February 24 marks the one-year point of the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. After the US, NATO, and the rest of Europe made little effort to notice the massive build-up of Moscow’s combat forces for the year prior, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent hordes of infantry, tanks, and combat aircraft across Ukraine’s border. The devastation, carnage, and cost in human lives have been mind-boggling. The US estimates 200,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers killed. But what has been learned after a year of war in Ukraine, and what will constitute an endgame – or winning?
First, Biden should have learned that procrastination does not win wars – and neither does the White House’s approach to supporting Ukraine. The failure to act decisively when only 20,000 Russian soldiers were on Ukraine’s border and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was begging for help gave the initiative to the Kremlin later when 120,000 Russian forces moved across Kyiv’s eastern frontier Additionally, when the opportunity was put before President Biden to show strength at the June 2021 US-Russia summit, he failed to do so.
Prolonging the War in Ukraine
Instead, the US president stopped critical military aid to Ukraine for almost five months. Furthermore, it took nearly nine months of almost constant Russian air attacks on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians for the US foreign policy team to decide to send Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems. Additionally, before finally agreeing, the Biden administration wrung its hands over providing the advanced High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The US rationale was that it did not want to be provocative, possibly pushing Putin to enlarge the war to other countries. Gloria McDonald, writing for The Washington Times, explained:
“The Biden administration, for example, altered the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System’s range capabilities before giving them to Ukraine to prevent them from being fired into Russia. This decision was based on the need to arm Ukraine with the defensive capabilities required to thwart Russia’s invasion while ensuring that a path to negotiations remained a viable option.”
As it turned out, the dribbling of military aid and weapons to the Ukrainian fighters has prolonged the fighting, not shortened the conflict. Furthermore, a negotiated end to hostilities is more of a wish than a reality. As Eliot A. Cohen, Robert E. Osgood Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, in an opinion piece for Foreign Affairs, put it, “In war, sluggish decision-making kills. In every conflict, clocks are ticking in different places and at different paces… In the realm of decision and action, the West has consistently dawdled, undermining not only the Ukrainian cause but also its own.”
No End in Sight Chills US Support for Ukraine
Second, the consequence of the “sluggish decision-making” is what was, initially, fairly unified US support for providing Ukraine with the resources to stop the Russian aggressors is beginning to show signs of weakening. The American public is strong on defending the weak and thwarting the bullies of this world. But they require two things to keep that support viable – demonstrations of success and a clear understanding of what winning means. Unfortunately, the Biden national security team has been weak on the former and silent on the latter.
In a recent motivational speech to a crowd in Poland, President Biden said he told Ukraine’s President Zelensky the US would stand up for democracy “no matter what.” He claimed the US support would not waiver, and “Freedom is priceless. It’s worth fighting for as long as it takes.” Currently, the price to the US taxpayer is estimated at $73 billion and rising.
But Biden’s comment is just the kind of rhetoric causing taxpayers to ask, “as long as it takes. How long is that?” And what does achieving freedom look like for Ukraine? What is winning? “Before President Biden spends another dollar in Ukraine, he must lay out a clear plan for ending the conflict in a way that advances our national interests. No more blank checks,” Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH) told Fox News Sunday’s Shannon Bream.
Bream asked National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, “How does the White House, the president define this coming to an end?” He deflected the question with, “Well, first of all, there’s been no blank checks… Now, look it could end today, Shannon if Mr. Putin would do the right thing and pull his troops of Ukraine.” But, he added, “that doesn’t appear to be in the offing anytime soon.” So, we’re left with a definition of the end to the fighting that is not going to happen, and the American treasury cash register continues to go ka-ching, ka-ching, and ka-ching.
After a year of war in Ukraine, the bottom line is that the Biden administration has learned very little from its glacial decision-making. And the White House has no clear grasp of what the end state to supporting Kyiv’s fight against Moscow will be. What we do know is the US will keep paying.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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