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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 17, 2022

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Did you predict this outcome before it became apparent? I sure didn't.

I predicted that Russia would win but it would be slow, bloody, and unpleasant affair lasting a few years. I'm less confident in that prediction with how pathetic Russia's been, but I can't say for sure I was wrong until late 23 or so. I will say Russia's incompetence was surprising; I knew they'd declined, but the degree of that decline was above and beyond.

If you predicted Russia would win, then how do you think Zelensky should have known ex ante that they weren't being invaded by a superior military power?

I predicted Russia would win after a multi-year slog that does not result in Zelensky's exile, death, or imprisonment, and also does not end in the dissolution of the Ukrainian state. That has been my stance since all of this began: that Russia will win, that it is not worth it for them to win, and that we really just should have stuck with the pre-Maidan status quo rather than meddling and fucking everything up. This entire affair was a masterstroke of the very American hegemony I loathe as an American and I hate every side involved.

I apologize for boiling that down to low-light "lul Russia" quips. I will respond more seriously to you:

My explicit position is that this entire war is a senseless tragedy provoked by western interests. Putin is a terrible man and he is ultimately responsible for his actions, but provocation is real and we have been poking the bear for a long time for no reason other than a deep-seated hatred of Russians swimming in the very DNA of our ruling class. Russia has been a boogieman since the fall of the Soviet Union used to drum up support and justification for the ever-expanding grasp of the American leviathan. Our interference in Ukraine years ago is what set the stage for this inevitable conflict -- a conflict which at best will be a Pyrrhic victory for Russia, for even if they seized Ukraine their reward is merely having Ukraine, in no way worth the grotesque costs piling up.

The only winners are America and their chosen ones. In the Ukraine, this is Zelensky. He's a pretty face whose primary skill is performance art. He has become a culture hero for doing what would be expected of any man in his position; "run away from your country at the start of a grueling war" is not an expected default action for leaders. He's used the war to implement strongman leadership, purge political rivals, and secure his personal legacy for the rest of his life.

He is not a good leader. He has not risen above his station or demonstrated strength of character. He is a symbol of the inevitable triumph of American imperialism, and his reward will be either a long-term dictatorial political career or a cushy post-politics speaking tour on the first world's elite media circuits.

All of this is nakedly transparent. Ukraine is grossly corrupt. Zelensky is grossly corrupt. It's not even hidden, you don't have to trawl conspiracy websites, it's all in the open. People handwave it away with "oh but Putin is so super duper evil", and then worship Zelensky like he's a superhero, and it's so fucking pathetic that it arouses in me an immense fury. The shallow principles of the world -- Zelensky violates the same core liberties we allegedly damn Putin over, yet because Zelensky's the chosen one (much like Fauci for COVID), his blatant maleficence is gaslit away.

Russia sucks. They're big and have lots of production capabilities. They could probably blow up the world. But this abundance of arms and potential for the ultimate escalation doesn't make Russia an elite modern military force that can reasonably expect to steamroll the west; Ukraine's loss will be after a horrific meat grinder of a war that lasts years, costs tons of lives, and doesn't hurt Zelensky at all.

Yet Zelensky's the hero. The corrupt strongman demanding we give him more money so more of his people can die, and regardless of the country's fate or how many bodies his pride puts into the ground, a self-centered actor with no respect for the principles we've collectively enshrined in him will go down as their defender.

He's garbage, Russia's garbage, Ukraine's garbage, Putin's garbage. The only people involved who aren't trash are the ones dying so that American leadership can be satisfied they slew the Great Beast of their forefathers.

Eh, I actually agree with many of your premises and conclusions (US provoked Russia although Russia is responsible for its act, it's a masterstroke for US interests, Ukraine is kind of a shitty corrupt country, both sides will suffer horribly in this meat grinder of a war, etc.), but I do think there's something innately heroic about defending your homeland from invaders even at great cost, and I think you understate the difficulty of what Ukraine and Zelensky have achieved, and the personal risk that he and his family took by remaining. Yes, Zelensky is a pretty face with a background in TV comedy, but playing well on TV is exactly what helped him rally the West behind his cause. I think it's incredible how well suited he was for his moment, and how well he has done with it.

I don't believe Zelensky has taken major personal risk by remaining. If anything, I suspect he's safer in environments wholly under the control of Ukrainian leadership and military command, rather than entrusting his fate to the west. Even if, as I suspect, Ukraine loses sometime between '23 and '25, Zelensky will have ample time and opportunity to evacuate. I do not believe it's likely he ever winds up in the hands of Russian soldiers about to take a bayonet up the ass (or a bullet, or whatever).

Offhand, my priors for leaders is that dictators who lose in civil wars tend to meet unpleasant ends, but other leaders in a majority of other fall-from-power situations live comfortably in exile.