While I wish it were otherwise, the unpleasant fact is that Ukraine cannot win the war against Russia. The Biden administration and the leaders of the UK and the European Union know this full well. The question is, how much longer will they persist in deceiving the public and wasting the resources of their nations on an unwinnable proxy war?
There is precedent for this behavior. The historian Barbara Tuchman writes in The March of Folly that “ignorance was not a factor in the American endeavor in Vietnam pursued through five successive presidencies … The folly consisted not in pursuit of a goal and ignorance of the obstacles but in persistence in the pursuit despite accumulating evidence that the goal was unattainable, and the effect disproportionate to the American interest and eventually damaging to American society, reputation and disposable power in the world.”
We are watching history repeat itself. A new generation of American leadership is rushing headlong into the same traps that ensnared the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations in Vietnam. The mistakes made then: veering outside of U.S. strategic interests, a ratcheting escalation of commitment of manpower and weapons, concomitant massive government spending contributing to an inflationary crisis, institutionalized cognitive dissonance that refuses to acknowledge counterfactuals against the prevailing narrative, and finally, massive lying to the American public about the facts on the ground, are all being repeated in the war in Ukraine. These leaders’ actions are driven by the arrogance of power, by an illusion of invincibility, by a willful blindness, by a refusal to admit error, and by the obsession of the West to dismantle the Putin regime and weaken Russia at any cost. And indeed, the costs have already been staggering.
Year-to-date through September 2022, the U.S. has committed over $52 billion to support Ukraine, including nearly $28 billion of military aid. This is more than the U.S. spent in total during the five most expensive years of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan. The EU, which has more to lose from the regional conflagration, has committed a relatively paltry $16 billion. The U.S. military-industrial complex is alive and well, and more than happy to see this war continue for as long as possible. This is not in America’s best interest.
As terrible as is the war and the suffering of the Ukrainian people, Ukraine has never been in the U.S.’s core strategic interest. It is however clearly in Russia’s and in Europe’s. Once again, the U.S. has been suckered into doing the EU’s work. The U.S. government is now wading deeper and deeper into a conflict that the American people clearly did not want from the beginning of the war. Using a euphemism common in the early years of the Vietnam War, the U.S. government is now sending “advisors,” which the Pentagon has confirmed are military personnel, ostensibly to monitor and track the weapons it has contributed. At the same time, the U.S. Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division has been deployed to Europe for the first time since World War II, on what has been officially described as a “combat deployment.”
The American public has been repeatedly told that the Russian army is demoralized, that the Ukraine military is prevailing on the battlefield, that Putin is dying of cancer and/or his generals are revolting, that sanctions are working, and that Russia’s economy is now worse off than before the war. Like all good lies, these are built on kernels of truth exaggerated, twisted, or grossly inverted. The fact, as distasteful as it feels to me and to most Americans, is that Putin has a firm grip on power, Russian national income remains strong, and Russia has the upper hand in the conflict. Russia will outlast Ukraine and the West.
Recent reports of U.S. officials secretly encouraging Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to be open to negotiations are more than just shows of good faith. This reflects the growing fatigue and cost of the war, as well as the dawning realization that Russia has more leverage in the situation than the leaders of the West are letting on publicly. For this reason, this war will not last through the summer before these same Western powers have pressed the Ukrainian government to sit down at the negotiating table. This will ultimately result in concession of Ukrainian territory, resources, and power in exchange for even more money from the West to rebuild what remains of that grief-stricken nation. Perhaps Ukraine will then be allowed to thrive, as it deserves.
Despite sanctions by the U.S. and Europe, Russia has managed to grow its oil exports by migrating away from Europe to willing buyers elsewhere. In the meantime, Europe and the U.S. both face shortages of key fuel products due to the impact of sanctions and poor energy policy. While Americans face higher prices and supply chain issues, Europe is confronted with that and more, including shortages and risk of a severe energy crisis as winter sets in.
Since April, Russia’s currency (the ruble) has traded higher against the U.S. dollar than it did before the war. This is more than symbolic. It comes at a time when all the major currencies have weakened materially against the dollar. Russia has done three things: deployed an alternative payment system to the U.S. backed SWIFT network (developed after sanctions were imposed by the West in 2014), forced creditors to accept (and trading counterparties to pay) in rubles rather than dollars, and committed to make the ruble “hard money,” i.e., not prone to inflation, by backing it with gold and other commodities. Russia has had no problem finding new friends and forging new trading alliances on these terms. Iran is providing advanced missiles and drones to widen Russia’s military options. India and China are buying its oil and gas. Despite the sabotage of Nord Stream, Russia has a number of hole cards, including the ability to choke food and fertilizer supply chains, natural gas, and of course, a powerful nuclear arsenal.
On the other hand, 4.5 million Ukrainians, mostly in or around Kiev, are now without power, and the mayor of the capital city has warned its residents to prepare to evacuate. Food, water, and medicine are scarce. Tens of thousands are already dead. Multiple large cities and related infrastructure have been laid waste. Winter is coming. The situation is getting more and more desperate, as reflected in President Zelenskyy’s increasingly strident and demanding tones.
I write in Why America Matters that for the war to end, “Ukraine must withdraw the application for NATO and EU membership. Ukraine’s government should reconstitute itself as an independent and neutral buffer state between NATO and Russia. Ukraine should ensure peaceful coexistence with and protection of the Russian-speaking minority in the East. Such an agreement would require the withdrawal of both Russian forces and U.S.-backed military resources, including dangerous and provocative biolabs.” Much of the territory in the Donbas will likely remain under Russian control.
“The tragedy is that we could have reached such an agreement diplomatically long before a single shot was fired. Now it is too late for diplomatic solutions, negotiations will be held at point of bayonet, and the cost to Ukraine and the West will inevitably be much higher. Yet these are the necessary conditions for a peace that includes Ukraine surviving as a nation-state. This recommendation is based on a strategic calculation not a moral one.”
While I don’t support sending tens of billions of dollars more of U.S. taxpayer money to Ukraine,
if more money is going to be spent, I’d much rather see it deployed into productive peacetime investments that could benefit the U.S., such as by using U.S. companies and equipment to rebuild the power grid and other national infrastructure, rather than on weapons of destruction with a guaranteed 100 percent loss on investment, and withering inflation to boot.
Whether they want to admit it publicly or not, it’s time for our government officials to start the process of bringing this terror to an end. We’re responsible for the escalation to date, and we’re going to have to find a way to back ourselves out of the quagmire, before the unthinkable, a nuclear confrontation, destroys us all.