Questioning Whether US or NATO Policy Helped Start a War is Not ‘Treason’

Amid Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, many Americans are trying to understand the complicated root causes of the conflict. Unfortunately, establishment hawks are already trotting out the same old smears of “traitor” and “Russian asset” against anyone—even distinguished veterans—who questions the narrative and explores whether the US is at fault in any way. 

This is not new.

During the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, libertarian-leaning Congressman Ron Paul explained on the debate stage how constant US intervention in the Middle East, what the CIA calls “blowback,” was a primary factor in Osama Bin Laden carrying out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani went on to accuse Paul of saying America was responsible for 9/11. Giuliani at the time was the preferred candidate of the neoconservative faction of the Republican Party, dedicated to extending the hyper-interventionist policies of the outgoing Bush-Cheney administration.

According to neocons, Bin Laden hated America for our freedom and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was pure evil, case closed. Anyone looking for further examination of what led to war was “blaming” America.

Looking for a motive was considered treasonous. Giuliani would call Paul part of the “blame America first crowd” for years.

Today, those who insist that enlarging NATO over the years predictably lead to Russia’s war on Ukraine are often painted as Vladimir Putin apologists or treasonous.

No, Putin is evil and that’s all people need to know, they insist. Neoconservatives are still attempting to frame foreign policy narratives this way—they just do it from the Left now. Many of MSNBC’s regular personalities are either neocons or Bush-Cheney alumni.

Even in the media, the sides have flipped. Though one could easily argue that Tucker Carlson goes too far in many ways, it is the right-wing Fox News host now criticizing US policy and examining how it might have led to war. Meanwhile, liberal journalists like the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake are accusing him of blaming America first.

“Carlson on Monday drove home an argument that has lingered on the fringes of the conservative movement for some time — that the United States and the West invited this war with their support for admitting Ukraine into NATO, a step that Russia finds unacceptable,” Blake wrote.

“To be clear, the idea that NATO expansion into countries such as Ukraine is provocative and might even be a bad idea is not a fringe position; it has long been espoused, dating to prominent, establishment foreign policy voices in the 1990s,” he noted. “But Carlson took things a good few conspiratorial steps further, arguing that the push for NATO was deliberately intended to provoke this war.”

Blake will have to forgive those of us who have watched the politicians most eager for Ukraine or Georgia to join NATO also being enthusiastic about starting new wars. One doesn’t have to agree with Carlson to connect those dots.

As far as being a fringe conservative viewpoint, how is it much different from the views expressed by Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft founder Andrew Bacevich on the progressive program Democracy Now on Friday?

Bacevich told host Amy Goodman, “I am not a Putin apologist and he is the principal cause of this catastrophe that we are experiencing, but Putin had been quite candid in warning that the eastward movement of NATO, and in particular the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO, constituted from his perspective a vital threat, a threat to vital Russian security interests.”

“We ignored that, and I think to some degree, this terrible, unnecessary war is a result of that,” Bacevich concluded.

Bacevich mentioned that another reason hawks and the establishment media are eager to downplay Ukraine’s potential NATO membership is a “really kind of a deep-seated Russophobia that pervades many members of the American elite.”

Highlighting a portion of a recent ABC News interview with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Bacevich added, “He made this very important statement on ABC. He said, ‘Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine.’”

“It’s too bad people couldn’t say that out loud before the war started,” Bacevich exclaimed. “Yeah, but had Zelenskyy said, had the Americans said, had NATO said out loud, prior to the beginning of the war that, ‘We all collectively recognize that Ukraine is not going to be joining NATO anytime soon,’ if we were willing to put that in writing, then I would argue that it would at least have been possible, not certain, it might have been possible to dissuade Putin from taking the course that he chose.”

Reminding viewers that Putin is definitely the bad guy, Bacevich emphasized, “Again, [Putin] chose the course. He is the perpetrator. He is the criminal. But nonetheless, I think a wiser handling of the NATO issue might have given Putin a way to avoid taking the terrible steps that he ended up taking.”

Is Bacevich blaming America for Russia invading Ukraine? Is he being treasonous for trying to understand Putin’s actions? Of course not, and Democracy Now is an old-school progressive institution with enough historical memory to understand the importance of such questions.

But let Andrew Bacevich try this on MSNBC and see what happens.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunter
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the former politics editor for