Ukraine: The Long and the Short of it

Long war or short war? That seems to be the question. Putin apparently had fantasized a very short war, Ukraine a pushover — believing it’s not really even a country, its people really Russian.

He portrays the war as provoked by Western threats against Russia’s national security. What crap. NATO was never going to attack Russia. (Actually tried to make Russia a kind of partner in the ’90s.) Nearby nations joined NATO not to threaten Russia but because they felt threatened by Russia. A proven invader of other countries, like Georgia, and now Ukraine. Yet local letters to the editor (one by “peace activist” Tom Ellis) have ignored these realities and pushed Putin’s lie that the West somehow culpably provoked Russia. Its allies and apologists push it too; notably China’s, most of whose people believe it, fitting with demonization of America.

The war is not about Russia’s security. It’s about rebuilding its old empire — to swagger as a great power. As if killing and subjugating people makes for greatness.

Another absurdity is Republicans saying Trump would have prevented this. His cultists do ascribe him godlike powers. In fact, Trump was a total Putin patsy, shown by his treasonous Helsinki performance, endorsing Putin’s lies over the findings of our own intelligence services. That’s why Putin connived to get Trump elected. On the Ukraine aggression Trump would have given him a pass.

In a recent zoom briefing, Ukraine analyst Alexander Vindman (the guy Trump fired for his impeachment testimony) doubted the war would go more than another year and a half, Russia being unable to sustain it longer. I’m skeptical. Rather than admit defeat, Putin can keep it up — inflicting atrocities to terrorize Ukrainians, and throwing away Russian lives (at least 60,000 so far) — for a long time.

They can capture insignificant towns like Bakhmut if cost, human and otherwise, is no object. Showing the war’s pointless insanity. It’s hard to see Russia triumphing, or even consolidating control over the bits it occupies. While if Putin won’t give up, nor will Ukrainians, their resoluteness and morale impressive. The war in fact imparting the national consciousness Putin denies.

It’s said that Putin counts on our tiring of the sacrifices our Ukraine support entails. Thus, a long war. A very bad thing, not only causing horrific human suffering, but it will indeed wear upon Western resolve. So — how can we shorten the war? Not by letting Russia win, an even worse thing, and anyway impossible as long as Ukraine can keep fighting. The only way to get a shorter war — and a good outcome — is to give Ukraine whatever it takes to win, or at least to finally convince Putin he cannot win.

President Biden has done a great job organizing robust Western action. After Obama’s weak response to Putin’s earlier aggressions had convinced him he was pushing on an open door. Biden shut that door. And yet, our squeamish incrementalism — we’ll give Ukraine this kind of tank but not that kind, and not too many, and this kind of missile but not that other kind — seems fundamentally misguided. What’s our real aim? For Ukraine to win, or merely not lose? A long war or a short war?

As Biden kept saying in his State-of-the-Union speech, let’s finish the job.

Of course there’s the fear of escalation. Of getting us into a full-on war with Russia. But Putin’s seen it that way from the start, indeed selling the war to his people as really a war against America and the whole West as Russia’s enemies. And if we give Ukraine everything possible to crush the Russian invasion, what might it provoke Putin to do — that he’s not already doing?

Go nuclear, you say? That’s the big bugaboo. But it’s a bogeyman. It would not mean a “nuclear war” because nobody would respond in kind. And it’s highly doubtful Russia’s military would actually go through with a nuclear strike. Because it would be so crazy and self-harming. Endangering Russian forces as well as Ukrainian. While its battlefield impact would actually be minimal, changing nothing on the ground. And it would make Russia even more of a criminal pariah. Many nations previously unwilling to go against Russia on Ukraine would draw the line at violating the nuclear taboo.

And why are we doing (and spending) so much to help Ukraine? Why is it so important that Russia’s crime doesn’t pay? For thousands of years we lived in a world where nations freely invaded each other, devastating human lives. We thought we’d put that recurring horror finally behind us, for 75 years after WWII. Largely because America stood up to sustain a “rules-based” world order, where Rule Number One was: no invasions. Russia is testing that rule.

“The Jungle Grows Back” as Robert Kagan’s recent book title warns. If we don’t get that evil genie back in the bottle, we’ll have a very different, more violent and hence much less prosperous world. The cost to America would be huge — vastly more than what Ukraine assistance costs us.

