The Curious Reign of the New Queen Victoria (Nuland)

Despite differences in style and rhetoric, recent US presidents (with one exception), once in the Oval Office, have understood where foreign policy would be hammered out. Not in their own minds. Rather, in the depths of Foggy Bottom and its appendages. Consider the example of Victoria Nuland.
Victoria Nuland

16-May-2015 Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State giving a speech at the new patrol police base in Kyiv, Ukraine ©Flash-ka/ shutterstock.com

April 12, 2023 02:01 EDT

In February, Elon Musk dared to complain on Twitter that “Nobody is pushing this war more than Nuland.” He was referring to Victoria Nuland, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, who has served four administrations as a pillar of the Department of State. The only administration that didn’t request her services was Donald Trump’s. He may have judged Nuland’s personality as incompatible with his “America First” philosophy. Trump was well aware of the fact that Nuland was the wife of neoconservative thinker, Robert Kagan, one of the most visible instigators of George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Trump based his primary campaign on breaking with fellow Republican Bush’s disastrous foreign policy that had produced unending chaos in the Middle East. The Donald felt perfectly capable of independently crafting his own disastrous policies. He demonstrated his capacity when he pulled the US out of the Iran deal, the Paris climate accord and wiggled out of various nuclear disarmament agreements (the INF Treaty, Open Skies and START).

In the 20th century presidential campaign, Trump had established himself as the anti-Republican establishment candidate. He scored his first major victory in 2016 when, waging an assault on the folly of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, he quickly eliminated from the primary race the favored Republican candidate, Jeb Bush, George’s brother.

What may seem more surprising is the trust Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, placed in Nuland when she appointed a symbol of neo-con ideology her State Department Spokesperson. Was Clinton’s intention to show the world that, on her watch, despite President Barack Obama’s image as a peacemaker, foreign policy would not deviate from the outrageous belligerence of the Bush era? Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, in 2013 appointed Nuland Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. He promptly sent her to Ukraine to prod on a movement that, under her guidance, would produce a spectacular coup d’état.

Musk was obviously aware of Nuland’s past when he accused her of being the principal promoter of a tragically uncontrollable war in Ukraine. Shortly after Musk’s tweet, journalist David Ignatius mentioned the tweet in an interview with Nuland. Her response reads as an astonishing but not surprising non sequitur. “Well, I would start with a basic fact here, which I’m confident is well known, which is if this war is to end, it could end tomorrow if Vladimir Putin chose to end it and to withdraw his troops. So this is not about us.”

Nuland’s denial of agency has become the standard truism used in the West to close the debate on how the war in Ukraine should be settled. Even anti-establishment Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept recently insisted that “there’s one person who could end this tomorrow, and that’s Vladimir Putin.” He had been criticizing Biden’s risky escalation in Ukraine and his duplicity concerning the Nord Stream attack. Scahill probably felt it necessary to use the facile disclaimer to deflect the suspicion that he was pro-Russian. In contrast, Nuland utters the cliché to counter Musk’s accusation of being a warmonger. By adding “this is not about us,” she wants the public to believe that she is just an innocent bystander with no influence over events.

Nuland’s notorious intercepted phone call with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in February 2014 tells a different story. She appears as a kind of behind-the-scenes revolutionary leader. Revolutionary that is, if stepping in to manage the political side of a popular protest movement whose success ultimately led to the installation of a corrupt oligarch supported by neo-Nazis can be called “revolutionary.” The ultimate irony, rarely mentioned by the media, is that the pretext for the people’s protests was Ukraine’s candidacy to become a member of the European Union. In her phone call, what did Nuland have to say about that issue? “Fuck the EU!”

The US coup provoked a revolt in the eastern Donbas region that began to take the form of a nascent civil war. France and Germany, in the name of EU interests, launched a process that led to the drafting of the Minsk agreements that ultimately aimed at permitting the autonomy of the Russian-speaking eastern regions. In her interview this year with David Ignatius, Nuland gave this account of her actions:

“I personally played a role in trying to help implement the Minsk agreement during the Obama administration in addition to the diplomacy that the French and Germans were doing. We had a U.S. channel between Moscow and Kyiv, and we were hopeful that we would make some progress there, but we, frankly, you know, ran out of time.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Minsk agreement:

The Minsk disagreement

Contextual note

It was only earlier this year that the world came to know the truth about the Minsk agreement: that it was no agreement at all. Shortly before Musk’s tweet, MR Online reported “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted on Thursday that he had previously told German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron that the Minsk agreements were ‘impossible’, and he did not plan on implementing them.” Merkel herself admitted in December that the “Minsk agreement was an attempt to give time to Ukraine. It also used this time to become stronger as can be seen today.” Former President Petro Poroshenko, who became the first president after the 2014 coup, concurred.

Nuland now claims that the Minsk agreement failed because “we ran out of time.” It’s interesting to compare Nuland’s and Merkel’s reading of the time factor. Merkel wanted to give time to the Ukrainians to prepare for a winnable war. Nuland admits that time ran out. This suggests that the Biden administration may have provoked the showdown with Russia because they could no longer justify dragging out the execution of the Minsk agreement.

Historical note

In June 2014, only a few months after Ukraine’s Maidan protests that led to the overthrow of Yanukovich’s government, The New York Times featured an article by Jason Horowitz about Nuland’s husband, Robert Kagan. In its text, Horowitz ennobled the neo-con propagandist with the honorable title of historian. For Kagan, it wasn’t enough that his wife had the power to call the shots in the Maidan revolution. Kagan felt incumbent upon himself to employ his historian’s “objectivity” to set Obama on the true path.

In a cover article for The New Republic with the title “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire,” according to Horowitz, Kagan “called for Mr. Obama to resist a popular pull toward making the United States a nation without larger responsibilities, and to reassume the more muscular approach to the world out of vogue in Washington since the war in Iraq drained the country of its appetite for intervention.” The historian wants his readers to believe that Obama’s downplaying of US muscle was little more than a “vogue” that could be replaced by the muscular neo-con vogue the Bush regime had represented.

At one point Horowitz reminds readers that Kagan is indeed the husband of Nuland. “His wife and unofficial editor, Victoria Nuland, is an assistant secretary of state and one of the country’s toughest and most experienced diplomats, whose fervor for building democracy in Ukraine recently leaked out in an embarrassing audio clip.” For the NYT Nuland’s engineering of a coup d’état in Ukraine was little more than the expression of her “fervor for building democracy.”

Horowitz quotes neo-con journalist Bill Kristol’s observation that under Obama neo-con doctrine was “’vindicated to some degree’ by the fruits of Mr. Obama’s detached approach to Syria and Eastern Europe.” In other words, Americans had voted for a “peace candidate” in 2009, but by 2014 that same candidate had become a war president whose State Department was correcting the errors of the president’s mistakenly “detached approach.”

Days before Joe Biden took office in January 2021 The National Interest offered this commentary concerning the prospect that Nuland, after the Trump hiatus, would be back with a top position in the State Department. “Reports of Victoria Nuland’s future appointment are sure to come as a source of elation to the government in Kiev. By the same token, they send perhaps the clearest message yet to Moscow that the prospects for meaningful U.S.-Russian rapprochement under a Biden administration appear exceedingly slim.”

What should Americans conclude from all this as a new presidential election in 2024 approaches? The obvious lesson is that US foreign policy, barring a Trump victory, will be neo-con and dedicated to regime change. This will be the case as long as the kinds of Republicans and Democrats who love and seek to reward Victoria Nuland’s “fervor for democracy” sit as masters of the Oval Office. Presidents come and go. Nuland remains.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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