Saudi Arabia’s new prime minister— murderous fascist crown “Prince” Mohammed bin Salman— made it completely clear that he is an enemy of the U.S.— well, not of Trump, but of the U.S. that is not part of the fascist assault on the world order. Yesterday, the Saudis teamed up with Putin to cut back oil production, immediately boosting the price or crude— and of gasoline at the pumps in the U.S.
What bin Salman just did was to help Putin pay for the cost of his war against Ukraine. In his ill-advised trip to Saudi Arabia, Biden had appealed to bin Salman to increase production to ease gasoline prices and punish Moscow for its aggression. Bin Salman gave him his answer— and very very publicly: two million fewer barrels a day (2% of global oil production). White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters that the decision was a “mistake and misguided. It’s clear that OPEC Plus is aligning with Russia with today’s announcement.”
Good news about oil takes weeks to be reflected at the gas pump. Even a hint of bad news— these new cutbacks begin next month— always sends gas prices spiking upward. How much of an in-kind campaign contribution from Saudi Arabia to the Republican Party's midterm campaign is this?
Monday, on CNN, Ro Khanna called for retaliation against the Saudis. “This is beyond the pale. They are actively fleecing the American people and destabilizing the economy. That’s just outrageous. Who do they think they are? It’s outrageous. The Saudis need to be dealt with harshly. They are a third-rate power. We are the most powerful country in the world. I don’t know why we kowtow to them. They are not our allies.They are hurting the American people. And we need to be tough with them. The president needs to make it clear we will cut off their supply [of aviation parts]. We could ground their air force in a day.”
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee: “I thought the whole point of selling arms to the Gulf States despite their human rights abuses, nonsensical Yemen War, working against US interests in Libya, Sudan etc, was that when an international crisis came, the Gulf could choose America over Russia/China. What’s the point of looking the other way as the Saudis chop up journalists [and] repress political speech inside Saudi Arabia if, when the chips are down, the Saudis essentially choose the Russians instead of the United States?” He called for what a lot of Americans are thinking today: a “full-scale re-evaluation” of our alliance with the Saudi fascists.
In his Atlantic column, Trump, Putin And The Assault Of Anarchy, on Tuesday, Tom Nichols wrote that the U.S, in “underreacting to the war in Ukraine… Russia’s dictator is demanding that he be allowed to take whatever he wants, at will and by force. He is now… at war not only with Ukraine, but with the entire international order. He (like his admirer Trump) is at war with democracy itself.”
The point Nichols was trying to make is the problem with how “we have all just gotten used to it. We are inured to these events not because we are callous or uncaring. Rather, people such as Trump and Putin have sent us into a tailspin, a vortex of mad rhetoric and literal violence that has unmoored us from any sense of the moral principles that once guided us, however imperfectly, both at home and abroad. This is ‘the widening gyre’ W. B. Yeats wrote about in 1919, the sense that ‘anarchy is loosed upon the world’ as ‘things fall apart.’
We stand in the middle of a flood of horrendous events, shouted down by the outsize voices of people such as Trump and his stooges, enervated and exhausted by the dark threats of dictators such as Putin. It’s just too much, especially when we already have plenty of other responsibilities, including our jobs and taking care of our loved ones. We think we are alone and helpless, because there is nothing to convince us otherwise. How can anyone fight the sense that “the center cannot hold”?
But we are not helpless. The center can hold— because we are the center. We are citizens of a democracy who can refuse to accept the threats of mob bosses, whether in Florida or in Russia. We can and must vote, but that’s not enough. We must also speak out. By temperament, I am not much for public demonstrations, but if that’s your preferred form of expression, then organize and march. The rest of us, however, can act, every day, on a small scale.
Speak up. Do not stay silent when our fellow citizens equivocate and rationalize. Defend what’s right, whether to a friend or a family member. Refuse to laugh along with the flip cynicism that makes a joke of everything. Stay informed so that the stink of a death threat from a former president or the rattle of a nuclear saber from a Russian autocrat does not simply rush past you as if you’ve just driven by a sewage plant.
None of this is easy to do. But we are entering a time of important choices, both at home at the ballot box and abroad on foreign battlefields, and the center— the confident and resolute defense of peace, freedom, and the rule of law— must hold.
An even more over-the-top hawkish Atlantic columnist, Eliot Cohen insists, as do many others, that Russia’s Nuclear Bluster Is A Sign Of Panic “Putin is making these threats for several reasons,” he wrote. “Russia is losing the war in Ukraine and losing it badly. It was routed out of Kyiv in the first phase, its forces were driven from Kharkiv oblast in the second, and its defenses— manned by ill-equipped, demoralized, and badly trained units whose positions have probably been compromised by no-retreat orders from Moscow— are being breached by Ukrainian offensives in the third. The fall of Lyman was but the first disaster; a still bigger blow will occur when the city of Kherson, which may have 10,000 or 20,000 Russian soldiers in it, falls to Ukrainian troops. In the meantime, in the words of the retired Australian general Mick Ryan, Russia’s logistics and command system are being corroded by incessant precision attacks.
