The Straw Man of the Ukraine War

One of the unfortunate consequences of the highly politicized and fractured nature of current American public discourse is the extent to which many serious issues are framed in black and white terms. In most cases, looking at the shades of gray between the two extreme positions would be more productive. 

I bring this up now because I’ve increasingly seen American support for Ukraine in their war with Russia discussed as if the only options are to cut off Ukraine altogether and leave them to their fate or to commit to giving them unlimited support for as long as it takes for them to achieve total victory. Those who don’t take the latter position are often characterized as “Putin apologists” or “Neville Chamberlain.” 

Both of those extremes miss the mark. It would have been unwise for the Western allies to allow Russia to roll over Ukraine. If they had done so with even a moderate level of ease, it’s likely that Putin would have eventually moved on to another target – and then maybe another after that. 

But it would also be unwise to maintain a policy of either supporting a Ukrainian effort to achieve total victory over Russia for as long as it takes or pushing to extend the war for as long as possible in an effort to bleed Russia. For starters, in the latter case, Ukraine will also be bled by inevitable extension.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

Beyond that humanitarian consideration, there are other issues that must be taken into account. One is Russia’s nuclear arsenal and the possibility that Putin would resort to using it. While I don’t think there is a significant threat of that happening under current circumstances, there is one scenario under which I could see him going that far. And that would be if he should find himself on the verge of a total defeat – along with the possibility of losing his position as Russia’s leader. In those circumstances, he might just feel like he has nothing to lose. And he doesn’t strike me as the sort of man who would have qualms about taking millions down with him. 

We avoided a nuclear conflict for nearly half a century during the Cold War because the leaders of both sides understood what it would mean for humanity – including their own nations – and exercised extreme caution with regard to doing anything that could lead to it. As appealing as the thought of Putin being removed from power and possibly even facing international justice may be, it would be wise to keep in mind the risks of going that far. 

Ultimately, the long-term strategic interests of the United States should be at the forefront of our leaders’ minds when it comes to determining Ukraine War policy – not giving Putin his just deserts or even humanitarian concerns. 

There seems to be general agreement that China will be our greatest and most capable adversary for years to come. While we can’t completely ignore other powers and international issues, it’s crucial to prioritize when it comes to using military and economic resources. One of the ways China has been able to grow into one of the world’s two leading powers at such a rapid pace is by avoiding getting bogged down in any military conflicts, instead focusing on growing their economy, military and diplomatic influence. Meanwhile, the U.S. – their main strategic competitor – has played an active role in a series of wars since the end of the Cold War – with all of them being questionable in terms of their necessity for our long-term security and all of them taking a toll on the nation.

It’s now apparent that Russia is but a shadow of its former Soviet self as a conventional military power. Our European allies have the wherewithal to maintain a European balance of power against them. But it will never happen if we keep refusing to allow those allies to take the lead on matters in their own backyard. It’s time that we did that in order to devote more of our resources to dealing with the Indo-Pacific corridor, where the most crucial affairs for 21st century geopolitics will likely be centered – and where our allies in that region really do need us to help them offset China’s growing might. 

Are they coordinating strategy over the Ukraine War and how it relates to the U.S.?

There are now signs that China may be increasing its own support for Russia’s war effort. Perhaps our alleged effort to get Russia bogged down in the war will morph into China attempting to get the U.S. to throw an increasing amount of resources into it for as long as possible. Who is bleeding whom?

Without suddenly cutting off support for Ukraine in a way that would place their survival in jeopardy, the U.S. should give up any notion of trying to extend this war for as long as possible in an effort to weaken Russia. It’s likely beyond Ukraine’s means – even with a lot of continued American support – to take back Crimea. That notion should be forgotten and an effort should be made to push both sides to make a deal that would likely include residents of the portions of Eastern Ukraine that Russia claims voting over their status. 

Every major realist of the Cold War era – from Kennan, who initially spelled out our containment policy against the Soviets, to Kissinger – said at the close of the Cold War that it would be a huge mistake with eventual serious consequences were NATO to expand east up to Russia’s doorsteps. While I’m not excusing Putin’s actions, it was foreseeable that Russia wouldn’t sit idly by while this happened forever, regardless of who was leading them. 

American diplomat George F. Kennan spelled out the containment policy that the U.S. followed throughout the Cold War and opposed expanding NATO to Russia’s doorstep following its conclusion.

In fact, it has been foreseeable for a number of years that China would replace Russia as our lead strategic adversary. Those same Cold War realists knew that it was in our interest to make every effort to forge and maintain cooperative relations with Russia for the same reasons that we established ties with China when the Soviets were our chief adversary – to maintain a balance of power or achieve an edge within the global struggle of that era.

Our leaders would be wise to start thinking more in terms of our hard-core geopolitical interests and less about spreading our ideals and system to other parts of the world. It’s too late to undo much of the damage that has resulted from failing to do that since the end of the Cold War, but there is no need to keep digging that hole deeper.

  • Top photo: © Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

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