President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress have committed the American People to a moral crusade designed to justify an open-ended proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. Proxy war—a conflict in which the U.S. is aligned with a belligerent (Ukraine) but is not directly involved—appeals to Washington because Ukrainians, not Americans, fight or die in the conflict.
Of course, blurring the line between war and peace with Moscow is dangerous; only more so in Ukraine, because Russian Military Operations cannot be stopped unless the American People are prepared to go to war. This recognition has not prevented an expanding U.S. military commitment to Ukraine in the form of military advice and materiel assistance, but U.S. assistance cannot change the reality that more weapons and better intelligence support from Washington and its NATO allies will not secure victory for Ukrainian Forces.
Consider history. America’s war against Japan in the Pacific was decided more by the sheer weight of U.S. Naval Power than by any specific weapon system or platform. The war in Ukraine is no different. New weapon systems in the hands of Ukrainian forces compelled Russian formations to adjust their tactics, but Russian strategy toward Ukraine is unchanged.
There is little doubt that the massive influx of weapon systems from the U.S. and its NATO allies has extended the war in Ukraine well beyond its normal end point, but forces that are immobilized in defensive positions do not win wars. In war, the exaggerated faith in human courage and will power is always a poor answer to overwhelming, accurate, and devastating firepower.
Before sending more weapons to Ukraine, President Biden and his bipartisan supporters in the Senate might want to reconsider fighting the war to the last Ukrainian. Washington must explain to the American People what the U.S. gains strategically by sacrificing Ukraine in a war Ukrainians cannot win. Otherwise, Washington’s ruling class will end up like President Lyndon Johnson and his Cabinet in George Ball’s words, “Like a flock of buzzards sitting on a fence, sending the young men off to be killed.”
Washington’s timing for the proxy war in Ukraine is also problematic for reasons that have nothing to do with Ukraine. President Biden’s approval ratings are falling through the basement. Thanks to open borders, Illegal drug, and human trafficking is occurring on an industrial scale to the point where fentanyl is now the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 through 45.
America’s economy is decelerating and sliding into recession, or worse. Supply chain disruptions that predate the war in Ukraine are worsening with the result that global prices, especially for oil, natural gas, food, and fertilizer are soaring. It’s no surprise that beyond the confines of the Washington Beltway, many Americans think public order and the rule of law, the hallmarks of American Civilization, are breaking down.
There is no doubt that the Western information campaign that demonizes Russia and ignores the last 30 years of U.S. policy decisions that made the conflict in Ukraine inevitable has had an impact. Few, if any, Western News Media point out that in Ukraine, media are treated as an instrument for state interests. The tendency is to blacken Russia’s image and results in an acute lack of Western interest in discovering crimes that Ukrainian forces perpetrate.
Thanks to politicized American media that largely exclude political views that challenge the Biden Administration’s prevailing narrative on Ukraine, there are plenty of senior officers in the Pentagon and in U.S. European Command embraces the idea of war with Russia. In addition to believing that Washington is morally obligated to lead another dubious Wilsonian crusade for human rights and liberal democracy in Eastern Europe, many senior officers also harbor concerns that Russian success in Ukraine will further weaken America’s national credibility; a motive for the 1965 decision to intervene in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Americans outside of the Washington bubble are beginning to see the Biden Administration and its supporting cast in congress as an old warship at sea that is “not under command;” a battleship without a captain that behaves like a runaway train. There is a sense that in the absence of strong presidential leadership, moral posturing in U.S. foreign policy eventually translates into pressure for U.S. military action against Russia that, given the choice, most Americans do not want.
Washington’s ruling political class thinks it stands so high as to be out of the reach of fate and accountability. It’s not the case. The last 20 years of failed military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have taught Americans that moral pretensions do not make America stronger. In truth, conflicts fought in the name of lofty moral principles intensify violence and make realistic postwar settlements difficult, if not possible. Nowhere is this difficulty more pronounced than in Ukraine.
Douglas Macgregor, Col. (ret.) is a senior fellow with The American Conservative, the former advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, a decorated combat veteran, and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).