Sticks and Stones: How think tank ‘experts’ are trying to dupe us into World War III
While only 16% of Americans support US military involvement in Ukraine, 45% say they would support establishing a “no-fly zone”. These two stances are contradictory. This is because defense sector-funded “experts” are lying to Americans about what a “no-fly zone” actually is and the dire consequences it could have.
“I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Until recently, I would have sworn that this was a direct quote from Albert Einstein. According to Snopes, however, Einstein likely never said precisely those words. Even if he did, he wasn’t the first to express this idea in similar terms. Regardless, most who are familiar with that quote incorrectly attribute it to Einstein.
That false certainty relates in a way to the problem I want to address. When something is repeated often enough by people with sufficient perceived authority, it tends to become a “certainty” to most people.
For instance, in times of war, broadcast media will invite commentators with sufficient gravitas (former-Under Secretary So-n-So or Ret. Gen. Thus-n-Such) to present their views on the conflict. Before you know it, everyone from politicians to pundits to private citizens accepts these views as gospel. But do most of us know whence this gospel came? Do we know who presented it, or who they represent? Usually, the answer is either “No” or “Hell, no”. If you’re ready for a long read, you’ll get some of those answers here.
To war or not to war? Why not both?
A March 2, 2022, YouGov poll found that only 16% of Americans thought it was a good idea to send US troops to fight Russians in Ukraine. Over half (55%) thought this was a bad idea. However, a separate question on the same poll asked whether respondents supported the idea of establishing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. Nearly half of of Americans (45%) supported a no-fly zone, and only 20% thought it was a bad idea.
This is an odd contradiction, since a no-fly zone would necessarily involve the US military. It would also be an act of war, bringing us into direct conflict with Russia.
So how can Americans simultaneously embrace two incompatible points of view? The answer is that Americans are being woefully misled as to what a “no-fly zone” would actually mean. A more recent YouGov poll makes this quite clear. When asked about a “no-fly” zone in Ukraine, 59% supported it and 41% opposed it. But when asked if they would support a “no-fly” zone if it were seen as an act of war, only 38% supported it while 62% opposed it.
What is a no-fly zone anyway?
Various experts, media personalities and even politicians seem to be under the mistaken impression that a “no-fly zone” is some sort of gentleman’s agreement. The two sides shake hands and agree to play by the rules of the game. If a player violates one of the rules, the referee blows his whistle, and the offending player walks red-faced into the penalty box.
It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. A “no-fly zone” requires lethal enforcement. In Ukraine, that means that NATO or US forces must be ready to shoot down a Russian plane at a moment’s notice. Once that happens, welcome to World War III. Then it’s only a matter of time until nukes are flying over the North Pole in every direction.
If you doubt Russia’s ability to bring about a nuclear holocaust, have a listen to this.
The experts who are trying convince us that a no-fly zone in Ukraine would be anything less than the start of a global conflict are deliberately gaslighting the public. And they are doing it for very cynical reasons.
The hard sell
Last week, 30 “foreign policy experts” signed an open letter to President Biden, calling for a “limited humanitarian no-fly zone” in Ukraine. Many national politicians then seized on this “expert analysis” and called for a “no-fly zone” themselves. Trouble is that, in the real world, a “limited humanitarian” no-fly zone” vs. a “regular” no-fly zone is a distinction without a difference. These “experts” certainly know that. They should also understand the far-reaching consequences that any no-fly zone in Ukraine backed by the US or NATO would have.
Let’s look at recent media interviews with two of the people who signed that letter. Then we can dive into the reasons why they did it.
Philip Breedlove – retired 4-star Air Force General, former Supreme Commander of NATO in Europe
“Humanitarian” no-fly zone vs. “military” no-fly zone
In a March 3 NPR interview, Gen. Philip Breedlove called for a “humanitarian no-fly zone” in Ukraine. He argued that the mission of a “humanitarian” no-fly zone is fundamentally different to a “military” no-fly zone. But the distinction he offered is one of scope and purpose, rather than enforcement. In Breedlove’s terms, a “military” no-fly zone serves military objectives, while a “humanitarian” no-fly zone would serve humanitarian objectives.
In practice, however, a no-fly zone means being ready to shoot down any plane that violates it, whether it is in an active combat zone or not. Breedlove did at least acknowledge that a “military” no-fly zone, “is essentially an act of war” for that reason. Breedlove can call it a “humanitarian” no-fly zone all he wants. The fact is any no-fly zone is by definition a military no-fly zone.
