What began as a fairly straightforward U.S. policy of arming the Ukrainians with defensive weapons against Russian aggression has now expanded into a dangerous and rapid escalation. We now have embarked on the inevitable slippery slope of mission creep and where we will end up will probably not be where we had intended. If history has taught us anything it is that before engaging in an armed conflict, we must have a clearly defined end state and the strategy (the ends, way, and means) of achieving it. Right now, we have neither – the ghosts of Vietnam still haunt us.
The New York Times on Wednesday published an op-ed by Mr. Tom Stevenson arguing what many have been arguing for a while now: the Biden administration is openly — and recklessly — pursuing a policy of escalation in Ukraine that represents a new and very dangerous phase in the conflict.
Stevenson, a journalist who reported from Ukraine in the opening weeks of the war, states that initially the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rather straightforwardly, with supplies of defensive arms and humanitarian supplies to the Ukrainians and economic sanctions on Russia. But things have changed dramatically and rapidly over the past month.
Now, instead of simply helping Ukraine stave off the Russian invasion, U.S. policy seems to have shifted into something else entirely: the permanent weakening and dismemberment of Russia at any cost. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin just after a clandestine visit to Ukraine with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken last month stated, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” After her own recent “heels on the ground” visit to Kyiv, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi characterized the war as a “global struggle for democracy.”
To back up these claims, the Biden administration has now proposed a $40 billion military aid package to Ukraine, quadrupling what the United States has thus far given Ukraine since the outbreak of the war in late February. On top of that, it appears the U.S. military may be providing real-time battlefield targeting intelligence to the Ukrainians, arguably making the United States by definition an active belligerent in the conflict.
All of this amounts to a major policy shift on the part of the United States, writes Stevenson: “Whereas once the primary Western objective was to defend against the invasion, it has become the permanent strategic attrition of Russia.” This shift, he adds, has “coincided with the abandonment of diplomatic efforts.”
So what possible strategic gain does bleeding Russia in Ukraine hold for the United States? The risks of pursuing such a policy are immense, including the possibility of a thermonuclear war between the world’s top two nuclear powers. If the Biden administration has some overarching goal in mind, it has not laid it out for the American people and garnered their support.
As GEN Colin Powell warned us in the run up to the Gulf War, we must have clearly defined national security interests and widespread public support before any large-scale military action is taken. Somehow, I think GEN Powell is shaking his head right now as we continue to slide down the slippery slope towards unintended consequences which may include Armageddon. An end state no one wants but perhaps inevitable based on our current path.