A year ago I asked a few questions about the Ukraine war: How did we get to this point? What is our national interest? What are the problems to overcome? What should our strategy be and what to expect next? These are still relevant questions.
In many ways, the war has been an overwhelming success for US interests: Russia’s conventional military weaknesses has been exposed and their military degraded, the threat of further invasions (e.g. China into Taiwan or Russia into the Baltics) has been thwarted for now, European allies have all united to a cause, and NATO and the US have again shown their overwhelming military superiority without direct involvement of their forces.
However, can this success be sustained? Last March, I wrote: “unfortunately, the president complicated a diplomatic end to this war.” Diplomacy is still an essential strategy; perhaps there is back channel diplomacy, but the administration’s rhetoric makes it seem diplomacy is ignored. Administration officials appear satisfied with the status quo and want to press on. Our national interests in Ukraine are at a point of diminishing returns; the cost thus far has been worthwhile, but the escalating potential costs may be not worth more squeeze.
An even bigger concern is that US goals in Ukraine are not clearly defined. Liberal policies for every contemporary matter changes with results, and this is no exception. Based on the administration’s actions to date, the current war strategy appears to be: gradually ratchet up the pressure on the Russians and put our side in an increasingly stronger position. Is our ultimate goal to defeat Russia completely? Do we wish to force them out of Ukraine altogether, perhaps even out of Crimea which Russia has occupied since 2014 and Putin considers sovereign territory? These are worthy goals, but they are fraught with risks and the increasing cost may soon be more than the American public is willing to bear.
The policy may seem correct given our success thus far. Still, we could miscalculate and bring about a more catastrophic result. China is clearly siding with the Russians. They changed the balance of power when intervening in Korea seventy years ago. Do we want to take on both in this conflict? Is Ukraine the first gambit in a sinister plan from our enemies? Putin may eventually see his hold on power threatened and finally play the nuclear card. It could happen if somehow the war spilled over into Russia itself. The world stumbled into WWI for the most inane reasons imaginable. At some point, we can lose control of events in Ukraine as well. There is several potential downsides if we miscalculate.
In the insanity of today’s politics, anyone considering restraint against Russia or Putin is accused of being a sympathizer. How silly. The unintended consequences of completely ejecting Russia from Ukraine may not be worth the risk. Still, more importantly we are not going about this war as we did in Kuwait, the gold standard for winning wars. Our current strategy compares better to Vietnam.
Currently, we are stuck in a middle ground. Russia cannot defeat the Ukrainians backed with NATO weaponry; however, it seems equally unlikely NATO can actually push the Russians out of Ukraine altogether without direct military involvement. NATO conventional forces would overwhelm Russian forces, but there is certainly a risk to a Kuwait like strategy, so instead we slowly increase pressure until Russia relents. But will they relent?
Last March, Putin alluded to “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” if the West became involved in Ukraine. Those threats were not carried out after we armed Ukraine, but Putin has shown he is willing to rattle the nuclear sabre. At some point, he might use it. Then what? The Biden administration dismisses the nuclear threat; they say it is a bluff. They are correct Putin is not a madman who would rashly take this step. He is aware of the risk to Russia’s and his own interests, but still holds the nuclear option in reserve because it is his best card. Do not believe Putin has no game changing responses available. Direct engagement between NATO and Russian forces, possibly leading to NATO strikes into Russia itself would increase the likelihood of a nuclear response. Why take that risk, even if minimal? Do we doubt Putin is capable or even willing to follow through? Are we prepared to respond in kind if he does?
We do not know Putin’s response if our strategy backs him into a corner. If faced with imminent defeat, a rational (but nonetheless ruthless person) might use his last resort to hold on to power. The risk may be low, but the additional benefits we gain by incurring such a risk are also low.
So, we are stuck with the status quo. Russia can’t defeat a conventional Ukrainian army armed with vastly superior NATO weaponry, but the Ukrainians, without more direct NATO involvement, also do not have the capacity to eject Russia, and all the while Ukraine is suffering immensely. Perhaps this remains the status quo for another year or more, but why prolong this war in which neither side currently has the resources to defeat the other? Is an endless war something we seek? The war will certainly further drain Russia’s military resources, but it will eventually strain ours as well while imposing horrific costs upon Ukraine. An endless war strategy may play better into Russia’s strategy than ours. They know Americans will eventually tire of war; public opinion will eventually shift if there is no end in sight. As long as Russia’s homeland itself is not threatened, they may wait us out. The tide can change. It’s the way the US has been defeated in the past. Why play into this strategy yet again?