Why should Putin view having one of his planes shot down in a “humanitarian” no-fly zone as any less of an act of war than if it happened in a “military” no-fly zone? To Putin, this distinction is meaningless and he will react accordingly. Whether we like it or not, in war, the enemy always gets a vote.
A “gamble” or a “calculated military decision”?
The interviewer, Sasha Pfeiffer, pressed Breedlove on a question that should be on everyone’s mind at this stage:
PFEIFFER: Would you still support the idea of a no-fly zone over Ukraine if you knew it would provoke Russia to use nuclear weapons?
BREEDLOVE: No. Nobody wants a nuclear war.
PFEIFFER: So then it’s a gamble to put a no-fly zone into effect.
BREEDLOVE: Yeah, that’s your word. That’s not the word I would use.
PFEIFFER: What word would you use?
BREEDLOVE: It’s a calculated military decision.
Unfortunately, Breedlove’s “calculation”, or justification, for his proposal appealed more to sentiment than good sense. Firstly, Breedlove goaded the listener by asking what “we in the West” are going to do about the plight of the Ukrainians. Secondly, Breedlove assured us that he is not a warmonger. His proof? He has children who are currently active-duty military personnel. I can think of a few things more cowardly than using your children as a shield against valid criticism, but not many.
Evelyn Farkas- former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia
An ethical trap for Putin?
Last week, Evelyn Farkas also advocated for a “humanitarian no-fly zone” in Ukraine on NPR. Her presentation was every bit as forceful and emotionally-driven as Breedlove’s. Farkas also deployed an undeniable finesse and gift for sophistry that Breedlove was lacking.
In the days since Breedlove’s interview, Ukraine and Russia had agreed to create “humanitarian corridors” in Ukraine. Theoretically, these corridors allow civilians to safely evacuate a war zone. But each day, thousands of Ukrainians attempt to flee through these corridors, only to be shelled by Russian artillery. Therefore, Farkas proposed “limited humanitarian no-fly zones” that would be in effect only over these corridors.
Farkas downplayed the risk of this proposal by assuring us that Putin would not feel justified in retaliating if we were to shoot down one of his planes for violating one of these humanitarian corridors. It sounds like a clever “gotcha” for Putin, until you realize it’s utter nonsense.
We should all know by now that a powerful aggressor can justify anything. Farkas herself says, “Russia is not to be trusted”. So when Farkas asserts that Putin would humbly accept his losses due to some moral Catch-22, we can be sure that she’s bullshitting us.
“We need to help protect those people!” says Farkas.
Farkas cynically attempts to shut off our critical thinking skills by appealing to our basic human emotions: pity, outrage and pride.
Like a kid egging on a schoolyard fight, Farkas defiantly declares, “Putin doesn’t have the right to say what is war and what isn’t”. As much as it hurts our pride, I’ll say it again: the enemy always gets a vote.
Farkas also repeatedly alludes to the undeniably horrific situation Ukrainians are facing. She’s apparently so moved by the suffering of the Ukrainians that she’s willing to risk sparking a nuclear World War III. That caused me to wonder if Farkas had ever made such an impassioned appeal for, let’s say, the people of Yemen. After all, Saudi Arabia has been dropping American bombs on Yemeni civilians for 7 years, while starving them with a blockade (both war crimes, by the way). Surely Farkas must have had something to say about it! Well, according to my Google and LexisNexis searches, Farkas hasn’t said a word about the poor starving and bombed-out Yemenis. Nor, for that matter, has Gen. Breedlove.
That’s because those are American bombs being dropped in Yemen, which, from Farkas’ and Breedlove’s perspectives, is good! Whereas the fact that there are no American-made bombs dropping in Ukraine (yet) is not so good. That’s because both Farkas and Breedlove are humble servants of…
The shadowy underworld of Defense Think Tanks
A prestigious think tank can bestow an air of credibility and lofty objective reason to any point of view it generates. But when you look under the hood of these institutions, there is always an underlying agenda, and, usually, lots of money. In effect, think tanks are the ultimate deep state.
By funding think tanks, donors buy access to the people who can make things happen for them- lofty public figures willing to trade on their reputations to manipulate the narrative in their favor. It’s basically like lobbying, but without all those pesky legal requirements to report where the money comes from and where it goes. Some think tanks publicly disclose their donors and some don’t, as we’ll see.
