Ukraine will prevail?
In Ukraine, a hundred days of warfare have passed, and the Russians are still there, pounding cities, and not going away. In the east, they appear to be gaining ground in taking control of the Donbas. They still have overwhelming superiority of men and materiel, and the signals from Moscow say no let-up.
Yesterday, the Russians were actually back to shelling Kiev. So much for all that political tourism — from Jill Biden to Bono to Boris Johnson to Nancy Pelosi... The Russians also destroyed a major grain terminal in Mykolaiv. The ports for exports of Ukrainian grain remain blocked and land transport is gummed up by business-as-usual customs practices from the European Union, while the Black Sea ports are blocked and mined.
Yet everywhere we hear, it's always Ukraine is winning or is going to win.
According to secretary of state Antony Blinken:
Since February 24, the United States has provided more than 6.3 billion dollars of security, humanitarian and economic assistance to help Ukraine prevail. As President Biden has said, our goal is straightforward: The United States wants to see a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.
We again call on President Putin to immediately end this conflict and all the suffering and global upheaval his war of choice has caused. Neither the United States nor our allies and partners seek to prolong the war to inflict pain on Russia. We greatly respect the citizens of Russia, who are not our enemy and who deserve a better future than what continued war and increasing repression will bring.
To the families of Ukraine who have lost loved ones, who have been separated by violence, whose villages, apartments, schools, and hospitals have been hit by bombs, shells and missiles, who have been sent to and survived Russia's so-called "filtration" camps: The United States stands with you; we will help you defend your sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will help you rebuild when this war is over.
Ukraine will prevail.
Ukraine will prevail? That's the plan?
That kind of optimism reminds me of the Confederates after Fort Sumter and the First Battle of Manassas, in the earliest weeks of the four-year Civil War.
"We'll whup the Yankees!"
As time told, having motivated and often excellent soldiers was no match for the North's war of attrition, logistical superiority, and bottomless resources. Four years later, the utterly ruined South surrendered.
It seems there's been a lot of counting chickens before they have hatched. The U.S., as Blinken said, has already shoveled $6.3 billion to Ukraine, to pay for its economic needs as well as military weapons. Congress easily passed a $40-billion aid package, an amount that dwarfs the State Department budget, and in speed of dispatch, the cash spent in the war on Afghanistan, for arms and post-victory plans such as reconstruction. What becomes of the cash if Ukraine loses? Who gets it? Sen. Rand Paul conducted a valiant effort to make the aid be conditioned on careful auditing but was steamrolled in the Senate. There won't be any auditor.
It's victory; it's baked in the cake. Doesn't the U.S. always win its wars?
The chickens have been counted. But the eggs have not hatched.
Two thoughtful pieces well worth reading are raising questions about this over-optimism about Ukraine winning its war.
PJMedia columnist David P. Goldman has thoughts about the rush to do victory dances:
After three months of nearly-unanimous media predictions of the collapse of Russia, it now appears that the Russian army is close to controlling the Donbas. Extricating it will be difficult if not impossible. The result, as Henry Kissinger suggested at Davos last week, will be (eventually) a peace in which Ukraine cedes territory to Russia. All the "don't appease Putin-Hitler" rhetoric will simply make us feel shabbier when we make the deal. We should feel shabby. We screwed this up on the grand scale.
Our bathetic outpouring of sympathy for Ukraine served mainly to obscure the ugly fact that Russia has better strategic weapons than we do (hypervelocity missiles and the S-400/500 air defense systems). No doubt the Russian army is corrupt, as Western commentators aver, but not so corrupt by orders of magnitude as our Pentagon, which pays top dollar for obsolete weapons while Russia and China innovate. The Javelin and Switchblade and Stinger are fine toys, but the West remains in fear of Russian nuclear weapons — as well we should. The Biden Administration won't sent long-range missiles to Ukraine because it fears, correctly, that Ukraine might use them to attack targets deep inside Russia and start a broader war.
Ross Douthat at the New York Times argues that we can't be Ukraine hawks forever:
Yet when I read the broader theories of hawkish commentators, their ideas about America's strategic vision and what kind of endgame we should be seeking in the war, I still find myself baffled by their confidence and absolutism.
For instance, for all their defensive successes, we have not yet established that Ukraine's military can regain significant amounts of territory in the country's south and east. Yet we have Anne Applebaum of The Atlantic insisting that only Putin's defeat and indeed "humiliation" can restore European stability, while elsewhere in the same magazine Casey Michel calls for dismantling the Russian Federation, framed as the "decolonization" of Russia's remaining empire, as the only policy for lasting peace.
Or again, the United States has currently committed an extraordinary sum to back Ukraine — far more than we spent in foreign aid to Afghanistan in any recent year, for instance — and our support roughly trebles the support offered by the European Union. Yet when this newspaper's editorial board raised questions about the sustainability of such support, the response from many Ukraine hawks was a furious how dare you — with an emphasis, to quote Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, on Ukraine's absolute right to fight "until every inch of their territory is free," America's strictly "modest" and "advisory" role in Ukrainian decision making and the importance of offering Kyiv, if not a blank check, at least a "very very big check with more checks to follow."
It figures that Applebaum and the characters at Fiona Hill's Brookings Institution are leading the rah-rah crowd. Is anybody surprised by that? These are the "American Power" neocons of the left.
Douthat sums up the issue this way:
These theories all seem to confuse what is desirable with what is likely, and what is morally ideal with what is strategically achievable.
He is likely right. Just because everyone likes Ukraine and wants to see Ukraine become the Little Nation That Could doesn't mean that this is what's inevitably going to happen. On the contrary, Putin seems as determined as ever to make the opposite happen, to absorb Ukraine and let the chips fall where they may. He doesn't care what people like Anne Applebaum think.
All of these declarations of victory seem to be what's driving the actions of the West, leading to the foolish political tourism, big cash-shoveling from the States, questionable promises of quick E.U. membership, memes, Eurovision song contest "victories," and wimpy offers and withdrawals of offers of fancy weaponry to Ukraine from the West.
Unless the West intends to fight Russia directly as intently as Russia intends to fight to take Ukraine, the claim for easy victory is premature. There's still a war on, and it remains far from certain, given the odds against it, that Ukraine will be able to win.