We can end this war now. Why don’t we?
Either we drive Russia from Ukraine totally by untying the hand NATO currently has behind its back or we bring both sides to peace talks. The Biden Administration is taking the middle ground instead. Why let the war drag on needlessly? Is it somehow better if the war is won gradually, an end that takes longer to unfold, devastates our Ukrainian ally, and keeps alive the risk of some unforeseen change in circumstances?
If the goal is to win outright, then quit dithering. Once the ground war started, it took four days for the US to defeat the Iraqis. The world, Russia and China among them, was shocked at the demonstration of our capabilities, yet in Ukraine, we hold back from defeating our enemy. You can say it has been an effective strategy so far, but it has not been decisive. In 1961, President Kennedy sent 400 advisors to Vietnam. Two years later, Senator Barry Goldwater said fight to win or withdraw from the war. He was right. We gradually escalated for three more years. Throughout the war, we never called up reserves and the politicians ran the war from DC and Saigon instead of in the jungle. After 14 years, we withdrew from a war we never had the stomach to fully engage in. We have already started down the same path in Ukraine.
Fifteen years after Vietnam, an all-volunteer American army destroyed Sadaam Hussein’s army, easily expelling them from Kuwait. That war was over a year after occupation; the current war has no end in sight. The victory over Iraq in 1991 was the most impressive military display of all human history. The US needed four days; Iran and Iraq fought for eight years prior and neither side could win. We still have that capability, and we shouldn’t let our enemies forget it.
Still, I don’t advocate for an all-out war strategy in Ukraine. If this option is too risky (and it probably is), take the next best alternative, and take it now.
We have already achieved many of our goals in Ukraine. The risk of nuclear war and does not further our national interests, so sue for peace instead. Why push Putin to the brink? The bullied kid may eventually surprise you if pushed too far. Tell the Russians what we can and what we will do if they do not negotiate. Speak softly, but carry the big stick. The Ukrainians’ war effort is propped up by NATO–even their government expenses are paid by the US. Remind them, of their total reliance upon us and instruct them to offer Russia a few fig leaves to end this war. Our dominance on the world stage would again be re-asserted. We only need the will to exercise it. We are in a relatively strong position now; use that advantage before it is lost.
China is the one to worry about; they are more of a threat than Russia. They have a far bigger economy, a far better conventional military force, and more resources to draw upon. The Russian economy is propped up by oil, but third rate in all other ways. Russia’s conventional military has not kept pace with NATO, and they have a population under 150 million, the ninth largest in the world. China is a different story though. They are a more legitimate threat at the moment. They may see their chance at ascendancy and look for opportunities to displace the US. This has been their goal for many years now.
In The Hundred-Year Marathon, Michael Pillsbury marshals a lot of evidence showing the Chinese government has a detailed strategy to overtake the US as the world’s dominant power.
They want to do this by 2049, the centennial of China’s Communist revolution.
China will use the Ukraine situation to their advantage if we allow them. It almost certainly pleases to see us and even Russia as well bogged down in this war; our attention distracted and our resources consumed. China surely recognizes the US’s and NATO’s hesitance to push only so far. Our dithering plays into their strategy.
Gordon Chang says China has been arming Russia’s war effort for the last year. China certainly notices the difficulty Russia has had in Ukraine, and while the setback delays the Taiwan timetable, China is not deterred from their own goals. The seemingly inevitable China invasion of Taiwan is a more formidable challenge for the US and a bigger risk to allies such as South Korea and Japan. We need to be prepared, yet we are currently distracted by a conflict in Ukraine. The longer it persists, the better it serves China’s interests. I say yet again: push the players in Ukraine war to come to the table now, so we can focus on bigger threats.
Our lack of political will failed to deter an invasion in Ukraine. If at all still possible, deter China from invading Taiwan. China will invade at a time of their choosing, and the Chinese know the US and Asian allies will respond. We need to delay it or, at least, better prepare for it. China will attempt to distract us from Taiwan. We need to keep the Chinese off-balance. Deterrence makes a difference. Once in a war, the situation can get out of control quickly. Prepare now.
Oil is another concern. Russia’s Nordstream II pipeline was destroyed (very possibly by the US, per some reports) and price caps have been placed on Russian oil sales, but Russia continues to finance their war effort, in part through oil sales to Europe.
Russia is selling its crude way above the European Union’s $60 per barrel price cap, according to a group of researchers, suggesting that the west’s attempts to squeeze Moscow’s war financing haven’t gone exactly to plan.
