On February 24, China published its “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis.” It pledged that China is willing to assume “a constructive role in this regard.”
Rather than accepting a powerful partner with influence and a recent track record of brokering agreements, the US unequivocally rejected China’s efforts to help broker a peace in the war in Ukraine. Biden dismissed the entire "idea that China is going to be negotiating the outcome of a war that’s a totally unjust war for Ukraine" as "just not rational." National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby riddled that the US does not believe that a Chinese peace proposal "is a step towards a just and durable peace." He claims that "We all want to see the war end" but adds that "a ceasefire, at this time, while that may sound good, we do not believe would have that effect.” Kirby then says that "we don’t support calls for a ceasefire right now. We certainly don’t support calls for a ceasefire that would be called for by the [People’s Republic of China] in a meeting in Moscow that would simply benefit Russia.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the peace proposal a "tactical move by Russia" that was "supported by China" and warned that "the world should not be fooled."
Though it seems incredible that the US would pass up on a possible peace plan, it has a long history of doing just that. The US has passed up on peace plans from its earliest days to yesterday.
In 1811, Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee attempted to negotiate with then Indiana Governor, and later US president, William Henry Harrison. But while Tecumseh continued to negotiate, Harrison petitioned the US government for more soldiers. While Tecumseh was away, Harrison took advantage of the opportunity and sent his army to crush Tecumseh’s followers, burn down their town and chase them to Canada.
Two hundred years later, nothing has changed. In each of the US’s recent wars, there has been a genuine chance for a negotiated settlement; in each of the wars, the US has passed up on that promise.
In 1979, the US deliberately drew the Soviet Union into an invasion of Afghanistan, or, in the words of Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US “increased the intervention possibilities.” In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski admitted that the “objective” of the “secret operation” “was to lead the Russians to the Afghan trap.” He told President Carter that “This is our chance to give Russia its Viet Nam.”
A decade later, Mikhail Gorbachev offered a ceasefire to President Bush. He proposed that both countries cease their weapons shipments, transition into a coalition government that included the US client mujahedin and free, democratic elections supervised by the UN. There was a peace plan on the table that offered the US everything in Afghanistan it wanted. Bush passed on the peace plan and kept the arms flowing into Afghanistan.
Two decades later, the US, for a second time, passed up on the potential for peace in Afghanistan. In his book with Vijay Prashad, The Withdrawal, Noam Chomsky says that the Taliban "made it clear on several occasions that it would be prepared to hand over Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network to a third country." Chomsky says that "a couple of weeks after the U.S. invasion, the Taliban offered a complete surrender." But the US again passed up on a peace proposal. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, "We don’t negotiate surrenders. We have bigger aims than that."
When Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a leader of the Taliban, attempted to negotiate with the US in 2016 to try to find a way to peacefully end the US occupation of Afghanistan, the US assassinated him.
Chomsky and Prashad report that in the first Iraq war, "Saddam Hussein’s government . . . wanted to cut a deal with the United States to exit Kuwait without total humiliation." But "all attempts by the Iraqis to negotiate their withdrawal were met with disdain by the United States."
In the second Iraq war, "Saddam Hussein was eager to make every concession . . . allowing more and more UN inspectors." But the US again passed up on a possible peace. "Washington set aside the pleas from Baghdad and proceeded with . . . . Shock and Awe."
In 2011, Chomsky and Prashad say, the Libyan government "was eager to accept a peace plan laid out by the African Union." But Ramtane Lamura, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, pointed out "that the pursuit of other agendas in Libya, by non-African actors" prevented "the implementation of the AU roadmap."
The other US agenda in Libya was regime change. Libya offered the US regime change without war. But the US again passed up on a peace proposal. According to Charles R. Kubic, who was personally involved in the communications, Libya presented the US with “two valid cease-fire opportunities” for “negotiations to effect Gaddafi’s abdication. . . .” At least one of those opportunities involved Gaddafi’s son, Saif. An internal communication sent by a colonel in the Joint Chiefs of Staff clearly declared that “A peaceful solution is still possible that keeps Saif on our side without any bloodshed in Benghazi.”
The Libyan peace plan offered regime change without war. But the US passed on peace. Kubic says that “Both opportunities were rejected and shut down by Secretary Clinton,” who pushed instead for “a revolution led by . . . known terrorists.”
One year later, in Syria, there was one more peace plan and one more US pass on a peace plan in April of that year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Istanbul for a meeting of countries who formed the support for the radical rebels who were undertaking a regime change in Syria. The countries called themselves the “Friends of Syria.” On the table was a UN offer by Kofi Annan of a mediation effort. The offer had already been approved by Syrian President Assad. But, once again, the US passed on a peace proposal. Clinton rejected the offer. In place of UN mediation, she asked Kofi Annan to host a conference on regime change. According to reporting by The Guardian, Clinton sought “to persuade Kofi Annan to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.”
In The Management of Savagery, Max Blumenthal reports that “the US and Europe consistently opposed and undermined attempts to negotiate local ceasefires in Syria and discouraged the UN special envoy from involving himself in them.”
As the US rejection of China’s peace proposal demonstrates, the pattern of passing up peace plans continues.
In the early days of the war in Ukraine, when a diplomatic solution still seemed possible, the State Department rejected ending the war, even if the negotiated settlement met Ukraine’s goals, because “this is a war that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.”
That insistence on continuing the war in the service now, not of Ukrainian interests, but of American interests, that US aims in Ukraine are bigger than Ukraine, is a disturbing echo of Rumsfeld’s insistence that the US does not negotiate because it has "bigger aims than that." That disturbing pattern echoed again in Libya when the US prevented a peace plan in what the African Union called "the pursuit of other agendas."
But the US did not just reject the possibility of peace plans in Ukraine, they twice rejected positively progressing peace plans.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has revealed that in March 2022, he mediated negotiations between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin that had "a good chance of reaching a ceasefire." But the US again passed up on a possible peace plan. The West, Bennett says, "blocked it."
A month later, they blocked it again. In April 2022, negotiations in Istanbul progressed even further, producing a "tentatively agreed" upon settlement. But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says that “There are countries within NATO who want the war to continue.” He said that "following the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, it was the impression that…there are those within the NATO member states that want the war to continue, let the war continue and Russia get weaker."
Numan Kurtulmus, the deputy chairman of Erdogan’s ruling party, has hinted both at the same obstruction and at the same echo of "bigger aims." He told CNN TURK that “We know that our President is talking to the countries of both leaders. In certain matters, progress was made, reaching the final point, then suddenly we see that the war is accelerating. . . . Someone is trying not to end the war. The United States sees the prolongation of the war as its interest. . . . There are those who want this war to continue. . . . Putin-Zelensky was going to sign, but someone didn’t want to.”
From its earliest days of genocidal westward expansion to today, there is a clear, unbroken historical pattern of the US passing up on peace plans in the pursuit of bigger goals.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.