Reviews | Republicans can’t succumb to Ukraine fantasy
So, by all means, let’s hope for a deal. The secret to unlocking a potential deal, however, is not to leave Ukraine stranded and hope that Vladimir Putin – just as he is starting to make gains – decides in the goodness of his heart to step down. carefully and modestly because dominating Ukraine wasn’t that important to him after all.
It is obviously a fantasy. The only way to get a deal (flawed, unsatisfactory, and probably temporary) is for Putin to realize that he has no hope of getting what he wants from the war. With a major Russian offensive likely looming, we are still a long way from that point. The only way to get closer is for the Ukrainians to succeed on the battlefield, not for them to retreat in the face of a reconstituted Russian assault.
Ukraine does not have an inherent right to our support, and we should not kid ourselves about our ability to defend principles or abstractions in Ukraine (democracy, the so-called rules-based world order, etc. ).
We should support Ukraine based on a blind calculation of our interests – we should want to stop Russia before it is tempted to bully or seize any part of a NATO country in an adventure much more dangerous; seeing Russia’s malignant influence in Europe diminish rather than grow; send a signal to China that the West will be consistent and push back on territorial expansion; and to resist the efforts of the de facto Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance to undermine Western power.
That said, Ukraine is not the aggressor in this war; he is the victim of an act of brutal, unprovoked and calculated aggression.
Putin could stop fighting tomorrow and the Ukrainians would just reestablish their sovereign borders.
The Ukrainians could stop fighting tomorrow, and Putin, in accordance with his original plan, would overthrow the government and install a puppet regime – in effect, stifling Ukraine’s sovereign existence.
There are a number of objections and arguments that populist and realist opponents make to current levels of aid to Ukraine.
We ended up in a proxy war with Russia. Fairly true. However, this is not the situation we were looking for. It’s not like we encouraged Latvia to invade Russia and then started supplying and training its forces in abundance. Despite our warnings and attempts to repel them, the Russians invaded. We could have stayed out of that and let the Kremlin do what it wanted in Ukraine before moving on to its next target. Otherwise, we would inevitably be embroiled in a proxy war.
The advantage of this proxy war is that the Russians are direct participants, and are paying a heavy price, while our role is limited and indirect. This does not mean that there are no risks to manage, but we are playing a role comparable to that of the Russians during the Vietnam War or the United States during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — in supporting a highly motivated indigenous force that does all the fighting against a fierce geopolitical adversary. This should be seen as a favorable position, rather than a position that makes us want to wash our hands.
War is expensive and depletes our stockpiles of weapons. This too is true. By any measure, the approximately $30 billion and more that we have spent on Ukraine is real money. But that’s just over a third of what President Joe Biden is spending on the new IRS app, and about a fifth of unspent federal pandemic aid funds. It’s a fraction of a fraction of the defense budget.
The withdrawal of weapons has created shortages in US stockpiles, but that exposes more of a vulnerability than it creates. If we simply strive to arm Ukraine, we would quickly reach a breaking point in a direct conflict with China. The answer does not lie in supporting Ukraine, but rather in building our defense industrial base in a way that would be needed one way or another.
NATO expansion provoked the Russians. Even if that were true, it wouldn’t change the current calculus – the West would still be faced with the choice of letting Russia make Ukraine a vassal or helping the Ukrainians resist. And the underlying claim is dubious.
Everyone knew that Ukraine wasn’t going to join NATO anytime soon (or probably ever), and Russia rationally had nothing to fear from the alliance – at the time Russia invaded Ukraine to the first time in 2014, the United States had brought home all of its tanks from Germany. Putin has made it clear that his ideological and geopolitical goal is to restore some version of the Russian empire. This is a profound ambition that would most likely be the same if NATO had never expanded and if all the Baltic and Eastern and Central European states were neutral and fully unarmed – in fact, such a state in fact would probably make Putin even more determined to achieve his vision, because it would be so much easier.
Putin is just pursuing a traditional Russian foreign policy. Well yes. But just because Russia occupied Poland for a hundred years, or swallowed up various European nations in World War II and made them satellite states, doesn’t mean similar projects today would have any legitimacy. It is certain that Russia has always been concerned with securing and maintaining access to the Black Sea. It should be noted, however, that it already had an agreement from Ukraine dating back to the late 1990s to base its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. For good measure, in 2014 Russia seized all of Crimea. Invading Ukraine and trying to take over Kyiv is overkill and not about the Black Sea, but about destroying a model of (imperfect) democracy on its border.
If the case for throwing Ukraine overboard and accommodating the Russians is weak, the case for a deal – as noted above – is quite strong. That won’t happen, however, if Putin can still smell success. Although Biden was steadfast in his support for the Ukrainians, he set a pattern of delay to give them the necessary weapons, before finally relenting. We can regret not having given them even more material more quickly the first year, when they had the opportunity to push the Russians even further. Now, it’s unclear if they can do better than maintaining a stalemate, but they will need more long-range artillery, air defenses, and drone capabilities to keep defending themselves.
Cutting them in the hope of restarting negotiations would be madness and would only benefit Putin who, if he gets into trouble, would bring a bloody peace of repression and devastation to Ukraine.