Russia’s economy has not been dealt the intended serious blow, not one that slows their war effort. We could stop buying Russian oil and stop financing our enemy in the war, but our own policy discourages US oil production and has left our European allies reliant on Russian oil. Without oil sales, economic sanctions would make the difference in the war. Russia can still make up oil sales to others like China and India, but would it be enough? In any case, how much sense does financing our enemy make?
Two charts tell the US story. Despite President Biden’s insistence that he has not stopped or slowed oil production, oil production is still below the pre-pandemic peak in 2020.
Furthermore, the US has depleted its own strategic oil reserves. Are we truly ready for a conflict with China? Are we acting as if the depletion of our national reserve, needed in case of a national or military emergency, is a serious threat?
The US needs to retain our status as world’s largest oil producer. We should maintain our dominance, supplying ourselves and our allies. China, our number one enemy, is vulnerable on this front; they have few natural oil resources of their own.
The Middle Ground
The middle ground is not the correct path in Ukraine. The middle ground avoids the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia, but never eliminates it. The Russians know our history. They know we do not have the stomach for yet another endless war, so they wait, while we fail to fully commit. We persisted in Germany and Japan for more than fifty years (the Berlin Wall finally toppled 44 years after WWII ended), American success stories, but more recent history in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam show our commitments have time limits.
NATO has finally demonstrated commitment to Ukraine, a commitment that Russia initially doubted. We failed to deter Russia, but we should let them know now we will tolerate no further aggression. We will not countenance expansion of their borders into Kazakhstan, Armenia, or other former Soviet Republics (Zelensky says Russia will attack the Baltics next, but that’s nonsense, given they belong to NATO). Tell the Chinese to butt out of Ukraine as well. Show them we are prepared for a war in Taiwan and will not be distracted by Ukraine.
Let us quit promoting endless wars as well. There is no need. We have the world’s most powerful military ever. Use it sparingly, let its dominance invoke fear in our enemies, and use it effectively when employed.
Our hesitance, our lack of a clear strategy, our silly policies which weaken our economic and moral strength, are all seen by our enemies. “The East is rising and the West is declining,” President Xi has declared. Hitler doubted there would be a response when Poland was invaded in 1939. Don’t let the world fall into that situation again. Sow doubt in Xi’s mind. Let Xi know in no uncertain terms our response is one to be feared. We don’t need to go to war to send that message.
The Ukrainians have suffered considerably in the last year. Ukraine’s, not Russia’s, infrastructure has been destroyed. Ukraine’s population is considerably less than Russia’s. How long before Ukraine’s manpower disadvantage impacts the war? How long can their people suffer so much? The US has spent $100 billion on this war so far, a drop in the bucket as US spending goes, but what happens when that number doubles and doubles again? How long can we continue to replenish artillery, missiles, bullets, and all the rest before our own stockpiles, and our own military readiness, are diminished as well? The situation is not to our benefit as the war drags on.
What happens if there is an escalation? How does the American public react when the situation changes and American leaders commit troops to Ukraine? Yes, they will tell us, they did everything to avoid this outcome, but is that to be believed? We can end this war sooner; we only need to exert the political will.
What happens if Russia, backed into a corner, takes a desperate measure, perhaps a tactical nuclear weapon? What if China directly intervenes in Ukraine, intervenes on the same scale NATO is currently? What if China opens another war front while we are stuck in a stalemate in Ukraine? What happens if the tide of the Ukraine war changes, perhaps with an unexpected Russian military victory? The Tet Offensive in 1967, even though ultimately an American victory, forever altered public opinion against the Viet Nam war. We should not allow for any of these openings to widen. Shut down all these possibilities by ending the Ukraine war now.
I don’t have the answers to all the questions I’ve asked, but from every angle, the right strategy is to end the war. End the suffering of Ukraine. How much more should we ask of the Ukrainian people to further our national interests? We have achieved many goals already. Force Zelensky to bargain. Force Putin to bargain as well, perhaps in exchange for staying in power. We will spend hundreds of billions just to rebuild Ukraine even if the war ended to today. End this war before it gets worse or expands.
For the people’s sake, let’s use our influence, use our economic and military hegemony, to end this war.
5 thoughts on “Ukraine One Year Later. What Next?”
Email comment I received from Walter:
I disagree that the US is taking a middle of the road approach. We’re not only sending humanitarian support, we’re also funding their government, providing weapons and special forces soldiers.
If the US had a right to attack…
Iraq (no weapons of mass destruction),
Afghanistan (Bin Ladin was a Saudi Citizen, it was Saudi Arabia that gave some of the 911 attackers immunity to enter US when flagged and Bin Laden wasn’t there in Afghanistan at the time of our attack)
Libya (We came, we saw, he died… enough said?)