Almost as bad is the chorus of cries to open negotiations, because “sober adults think about [the] world as it is,” as William Ruger of the American Institute for Economic Research put it. “Putin is more in a corner than anyone would like him to be, because that’s not good for anybody,” John Kerry, the current special presidential envoy for climate who cannot help but remind listeners that he is a former secretary of state, recently said. And thus, of course, he urges negotiations on current Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. So too does Pope Francis. So too do many well-educated observers who do not trouble to think hard about what lies behind the well-orchestrated pronouncements from Moscow.
To be sure, underlying the Russian threats is a stream of Russian paranoia about the West, which finds expression in all kinds of wild claims about satanism, the abolition of gender, and plans to turn Russians into soulless slaves. To the extent that this paranoia is not purely synthetic, it draws on a deep well of Russian ambivalence about the West— resentment and fear of it, a sense of inferiority toward it, and yet a deep awareness of its allure, which is why even Russia’s current leaders have sent their children west to be educated, their mistresses west to luxuriate, and their billions in loot west to be safe.
To yield to nuclear blackmail, however, would be folly. Give in now, and anyone with nuclear weapons will learn that the secret to success in a negotiation is to froth at the mouth, roll up one’s eyes, and threaten a mushroom cloud. To yield to Putin would be, as Churchill said in a different but not entirely dissimilar context, to take “but the first sip from a bitter cup.” What then to do, and to threaten to do, particularly if Russia does indeed detonate one or more nuclear weapons, either as a signal or against some Ukrainian target?
The West’s economic sanctions arsenal is far from empty. The United States, in particular, has not brought out the biggest weapon of all: unlimited secondary sanctions on anyone doing business with Russia, save under licenses granted by the U.S. Treasury. Nor has it moved yet to confiscate the roughly $300 billion Russia has in accounts held abroad. Use of nuclear weapons by Russia would justify that and more.
Militarily, American air power could take Russia’s dire situation in Ukraine and make it catastrophic. The Russian air force is a negligible factor at this point, as its astonishingly poor performance in Ukraine indicates. Western air forces understand Russian air defenses very well and have long worked on ways to dismantle them; the U.S. and its allies have plenty of air power available in Europe to do so.
Finally, diplomacy does indeed have a role to play here— but most definitely not in compelling Ukraine into a negotiation it abhors while a brutal invader occupies its lands. The diplomatic option consists rather in reminding key Russian leaders that should Moscow use nuclear weapons, it will soon see them sprouting in self-defense in Poland, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and quite likely Finland and other countries. That will not make Russia safer or stronger.
China has a stake in this, too: A world in which the nuclear taboo is broken is one in which Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea may feel that they need the security of their own nuclear deterrents. India, facing a Pakistan that may have more nuclear weapons than it does, and whose politics are terrifyingly unstable, has no interest in seeing nuclear use become acceptable. Those who can still talk to Moscow should be urged to convey that message to Russia’s leadership— if they are not, in fact, doing so already.
The fight in Ukraine is not, despite what some have said, an existential war for Russia. No one is claiming Russian territory, and no Ukrainian army is going to drive to Moscow. It may very well be an existential fight for Vladimir Putin as a leader and even as a human being, but that is a separate matter. He has not been put in a corner, but rather has put himself in one. For him to use nuclear weapons, many others— hundreds, if not more—have to go along. The United States and other countries probably have the means to communicate to each and every one of them that they will personally pay a price if they do so, if not at the hands of Ukraine’s friends, then under a successor regime in Russia that will have to hold them accountable in order to be readmitted to the economy of the developed world.
The Ukraine war may be approaching its culminating point. All along, the prospect of Russian military collapse has been real: Many wars end with one or more spectacular defeats that dramatically change moods and atmospheres, front lines and governments. Russia’s call-ups are not a mobilization but rather a press-ganging of those too unfortunate or poorly connected to avoid service. Sending men with decrepit weapons and kit and minimal military training into ill-housed and depleted units filled with veterans suffering from post–traumatic stress is a recipe for more crack-ups and many more body bags headed back across the border. It will lead to further failure at the hands of an ever more skillful and victory-inspired Ukrainian military keen on liberation and vengeance for the pillage, torture, kidnapping, and massacre inflicted on its country. The sooner the ultimate shock is delivered and Russian forces shattered and driven from occupied land, the quicker the suffering ends, and the more swiftly the uncertain cloud of nuclear threats dissipates.
Pope John Paul II, who knew the Soviets all too well, repeated incessantly during dark times, “Be not afraid.” We should heed his counsel. And inspired by Ukrainian heroism as well as rational calculation, we should send them more and better weapons and ammunition now.
Meanwhile, many in the U.S. military establishment say we should be explicit that if Russia uses a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, within hours, not days, Ukraine’s army will have it’s number one request— ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems), a surface-to-surface missile that can hit military targets inside Russia and has a reach 4 times more than anything the Ukrainians have now. Putin may not care, but the Russian military will.