Two of America’s leading neocon apparatchiks, Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg and Atlantic staff writer Anne Applebaum traveled to Ukraine with the widow of the American tech titan Steve Jobs (who now, as it happens, owns The Atlantic) for a round of war tourism and a sit-down with Ukrainian president Zelensky.
The results are about what you’d expect.
We are informed that, “Although the war is not lost, it is also not won.”
That, “Uniquely the United States has the power to determine how, and how quickly, the war of attrition turns into something quite different.”
That, “The fate of NATO, of America’s position in Europe, indeed of America’s position in the world are all at stake.”
That, “This is a war over a fundamental definition of not just democracy but civilization.”
There is neither time nor world enough to recount Goldberg and Applebaum’s record of willful misrepresentations and outright fabrications in support of every US military adventure over the past thirty years.
But credit where it is due, their timing is nothing if not impeccable; despite the special pleading of academics, think tank hands and publicists such as Goldberg and Applebaum just back from state-sponsored trips to Ukraine telling us that victory is in sight if only we provide more weapons, the actual state of affairs on the ground is beginning to reveal itself. The trove of Pentagon leaks and events on the ground indicate that the tide of the war is likely turning, and not to the advantage of Ukraine and its Western sponsors.
Here is US Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Army four star Christopher Cavoli testifying before Congress last month:
The Russian ground force has been degenerated somewhat by this conflict, although it is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict…The air force has lost very little; they’ve lost 80 planes. They have another 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers. The navy has lost one ship.” [Emphasis mine].
In Goldberg and Applebaum’s telling:
America is linked to the war in this deeper sense. The civilization that Ukraine defends has been profoundly shaped by American ideas not just about democracy, but about entrepreneurship, liberty, civil society, and the rule of law.
And yet, as Olga Baysha, author of Democracy, Populism and Neoliberalism in Ukraine, told journalist Branko Marcetic last month, Zelensky has been prosecuting a “war on journalism” since February 2021, fully one year before the Russian invasion, shutting down three three television channels (NewsOne, 112 Ukraine, and ZIK) controlled by the opposition. This was followed, later in 2021, by the sanctioning and banning of still more opposition channels, including Strana.ua, First Independent Channel, UKRLIVE, Sharij.net, and Nash.
As Baysha put it, “The prosecution of oppositional journalists presented as ‘enemies of the people’ started not because of the war but because of the falling popularity of Zelensky.”
The Goldberg-Applebaum piece then is illustrative for what it leaves out. We’re told, via Zelensky, that the Russians are such savages that they even stoop to steal urinals on their way out of town. And that is an illustrative vignette for a magazine feature, no question about it. But why is there, in this “big think” piece, which comes adorned with cover art by U2’s Bono, no mention of the root causes of the war? Or of the ratio of Ukrainian to Russia war dead, now thought to be the range of 7 to 1? Or the continuing risks of escalation? Or the nearly decade long abuse of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population beginning with Ukrainian president Poroshenko’s “anti terrorist operation” of April 2014? Or the role that the far-right, neo-Nazi Azov and Right Sector battalions have played in the war effort?
Goldberg and Applebaum do however get around to defining what “victory” means to the Ukrainian side…
Victory means, first, that Ukraine retains sovereign control of all of the territory that lies within its internationally recognized borders, including land taken by Russia since 2014: Donetsk, Luhansk, Melitopol, Mariupol, Crimea.
What this amounts to is a plea from two of the most cosseted media figures in the Western world to continue and, if we are to take their wish for Ukraine to re-take Crimea seriously, increase the scale of the fighting done by terrified teenagers and young men in muddy trenches which are said to resemble the conditions along the Somme a hundred years ago. But no matter. The slaughter must continue lest Ukraine lose its “chance to alter geopolitics for a generation.”
Readers looking to be informed should look elsewhere. Goldberg and Applebaum specialize in producing a kind of faux-literary war agitprop for the Beltway “in crowd.” What Christopher Hitchens did with Iraq, Goldberg and Applebaum now seek to do with Ukraine. Yet should you decide to breach The Atlantic’s paywall, be sure to check your brain at the door and enjoy those doodles by Bono…