How many thousands of innocent foreign lives were murdered by our troops because they were fighting for freedom against our tyrannical troops just doing their job? I support our troops when they’re not murdering innocent people who live in caves and hate our debaucherous society? No wonder so many of our troops came back messed up in the head. There was no congressional declaration of war against a nation. Constitutionally we cannot declare a war against an ideology! Our troops didn’t fight for freedom, they killed people to maintain the US dollar as the petroleum dollar and to add more indebted countries to the World Bank through their predatory loans.
Back to Russia and Ukraine…
When Russia agreed to free the eastern block, NATO promised not to go east of Germany. Further agreements were bolstered through the Helsinki accords. NATO and the US violated the accords.
Remember Yugoslavia between Bosnia and Herzegovina? How is it a US mandate that we must obey a vote of the people to secede when it’s Christian vs Muslim yet it doesn’t matter if Russian provinces in Ukraine overwhelming vote to join Russia? Is it right that Ukraine was culturally sanitizing those regions thst were Russian by banning language, funding racist rebels to kill them?
Missiles one of the biggest reason for Russia attacking. The US and NATO where negotiating to place supersonic missiles in Ukraine aimed at Russia. Remember the Cuban missile crisis? Our nation was going to bomb a civilian airliner as a red flag to justify war with Cuba (Operation Northwoods).
Unbelievable corruption in Ukraine. Biden’s son was under investigation by Ukraine’s top prosecutor for fraud as he was a board member of a Ukrainian energy company reaping millions of dollars. What is a man who was kicked out of the navy for drugs and no experience in energy or as a major corporation sitting on an energy board? Here’s Creepy Joe bragging that he flew to Ukraine and threatened them they wouldn’t receive US funding from Obama if they didn’t agree to fire the prosecutor.
So looking how the US waged unjust wars on multiple countries and all of our covert king making throughout the world, do we have a leg to stand on to accuse Russia? Before you blame you need to hear it from both sides. This is Putin’s history and justification on the eve of attacking Ukraine where he gives the history and the terms up front for immediate cessation of hostilities. Bet you haven’t really heard this from western news.
Blowback: the US in one day canceled ALL credit and debit cards of EVERY Russian citizen. NOT just oligarchs or leaders of government. Russians on vacation in foreign countries all of a sudden lost ability to fund anything unless they had cash. We thought it would cause the Russian people to rise up against Putin bit instead it arose indignation against the west and forced Russia to convert all bank and credit accounts to use Chinese banking networks. Do you blame Russia now leaving the US petro dollar? I haven’t even touched the US bombing of Russian gas lines. I didnt even touch the US involvement in the last Ukrainian election. Russia has actually been extremely reserved and appropriate in their responses against every move by the deep state and military industrial complex while the west including Rino Republicans run to WW3.
I encourage everyone to do their research and demand our govt to stay away from WW3.
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But what would you propose? Back out of Ukraine and let the Russians take over? That’s our 1939 strategy, and we eventually had to draw the line in Poland. The isolationist strategy eventually leads to more problems.
My whole argument is that we should end the war as quickly as possible by negotiating peace in Ukraine. We have the capacity to make that happen.
The is risk of WWIII by following the current path (the middle ground) or by isolating completely. We need to assert our power by bringing an end to the war. We should not allow the Ukrainians to dictate strategy. Russia is far less of an economic and military power than us; we can make credible threats to bring them in line. The Russians ignored their own promise to protect Ukraine if they gave up nuclear weapons. We don’t need to limit the scope of NATO to suit the Russians. I don’t understand that argument.
The bigger threat is a Chinese invasion, probably an invasion in Taiwan. We are distracted in Ukraine and the longer this war drags on, the better it serves Chinese interests. What happens if China opens up another war front while we are still engaged in Ukraine? This is a problem we should take all measures to avoid. Simply backing out and isolating ourselves won’t solve it either. We are in this situation because of a disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan and Biden’s failure to credibly deter Russia from invading Ukraine, both isolationist policies that failed miserably. Don’t make these same mistakes again.
Comment from Walter:
Guess no one listened to Putin’s speech.
Putin gave the pathway to peace. Ukraine to amend their Constitution not to join NATO, no hypersonic missiles aimed at Russia, and annex the culturally Russian regions.
The US has discredited itself by waging financial war against every Russian citizen, destroying the gas pipeline, supplying money and weapons and deploying US special forces.
You are taking this to a place I didn’t go in my post.
