The Hoover Institution’s David Goldman has some interesting things to say about the United States’ strategic interest (or lack thereof) in Ukraine. This is a couple of weeks old, but it’s still worth reading and taking a little time to digest. Excerpts, with my comments, follow.
In furtherance of what strategic interests has the United States acted in Ukraine? Is Ukraine’s NATO membership an American raison d’état? Did American strategists really believe that sanctions would shut down Russia’s economy? Did they imagine that the trading patterns of the Asian continent would shift to flow around the sanctions? Did they consider the materiel requirements of a long war that is exhausting American stockpiles? Did they consider what tripwires might elicit the use of nuclear weapons? Or did they sleepwalk into the conflict, as the European powers did in 1914?
I would argue that it’s largely sleepwalking, although not on the part of the European powers – and yes, it’s a bit ironic these days to call any country in Europe a “power” as they can now exercise very little of that. But in this case it’s mostly sleepwalking on the part of the Biden(‘s handlers) administration, partly through incompetence, partly wanting to preserve the flow of grafter dollars from Ukraine (one of Europe’s most corrupt nations) to the Bidens (one of the United States’ most corrupt political families.)
Regime change in Russia has been on the agenda of some senior Biden Administration officials for a decade. As Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, head of the State Department Eastern European desk, told a Congressional committee on May 6, 2014: “Since 1992, we have provided $20 billion to Russia to support the pursuit of transition to the peaceful, prosperous, democratic state its people deserve.”
What Moscow saw was not the America of 1983, which pursued peace through strength, but rather provocation from weakness. It miscalculated on an invasion with just 120,000 troops. If regime change was not Washington’s agenda before February 24, it became so explicitly afterward. On March 26, President Biden declared that Putin “cannot remain in power,” defining America’s goal as regime change. This was a grave miscalculation. The Russian elite has rallied behind the regime, aware that its privilege and position will disappear if the regime falls, and the Russian people stoically follow their orders. December opinion polls show near-record 81% support for the regime.
This shouldn’t be too surprising. If you look back to, oh, September 12th, 2001, you’d notice that for a while the United States was, briefly, a pretty damn united country. George W. Bush, a mediocre President at best, was riding pretty tall in the saddle in the days following the attacks. It didn’t last – but attacks from outside powers, be they real or perceived, tend to make a nation’s citizens rally behind their leadership, for better or worse.
The most likely outcome is a humiliating armistice. Paradoxically, that may redound to the long-term benefit of the United States. North Vietnam did the United States a favor by humiliating us before the Soviet Union did. It destroyed the limited-war illusion that possessed American military planners from the late 1950s onward. Our humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975 made possible a radical re-thinking of American military strategy, beginning under Defense Secretary Harold Brown in 1977 and continuing through the Reagan Administration. The United States undertook a revolution in defense technology that produced modern avionics and precision weapons, reversing the advantage that Russia enjoyed in conventional weapons in the early 1970s. The Russian military concluded after the 1982 Beqaa Valley air war and the initiation of the Strategic Defense Initiative that it could not keep pace technologically with America.
Utopian illusions about exporting democracy motivated America’s great blunders of the past generation, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria, and ultimately Ukraine. Perhaps we require another national humiliation on the scale of Vietnam to bring us back to the drive for technological superiority that ultimately won the Cold War.
I’m skeptical about that last. It’s true that the humiliation in Vietnam, even though it was much more a failure of political will than a failure of arms, did result in a reshuffling of our entire military culture that resulted in a peaceful and successful (for us) end to the Cold War. I was in Uncle Sam’s colors at the end of the Cold War, served with a lot of Vietnam vets, so I can affirm having seen this happen.
But I’m not assured that it will happen again. The US in the late Eighties and early Nineties was a much different place than it is now, culturally and economically. The country was in the later years of the Reagan boom, race relations were frankly better than they are now, and the cultural was much less, well, loony. I’m skeptical that the US has the cohesiveness to make this transition in military culture again, at least not while invertebrates like General Milley are involved.