February 24, 2023

How to End the Ukraine War

Figuring out a plausible and acceptable end to the shooting seems pretty important. Yet this topic has somehow been off-limits in the national discussion.

The war in Ukraine has been tragic for Ukrainians. It’s in America’s interest to dissuade other countries from rolling through their neighbors’ borders. Stability matters in the world.

Other things matter, too.

From an American policy perspective, the long-term security of the American people should always matter most. That’s obvious, but it doesn’t seem to be the driving force today. America’s long-term security includes, more than anything, not putting young American lives at risk in a war with Russia. Given this paramount concern, it seems odd that important and obvious questions are not being asked and answered. Specifically, how will the war come to an end in a way that doesn’t put those young American lives in danger? As the father of an 18-year-old, I’m keenly interested. So are many others.

The war has been going on for more than a year. The Ukrainians have hung on longer and fought more bravely than many experts would have predicted. Russia has taken some huge losses. America, a country with increasingly worrisome national finances, has thrown in massive support for the cause. What is the end game? For anyone interested most in long-term peace and security and in making sure the situation doesn’t lead to World War III, figuring out a plausible and acceptable end to the shooting seems pretty important. Yet this topic has somehow been off-limits in the national discussion. Just asking it will get you accused of supporting Putin. You don’t have to be a Putin sympathizer to want to protect American kids from fighting Russia or to care about the ultimate nightmare of driving Russia and China closer together. Yet that’s just what the strategy to date seems to be doing.

The Western world has largely galvanized against President Vladimir Putin’s assault on a neighboring state’s sovereign border. The response has been dramatic. Sleepy European NATO countries stepped up their military budgets. They are also providing weapons and aid for Ukraine. The U.S. has, of course, provided massive levels of support. Remember when the experts said Donald Trump’s border wall was not a real option because America couldn’t afford it? The total cost was estimated at $20 to $25 billion. The U.S. has already sent $100 billion to Ukraine, and the meter is still ticking. Beyond the fiscal impact, the weapons systems sent to Ukraine are growing more and more deadly. All this has helped the Ukrainians hold the line and inflict reportedly huge losses on Russian forces. Yet, as the impact of more and more deadly American weapons systems grows, and as each day passes without a resolution, the danger of the U.S. being drawn into the conflict increases. That’s just a fact.

Increased NATO defense spending is a good thing. The U.S. has subsidized the rest of NATO for too long and cannot afford to do so forever. Other results have not been positive. Russia has already announced its withdrawal from its nuclear reduction treaty with the U.S. Perhaps even more worrisome, the American and European response to Russia’s Ukraine incursion has driven Russia and China closer together. Due to Western sanctions, Russian trade with China is skyrocketing. Russia and China have agreed to increase military cooperation. It’s difficult to come up with a worse outcome from an American perspective.

The really big question is where does this all end?

The default presumption by Washington and much of the West seems to be that Russia must be completely defeated. It’s difficult to see this happening in the real world. Everyone seems to agree that Putin is a mad man and an autocrat. Is there really any scenario where Putin leaves Ukraine completely and just admits defeat? Would Putin even be able to remain in power if he did? Driving Putin out of power seems like a positive development, but it’s foolish to presume he would do that voluntarily. And even if he did, would the chaos left in his wake in a country with the world’s biggest nuclear stockpile — be even worse from an American perspective? These are basic questions, but they couldn’t be more important, and we don’t hear them discussed much.

If Putin is as autocratic and unstable as we are told, would he resort to attacking a NATO ally or using nuclear weapons if facing ultimate defeat? Can anyone be certain this option is off the table for him? That’s a big bet, but it sure seems like the bet America is making. If a desperate Putin did use nuclear weapons, America has already said it would result in “catastrophic consequences.” This is a nightmare scenario that must be avoided at all costs.

All risks considered, a negotiated settlement appears to be the best way out of this war. A recent report by the Rand Corporation, the world’s preeminent defense policy think tank, came to just this conclusion. The Rand authors concluded that the U.S. cannot support the war in Ukraine long-term and simultaneously press forward other priorities like protecting Taiwan from China. Yet, to date, the U.S. policy has not pushed for a settlement of any sort. To the contrary, President Joe Biden has emphasized that support will continue for as long as necessary and that decisions on negotiations are for Ukraine alone.

In the plainest terms, the current policy is essentially “here’s a blank check” available forever. This honestly does not seem like an adult strategy. It’s fanciful. Given America’s financial state, its other priorities, the risk of the war expanding to draw in NATO, the fact that the current strategy is drawing China and Russia closer together, and the risk of a desperate Putin using nuclear weapons, it’s past time for a more realistic strategy. That strategy has to include a push to end the war without American blood being shed. You don’t need to be a Putin sympathizer to have this view. You just need to be someone looking out for America’s interests and protecting the lives of Americans above all else. It’s time for the U.S. to press for peace.


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