February 22, 2023

No, Joe, It’s NOT the ‘First Anniversary’ of the Russo-Ukrainian War

Pros and cons of the proxy war — Putin the Tyrant v. Biden the Appeaser.

“To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” —George Washington (1790)

The mainstream media was wall-to-wall with praise this week for Joe Biden’s unannounced visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in observance of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022.

Problem is, it’s NOT the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the irony of Biden’s pop-in is that Vladimir Putin did not dare expand his territorial invasion when Donald Trump was president, only doing so once Biden was in office … again. Fact is, the Russo-Ukrainian War began nine years ago on 20 February 2014.

That invasion was the latest of conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, which began more than 400 years ago. Ukrainians spent much of the 20th century mounting insurgencies against Soviet Union invaders until the collapse of the USSR’s communist reign of tyranny and terror in 1991, when Ukraine regained its tentative sovereignty.

But the rise of KGB thug Putin to the office of Russia’s prime minster in 2008, and president in 2012, put the reacquisition of Ukraine squarely in his sights. In 2014, when he knew then-President Barack Obama and his then-VP Biden would present no resistance, Putin invaded and forced the “annexation” of the very strategically important Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and used Russian-backed forces to seize the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts of Ukraine’s Donbas region. Obama and Biden empowered Putin’s “Russian Spring” invasion. How inconsiderate of Putin after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave his foreign minister a “reset button.”

The 2014 invasion was Putin’s retaliation after the Maidan Revolution of Dignity, which culminated in the exile of his puppet President Viktor Yanukovych, and the restoration of the 2004 constitution. Notably, it was a year later that Joe Biden threatened to cut military aid to Ukraine if then-newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not take measures to protect Hunter Biden from prosecution.

Putin’s 2022 expansion in Ukraine, what Biden referred to as a “minor incursion,” occurred after Biden had assured voters 18 months earlier: “Vladimir Putin doesn’t want me to be president. … If you’re wondering why — it’s because I’m the only person in this field who’s ever gone toe-to-toe with him.”

He added that if Trump was reelected, “Imagine what he can do … imagine what can happen to Ukraine.” How did that turn out?

When Trump was in office, the coward Putin cowered. But power does not tolerate a vacuum, nor an inept and vacuous appeaser. Consequently, weakness invites aggression. As Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) summarized the “feckless appeaser”: “The weakness Biden has demonstrated, whether against Russia, whether against the Taliban, whether against the Chinese communists, that weakness is dangerous.”

Last February, Putin did exactly what he told Biden and the rest of the world he was going to do: expand his territorial conquest of Ukraine in what was the largest Russian invasion since its attack on Poland in 1939. Anyone who believes Putin would invade Ukraine if Trump was still president is pathologically delusional. Putin’s “minor incursion” is the direct consequence of an incompetent commander-in-chief in the White House, who was a moron long before being elected.

In December 2021, two months before Putin’s February offensive, I correctly detailed his objectives in Ukraine. Those objectives have not changed.

I noted then: “Red China and Russia are tag-teaming, testing Biden’s lack of resolve to confront authoritarian tyrants, as aptly demonstrated by his surrender and retreat from Afghanistan. That test case demonstrated that Biden was not willing to take on the Taliban, a far less threatening adversary than either Russia’s dictator Putin or China’s dictator Xi. … Clearly, Biden’s demonstrable ineptitude in Afghanistan has green-lighted Putin and Xi — and they are on the move.”

What Biden’s ineptness created is a much stronger alliance between Russia and China — what any seasoned national security analyst recognizes as the most dangerous threat to the U.S. since the Soviet Union’s collapse. That alliance is the direct consequence of Biden’s failed diplomacy and has obviously reshaped global order in some very dangerous ways.

On his visit with Zelensky, Biden declared: “I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war. [Putin is] counting on us not sticking together. He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now. God knows what he’s thinking, but I don’t think he’s thinking that. But he’s just been plain wrong.”

As National Review’s senior political analyst Jim Geraghty notes, “Biden wants to be perceived as Winston Churchill, but it is very hard to cultivate a Churchillian image when you’re habitually indecisive.”

Indeed, Biden was very late to the front with sufficient military assistance for what is a very strategically important proxy war with Russia. Biden provided just enough funding so Ukraine would “not lose” instead of ensuring it could win. As one colleague on the ground put it, Biden has been “stringing it out,” but the resulting “gradual escalation has become economically and morally challenging.” Only in recent months has Ukraine scored repeated “victories” against Russian invaders, estimates now being that nearly 1,000 Russian regulars are being killed daily. Though Ukraine is suffering several hundred casualties daily, at present, Russia can sustain the losses.

