Here’s my definition of a neoconservative: an impassioned intellectual who rightly recognizes that tyrannical regimes are actual biological entities – either in a state of growth or death – but who fails to grasp that dissolving tyranny cannot come by killing off the good cells of democracy, in particular the good cells that already exist in one’s own country. Truly, neoconservative ideology is a bit like chemotherapy: it aims to kill the cancer cells of tyranny as it simultaneously kills off the good cells of democracy and the democratic spirit.

2004 Image of Iraqi prisoner in U.S. Army-operated Abu Ghraib prison. Credit: Creative Commons.

According to the garden variety neocon, for example, we should be outraged that Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) exposed just how tyrannical the United States military is, as opposed to welcoming and celebrating those whistleblowing actions so that We the People have some clue as to what men with guns, using our nation’s name, are doing to the innocent men, women and children in countries our government has invaded.

In other words, the evil Saddam Hussein is gone from the world stage Great. And so are thousands of innocent people, and so is America’ standing and influence on the world stage, owing to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Not great. In fact, awful.

That’s the upshot of neocon geopolitical chemotherapy. It stinks for democracy and human development, and it would behoove all Americans to avoid seeking geopolitical treatment from neocons for the disease of tyranny, wherever it manifests anywhere in the world, including, and most urgently, in the person of Vladmir Putin.

As concerns the high stakes Ukraine crisis, given the potential for misstep here or there on either side of the NATO-Russia divide – a misstep that could embroil the world in World War III in the blink of an eye – it might also behoove us to ask this question: Are all of us, as Americans by default, not a little bit neocon, or at least neocon-ish, or at minimum, neocon-esque?

The question came to mind after watching a PBS Newshour interview earlier this month with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. When asked by the Newshour’s Judy Woodruff about what message he wanted to send to Russia about the Ukraine crisis, Dempsey said:

But we’re trying to tell them not to escalate this thing further into Eastern Ukraine and allow the conditions to be set for some kind of resolution in the Crimea. But the message we are sending militarily is to our NATO allies.

So, one of our responsibilities at times like this is to reassure our allies. And so the deployments you mentioned into the Baltic air policing mission, into the aviation detachment in Poland, the deployment of the ship, are really intended to reassure our allies… Well, don’t forget, we have actually, we have NATO treaty obligations under Article 5 for collective defense. And, so, when they ask us for reassurance or they ask us to for contingency planning, we respond, and we do have obligations with NATO.

If Putin’s army ever did invade eastern Ukraine, any of the Baltic states, or Poland, how many Americans – at least those who reject the principle of engaging in war to get a paycheck – would be willing to sacrifice his or her life to restore national sovereignty and democracy to said countries?

Nato Headquarters. Credit: C

I’ll venture a guess: not many. And yet, Article 5 of the NATO charter which, as General Dempsey stated, does indeed obligate the United States to come to the collective defense of its members in the event of an attack on their nations.

As I’ve written in several posts on the horrors inflicted by the Assad regime on the people of Syria, as well as the need for more international peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, I believe strongly that American men and women, after careful examination of conscience – and who have no pecuniary motives – should be allowed, if they choose, to come to the aid of foreign peoples who are already being slaughtered and starved to death, as in Syria, or who are on the cusp of genocide, as in the Central African Republic. I believe we need a constitutional amendment that would bring such military enlistment reform to fruition, and then to develop and evolve rapid response teams of men and women willing to take a reasonable risk to their own safety to protect masses of foreign peoples.

As gut-wrenching as the crimes being committed by Bashar al-Assad are, it would be the height of moral hypocrisy for me or anyone to compel by threat of imprisonment – which is precisely what happens to U.S. soldiers who go AWOL – our fellow citizens to risk their lives in an effort to save the lives of foreign peoples: neocons like John McCain may believe in such a twisted moral formulation; real “small d” democracts should reject it. That formulation – risk your life for someone else’s life and freedom or be sent to prison – makes absolutely no moral sense, no pro-democracy sense, and no strategic sense.

