Michael Brenner: The West’s Reckoning?

March 8, 2024 – https://scheerpost.com/

The West has set itself on a path of collective suicide — both moral and economic.

By Michael Brenner

Western leaders are experiencing two stunning events: defeat in Ukraine, genocide in Palestine. The first is humiliating, the other shameful. Yet, they feel no humiliation or shame. Their actions show vividly that those sentiments are alien to them – unable to penetrate the entrenched barriers of dogma, arrogance and deep-seated insecurities. The last are personal as well as political. Therein lies a puzzle.  For, as a consequence, the West has set itself on a path of collective suicide. Moral suicide in Gaza; diplomatic suicide – the foundations laid in Europe, the Middle East and across Eurasia; economic suicide – the dollar-based global financial system jeopardized, Europe deindustrializing. It is not a pretty picture. Astoundingly, this self-destruction is occurring in the absence of any major trauma – external or internal. Therein lies another, related puzzle.

Some clues for these abnormalities are provided by their most recent responses as deteriorating conditions tighten the vise – on emotions, on prevailing policies, on domestic political worries, on ginger egos. Those responses fall under the category of panic behavior. Deep down, they are scared, fearful and agitated. Biden et al in Washington, Macron, Schulz, Sunak, Stoltenberg, von der Leyen. They lack the courage of their stated convictions or the courage to face reality squarely. The blunt truth is that they have contrived to get themselves, and their countries, in a quandary from which there is no escape conforming to their current self-defined interests and emotional engagement.  Hence, we observe an array of reactions that are feckless, grotesque and dangerous. 


Exhibit 1 is French President Emmanuel Macon’s proposed plan to station military personnel from NATO members within Ukraine to serve as a tripwire. Arrayed as a cordon around Kharkov, Odessa and Kiev they are meant to deter advancing Russian forces from moving on those cities for fear of killing Western soldiers – thereby risking a direct confrontation with the Alliance. It is a highly dubious idea that defies logic and experience while tempting fate. France long has deployed members of its armed forces in Ukraine where they programed and operated sophisticated equipment – in particular, the SCALP cruise missiles.  Scores were killed by a Russian retaliatory strike a few months ago that destroyed their residence. Paris cried ‘holy murder’ for Moscow’s unsporting conduct in shooting back at those attacking them.   It was retaliation for the French participation in the deadly bombing of the Russian city of Belgorod. Why then should we expect that the Kremlin would abandon a costly campaign involving what they see as vital national interests if uniformed Western troops were deployed in a picket line around cities?  Would they be intimated into passivity by spiffy uniforms assembled under outsized banners inscribed with the slogan: “DON’T MESS WITH NATO”?

Moreover, there already are thousands of Westerners bolstering the Ukrainian armed forces. Roughly 4 – 5,000 Americans have been performing critical operational functions from the outset. The presence of a majority predates by several years the onset of hostilities 2 years ago. That contingent was augmented by a supplementary group of 1,700 last summer which was as a corps of logistic experts advertised as mandated to seek out and eradicate corruption in the black-marketing of pilfered supplies. The Pentagon people are sown thought the Ukrainian military from headquarters planning units, to advisers in the field, to technicians and Special Forces. It is widely understood that Americans have operated the sophisticated HIMARS long-range artillery and the Patriot air defense batteries. This last means that members of the U.S. military have been aiming – perhaps pulling the trigger on – weapons that kill Russians. In addition, the CIA has established a massive, multipurpose system able to conduct a wide range of Intelligence and operational activities- independently as well as in conjunction with the Ukrainian FSB. That includes tactical Intelligence on a day-by-day basis. We don’t know whether they had a role in the campaign of targeted assassinations inside Russia.

A critical role also has been played by Britain. Their specialized personnel have been operating the Storm Shadow missiles (counterpart to the French SCALP) employed against Crimea and elsewhere. Too, MI-6 has taken a lead role in designing multiple attacks on the Kerch Bridge and other critical infrastructure. The principal lesson to be drawn from this overview is that the positioning of European troops at key sites as human hostages in not wholly original. Their presence has not deterred Russia from attacking them in the field or, as in the French case, hunting them down in their residences.

Feckless: Exhibit 2 is the American airdrop of a paltry load of humanitarian aid in the sea off of Gaza. This bizarre action overlaps the silly and the grotesque. The United States has been the major accomplice in the Israeli ravaging of Gaza. Its weapons have killed 30,000 Gazans, wounded 70,000+, and devastated hospitals. Washington has actively blocked any serious attempt at aid by the UNWRO in withholding the funds necessary to finance its operations, while staying silent as Israel blocks entry points from Egypt and massacres residents awaiting the arrival of a food convoy. Furthermore, it has vetoed every attempt to end the carnage through ceasefire resolutions of the UN Security Council. This absurd gesture of kicking pallets out an airplane hatch simply underscores American disregard for Palestinian lives, its contempt for world opinion and its shameless subjugation to dictates from Israel.

