Banks vs. Tanks
This week: a conversation with economic historian Adam Tooze about the war in Ukraine. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our site.
According to Vladimir Putin, sanctions in response to his invasion of Ukraine are comparable to a declaration of war. This week, we talk to the economic historian Adam Tooze to figure out just what those sanctions might really do. First he explains the uncertainties, the surprises, the confusion. Says Tooze:
We expected the Russians would roll over the Ukrainian defenses, do it quickly, and then in retrospect, we would deliver punishment in the form of sanctions. And I think to the consternation, to a degree, of the political class and the leadership on both sides of the Atlantic, we actually find ourselves in a very difficult, different situation, which has unleashed a whole bunch of other dynamics now because for obvious reasons, there’s a huge democratic enthusiasm across Western Europe in particular. Vast demonstrations, 700,000 people plus in Berlin at the weekend, in favor of the Ukrainian resistance.
And then on top of that, the already planned anticipated sanctions. I think the sanctions were calibrated in the minds of the EU and the Biden administration depending on how severe Russia’s infraction of international law was going to be. But since it has been complete, and this is a full scale invasion and open war, I think it was always in a sense expected that they would ramp up quickly.
But now we’re actually in a situation in which there is a war which is undecided. The Russians haven’t won as quickly as people anticipated, and so the sanctions are not retrospective punishment (as they were of Russia after its annexation of Crimea) but as it were intruding into the war itself. I remain very skeptical as to whether they will swing the outcome. But certainly it creates a powerful, extraordinarily dramatic dynamic between the battlefield and the events in financial markets and in the main centers of Russia.
Is there a new geopolitical system emerging through this murk? Tooze tells us:
It’s a new game, it’s not the old game, and America is still a big player in the new game and America is for the foreseeable future, always going to be a big player. So stories about American decline should never be taken as being ones in which America disappears from the scene. It’s a relative decline, relative generally speaking, to the benchmark of not so much WWI as WWII, I mean, the Marshall Plan moment is, as it were, the epic high point of American global hegemonic competence and capacity and relative power.
And relative to that, we’re in a new game in which the world is much more multipolar and America is learning to play in that game. And I would submit that it really began that under the Obama administration, which was quite frank about it, to be honest. And in Ukraine, unfortunately, we are dealing with one of the real legacies, the last gasp legacies of the unipolar moment at its most hubristic, which is that accursed NATO conference in Bucharest, Romania, in the spring of 2008, in which the Bush administration in its dying months decided to bounce NATO against the resistance of the German and French into making an open-ended commitment to Georgia and Ukraine that they would become members of NATO.
On the Weird World of American TV
“Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia?” Tucker Carlson once said, while expressing his right-wing version of the foreign policy approach called realism, which bases geopolitical thinking especially on one’s own national interest. But Carlson then revealed how his particular kind of nationalist thinking can still be globalist, just with a certain alignment, a preference for a certain kind of state power. “And I’m serious,” he continued. “Why do I care? Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.”
More recently, Alex Shepard writes in The New Republic,
Tucker Carlson insisted that Russia was in the right and Ukraine in the wrong — or, at the very least, there was no discernible moral difference between a flawed democracy and the autocracy poised to invade it.
Carlson’s provocations on Fox News seem to have drifted way from the general American mood lately—at least, from the part of the mood that sustains bipartisan consensus. A poll last week showed the breadth of that consensus: across party lines, the majority of Americans opposed US military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine and agreed that the US ought to oppose Russia’s invasion—through sanctions, for instance (according to the poll, military veteran households were one segment in which a slight majority did favor military confrontation).
The story of Carlson’s and other far-right American support for Putin is in-process, with some twists and turns (including Carlson’s still more recent turn). But this account of a recent Steven Bannon podcast traces some of the connections:
Bannon hosted Erik Prince, founder of the military contracting firm Blackwater USA and brother of Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Bannon said the U.S. should support Putin because “he’s anti-woke.”
And here’s an overview at Al Jazeera of Putin’s resonance with parts of the US right wing:
“The question of the American right’s support for Putin and Russia is a complex, many-layered issue,” Devin Burghart, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, told Al Jazeera.
“There is an attraction to Putin’s hardline authoritarian stance and his aggressive foreign policy. Others are attracted to the brand of traditionalist Christianity Putin has expressed. Some like Putin’s attacks on the Russian LGBTQ community.”
Read: Eric Levitz
Over at New York, Eric Levitz covers the range of arguments, from the right and the left and the neither-right-nor-left, about NATO’s role in the history behind the war, and concludes:
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a free choice. And whatever role U.S. policy played in determining Putin’s decision, it did not force his hand. Critics of NATO expansion would be wise to stipulate this point, since doing otherwise only renders their causal analysis easier to stigmatize.
Read: The Quincy Institute’s Samuel Moyn
As we continue In Search of Monsters, our limited-series collaboration with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, we’re reading Quincy thinkers like Samuel Moyn, who’s written recently for the Washington Post:
[T]he invasion is another reminder of the need to build a better order. As much as any individual or nation is to blame for specific instances of international violence, the existing system reflects a hypocritical commitment to allow a great power war while claiming to prohibit it.