Yet, Article 5 of the NATO charter does precisely that: it can compel U.S. soldiers, by threat of imprisonment, to participate in wars to liberate foreign peoples under attack. Put another way, if you are a U.S. citizen, and you support Article 5 of the NATO Charter as it stands, you are a neocon by default: namely, you support the use of for-pay soldiers to liberate foreign nations from tyranny, or even the threat of tyranny, while you watch the highlights on CNN. So, before criticizing the neocons for their ways and bad habits, Christians and anyone who appreciates the teachings of Jesus should remember what Jesus said about hypocrisy: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the plank frm your own eye first; then you will see clearly to take the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7: 3-5).

Article5 of the NATO Charter, as that charter is presently constituted, is a speck in eye of every American who supports the NATO charter while simultaneosly complains about neoconservative values and priorities, and how those values and priorities have harmed our country and our democratic fabric. It would behoove us to remove that speck – the current structure of Article5 – before lecturing the neocons about the specks in their eyes.

However, in addition to removing that NATO speck from our American eyes – one suggestion for which will be offered below – before even considering support for non-military options in response to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, namely any economic sanctions that will result in the collective punishment of the Russian people for Putin’s actions, there are two fundamental questions every American ought to grapple with:

Number One: Twelve and half years ago a tin pot terrorist and his twisted devotees managed to effectively drag our nation of 300 million people into two costly wars, which more than doubled the initial U.S. citizen death toll on 9/11, resulted in over a hundred thousand deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, led to increased enmity toward the U.S. all over the world, eroded our civil liberties landscape at home, and zapped somewhere between four to six trillion dollars from the U.S. treasury. Have we, as a nation, fully come to grips with the extreme danger of taking the bait of our foreign foes so that we don’t commence an entire foreign policy era – resulting from the Ukraine crisis – that may well dwarf the very kind of self-defeating national behavior that our enemies so wish upon us?

Number Two: Who in our own nation would be the winners and losers of a military conflict or a renewed Cold War with Russia over Putin’s grandiose ambitions to restore Russia’s sphere of domination to a version of its twentieth century self? Here’s the answer to that question: If you have a job or other means of sustenance that is not tied to warmaking and the national surveillance state, you will lose, and lose big, from any kind of military conflict or renewed cold war with Russia. Since the vast majority of Americans are in that category, that means the vast majority of Americans would end up as big-time losers.

Meanwhile, the generals, retired generals, military contractors, security specialists, revolving-door national intelligence types . will have career opportunities galore; their post-9/11 career opportunities will look like a gig at hamburger joint by comparison. Put simply, we not only need to be aware of who in our nation would benefit from a military conflict with Russia or renewed Cold War at the direct expense of the rest of us, we have a profound civic obligation to examine that issue, and to examine it with continued, day to day vigilance. America needs to turn back the tide of a foreign policy molded and defined by war-profiteers, not allow that tide to continue to consume us and define our future.

None of this means to suggest that Vladimir Putin himself is not a clear and present danger to human freedom: He most certainly is. Indeed, when the survivors of Bashar al-Assad’s butchering, gassing and torturing of the Syrian people have the world stage to themselves to tell of what they have suffered at the tyrannical hands of Putin’s man in Damascus, all the Western apologists for Putin as a “victim of NATO aggression” will have to confront how morally narrow their political dissent really is. However, what it does mean to suggest is that we need to be aware of the dangers to our security, economy and international standing when we take the bait of sophisticated enemies.

The Cold War is over. NATO remains and should remain. But we cannot allow a sophisticated foe like Putin, or for that matter sophisticated non-foes who feel threatened by Putin – and who want a piece of our nation’s military prowess – to turn Article 5 of the NATO charter – adopted at the outset of the Cold War – into the very bait that drags us – again, in what could be a geopolitical blink of an eye – into a self-defeating, American democracy-devouring war with Russia.

Thus, Americans should demand from Congress that modern, heightened domestic democratic-accountability structures be incorporated into the NATO charter. For example, America could demand from Congress that the NATO charter be amended to include a supplementary article at the end of the charter, subjecting Article5 itself to quarterly ratification by any membercountries that happens to desire it. For America, that would mean this: The security commitments of Article 5 that require NATO member states to come to the collective defense of other members in the event of attack – again, a provision conceived at the start of the Cold War before most Americans were born – must be signed by the President and ratified by Congress every quarter: namely every spring, summer, fall and winter.

