The Nation’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Her Magical Thinking

By Peter Olandt

On December 20th Katrina Vanden Heuvel wrote in The Nation “Ukraine and the End of Magical Thinking” accusing supporters of Ukraine of magical thinking. This defeatist article carrying Putin’s water is unfortunately normal for the once progressive Nation. But with Ukraine’s recent setback not on the battlefield, but in the US Congress she is taking another turn at spinning the myth of some peace in Ukraine without providing any concrete details as to how this is possible.

She begins by rightly criticizing the progressively feckless support for Ukraine pointing out the change from “as long as it takes” to Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis more recent take “apparently as long as it takes means as long as we can agree.” After her “Clearly, the time of magical thinking is over” blanket unexplained statement, she goes on to point out every negative event for Ukraine while painting Russia as the inevitable victor.

She reminds us of the failed Ukrainian summer offensive without pointing out the many failed Russian offenses. She gives no context to the failure and how it failed in many ways because NATO did not provide the materials for success in the face of Russian drones NATO is not experienced in fighting. And NATO expected and pressured Ukraine to launch a NATO style offense without providing the aircraft and ordinance to achieve NATO style air supremacy which is the predicate for all NATO strategy. She gives selective accounting of the artillery shell production of each side ignoring all of Europe’s ammunition production, world open market production, and internal Ukrainian production which is still getting ramped up. She then provides Russia’s estimate taking it at face value despite plenty of magical thinking/propaganda the Russian government regularly engages in regarding their defense production.

She points out horrible Russian losses and then assumes without evidence that Ukrainian have taken the same losses. Ukrainian loss estimates from trusted sources are not generally available due to secrecy. Those that have been attempted by open source are based on large assumptions. What comparable loss data we do have comes from vehicle losses which generally favors Ukraine. Ukraine in the latest offensive faced 1:1 vehicle losses. However, when Ukraine is on the defense vehicle losses are 10:1 in Ukraine’s favor. We cannot assume those loss ratios for soldiers, but they certainly point in Ukraine’s favor. If lowering Ukraine’s casualty rate was her real concern she would want to see Ukraine equipped to the point where they could attack without horrendous losses. Instead she assumes the worse and throws up her hands in defeat assuming nothing can change the result.

In such a twisted view of reality the best Ukraine can hope for is to sue for peace now and somehow pretend Putin will keep his word and not invade again in the future. She does give a fairly accurate portrayal of some of the difficulties involved in creating a peace settlement:

“After the casualties and destruction, no settlement will be easy. Both sides have good reasons not to trust the other. Putin’s speeches decrying the breakup of the Russian empire stoke fears that he will use any settlement to reload for the next target. Former German chancellor Angela Merkel’s admission that the West used the Maidan accords to buy time to build up the Ukrainian military gives Putin good reason to question any new agreement.

Putin clearly intends to consolidate Russia’s hold on Crimea and the Donbas region, if not more. No Ukrainian government would survive if it acceded to Russia’s land-grab. Ukraine needs massive aid in rebuilding its country. Putin has little appetite to bear the cost of the destruction that his invasion has created.”

But at this point she goes on to her own magical thinking that somehow all these objections can be wiped away. She pretends that Putin will negotiate in good faith and fairly on the premise that he will wish international sanctions be lifted and that he desires a consolidation of his current gains instead of pushing for more. She gives no rational for Ukraine to trust such an agreement despite Russia having already broken three previous treaties. Rather she assumes that Ukrainian defeat is inevitable and it is better to give up now with what they have.

She finally gets to the real purpose of her article. In the guise of peace she supports Putin with a suggestion that any future aid to Ukraine come with a demand that Ukraine seeks a negotiated end. So she believes it should be the US role to only support Ukraine if they agree to a ceasefire giving Putin what he wants. This essentially removes agency from Ukraine and places the decision in the hands of the United States. It also ignores Ukraine’s democratically elected government and public polls showing wide support for continued war in Ukraine. It ignores the premise of Ukraine fighting on without US aid. It ignores abandoning Ukrainians in occupied territories to a genocidal autocracy intent on wiping out the very concept of “Ukrainian.”

If you think I am unfairly characterizing her as pro-Putin simply go back to what she and her late husband have been writing for the past 9 years. This was her husband’s piece in 2014 stating

“Since the early 2000s, the media have followed a different leader-centric narrative, also consistent with US policy, that devalues multifaceted analysis for a relentless demonization of Putin, with little regard for facts. (Was any Soviet Communist leader after Stalin ever so personally villainized?)”.

He goes on to defend Putin at every turn somehow blaming the west for Putin’s invasion of Crimea. The Nation has provided consistently Pro-Russian commentary in the guise of progressive interest in Peace while tearing down Ukraine at every opportunity.

There is no current possible peace settlement which does not further weaken Ukraine. Putin has stated they are not interested in negotiation (unless it is a Ukrainian surrender). Katrina Vanden Heuvel accuses supporters of magical thinking while completing ignoring her own in pretending Putin will accept a peace plan. She engages in magical thinking when she pretends Putin can be trusted to keep any such treaty. She engages in magical thinking that Putin could ever agree to a treaty with Ukraine joining NATO. She engages in colonialist thinking when she suggests it’s the position of the US to coerce Ukraine into a treaty it might not otherwise consider. It’s astonishing how she can claim to want peace when all of her suggestions support a genocidal authoritarian at the expense of Democracy. She is willing to give away other people territories, let other people fall under oppression, all because she wants a pretend peace which is unacceptable to the people of Ukraine who it will most affect.