again in 2024.