1) Further to this post, (part 2 of it is also based on a piece by Mr Douthat),
the house conservative at the NY Times “Sunday Review” again sounds precautionary notes–and keep in mind that the main enemy is well to the east. The second part of his article today:
…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.”
These theories all seem to confuse what is desirable with what is likely, and what is morally ideal with what is strategically achievable [emphasis added]. I have written previously about the risks of nuclear escalation in the event of a Russian military collapse, risks that hawkish theories understate. But given the state of the war right now, the more likely near-future scenario is one where Russian collapse remains a pleasant fancy, the conflict becomes stalemated and frozen, and we have to put our Ukrainian policy on a sustainable footing without removing Putin’s regime or dismantling the Russian empire.
In that scenario, our plan cannot be to keep writing countless checks while tiptoeing modestly around the Ukrainians and letting them dictate the ends to which our guns and weaponry are used. The United States is an embattled global hegemon facing threats more significant than Russia. We are also an internally divided country led by an unpopular president whose majorities may be poised for political collapse. So if Kyiv and Moscow are headed for a multiyear or even multi-decade frozen conflict, we will need to push Ukraine toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy. And just as urgently, we will need to shift some of the burden of supporting Kyiv from our own budget to our European allies [emphasis added].
Righteous (and properly felt) disgust over the brutal Russian conduct of the war nonetheless should not lead to emotional rejection–unless the Russians simply collapse–of all efforts to find ways to end the fighting that result in less than a complete defeat for Bad Vlad Putin. Horrid though he be the Russian vozhd is still not Hitler. Nor Stalin. Nor Mao.
Moreover, should Russia somehow end up “humiliated”, it is absurd to think that any new government would be truly conciliatory or democratic. Rather think of Germans lusting for revenge after World War I.
A tweet by the noted strategist and historian, Edward Luttwak:
Plebiscites were held in several contested border regions after World War I.
2) Plus excerpts from the newsletter, TOP SECRET UMBRA, of John Schindler (tweets here), a serious historian of the Italian and Russian/Austrian fronts in World War, as well as an expert on intelligence matters; do read it all:
The current Russian advance in Ukraine, driven by artillery, should surprise nobody who’s acquainted with history – in fact, it’s happened before
After initial bloody setbacks, the Russian military is advancing deep in Ukraine. Defenders have acquitted themselves with unexpected grit, blunting initial Russian blows. But eventually weight of shell begins to turn the tide as the attacker’s artillery outnumbers and outguns the defenders. Soon, a debacle looms as retreat threatens to turn into a rout. The high hopes of just weeks before, the victory euphoria seeing Russian forces reeling from heavy blows, slowly turn to doubt, even despair.
It’s the summer of 1914.
Watching battlefield events unfold in Ukraine’s Southeast in recent days, as Russia’s aggression against its neighbor is in its fourth month, it’s difficult for anybody acquainted with that country’s military history not to feel an unsettling sense of déjà vu.
…the Ukraine war has shifted to the country’s Southeast, where Russia made landgrabs in the Donbas in 2014. Here, Moscow is making its move, with the obvious objective of recreating Novorossiya with a land-bridge to Crimea through the devastated city of Mariupol, now in Russian hands after an almost three-month siege that claimed thousands of lives. Such an imperial-throwback concept like rebirthing some facsimile of Novorossiya across southern Ukraine – if extended to Moldova it would economically cripple what’s left of Ukraine by taking away its Black Sea access – makes some strategic and geographic sense and was always the Kremlin’s achievable objective in this war. Now, Putin is doing that.
What happens next cannot be predicted with certainty but Ukraine’s looming defeat in the Southeast paradoxically offers a way to cease the fighting, at least temporarily. Given the economic pain caused by sanctions, which is only getting worse, Putin would be wise to pause his offensives after achieving modest success in the Southeast: at this point, the Kremlin is looking for a win, any win, to sell to the Russian public as justification for the enormous cost in blood and treasure of Putin’s war-of-choice.
Militarily, Russia’s offensive in the Southeast, though plodding, seems to be finally going Moscow’s way. At last, the Russian military is playing to its strengths in firepower. The Kremlin has decided to crush Ukrainian resistance, one punishing artillery barrage at a time…
…Current events in Ukraine eerily resemble summertime military operations in that country, 108 years ago. That was the Battle for Galicia, in today’s Western Ukraine, which was a grave defeat for Austria-Hungary, indeed a setback from which that country’s military never really recovered…
Some of the similarities…are troubling. In 1914, as today, the Russians dealt harshly with civilians in Galicia whom they considered disloyal or dangerous: some were shot outright while many thousands of others, Ukrainian, Poles, and especially Jews, were abducted and dispatched deep into Russia as hostages.
…the continuities between the fight for Ukraine in 1914 and the fight today appear more significant than the differences. Again, a Russian army backed by vast amounts of gunnery is grinding defenders down…
The outcome of the battle for the Donbas may well determine Ukraine’s fate for years to come. Local defeat looms but that need not become strategic defeat: that depends on Kyiv’s military moves right now. Time is the most undervalued aspect of warfighting but also the most difficult to grasp. War invariably develops its own logic. In that sense, war never changes, particularly when it involves Russians.
P.S. For readers seeking more on the Galician campaign of summer 1914 and its decisive impact on European history, I modestly recommend my book on the subject.
And a very good book it is:
This recent post is also relevant: