When Anti-War Means Pro-Aggression

There is overwhelming unity among the U.S., its allies, and even normally unaligned nations against Vladimir Putin’s aggression. On March 2, the UN General Assembly voted 141-5 that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” Among the five negative votes, three are involved in the attack on Ukraine: Russia, Belarus, and Syria (who is sending troops to Ukraine to thank Russia for its air strikes in support of the Assad regime). The other two were North Korea and Eritrea. China abstained.

Yet, in the face of such broad condemnation, the anti-war movement in the U.S. is pushing Moscow’s line. Code Pink has a “Peace in Ukraine” campaign that does call for the withdrawal of Russian troops, but not until Putin’s war aims are met. These include “Continued rejection of a no-fly zone over Ukraine; No NATO expansion; Recognition of Ukraine as a neutral country; An off-ramp for sanctions on Russia to be lifted… Support for Ukrainian demilitarization.” These play into Code Pink’s claim that Russia was only acting defensively with a preemptive strike against a Ukrainian threat. This is a common argument on the Left taken straight from Putin’s playbook.

Ukraine posed no military threat to Russia. Indeed, its supposed weakness is what led Putin and most Western observers to predict a swift Russian victory. And the Russophile Left’s allegation that the ‘expansion of NATO eastward” was a threat to Moscow is also baseless. The expansion was defensive against Russian revanchism, as manifest in Putin’s repeated claims that Eastern Europe is his sphere of influence and Ukraine should return to the Russian Empire. Code Pink’s initial battle cry when Russia invaded was “No to NATO.” 

NATO may have expanded its membership, but it was reducing its military forces at the same time. Both presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump pushed for NATO members to bring their defense spending up to two percent of GDP, itself a puny amount. And while there was some discussion between NATO and Ukraine about future membership after Russian seized Crimea in 2014, nothing was imminent. Germany, dependent on Russian energy, was an open opponent of Ukrainian membership. While strategy should have made Ukrainian a top NATO priority, appeasement kept the door closed to Kyiv. Instead, the door was opened to Moscow by President Joe Biden who repeatedly assured Putin that there would be no U.S. or NATO military response to an invasion. U.S. military personnel working in Ukraine as trainers were withdrawn when their reinforcement would have created a deterrent Putin would not have dared challenge. Viewed from Moscow, the situation did not look like a threat, it looked like an opportunity.

At their meeting on the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics, Putin cleared the invasion with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Their joint statement promised China’s support against NATO expansion and for Russian influence in “adjacent areas” with Russian support for Beijing gaining control of Taiwan. Code Pink opposes any American action to contain Chinese aggression even more stridently than Russian aggression. Their campaign is “China is Not Our Enemy” and makes the argument “If we are to collectively confront climate change, global inequality, and other existential threats, we must cultivate peace with China.” The list of pro-China policies Code Pink advocates goes beyond a Beijing grab for Taiwan. Chinese enterprises are not to be excluded from access to technology and markets by legislation such as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (aka Make It In America). Washington should welcome the penetration of Africa and Latin America by China’s Belt and Road projects. Code Pink is also critical of any negative reporting on China because “the U.S. hybrid war on China involves misinformation campaigns to manufacture consent for increased military aggression and war.” So, let us have no more talk about Chinese military bases in the South China Sea, Uygur concentration camps, or arms sales to Iran.

Beijing knows who its friends are and crafts arguments that appeal to them. The latest: the U.S. is arming Ukraine to fatten the profits of the “vampires” in the military-industrial complex which includes “a group of politicians, experts, or think tanks who live by creating imaginary enemies and attacking Russia or China.” 

Code Pink works with other “peace” groups advancing Beijing’s interests like Pivot to Peace, a group founded in reaction to the 2011 Pivot to Asia policy of the Obama administration. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee (on whose staff I served at the time), the future of the world is going to be decided in Asia, not the Middle East. This does mean confronting China’s rapid military buildup which is threatening every country across the Pacific Rim. But to the left-wing peace groups, it is not aggression that causes wars, it is standing up to aggression. It takes two to fight, so our side should not respond. Of course, there is more to it than that. Playing dead eventually makes you dead, and the Left exists to end America as we know it. The success of the U.S. was not built on leftist ideology, so that success must be denounced as immoral and eliminated. And any foreign power or movement that can help end American greatness is to be embraced.

One should remember Daniel Singer who, in the October 14, 1991 issue of The Nation, lamented the fall of the Soviet Union as “the only potential external obstacle to the expansion of American imperialism.” Pivot to Peace claims its mission is to “insist that the government and mass media turn away from the anti-China Cold War.” But the group actually welcomes the rise of China as the successor to the USSR in the role of anti-American champion. Its petition is signed by the usual suspects, including filmmaker Oliver Stone who presented an awe-inspiring portrait of Putin in a series of interviews published in 2017. And there is a gaggle of academics who owe their comfortable existence to living in a secure and prosperous America even as they daily express their hatred for it (when asked about my years of campus teaching, I simply say “it sure beat working for a living”). Other leftist groups have signed on too, including ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) which has called for the abolition of NATO. ANSWER was founded just three days after the 9/11 attack to protest military retaliation against al-Qaida.

We should enjoy the current mood of national unity sparked by the aggression of Russia and the rising threat of China. The 2022 National Defense Strategy sent to Congress March 30 declares that the Pentagon is “prioritizing the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific, then the Russia challenge in Europe.” This echoes the National Defense Strategy drawn up in 2017 by President Donald Trump who recognized the preeminence of Great Power competition. Yet, there lurks below the surface a very active and determined movement that works to destroy unity, spread fear, and paralysis across the country, and bring down the U.S. and its allies. Despite having the best trained and equipped military, the U.S. has lost more wars than it has won since Vietnam; not on the battlefield but at home due to the influence of radicals whose influence has blunted our sword even when they have failed to knock it out of our hand entirely. Thus, our officials in fulfilling their prime task of national security must remember their oath to defend “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” as the two are usually linked.

William R. Hawkins is President of the Hamilton Center for National Strategy. A former economics professor, he has written widely on defense and foreign policy issues for a variety of scholarly and popular publications. He has also served on the staff on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Image: Brendan Themes

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