A Movie We’ve Seen Before


I wrote last week about my reservations about our apparent strategy of winning a war without fighting a war. Today’s Berlingske has an article that’s kind of an update on that theme:

Now the West wants to hit Russia on oil and gas: “They have a hard time retaliating”
Emil Eller, Berlingske.dk, Mar 9

The article begins by noting how the west cranked up its economic “warfare” on Russia yesterday:

Yesterday, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, announced that the United States will now completely ban the import of oil and gas from Russia.

Also yesterday, the EU came up with a proposal for how Europe will in the long run become completely independent of gas from Russia, while it’s expected to be able to cut two thirds (of the Russian imports) as soon as this year.


The United Kingdom also announced yesterday that it will stop using Russian oil and gas before the end of the year.

Eller calls these sanctions “heavy weaponry,” so this is apparently a coordinated strike at Russia.

The article gets into why these sanctions are believed to be so powerful, and what Russia may do in response, before we finally advance into a section entitled “The Sanctions Are Working.”

Here’s the relevant content of that section:

And there is also political pressure internally in Russia to punish, among other things , the EU countries for the sanctions they have introduced. But the sanctions have gradually hit Russia so hard that the country is vulnerable and has difficulty firing back, simply because they need the money.

“They are so hard pressed and so sincerely surprised at how quickly and severely these sanctions have come that they have a hard time finding a response that they themselves can accept at this time.”

That last quote is from one Flemming Splidsboel, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. He’s the lone source for the article, which might as well have been entitled “Flemming Splidsboel reflects on western petrofuel sanctions against Russia.”

The section and the article end with the following:

Flemming Splidsboel is therefore in no doubt that the sanctions are largely working.

This applies not just to the economic sanctions that hurt the Russian economy, but also to the social sanctions that hurt the top of the political system—and that also hurt the Russian people.

“They are ashamed and shut out from polite company, and they feel that,” he says.

Parsing out that logic: Flemming Splidsboel has no doubt that sanctions are working because Russia is reeling from the economic pain inflicted on them already and doesn’t know how to retaliate.

I’m not sure I agree 100% with with your police work there, Flemming.

First of all, as the article acknowledges right up front and as everyone knows, the sanctions themselves are a retaliation. They’re a retaliation against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—an invasion which is still underway. The purpose of western sanctions was originally to deter that invasion, and when that failed their purpose was suddenly declared a retaliatory punishment for the invasion. That they’d first been threatened, and then implemented, as a deterrent was immediately flushed down the memory hole.

(I don’t want to get sidelined on this, but even the leftist cheerleaders at the Washington Post couldn’t ignore Ole Puddinhead’s reversal on the ostensible purpose of the sanctions: see here.)

Just so we’re all clear: sanctions were deployed to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. Russia then invaded Ukraine. Conclusion: sanctions failed. The west’s response? More sanctions!

Really we’re just lashing out. We don’t know what to do, so we’re doing everything we can that doesn’t involve NATO or EU members engaging in direct violence against Russia. (America and Poland are, for example, right now in the middle of a diplomatic tussle over how to provide Polish fighter jets to Ukrainian pilots: both countries want Ukraine to have them, but neither country wants to be the one to hand them over.)

We’re making up the justifications as we go—and ignoring the risks inherent in what are usually called “unintended consequences” but are in this case so glaringly obvious that it’s hard to imagine they’re unintentional. For example, we’re not just nudging Russia toward China, we’re the ones holding the shotgun at their wedding—a consummation devoutly to be wished against.

Even as the west was plotting the deployment of this latest superweapon against Russia, the Chinese foreign minister was telling the press that Russia was their “most important strategic partner.”

Well played, guys.

As appalling as all that is, however, what actually inspired me to take pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, whatever) were the last two paragraphs of Eller’s article. Let’s refresh:

This applies not just to the economic sanctions that hurt the Russian economy, but also to the social sanctions that hurt the top of the political system—and that also hurt the Russian people.

“They are ashamed and shut out from polite company, and they feel that,” he says.

