We need a real debate on the war in Ukraine

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EDITOR’S NOTE:Each week, we post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column on the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full Katrina Chronicle here.

It is time to question the orthodox view of the war in Ukraine.

As Russia’s unlawful and brutal aggression enters its fourth month, the impact on Europe, the Global South and the world is already profound. We are witnessing the emergence of a new politico-military world order. Climate action is sidelined as reliance on fossil fuels increases; food scarcity and other resource demands are driving up prices and causing widespread hunger around the world; and the global refugee crisis – with more international refugees and internally displaced people than at any time since the end of World War II – poses a huge challenge.

Moreover, the longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the greater the risk of a nuclear accident or incident. And with the Biden administration’s strategy to “weaken” Russia with the scale of arms deliveries, including anti-ship missiles, and revelations of US intelligence aid to Ukraine , it is clear that the United States and NATO are in a proxy war with Russia.

Shouldn’t the multifaceted ramifications, perils, and costs of this proxy war be a central topic of media coverage, as well as informed analysis, discussion, and debate? Yet what we have in the media and the political establishment is, for the most part, one-sided, if any, public discussion and debate. It’s like living in what journalist Matt Taibbi has dubbed an “intellectual no-fly zone.”

Those who have strayed from the orthodox line on Ukraine are routinely excluded or marginalized – certainly rarely seen – from mainstream corporate media. The result is that alternative and opposing opinions and voices seem non-existent. Wouldn’t it be healthy to have more diversity of viewpoints, stories and backgrounds rather than “confirmation bias”?

Those who talk about history and put into context the precipitating role of the West in the Ukrainian tragedy are not excuse Russia’s criminal attack. It is a measure of such thinking, and of the rhetorical or intellectual exclusion zone, that figures such as Noam Chomsky, Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and former US Ambassador Chas Freeman, among others, have been demonized or insulted for raising compelling arguments and providing much-needed context and history to explain the context of this war.

In our fragile democracy, the cost of dissent is relatively low. Why, then, are there not more individuals in think tanks or in academia, the media or politics who challenge the orthodox political-media narrative of the United States? Isn’t it worth asking whether sending ever more weapons to the Ukrainians is the wisest course? Is it asking too much to ask more questions and discuss how best to reduce the danger of nuclear conflict? Why are nonconformists being vilified for noting, and even reinforcing with reputable facts and history, the role of nationalist, far-right and, yes, neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine? Fascist or neo-Nazi revivalism is a toxic factor in many countries today, from European nations to the United States. Why is Ukraine’s history too often ignored, even denied?

Meanwhile, as one former Marine Corps general noted, “war is racketeering.” American arms conglomerates line up to feed at the watering hole. Before the end of the war, many Ukrainians and Russians will die while Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman make their fortunes. At the same time, the news on networks and cable is full of pundits and “experts” — or more accurately, military officials-turned-consultants — whose current jobs and clients are not disclosed to viewers.

What is barely reflected on our televisions or Internet screens, or in Congress, are alternative viewpoints – voices of restraint, who disagree with the tendency to view compromise in negotiations as a appeasement, who seek persistent and tough diplomacy to achieve an effective ceasefire and a negotiated resolution, aimed at making Ukraine a sovereign, independent, rebuilt and prosperous country.

“Tell me how it ends,” asked General David Petraeus Washington Post writer Rick Atkinson a few months after the start of the nearly decade-long war in Iraq. Ending this current war will require new thinking and challenges to the orthodoxies of this time. As the venerable American journalist Walter Lippmann once observed, “When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks much.”

This column originally appeared in The Washington Post. You can find the weekly Katrina chronicles for the Job here.

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