Over the last seventeen months, it’s become customary for those who disagree with US foreign policy on the Ukraine war to preface every objection to that policy with at least one, possibly two, disclaimers.
Disclaimer #1: The Russian invasion, they’ll concede, was “unprovoked.”
Optional Disclaimer #2: The Russian invasion, they’ll say, was “unjustified.”
I understand the impulse. They’re trying to preemptively communicate that they are “anti-war” or “anti-intervention” without being mistaken for horror of horrors, “pro-Russia.”
But those disclaimers are neither necessary nor wise.
The Russian invasion was not “unprovoked.”
For one thing, to “provoke” is, per Merriam-Webster, “to incite to anger” or to “arouse to a feeling or action.” Who decides whether Party A has been “incited” or “aroused” by Party B? Party A.
For another, Ukraine, NATO, and the US had been put on notice for quite some time (at least eight years, and actually more like 20) that Russia considered their actions provocative … and chose to continue down the same route rather than backing off or negotiating an amicable solution. The provocations were, in other words, both ongoing and intentional, not just occasional accidents.
To say that an action is “provoked,” though, is not the same thing as saying that the action is “justified.”
You might “incite me to anger” by singing loudly every time you walk past my house, but that doesn’t mean I’m justified in getting out my 12-gauge and sending you to your grave. Cutting me off in traffic may justify a honk of the horn and a selected obscenity or two. It doesn’t justify following you home and burning your house down.
Was the Russian invasion “justified?” I don’t think so, but arriving at that conclusion is not some kind of automatic slam-dunk. Opinions do vary on what constitutes an acceptable casus belli, and on the truth or falsehood of various underlying factual claims.
My own opinion on US meddling in Russian/Ukrainian relations doesn’t depend on an assessment of whether the invasion was provoked, unprovoked, justified, or unjustified, so I don’t need any such disclaimers.
Rather, my opinion is based on the notion that even if the US government has one or more legitimate purposes (in my opinion it has none), those purposes don’t extend to stealing money from you to buy weapons and sending them halfway around the world in the hope of helping one authoritarian gang win a turf war versus another authoritarian gang.
If you think I’m engaging in “moral equivalence,” you’re absolutely right. There’s nothing wrong with moral equivalence statements if the people/actions being described are morally equivalent. Looking at you, Putin/Zelenskyy/Biden.
I’m not “pro-Russia,” “pro-Ukraine,” or even “pro-US.” I’m pro-peace and anti-war. Stick that disclaimer in your pipe and smoke it.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.