And that support for Ukraine, Vindman remarked, has already bought us, on the cheap, massive destruction of Russia’s military capability. Effectively precluding, for years to come, any further invasions. Surely money well spent.


8 Responses to “Ukraine: The Long and the Short of it”

  1. Lee Says:

    The war is continuing but, as it does so, a separate diplomatic effort should also be attempted.

    What do Ukrainians want? They want Russian forces out. They want their territory back, including both Donbas and Crimea. They want reparations. What do Russians want? They want no weapons of mass destruction near their borders. They want peace and security for the Russian-sympathizing Ukrainian separatists. They want access to the Black Sea.

    We might end this war if Russians and Ukrainians can hammer out a peace treaty. Putin is strong, but a peaceful solution that satisfies the war-weary Russian people may be stronger enough to make him go along or stronger enough to remove him.

    So, let us wage peace too. Even though there is no clear path to victory on either road, having two possibilities gives better odds than having just one.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    “War weary Russian people?” No they ain’t. “Stronger enough to remove” Putin? There’s no scenario in which Russian people can remove him. “They want no weapons of mass destruction near their borders?” There aren’t any. “They want peace and security for the Russian-sympathizing Ukrainian separatists?” Those “separatists” are Russian shills; Russia wants nothing for THEM, only things for ITSELF.
    There is no reasonable peace treaty that can solve this. Any deal in which Russia comes away with anything it wants is a ROTTEN deal because it will show that crime pays. This war must be resolved with a showing that crime does not pay.

  3. Dave Says:

    Putin reminds me of Hitler

  4. Lee Says:

    If it is the right thing to do then it isn’t appeasement nor rewarding crime. It’s simply the right thing to do. On the other hand, giving up what shouldn’t be given up would be rewarding crime, which should be avoided at all costs.

    If there are to be no weapons of mass destruction by the borders going forward then that part of the peace treaty will be easy!

    Even Russian shills can ask for peace and security. (They can’t use violence to achieve Ukrainian separation, but Ukraine wouldn’t be conceding that.)

    I am not asking to pause the war pending these talks, nor for any resources but the salaries of a few diplomats for a few months, so what’s the downside? The upside is that a robustly designed treaty would make the war moot.

  5. David Lettau Says:

    On one of his visits to America during WW2, Winston Churchill received news of a British defeat ( Tobruk). Upon seeing his anguish Franklin Roosevelt asked,” What can we do to help”? Churchill asked for every tank that we had in our arsenal and Roosevelt pretty much obliged. The Sherman tanks we sent them were crucial in helping the British eighth army defeat the Germans in North Africa.I believe we are again called to be the arsenal of democracy as we are once again facing a powerful authoritarian state ruled by a murderous psychopath whose military forces are engaged in a ruthless campaign of utter destruction,murder and rapine. As for the Tom Ellis’s of the world,their will always be fools who advocate for peace at any price.And usually they end up being apologist for those who initiate the violence in the first place. I remember reading columns in the Washington Post of noted pacifist Colman McCarthy and wondering how anyone could put forth arguments that were so unconvincing and full of naïveté. There is a greater evil than war— acquiescence in human slavery and depravity.

  6. Lee Says:

    Not even the pro-Russian Republicans or Fox News talking heads have stooped so low as to suggest that we should give Putin the occupied land in Ukraine in exchange for peace. Have they? If Tom Ellis — whoever he is — is arguing for that, he is in a very small minority.

  7. Lee Says:

    Consider this thought experiment. Suppose Putin spontaneously loses power, all of Russia becomes part of the United States, and you become the new president of the United States. What would you want for Ukraine and the formerly Russian lands that are now part of the US?

    I am betting that you’d get the now-US invading forces out of Ukraine, you’d give back the stolen lands, and you’d rebuild Ukraine. And, I expect that you’d want something close to: US access to the Black Sea, an approach to incorporate into US society those who were war fodder on the losing Russian side (but not Putin and other top leadership), and restrictions on how near to the US any hostile neighboring countries (Belarus?, Georgia?) could put weapons of mass destruction.

    That is, these are reasonable outcomes that a president like you might strive for, not appeasement. Maybe, like the ongoing war, these ideas for a peace treaty won’t end hostilities in a reasonable time frame. Maybe they will end up being slightly useful, but mostly anemic. Nonetheless, let’s get better odds by also giving a peace treaty a try.

  8. rationaloptimist Says:

    The correct answer is: win the war. Defeat Russia.

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