The United Nations is expected to vote on a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities and a peace agreement that ensures Ukraine’s “sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity.” A majority of the 193 member countries will vote for that resolution, though it will be of no consequence given that Putin will not stop the killing.

As Biden’s SecDef Lloyd Austin warned of Putin’s coming spring offensive, Republican leaders also went to Ukraine to insist Biden increase our military commitments to ensure Ukraine’s success sooner rather than later.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) was also in Kyiv this week along with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Keith Self (R-TX), Max Miller (R-OH), and Jake Ellzey (R-TX). They are asking Biden to increase our nation’s military and financial commitment to ensure Ukraine’s victory. The four congressional aid packages since the conflict began now total about $113 billion, about $50 billion in direct military assistance and the balance in humanitarian and government support. According to the Congressional Record, about half of that support was delivered in the last year and the rest allocated for the future. (Note: $113 billion is a big commitment of aid to Ukraine, but some media outlets, including Fox News, have erroneously asserted the U.S. has paid $200 billion in military and humanitarian assistance. That number is not supported by any accounting estimates.)

Notably, the World Bank now estimates the cost of rebuilding Ukraine will be in excess of $400 billion, twice the amount of Ukraine’s total pre-war GDP.

Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) has put the Biden administration on notice regarding accountability for all U.S. aid to Ukraine. In a long-overdue formal letter to the Biden administration, Comer declares: “It is critical that government agencies administering these funds ensure they are used for their intended purposes to prevent and reduce the risk of waste, fraud and abuse. The United States takes very seriously our responsibility to ensure appropriate oversight of all U.S. assistance.  We are actively engaged with the government of Ukraine to ensure accountability, even amidst the challenging conflict environment. Providing security and humanitarian assistance for warfighting and reconstruction purposes comes with an inherent risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. The United States must identify these risks and develop oversight mechanisms to mitigate them. We learned from efforts in Afghanistan that the World Bank does not always have effective monitoring and accounting of funds and often lacks transparency.”

There are legitimate questions about whether that non-military funding is going where it is intended, or landing in the pockets of corrupt Ukrainian officials – Ukraine has a long history of corruption.

Moving forward, there are also legitimate questions about whether our nation should continue its current levels of support for Ukrainian defense. I would argue that, given the Russia poses the most immediate threat to our European NATO partners, that they should be picking up a much greater share of the Ukrainian defense support costs. Arguably, as I noted previously, if Trump was still in office, we would likely not be having this debate, but if Putin had dared invade Ukraine under a second Trump term, Trump’s response would likely be in keeping with the tone of his foreign policies, aggressive and strong, but he would be demanding that NATO pick up a much greater share of the defense cost.

Indeed, there is some softening of American support for Ukraine. According to Pew Research, “About a quarter (26%) now say the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine, while 31% say it is giving the right amount and 20% would like to see the U.S. give Ukraine additional assistance.”

Our analyst Doug Andrews is among those questioning the dollars being allocated to Ukraine, noting what those “U.S. taxpayer funds could’ve done elsewhere — like, for example, securing our southern border, hardening our infrastructure against an electromagnetic pulse attack, or, if this administration is so hungry for conflict, why not fight a war against an enemy that’s responsible for the deaths of 300 Americans every single day: the Mexican drug cartels and the Chinese manufacturers of fentanyl?”

Good question, but I would challenge the notion that those dollars should have come from Ukraine aid rather than from hundreds of billions of Biden’s wasted boondoggle bucks in his latest bloated and inflationary budget — now estimated to add $6 trillion to the current $31.6 trillion national debt.

Arguably, military defense and national security spending falls under the umbrella of constitutionally authorized spending, whereas many of both Democrat and Republican domestic spending programs do not.

Andrews also questioned the wisdom of our intervention in the Russo-Ukrainian war. While I agree with his concerns, I do not agree with his conclusions, which are shared by some Republican senators including Eric Schmitt, J.D. Vance, and Rand Paul, and members of the House Republicans’ Freedom Caucus. These objections have also been voiced by some populist conservative commentators, which has softened public support for the aid. Those voices are important brake checks on American involvement in Ukraine.