Feckless: Exhibit 3 is provided by Rishi (Sage) Sunak, interim Prime Minister of the U.K. An ardent backer of Israel, he consistently has criticized Peace demonstrations protesting the assault on Gazans as obstacles to achieving a long-term ceasefire and political settlement. In this, he continues the long tradition of British fealty to its American overlord. Last week, he escalated the attack in denouncing them as tools of Hamas who have been taken over by terrorists – terrorists who threaten to tear the country apart. He likened it to ‘mob rule’ – as punctuated by the electoral victory of maverick George Galloway who crushed the Tories (and Labour) in a by-election. No evidence, of course, as to how half a million peaceable citizens are a Trojan horse for Muslim jihadis. This fecklessness is recognizable for those familiar with the haughty manner cultivated by the English upper crust – infecting even an arriviste in those exalted circles whose origins were in the Indian Raj. Condescension toward the lower ranks, instruction as to where the boundaries of acceptable behavior lie. That attitude often is laced with cute disparagements of groups or nationalities that don’t conform. The fact that Sunak himself is unabashed at now making snide accusations – however implied – about Muslims demonstrates the durability of cultural prejudices along with the historical openness of England’s upper class to those with money or cachet. These days, even a rishi. I suppose that’s social progress.

The dangerous element in Sunak’s unbecoming demagoguery is not its aggravating effect on the West’s culpability in the Palestine. The regional protagonists, as well as the rest of the world, smile at Britain’s grand rhetorical flourishes knowing that it counts only as America’s Tonto. Rather, it opens a breach in the country’s dedication to free speech and assembly. For it comes close to saying that any public disagreement with HMG’s policy is tantamount to treason.


Insofar as violent ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is concerned, it is fair to say that the Western governments’ complicity via its arming and unqualified backing for Israel’s gruesome actions constitutes grotesque behavior. To single out individual elements among individual governments is superfluous. The entire episode is grotesque. So it is seen by nearly the entire world outside the countries of the collective West. That represents about 2/3 of humanity. Still, our nations’ political elites appear oblivious and/or disdainful of that judgment. It matters little to them that they are seen by the ‘others’ as inhumane, arch hypocrites and racists. Those strong impressions are reinforced in many places by traumatic memories of how they themselves were subjugated, trodden upon and exploited over the centuries by people who righteously instructed them on the superiority of Western values – just as they do today.    

There are actions that manifestly represent a clear and future danger of an expanding war in Europe. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s belligerent Secretary-General, boldly stated last week that the Western allies should give Ukraine the green light to use the cruise missiles they have acquired to attack targets in Russia proper. Those weapons include the Storm Shadow, the Scalp, the long-range Tauras that Germany may soon dispatch and similar hardware to be provided by the U.S. (perhaps launched from the F-16s already arriving). Such a drastic move has been hinted at by other Western leaders, and pushed by hardline factions in Washington. Putin has warned that such escalation by the West – as with the conjectured deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine – would provoke a military response from Moscow. The extreme risks of the ensuing hostilities spiraling out of control to the nuclear threshold are self-evident.

Taken together, the actions by Western leaders – supported by their nations’ political elites – are indicative of a behavior pattern that has parted ways with reality. They derive deductively from dogmas unsubstantiated by objective fact. They are logically self-contradictory, impervious to events that shift the landscape, and radically unbalanced in weighting benefits/costs/risks and probabilities of success. How do we explain this ‘irrationality’? There are background conditions that are permissive or encouraging of this flight from sound reasoning. They include: the nihilistic socio-cultural trends in our contemporary post-modern societies; their susceptibility to collective hysteria/overwrought emotional reactions to unsettling events – 9/11, Islamic terrorism, the fable about Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election among other political matters, the conjuring of the menacing Chinese dragon, scary predictions of inevitable war with the PRC, outlandish claims that Putin is planning to launch an all-out campaign to conquer Europe up to the English Channel. The last two are fed by the free-floating anxieties, i.e. dread, engendered by the earlier bouts of mass psychopathology. Those allegations, in fact pure fictions, have gained currency among senior military figures, heads of government, and among strategic ‘thinkers.’

Back to the ingredients of panic. We noted fear – of both the identifiable and the unknown, and sub-conscious feelings of insecurity. Those feelings derive from a matrix of disorienting shifts in the global environment inhabited by Western societies. They, in turn, grow in reciprocation with unsetting domestic developments. The outcome is two-fold: a stultifying of any reasonable debate about dubious policies – leaving premises and purposes untested, and opening opportunities for willful persons or factions who harbor audacious objectives of remaking the world’s geo-political space according to American hegemonic specifications. To that end, our leaders manipulate and exploit conditions of emotional disorientation and political conformity. The outstanding example are the so-called ‘neo-cons’ in Washington (who number Joe Biden as a comrade-in-arms) who have crafted a network of like-minded true believers in London, Paris, Berlin and at both ends of Brussels.

What of the puzzle we noted as to the near complete absence of feelings of guilt or shame – especially over Gaza, of being humiliated in the eyes of the world? In conditions of nihilism, matters of conscience are moot. For the implicit rejection of norms, rules and laws frees the individual self to do whatever impulses or ideas or selfish interests impel it. With the superego dissolved, there is no felt obligation to judge oneself in reference to any external or abstract standard. Narcissistic tendencies flourish. A similar psychology obviates the requirement for experiencing shame. That is something that can only exist if we subjectively are part of a social grouping wherein personal status, and sense of worth, depend on how others view us and whether they grant us respect. In the absence of such a communal identity, with its attendant sensitivity to its opinion, shame can exist only in the perverse form of regret that one has been unable to meet the demanding, all-consuming need for self-gratification. That applies to nations as well as its individual leaders.