I don’t give much credence to Putin’s words. Russia started this war. Russia is responsible for the destruction of a sovereign state. The US has certainly made mistakes in their policies, but Russia is clearly in the wrong here. The US didn’t start the war. Ukraine certainly has much corruption and is not a paragon; however, we are taking the moral side backing Ukraine against Russia. Putin is an awful person with no moral standing for anything Russia has done in this war. Biden is not the guy I want running the war on our side either, but my post was about what we should do now that we are in this situation. I doubt Biden will follow the right path from here, but I talk mainly about what we should do. We should not be pushed around by Russia who is not our peer in any way and we should not allow Ukraine to dictate policy for the war. We should end this war because we have the power to do so. Why let it continue?
Who cares about Putin’s proposals? He has power only if we allow him to have power. NATO has a far superior military and the combined economic power of NATO dwarves Russia. We should dictate policy to Putin. We should end the war, end the suffering and destruction of Ukraine, force Russia to retreat and end their military engagements elsewhere. With the big stick we have, we can impose our will on Russia. Why don’t we? We may have to give Putin some fig leaves, but that’s worth it to end this war. We do not want to send Americans to fight in Ukraine. Instead, we continue this path of endless war. Orwell wrote about endless war in 1984. One war ends and another begins the next day. We don’t need to be in this endless war. We need to end it, but end it without allowing Russia to win. We can do that. Further, we need to keep our attention on the bigger threat—China and their imperial intentions.
If Biden blew up the pipeline (there is much evidence he ordered it), then his policy led to a catastrophic ecological disaster–an ecological disaster and no military advantage gained from it. Wow. What a bad decision if Biden actually ordered (he won’t admit to it). At the same time, we can take the right stance on the invasion, and criticize the administration for the blowing up the pipeline.
In any case, thanks for engaging in this discussion. It is a difficult topic and it is hard to be certain in what will actually happen next.
One more email from Walter:
The Ukraine issue seems to be a very charged topic including amongst conservatives. You did mention 1984 and neverending war. You also mentioned that it didn’t matter what Putin says. (Paraphrasing)
I do believe that it is very important to listen to both sides and see if there’s merit. It is not automatically wrong for one nation to invade another. Unlike the US, Russia in the last few decades has not engaged in never ending wars like the US.
NATO violated the Helsinki accords and consequently Russia has a right to protect itself (this is the only sentence that needs to be said.)
Quite honestly don’t take the lack of decisive victory in Ukraine to think that Russia is weak. If you think that’s the case then you’re believing the psyops our government is conducting through media. It is reflecting Russia’s restraint.
Side note, during Covid when the US was forcing churches to close, Russia advertised for religious freedom come to Russia. The Ukraine is currently arresting pastors and shutting down churches. let that get on the mainstream news and see how that affects public opinion of Christians.
Additionally Russia is a super power and we need to respect that or mutually assured destruction would occur. The old adage about Russia and don’t poke the bear. You can only speak evil of a country and encroach on their borders and break the Helsinki Accords so much before they fight back. Could our funding and arming Ukraine be causing more bloodshed? If the shoes were on the other feet (Cuban missile crisis) we’d have had no restraint and killed their leader and overthrown the country. Oops we already did that to Iraq.
My response to Walter:
Russia has a GDP equivalent to Florida and their economy is a one-trick pony: oil. Their military cannot defeat Ukraine, a country with a quarter of the population of Russia’s. They are not a super-power. They are given that status because they have nuclear weapons.
Ukraine is a corrupt country as has been shown many times. I have no disagreement that they have problems. Still, they were invaded and millions of people displaced and many more killed. Russia is to blame. An imperialist attack on Ukraine is not justification for the violation you speak of. Russia promised protection of Ukraine if they gave up nuclear weapons. Did they respect that promise? I do not see how the corruption in Ukraine should be an excuse not to help Ukraine. Both can be true. We should help, but help in the right way. This is the point of my post.
You ask this rhetorical question: Could our funding and arming Ukraine be causing more bloodshed? I think you imply we are causing more bloodshed. I would agree with your implied criticism. Again, my solution is to end the war quickly. We are needlessly extending this war. I do not agree with current US policy. I advocate for an end to the war through continued pressure and diplomacy. I am perplexed why our government does not pursue diplomacy. This could have a bad end if we persist. More will die. More will suffer. Our national interests are not advanced with another year of war in Ukraine. Ukraine cannot win unless we send NATO troops or attack Russia directly. Without such an escalation it could continue for years. We can threaten an escalation behind the scenes, but should negotiate an end before this gets worse.