Moreover, Gov. Ron Desantis, a leading voice of the Republican Party, notes an objection we all have: “[Biden’s] very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own border here at home.” He is certainly right about the direct threat posed by Biden’s open border policy.

Notably however, a year ago DeSantis declared correctly that Biden hasn’t “done enough to really hit Putin where it counts,” and he aggressively and appropriately supported military aide going back to 2014 as a member of Congress, after Russia’s first invasion. But DeSantis now objects to Biden’s current proposals to send weapons to Ukraine which would likely be used offensively, including F-16 fighters and long-range missiles. I agree with DeSantis on this point, that enabling Ukraine to increase its offensive strike capability could result in escalation into broader warfare, necessitating NATO, and thus U.S. military intervention.

There are certainly legitimate questions about our assumptions and objectives in Ukraine.

As I noted in my December 2021 analysis, Obama’s former SecDef Robert Gates, who was previously CIA director, noted at the time of the 2014 invasion that Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” He doubled down on that assessment after Biden’s deadly and disastrous surrender and retreat from Afghanistan in 2021, noting also Biden’s opposition to “every one of Ronald Reagan’s military programs to contest the Soviet Union.”

However, the fact that Biden has been wrong in the past does not mean that everyone advising him is now wrong, and as I wrote six months ago, the outcome of Ukraine’s war with Putin will have significant American and global security implications. Assuming it won’t and that we don’t have a high stake in that outcome is perilously misinformed.

Our current strategy to contain Russian expansion in Ukraine by draining Putin’s military resources and treasury follows the Soviet collapse model that Ronald Reagan successfully implemented. Setting up that collapse also required enormous cost burdens on the U.S. treasury — but a fraction of the cost of frontal war with Russia. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it is indicative of a leader whose only option for foreign policy success is imitation.

For perspective, the analysts I know for that region uniformly understand, and have from the beginning, that this is a proxy war — one they also agree we would not be in if not for Biden’s weakness and ineptitude. However, it is a pennies on the dollar war compared to what we would have had to pay to achieve what has been thus far achieved against Putin/Russia. And one of our key objectives would be to keep Russia militarily obligated, making it in theory less a threat to NATO in Europe, so that the day the ChiComs come across the Taiwan Straits, we don’t have two viable warfronts.

Our military analyst Charles Paige, a former Marine officer who has been a military advisor in Ukraine for most of the last year, wrote a month ago, “How and Why to Win in Ukraine.” In discussions with him this past week, here are what we believe to be the pros and cons of our national security interests in Ukraine now.

Pros:

1) We are doing the right/moral/just thing. This is a clear case of good vs. evil, as much so as our direct military operations against al-Qa'ida Islamists after the 9/11 attack on our nation. And we have a clear strategic picture of what an eventual win will look like. We are materially and financially supporting a people who genuinely seek — crave — Liberty and justice ensured by good governance. We are working to restore internationally recognized borders, not some vague definition of nation-building or checking an ill-defined global communist menace — not that those weren’t valid strategic goals, just that it’s a lot harder to define what a win looks like in those cases.

2) NATO is more unified and more “ready” than it has ever been. NATO leaders meet regularly, have a shared sense of purpose and urgency, and have identified and are working to correct material and budget deficiencies. Several nations that were on the fence have gotten off — on our side. There are shortfalls and still some who aren’t shouldering their full load, but better to identify those shortfalls and work to correct them when the Russian army is stuck in eastern Ukraine than in eastern Poland — or worse. Notably, in addition to European unity against Putin, he is also encountering growing resistance within Russia.

3) By Western military standards, a unit is considered “combat ineffective” when it’s sustained a loss of more than 30% of its personnel or primary equipment. We — our equipment and ammunition, employed by Ukrainian soldiers — have rendered almost the entire Russian army combat ineffective without putting a single U.S. serviceman at risk. Putin underestimated the tenacity of Ukrainians, both those in uniform and street resistance fighters. Combat ineffective doesn’t mean they’re going to roll over and quit fighting, but in the unlikely event we do go head-to-head with Russia in the next decade, or China, as noted above, we have reduced the cost — particularly the human cost — of that future conflict with Russia by orders of magnitude.

4) A significant chunk of the military aid in question is actually going to U.S. manufacturing jobs. We are drawing down our stocks — giving Ukraine some of our older equipment, parts, and ammunition — and will replace it with new items to be manufactured. We’ve also realized our base is inadequate and are building new production facilities for things like artillery ammunition.

