War with Russia Could be Catastrophic
Last week, Dick Morris took to the airwaves at Newsmax to swipe at Tucker Carlson. In going after Carlson, he made points that should disturb sensible Americans. Those points are revealing. They’re worth addressing because Morris’ perspective reflects those who want war with Russia over Ukraine and then because they’re convinced Vladimir Putin is Hitler’s incarnation.
Like Morris, the “war with Russia” crowd never openly states their desire. They make intimations. Perhaps they think that’s clever. It’s really disingenuous. In a matter so momentous as war, one should declare plainly one’s position.
Morris and others like him have the luxury of being armchair generals. Given their war fever, one wonders if they grasp that a U.S./NATO-Russia war could produce death and devastation on a scale not seen since World War II. Frankly, it could be worse. Remember, the war with Nazi Germany was absent strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
Over the weekend, Putin just “raised the alert status for his nuclear forces to ‘special regime of combat duty.’” Putin is playing brinkmanship. He’s raising the stakes, in part, to discourage other nations from entering the war.
Morris claims these points are the “truth” in a Newsmax article, February 24:
- Ukraine is not "vital" to the U.S.? I guess the Sudetenland, Austria, Czechosloavkia, and the Polish corridor weren’t either, until they were, and led to a cascade of troubles we now call World War II.
- We have no legal or moral obligation to defend Ukraine? In 1995, while I worked at the Clinton White House, we signed the Budapest Memo pledging "to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" and "to refrain from the threat or use of force" against the country. With those assurances in their pocket, the Ukrainian government agreed to give up the 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads on its soil, a force the amounted to the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal.
- As for a moral obligation, President Ronald Reagan based his entire foreign policy on a determination to free the captive people of Eastern Europe, culminating in his famous admonition to "Mr. Gobachev, tear down this Wall."
Let’s take Morris’ second bullet first because it’s his most salient point.
Morris claims that we have a legal and moral duty to defend Ukraine. In citing the 1995 Budapest Memo, which the U.S. agreed -- as did Russia -- Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons arsenal in exchange for assurances of its sovereignty and guarantees that the nation wouldn’t be menaced or attacked.
The hard truth is that not all pledges or treaties are equal. The pledge made in 1995 doesn’t stand up against today’s gritty reality.
To redeem that pledge to Ukraine, the critical question is: How many Americans are we prepared to see die in a major conflict with Russia? A war involving the U.S. and Russia may result in tens of thousands of dead and injured, but could soar to the hundreds of thousands, if not more. That’s dead Russians, other Europeans, and Americans.
The gruesome impact of major wars is often underestimated at their outsets. Take the Civil War. Few people, South or North, imagined the war would claim anywhere from 600,000 to 850,000 lives, depending on estimates. At the beginning of World War I, neither side foresaw a staggering 40 million causalities, military and civilian, in that pointless conflict.
Who really believes that a U.S./NATO-Russia war could be contained to Ukraine? Wars are inherently unpredictable; they have their own dynamics. Either through design or blunder, spillover to NATO nations seems a smart bet. Why wouldn’t Putin strike enemy targets beyond Ukraine’s borders? Why wouldn’t the U.S. and NATO retaliate, if not initiate?
Keep this in mind: Never before have heavily nuclear-armed nations squared off in conventional warfare. Escalation to nuclear conflict is an ever-present risk. Are we prepared to roll the dice?
Would the American homeland go unscathed? Two great oceans still protect us from invasions (though not from illegals crossing our southern border, which Biden has chosen to erase).
Yet the awful technology of modern warfare leaves the American homeland vulnerable. Cyberwarfare is a threat. Russian missiles (conventional or nuclear-armed) can reach our country. What about biological warfare? The COVID pandemic, originating in the PRC, should give us pause. What about sabotage? Russian saboteurs would have little trouble crossing the porous U.S.-Mexican border.
If this all sounds fantastic, it’s because of the evolved nature of warfare. Lethality and destruction have new and broader playing fields. Modern war is multidimensional and, in many regards, highly unconventional. Why assume that nations won’t resort to terrible means to kill and devastate? Look at WWI and WWII to understand how new means and tactics were employed to fight. The atomic bomb was a product of WWII.
Let’s briefly address Morris’ first point about stopping Hitler early.
If we follow Morris’ logic are we to suppose that FDR should have declared war on Nazi Germany prior to or as Germany occupied the Sudetenland, committing an unwilling American people to fighting a war to quell Hitler, a war that Americans believed was Europe’s affair -- and, in point of fact, at that time, was Europe’s affair?
Does Morris wonder why England, France, and other European countries chose to initially appease rather than oppose Hitler’s schemes and aggressions? After all, those nations were at imminent risk from Hitler’s predations. Why did Chamberlain readily concede Sudetenland to Hitler at the 1938 Munich Conference? Didn’t that embolden Hitler, and doesn’t doing so rest solely with Chamberlain and his ilk? In fact, why didn’t France and Britain stop Hitler when he seized the Rhineland in 1936?
It’s a tough assessment, but it has to be made. Is Ukraine vital to American national interests or U.S. national security? Practically, it isn’t. When most saber-rattlers are asked the question about Ukraine being vital to America, they invariably default to the need to protect democracy.
The democracy patter derives from Woodrow Wilson’s conceit that America has a duty to “[Make] the World Safe for Democracy.” That slogan has an inspirational feel, but is, actually, an abstraction detached from the U.S.’s tangible interests. There’s always been a righteous, crusader strain in the American character. Doesn’t the radical environmentalists' cry to “Save the Planet” have a similar ring?
If we continue following Wilson’s declaration, then there’s no end to where the U.S. should involve itself. There’s no shortage of undemocratic dragons to slay. The costs of doing so falls least on the nation’s elites, many of whom push for righteous wars, but on middle- and working-class Americans, who bear the greatest burdens and sacrifices.
As to Morris’ final point, Ronald Reagan was most assuredly appalled by Russian domination of Eastern Europe, their oppression, and savagery there. But Reagan’s fundamental aim in defeating the Soviets was to remove the threat they posed to the U.S. His was a constitutional and moral duty to do so.
If Putin attacks the U.S. or a NATO member, that changes the game. We’re then compelled to engage and prevail in a conflict with Russia. Yet we must be mindful that victory (however defined and justified) will come with substantial costs.
Morris and his ilk appear cavalier or so driven by their passions that thinking consequentially doesn’t occur to them. War cannot be disconnected from war’s terrible costs. Some wars are necessary, indeed. But in questions of war, thoughtlessness is recklessness. Dick Morris should know better.
J. Robert Smith can be found regularly at Gab @JRobertSmith. He also blogs at Flyover.