Last week, the current president of Ukraine thanked Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg for his role in helping him win the propaganda war. Facebook lifted its ban on praising the various neo-Nazi militias in Ukraine. Then it announced it would allow calls for violence against individual Russians. In the world of infinitely malleable ethics, this is what Silicon Valley now calls a principled stand. Ukraine supporters are proud of their work on social media wining the meme war with Russia.
In the real world, the Russian army is slowly turning Ukraine into the world’s largest mound of rubble. In the Donbass, they have the Ukrainian army and the tens of thousands of militia members surrounded. It is not easy to get reliable information about what is happening on the ground, but reliable estimates say fifty thousand pro-Ukrainian fighters are now trapped in the Donbass “cauldron.” Barring a peace deal, they will be vaporized over the next couple of weeks.
In the south, the Russian army has created a corridor to the Crimea. This was a primary objective of the invasion. Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine, lies along the estuary of the Kalmius and Kalchik rivers near the Sea of Azov. This city has been surrounded and cutoff by the Russian army. The Ukrainian army based there has been given the chance to surrender, but the irregulars will be given no quarter. It is a preview of what will happen in the Donbass over the next month.
The point here is that despite losing the social media war, the Russians are winning the actual war in Ukraine. It has been slow going as the Russians do not wage television friendly wars, so no cool video. Ukraine was slowly being turned into a fortified outpost by Washington, so the Ukrainian army is well trained and supplied. Digging them out of those fortification will not be easy, but it is inevitable. The Russians will turn Ukraine into rubble if that is what it takes to achieve their objective.
What this war has revealed is a clash of realties. On the Washington side, reality is played out on TV chat shows, office politics and the internet. They really think winning the public relations campaign matters. In the reality in which Western leaders live, words count for everything. Facts are just tools to be used to decorate a clever argument or a novel public relations campaign. From the perspective of the West, the war has been a disaster for Russia.
On the other side, the Russians operate in a different reality. They are focused on securing their border, which means neutralizing Ukraine. They have prepared for the economic consequences. They have prepared their people, who seem to be overwhelming supportive of the effort. Westerners have described Putin as having a medieval mindset, which may be true, but he is dealing with a people and a reality that still thinks the old way about the world.
Ukraine is now caught between two realities. The one reality is what Samuel Huntington labeled the Orthodox civilization. This is Eurasia. On the other side is what he called the Western civilization. According to Huntington, the future will be shaped by the clash of the civilizations he outlined in his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. What we are seeing in Ukraine is a collision between these great tectonic plates that define conflicting realities.
Of course, the quarter century crusade against Islam by the Global American Empire was a similar clash of civilizations. Huntington called that area the Islamic civilization for obvious reasons. It is what is commonly referred to as MENA, which stands for Middle East and North Africa. America tried to impose its reality on the Islamic world and the result was chaos. Every country in the region, except Israel and Iran, is in worse shape now than when the crusade was launched.
In many respects, what we are witnessing is the test of two competing post-Cold War theories of the future. One is the Huntington theory and the other is the Francis Fukuyama theory, laid out in his book The End of History and the Last Man. In it he argued that mankind had reached the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the triumph of Western liberal democracy. There was nothing left to discuss, as liberal democracy was the winner of the ideological contest.
By any measure, Fukuyama’s theory is proving to be all wrong, while Huntington’s theory is looking prophetic. We are now in the midst of a second great civilizational conflict where the reality of the West is crashing onto the reality of another civilization, in this case Eurasia. The reality of the West, social media campaigns and glib responses at press conferences, is proving no match for artillery and armor, at least not in the part of the world controlled by the Orthodox civilization.
On the horizon is the certain collision between what Huntington called the Sinic civilization (China) and the West. East Asia is a bit more complicated as there are a many old rivalries in that region. Huntington diced the region into various subgroups like Buddhists, Hindus and the Japanese. Even so, China will make a play to recover what she considers to be her lost province, Taiwan. As we see in Ukraine, this will be a clash between the reality of the West and the reality of China.
Lost in all of this is whether the reality of the Global American Empire can survive these clashes with alternative realities. Prudence said that the empire should respect the perspective of Russian with regards to these areas along her border. Prudence said that the Muslim world should be left to sort itself. Western liberal democracy was incompatible with Islamic culture. Despite all of this, Washington continues to operate in its own reality where words can conquer culture.
What we may be seeing is not only the clash of civilizations, but the great test of the underlying sense of reality that animates Western elites. Can they survive in a world in which they need to impose their reality on the rest of the world, but the rest of the world will not accept it? Either the West comes to terms with the fact that the rest of the world will continue to operate by its own logic or it will destroy itself in civilizational wars to impose its reality on the reality of alien civilizations.
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