5) We’ve been down the “land for peace” road before. It didn’t turn out well then and wouldn’t this time. If we (the U.S. in particular, but the West in general) used one of the many excuses that have been floated — it’s not our fight, we need to keep our powder dry, we can’t afford it, etc., particularly in the wake of the Afghan disaster — it would confirm the ChiComs’ assessment that we’re weak and make them more likely, not less, to try to take Taiwan. Putin no doubt saw the Afghanistan fiasco as an opportunity; it’s hard to see Xi interpreting our collective response in Ukraine the same way.

6) The Russo-Ukraine war has supercharged the debate on energy and shined a bright light on domestic ecofascists and their dangerously reckless energy agenda.

Cons:

1) It comes at a financial cost. We are in a deep — and deepening — hole financially as a country, which is itself a national security risk. We need to make deep structural changes and cuts … soon. But this is not the place to do that for the reasons mentioned above. Still, we can’t just keep adding everyone’s pet spending projects without any corresponding cuts.

2) We’re at the limits of our current defense industrial base. If China (or Iran or North Korea) made a move tomorrow, we have what we need to respond, but we would face some tough choices pretty quickly.

3) It remains to be seen how long Putin can stay in the fight, but suffice it to say that a cornered Putin presents a dangerous tactical nuclear threat. And to drive that point home, Putin announced he is rejecting the New START arms treaty between global nuclear powers — but he has impeded compliance with the treaty since Biden was elected.

4) We are also at the limits of our national command authority “attention span” or “bandwidth.” It’s hard to really say what that capacity is until it’s tested, but given the struggles with things like whether to destroy a ChiCom balloon provocation, it doesn’t appear that we have a leadership team in place that would fare well in a situation where they had to make hard strategic choices between two distinct parts of the world (Ukraine and Taiwan). The great hope is that most of the subordinate military leaders — the commander of INDOPACOM, for example — would rise to the occasion. Furthermore, we can’t underestimate the congressional leadership’s ability to make a mess of things. It is not clear that this crowd would fare well in a hot war with China even if there wasn’t anything else going on in the world.

So, is the Russo-Ukrainian war an endless proxy war for the U.S.?

As I have written previously, the tidiest way to terminate Putin’s murderous Ukraine invasion — and his tyrannical dictatorship in Russia — is for a member of his security or military detail to put a bullet in his head. The more war and sanction-related civil unrest that emerges in Russia’s major cities, the more likely a proud and heroic individual may impose that “regime change” — and that individual would qualify for a “Hero of Russia” medal.

That unlikely prospect withstanding, consider the words of nineteenth century philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his essay “The Contest In America”: “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. A man who has nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance at being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

Clearly, despite the fact the Ukraine war is a deadly slog, the Ukrainian people do not have a “degraded state of moral and patriotic” duty, which besieges to many of our countrymen today. Their spirit is an inspiration!

That being said, we believe the most dangerous threat to U.S. national security has been and remains the boundless incompetence of Joe Biden — and his equally inept foreign policy hacks. That would be just one of many reasons Biden has been unable to keep his public approval rating above 45% over the last 18 months.

And I stand by the assertion that everyone who voted for Biden voted for the terror that now besieges Ukrainian men, women, and children, and voted for the bloodshed to come.

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

FOOTNOTE: Some commentators who oppose support for Ukraine are referencing our Founders objections to “entangling alliances” to support their position. Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, mentioned “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none…” That was a continuation of George Washington’s cautious and isolationist foreign policy, his “Doctrine of Unstable Alliances” as outlined in his farewell address: “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. … It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

However, the contemporary references citing “entangling alliances” are out of context, as the original references related primarily to caution regarding treaties between the monarchs, which resulted in wars almost seasonally. By today’s standard this could apply to objections regarding our membership in the United Nations. However, as our nation’s Minister to France, Jefferson himself negotiated treaties with Prussia (1785) and France (1788). Notably as president, in 1801 Jefferson also launched America’s first war against a foreign adversary, the Barbary pirates, despite numerous regional treaties.

To the point, after Putin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, strategic national security analyst George Friedman wrote of “entangling alliances,”: “The idea of withdrawing from the world is appealing to any reasonable person. But Washington and Jefferson couldn’t do it even though they extolled it. … The best we can do is to be ruthless in deciding which entanglements are valuable and which will drain us.” I would argue that our draining UN alliance is of questionable merit, but most assuredly our NATO alliance remains very valuable.

As George Washington famously observed, “To be prepared for war, is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

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