That sounded familiar to me and it didn’t take long to realize why.

For the past six years, American leftists have been using this exact strategy against the American right. More or less from the moment Donald Trump descended down that escalator to announce his candidacy the American left (and a few dingalings on the American right) have been working feverishly to shame the American right, to socially ostracize them, to “shut them out from polite company.”

Which has always struck me as hilarious in that the kinds of people who think and behave like this can hardly be considered “polite company.”

The arrogance, narcissism, and condescension of such thinking is sort of breathtaking.

And, unsurprisingly, completely counterproductive.

I went with the Washington Post’s coverage of Maxine Waters’s infamous rant again because I want to avoid any appearance of cherry-picking news from the “right-wing echo chamber.” I want to underscore that this news or information is neither the product of right-wing tunnel vision nor stuff that’s been concealed from the left by lack of reportage in the left-wing echo chamber.

It’s stuff everybody knows.

Everybody knows economic sanctions were supposed to be a deterrent, and that they failed as a deterrent, and that we’re therefore doubling down on a failed tactic.

Everybody knows that social ostracism is a counterproductive tool: that far from changing behavior, it tends to encourage a digging in of heels and massive resentment. The state of America right now is all the proof you need.

Is that we want? For the Russian people to dig in their heels and despise us?

Because that’s what the empirical evidence tells us will be the outcome of our actions.

I don’t know how we get out of the mess we’re in right now, and it’s the most serious mess of my adult life.

But piling stupidity on top of stupidity surely isn’t the answer.

Flemming Splidsboel says the sanctions are working. He’s even willing to say so in one of Denmark’s leading newspapers, so let’s assume he believes it.

On what basis?

What evidence to we have to show that sanctions are working?

When their purpose was to deter invasion they failed to deter invasion, so that was a pretty clear case of their not working. Open and shut, really.

Now that we’ve turned them up and repurposed them to punish rather than deter, I suppose what Splidsboel means is that punishment is being rendered. That’s what’s working: the punishment.

But what’s the purpose of the punishment?

I mean, we’re calling these economic measures “weapons of war,” and we’re aiming them straight at the civilian population of Russia.

If they’re truly weapons of war, then isn’t aiming them at civilians a war crime?

And if they’re not weapons of war, why do we keep calling them that?

And semantics aside, what are we trying to accomplish by carpet-bombing civilians with economic bombs—or, if you prefer to avoid the martial metaphors, by impoverishing and humiliating the Russian people?

One answer you hear a lot is that “we’re defunding the Russian war machine.”

Are we?

When the foreign minister of China is calling Russia their “most important strategic partner?”

Another answer you hear is that we’re going to make the Russian people so unhappy that they’ll turn on Putin and the corrupt power structure surrounding him.

Let’s say that’s the case: then what?

Has anyone thought through the consequences of a people still smarting from a pandemic and a draining war being financially pummeled by foreign adversaries to the point where they overthrow their leaders and embark on a search for new management?

Has no one else see that movie before?

Anybody at all?

Anyone? Somebody?


No, not this movie:

This one:

At around the 2:22 mark, that video offers up four reasons for the ultimately catastrophic collapse of the Weimar Republic: economic problems, disdain for democracy, international isolation, political polarization.

That strikes me as a pretty good summary of how the Weimar Republic morphed into the Third Reich. And food for thought on where we’re driving Russia—more accurately, the accelerant we’re pouring onto a conflagration they started themselves.

One thing sort of hinted at in that little animated history reminder but not included in its four-item laundry list of reasons is pride.

Pride counts.

To take a proud people like the Germans (or Russians) and humiliate them—not just their leaders or institutions but themselves, as a people—and we know what happens. We’ve seen it before.

And it’s not good.

Mastercard and Visa, American Express, EA Sports, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Eurovision—the International Federation of Cats, for the love of god!—their “punishment” of the Russian people is going to have consequences that I don’t want to hear anyone calling unforeseeable.

It’s entirely foreseeable.

And it all sucks.