Captain’s log: Atomic-date February 17, 2022.
The ashy-sable clouds show no sign of breaking. God knows when we’ll see the sun again. It’s been twenty-four hours since the Kinzhal struck the nation’s capital, right outside The Occidental during the bustling lunch hour. The entire American political class vaporized in seconds. (Just in time for tax season! Hey, silver linings in lampblack clouds.) Those on the outskirts, beyond the Potomac brimming with dead bass and catfish, have mostly fled, back to their hometowns, if they’re still standing. We made the decision to stay amid the ruins—not without reluctance, and not without peeling, discolored skin. Our hope is that relief arrives. From where? From whom? From what authority? Riding upon what ungulate quadruped? Unknown. But someone—anyone, anything—has to come, if only to document the radioactive fallout. I swear I saw someone digging through my partially melted waste bins with an N95 mask seared to his mandible and a heavy-shotted Biden 2020 t-shirt.
The fan fiction above sounds fantastic, but not impossible. Were the Washington foreign-policy establishment—aka “The Blob,” scare quotes deserved—to have its bloody druthers, it might have occurred last week. On February 16, 2022, to be exact, our would-be Armageddon, Bruce Willis not included. The next day but one after Valentine’s Day, and a week out from the birthday of the president who warned us not to “entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils” of foreign nations, was supposed to inaugurate World War III with the kind of fireworks that go BANG! on the ground, not in the air.
Instead it happened in the wee hours of Washington’s natal day, all to as much griping and fist-shaking as Twitter allows on its service. Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized two Ukrainian border territories, Luhansk and Donetsk, as independent states. He then deployed “peacekeeping” forces to, purportedly, keep the peace of the secession. (War is peace, anyone?) As a body, Western nations declared the entire farce a pretext for further incursion, perhaps into Kiev.
Just as in 2014 when Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula, the U.S. has had a muted response. Sanctions are forthcoming—an economic hit Russians already withstood and will continue to endure. But so far no marital retort by the U.S., with the ensuing tit-for-tat expanding into all-out, atom-bombing war. Since you’re reading this, the cell towers are still functional and your conjunctiva hasn’t melted. Earth’s radiation bath has been thankfully avoided.
And we have one president to thank: America-First Joe!
After decades of hawkish posturing from his First-State Senate seat, President Biden has renounced his warmongering ways, and is successfully applying the non-interventionism of his predecessor. Donald Trump triggered no new wars during his single term—a presidential first since that gentle peanut farmer occupied the Oval. Joe Biden actually ended a war. Or, at least, however haphazardly, yanked away our official military presence. (Contractors, like microbacteria, never go away.)
The Afghanistan withdrawal will go down as Biden’s most significant accomplishment. Inflation, federally codifying racism, a Supreme Court appointee, presiding over a general moral enervation, losing round after mitigating round to an enduring virus—few if any of these will be recalled compared to ending America’s longest, most un-winningest war.
President Biden has thus far avoided being drawn into a conflict with Russia over its trooping into Ukraine, despite the megaphone urging of Washington’s bomb-happy cognoscenti.
He’s even drained our Ukrainian embassies of staff, in anticipation of aggressive revanchism. Biden has done some face-saving troop deployment to Poland to reassure NATO allies. But, as of this writing, all quiet on the Eastern Front.
We haven’t always been so lucky. In another era—approximately a decade thence, give or take a few sun whirls—U.S. blood and muscle may have been sacrificed to stall Putin’s inbreaking. An international coalition may have been formed to fend off Russian ryadovoy. A farm boy from Missouri may have met an unhappy and gruesome end in Blahovishchenka, defending a country not his own.
But the U.S.’s motivation to defend the territorial integrity of other nations is running on empty, sapped by decades of futile nation-building, with thousands of American lives lost and trillions in treasure squandered. Consider: Does anyone outside the web of amply funded NGOs truly think we should risk war for Ukraine? Could you bring up the sanctity of the “rules-based international order” outside the Beltway without eliciting a hardy guffaw to your face? Do the lofty internationalist sentiments of Walter Lippmann or Thomas Mann even make sense after Uncle Sam got too parched in the desert?
“War is always the sanction of failure,” said former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. But no-war seems to be the sanction charged for America’s inability to avail. That applies to home and abroad. Turning tail from both Afghanistan and Iraq without tangible earnings was humiliating enough. But newer generations are being taught to detest America, seeing it as an exploitive engine of misery, not a liberator. The entire woke worldview holds that the U.S. is fundamentally incapable of promoting human freedom because it was built on oppression. So why would any dyed-in-the-wool wokester demand a racist, white-supremacist behemoth go warring for the sake of another country? Hasn’t America committed enough evil already?
On the right, the non-interventionist leap from Pat Buchanan to Ron Paul to Donald Trump seems to have stuck. Only a handful of congressional Republicans seriously insist American troops be dispatched to beat back Russia. Congressman Joe Wilson tried to summon our country’s democracy-defending spirit before the South Carolina State House to piddling fanfare. I may have only read half of The Brothers Karamazov in college, but I’d bet dollars to ponchiki that Putin wasn’t intimidated by the Ukrainian flag tucked into Wilson’s outbreast pocket.
There’s the dead consensus and then there’s the deadened consensus, the latter being the American demos’ lack of a stomach for foreign conflict. President Biden has all but accepted Russia’s march into Ukraine. He broke every diplomatic rule in the grad-school handbook, declaring invasion a foregone conclusion before it actually concluded. And he overnighted the most maladroit vice president in U.S. history to Europe to reassure Ukrainian President Zelenskyy that we’re super sorry about the big KGB meanie, but preemptive support is just a little too much for us right now. Sorry about that—better luck next administration.
Does not lifting a finger to prevent Putin from gobbling up Ukraine foretell the end of American imperium? It’s a start. We aren’t about to repatriate our standing forces in Germany or Italy or Japan or Honduras or South Korea or… *catches breath*. But it’s also a loud signal to the world that American voters have simply lost interest in promoting liberal democracy. Between new Netflix specials and arguing about masks on Facebook, who has time to oppose autocrats anyway? A country that can’t produce enough refrigerators isn’t about to risk trading ICBMs with a well-fortified adversary.
Late-stage capitalism has given away to late-stage empire. Sacrificing cheap, polystyrene, imported thingamajigs on Walmart shelves for fewer dead countrymen is a cost most Americans are content to bear.