In the case of defense and foreign policy think tanks, a lot of that money comes from defense contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman, Booz Allen etc. It’s obviously a worthwhile investment for them, since Congress just approved $780 billion in defense spending, much of which will find its way to defense contractors.
I’ve gone through the list of the “experts” who signed that letter to Biden calling for a no-fly zone. Unsurprisingly, most of them are members of think tanks that are heavily funded by defense contractors. And many of the signers are illustrious enough to belong to more than one of these think tanks! We’ll start with Breedlove and Farkas.
Breedlove and Farkas’ defense contractor love fest
Gen. Breedlove, like many of the other signers of the “no-fly zone” letter, has ties to the Atlantic Council. The Atlantic Council is generally right-leaning and hawkish and boasts a wide array of corporate donors from the energy, finance, and defense sectors. Breedlove also works with the Center for a New American Security, whose most prominent donors are a “who’s who” of defense contractors. The Jamestown Foundation, another of Breedlove’s haunts, doesn’t even publish a donor list on its website. Watchdog organizations have called attention to this secrecy, as well as the Foundation’s alleged CIA links.
During Russia’s previous incursion into Ukraine in 2014, Breedlove attempted to push then-President Obama to escalate US military involvement in Ukraine. Breedlove was then Supreme Allied Commander for NATO in Europe.
Farkas was also once affiliated with the Atlantic Council. At the time, she was actively lobbying the US government on behalf of Burisma (the Ukrainian oil company of Hunter Biden fame), which is an Atlantic Council donor.
The defense industry also donated generously to Farkas’ ill-fated 2020 run for Congress. Despite being the best-funded candidate, she finished third in the Democratic primary.
Currently, Farkas has ties to both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Aspen Institute, whose donors include defense contractors and their executives. She is also on the board of the Project 2049 Institute, which doesn’t currently list its donors publicly, although they did at one time. According to the corruption watchdog publication Sludge, Project 2049’s donors included major defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Project 2049’s founder Randall G. Schriver also has ties to Raytheon through his lobbying business.
Speaking of lobbying businesses, Farkas has (at least) one of her own – Farkas Global Strategies. I would love to see her client list.
So how prepared are you for a global apocalypse?
It’s completely normal and human to want to do something about what’s going on in Ukraine. But the thing to do is not to needlessly make the situation infinitely worse.
People like Farkas, Breedlove and the other “experts” calling for a no-fly zone in Ukraine have things that most of us don’t have that might increase their chances of survival when the nukes start flying. They have wealth, power and influence- and they have friends with even greater wealth, power and influence. The elite can hunker down, take refuge in bunkers deep in the earth, and wait out the worst of it. Or they might take to the seas on their mega-yachts, as some did at the height of the pandemic.
For most of us, there is nowhere to run or hide. I don’t care how well-prepared you think you are. Unless you have a steel-reinforced concrete bunker 20 ft. underground and enough canned food and bottled water to last you years, you’re toast.
The best thing you can do right now to ensure your and your family’s future survival is to call your senators and congressmen and tell them to cool it with the no-fly zone talk. Obviously, there’s not much we can do to influence what Putin will do. But whatever happens in Ukraine in the next several weeks or months, the world still has to be here in order to fix it.
Thanks for your time. If you want to learn more about the other signers of the “no-fly zone” letter, their think tanks and who funds them, click here.
– Liz Shiverdecker
Please share any comments, questions or thoughts in the Comments section below!
Excellent analysis . In these perilous time skillful leadership is required to navigate the troubled waters filled with self serving “ experts “ who often times fail to see the severe consequences of their “ expert “ advice ! We should always be reminded all out war with a nuclear power has the potential of ending life on the planet . Caution , extreme caution must be employed ! Great job Elizabeth.
Thank you, Liz. Yes, important decisions must be arrived at by reason, not emotion. And nothing is more important than avoiding WWIII. I know that Senator Wicker at least initially favored a no fly zone. I hope he has changed his mind by now. (He should have know better in the first place. His burning desire to go against anything Biden is for is probably what caused him to not think the no fly zone issue through logically.) I do believe it is absolutely necessary to keep Russia from gaining control of Ukraine. Putin is not thinking straight; I fear he will double down—try to demoralize cities by bombing, encircling and starving the defenders. We are going to have to give the Ukrainian military some of our better weapons. No doubt about that. The Russian likely want Odessa. To stop them a major bridge might have to be blown up.