The same national security elites which pushed the United States into war in Iraq and Afghanistan are trying to do the same with Russia and Ukraine.

In the process, they are urging the sort of insane escalations – no fly zones, providing fighter jets to Ukraine — that, in August 1914, turned a minor act of terrorism in the Balkans into a global conflagration that killed 20 million people.

And that was before the invention of nuclear weapons.

Now, just months after America’s newly woke military fled Afghanistan in disgrace, the country’s elderly foreign policy elites are just itching for another foreign war.

“History may look back on this as a failure of nerve equal to the appeasement of the 1930s,” the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Russell Mead writes, referring to the lack of US involvement in the Ukraine fight.

Not to be outdone, Matthew Koenig, writing in Foreign Policy just as the Ukraine War erupted, insists that America must prepare for war with both Russia and China – including nuclear war. “If necessary, Washington could always take a page from its Cold War playbook and rely more heavily on nuclear weapons to offset the local, conventional advantages of its rivals,” he explains.

Dr Strangelove and the Russians

Listening to the war-hungry neo-con pundits on CNN and in Washington DC, you can just hear the voice of General “Buck” Turgidson (George C. Scott) from the 1964 nuclear satire, Dr Strangelove, urging the US president to go to war with Russia.

“Mr President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed,” the fictional general tells the president. “But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.”

To his credit, so far Joe Biden has ignored calls for direct American or NATO involvement in the Ukraine war.

But over the weekend, there were worrisome signs that the elderly Biden is weakening — and giving in to the hawks pushing for war, ratcheting up the rhetoric against Putin and even calling overtly for his overthrow.

On March 25 during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, Biden called Putin a “war criminal” and a “butcher,” even declaring that “this man cannot remain in power.”

Because this is a direct violation of America’s longstanding policy not to call for regime change or the assassination of foreign leaders, the White House quickly backtracked on Biden’s statement.

“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region,” an anonymous White House official clarified for news outlets. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

Earlier, when addressing the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at a base in Poland, Biden made another gaffe that had senior aides scrambling to “clarify.” Biden told the US fighters they would see the bravery of Ukrainian soldiers first-hand “when you’re there” – a remark that seemed to indicate plans for direct US involvement.

On March 24 in Belgium, Biden had said that the US would respond “in kind” if Russia used chemical weapons – a remark that forced US national security advisor Jake Sullivan to say that “the United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance.”

No doubt, the Ukraine war is a humanitarian crisis of the first order. An estimated 3.8 million innocent Ukrainians are now homeless, their cities burning ruins.

And it goes without saying that the Ukrainian people don’t deserve any of this. They don’t deserve what Russia is doing, or what their own government has done, or what America’s corrupt ruling class has done and is about to do.

However, a little perspective is in order.

According the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of late March Putin’s invasion has caused 977 civilian deaths and 1,594 serious injuries– a horrible tragedy for which Putin should be held accountable. Other human rights organizations and the UNHCR suspect the real death toll will be far, far higher.

Yet the US invasion of Iraq – an invasion that America’s national security elite claimed was necessary due to weapons of mass destruction that, it turned out, didn’t exist – killed between 184,382 and 207,156 innocent civilians.

That’s between 188 and 205 times more deaths than Putin has so far caused. In other words, by any measure Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been far less lethal than America’s invasion of Iraq.

And Iraq is just one of the senseless foreign wars that America’s ruling class has unleashed upon the world.

During the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, an effort to stop atrocities being committed during the Yugoslav War, it’s estimated that between 489 and as many as 528 Yugoslav civilians were killed.

In 2015-2016 alone, Barack Obama’s administration dropped 26,171 bombs in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – including bombing the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz that killed 42 civilians and wounded 37.

If I were Joe Biden, I would be careful about whom I was calling a “butcher” and a “war criminal.”

Putin may well be a cold-blooded killer, but so are some of the members of Ukraine’s Azov Battalion — and so are the Saudi and Venezuelan dictators to whom Biden is now begging for oil.

As for China’s ruling communist establishment, with whom the Biden’s relatives have arranged deals worth an estimated $31 million since 2009, they are responsible for up to 82 million deaths since 1949.

The goal of statesmanship should be to de-escalate this conflict, secure a cease-fire, and avoid drawing NATO into a war that could easily blow up into a full-blown nuclear conflict.

That isn’t what Ukraine’s heroic president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his millions of supporters worldwide want. He and they want NATO in the fight no matter the cost, and for obvious reasons.

Yet it would be a tragedy of the highest order if Joe Biden’s legacy, in addition to record-high inflation and global food shortages, turns out to be World War III. Up until now, he has tried to avoid it. Let’s hope he continues to do so.

Robert J. Hutchinson writes about the intersection of politics and ideas. He is the author of What...