The Grand Illusions of the leaders of Western Democracies are crashing to defeat in Ukraine.
La Grande Illusion was the 1937 Renoir film that showed the tragic mistakes of the aristocrats of the European empires in World War I. In turn, it referred to a 1910 British tract, The Great Illusion that claimed war was irrational and impossible in civilised Europe because it went against the interests of the British Imperial Liberal Rules Based Order.
The looming defeat of Ukraine, NATO and the USA by Russia is exposing similar tragic mistakes and grand illusions.
But how can I say ‘looming defeat’ in Ukraine? Any reader of the mainstream news in Australia would scoff at this judgement as we approach the anniversary of the invasion. But I have been commenting on this war on The Burning Archive podcast since before the February 2022 conflict.
Russia is clearly winning the war. It is defeating not only Ukraine, but NATO and the USA. It is winning the war militarily. It has overwhelming artillery dominance and is about to take Bakhmut. Russia has withstood the economic war, the ‘sanctions from hell’ that would ‘turn the rouble into rubble’.’ It exposed the American illusion that Russia is a ‘gas station pretending to be a country’. Russia and its strategic partner China are winning diplomatically. Putin has defied the Western illusion that Joe Biden could assemble a WWII-style ‘United Nations of Democracies’ to isolate Russia. The world’s largest democracy, India, firmly and politely said, ‘No, the world is more complicated and multipolar than that.’
Even in the information war, the West has advanced ahead of its supply lines. Despite apparent American dominance and unprecedented restrictions on the ‘open society’ of the West, such as the removal of many Russian media channels, Russia is slowly turning the West’s information war blitzkrieg to its advantage. It simply exposes the truth. Ukraine is no democracy. Ukraine really does have a problem with extreme ethno-nationalist ideologies. Ukraine is press-ganging its citizens to die quickly in Donbass in order to prop up American news coverage of the war. Ukraine really has shelled and killed thousands of civilians since 2014. America, as Seymour Hersh reported and the ABC has yet to report, blew up the Nordstream pipelines. And America did so, according to Hersh’s sources, in a covert operation that bypassed Congress and harmed its own NATO ally. Thanks to the independent media, the truth will survive the blast.
Yet the public perception is Ukraine is winning, and can do no wrong. We must ‘stand with’ Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’. Recently, the Australian Parliament staged a photo of unity of MP’s standing with the Ukrainian flag. The public perception is fed with constant propaganda, such as the Bear Grills ‘interview’ with Zelensky. When the really bad news rolls in, after the fall of Bakhmut and the grinding offensive of the Russian army, the shock to public opinion may be as consequential for world order as the failures of World War I, or indeed the falls of both Singapore and Kabul.
Perhaps the American and allied leaderships believed their own propaganda that they could win any war when they provoked this war by trying to take Russia’s Queen on Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard. But at least now some ‘realists’ are speaking up, if covertly in the corridors of Washington. The Rand Corporation paper on ‘Avoiding a Long War’ warns that inflated optimism about success in the war will extend the war, and that the war is not in the interests of the USA. It politely rebukes Secretary of State Blinken as ‘too narrowly focused on one dimension of the war’s trajectory.’
Overconfidence about success in war provokes war, makes for long wars, and springs from the grand illusions of national elites. Geoffrey Blainey made the point in 1973 in Causes of War, and the Rand Corporation report and the ‘realist’ faction in America cite him today.
Of course, many critics (including my modest podcast) have exposed these illusions since February 2022. Jeffrey Sachs. John Mearsheimer. Paul Keating. Tony Kevin. Geoffrey Roberts. Seymour Hersh. Many, many more who are shamefully attacked as ‘Russian propagandists’.
Truth will disperse the illusion. It may take weeks. It may take months or years. But, at some stage, there will be a reckoning. The end of World War I was not good for the deluded European imperial elites. The end of the war in Ukraine will not be good for the imperial American elites. They have spent too long spinning the virtual realities of manipulated news – ‘America makes its own reality’ – to deal with the realities of a changed multipolar world.
They have been exposed as incompetent in waging war with a peer, in fielding diplomacy with independent nations, in framing economies that serve people not bubbles, and, finally, in telling their own people the honest truth. Tragically, the grand illusions of this leadership elite will outlive the conscripted soldiers of Ukraine, that dispensable nation that betrayed itself in search of American glory.