To be sure, such a requirement would keep fully in place the broader security cooperation the U.S. has with other NATO members, would keep fully intact the possibility of a collective defense against Russia, but would make sure that the American people – and how the American define our values and priorities according to the times in which we live – are in the driver’s seat of America’s Russia portfolio, not Vladimir Putin, not the politicians of former Soviet states in or out of NATO, and not the teeny-tiny minority of Americans who profit from endless wars.

In addition to making sure our nation is not vulnerable to taking Putin’s bait, we must also recognize that, while we have no grievance with the people of Russia, Putin’s usage of the Russian Army to upend international law – again in the geopolitical blink of an eye – is indeed a verifiable global disaster. To constrain Putin’s ability to move his conscripted army to wherever he pleases in the former Soviet Union, and to deter any of his successors from pursuing similar designs, NATO member states should consider a host of humanitarian programs and security arrangements geared toward all Russian men of draft age. Indeed, already draft age men in the newly-conquered Crimea are being told about their “obligations” to serve in the Russian Army. (See here:

Let’s remember, though the Ukraine crisis is ominous, we are still not in Cold War conditions: There is no Iron Curtain. Russians are free to leave their country. So long as that remains the case, NATO should use that fact to the advantage of democracy and human dignity. For example, NATO member states could establish Peace Corps-like enterprises specifically designed for Russian men of draft age. Instead of being drafted into Putin’s destructive and destabilizing military ranks, NATO member states could give these young Russian men the opportunity to do something positive in the world: building infrastructure in lesser developed countries, or helping with disaster relief in places like Haiti or the Philippines. NATO could negotiate arrangements with such countries to provide these young men with work visas to remain in those countries for the duration of what would have been their military service in Putin’s destructive, destabilizing army. After all, these men are children of God, not the personal property of Vladimir Putin.

If Putin responds by simply increasing the draft age to men in their upper twenties or thirties, NATO partners could do the same: broaden the international humanitarian service programs to men of wider age range. If Putin puts up a new Iron Curtain preventing the draft age men from leaving, NATO member states could consider permanent residency status in select NATO member national territories for those who do manage to make it out; for example, the U.S. and Britain could declare the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as save havens for the Russian participants in the proposed NATO humanitarian programs. Other NATO member states could do the same with faraway islands under their territorial control, like Spain and the Canary Islands, etc. The idea is to guarantee the safety and well-being of these Russian men who would give their hearts to world peace, and not to Putin’s wars.

Russian soldiers are children of God too. Credit: Creative Commons.

In other words, the U.S. and the West would be sending the clear message to all of Russian society – and backing it up with policy tangibles – that we are not their enemies, that we cannot even envision them as enemies, that we value the sanctity of all their lives, and that under no circumstances would we wreak havoc on their economic lives because of the actions of their despotic head of state. In other words, that we envision a world of love and mutual cooperation, not a world of endless wars, hot or cold, or of competing human impulses for global domination. Moreover, we would be sending the message that we are capable of responding to the international crisis instigated by Putin, not with military escalation and related bellicosity, which would serve only the very few who benefit from war, but by expanding our foreign policy toolkit beyond the confines of the Cold War era protocols.

Putin seems to want a return to those protocols that would so well serve his coldblooded ambitions by dragging America into military conflict, or a costly new Cold War; a series of events that would harm America’s democracy, and that would harm the Russian common person as well. As Peter Beinart recently noted in The Atlantic, “In the wake of his takeover of Crimea, Standard & Poor’s is threatening to downgrade Russian bonds and Russia’s own deputy economy minister is warning of a growing economic crisis. Yet Putin has never looked happier.” Indeed, for the tyrannical mind, the only purpose of the very existence of the people under his rule is to serve as living, biological tools for the latter’s glory and domination, not to love, grow and experience the fruit of God’s creation.

Twelve years after 9/11, the American people will hopefully realize the very real existential danger to our democracy when we take the bait of crafty foreign enemies. Hopefully too, we will turn a new page; not a page of cowering global withdrawal, but of lived, breathing friendship with the rest of the humankind – including most of the people of Russia, who are also children of the living God, and who therefore don’t deserve to be doubly-harmed by a bellicose Western response to their tyrannical leader’s evil designs for domination.

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