As I write this, Russia is escalating ground forces in Kiev with the goal of occupying the capital and installing a new regime more favorable to Moscow. The world is watching in horror as Ukrainian forces, standing alone and enlisting all men 18-60 to pick up arms and fight for their country.
The scenes coming from the city are heart wrenching.
What Can the United States Do in Ukraine
Before we can discuss what can be done, we have to acknowledge some facts as they exist.
- It is possible to acknowledge strategic and tactical moves employed by Putin to be smart or effective or even genius and NOT be rooting for the Russians or for Putin to emerge victorious in this conflict. Imagine playing chess and your opponent make a nifty play landing you in unexpected check.
- Trump was not elected in 2016 with help from the Russians or from Putin. There was no Russian Collusion. When you say that you sound like the people who claim the 2020 election was stolen.
- Nirvana is not for this world. There will be the biggest kid on the playground. Right now we can choose to have that kid be the United States or we can choose to have it be someone other than the United States. Choose wisely.
- There is little to no appetite in the United States to send soldiers to defend Ukraine.
- NATO is broken. As currently configured, NATO is just a term that we apply to the United States acting with the implicit approval of Europe. The member states of NATO have not been paying their share of the freight for a very long time. One way or the other, that has to change. Pay or go. Choose wisely.
- President Biden is suffering significant cognitive decline. The time has come for him to resign.
The United States has short and long term goals to consider.
Short Term Goals
Our current and perhaps only priority at the moment is the cessation of the conflict in Ukraine. One way or the other, Putin needs to stop the invasion and restore peace. This can take several paths:
- Ukraine surrenders
- Ukraine cedes the Eastern breakaway regions and retains the rest of the nation
- Putin surrenders and pulls back Russian forces
The question is which should the United States pursue?
I would like to see Putin call back his armies in full, would work very hard to prevent the outright surrender of the current Ukraine regime and would probably settle for some version of a split nation.
So, how do we get Putin to agree?
How to Prosecute for Peace
The United States does not want to commit ground troops to Ukraine. We know this. Putin knows this. The world, waving at you China, knows this. So, we have sanctions. But are sanctions enough?
I think that Putin has done the calculus on possible sanctions that we can impose on him, his cronies and his economy. I think he knows that the line he has crossed has cost him any future at the table of civilized nations going forward. I think that he knows that the only real, and is it really real, sanction that as any bite is to cut off Russian energy sales to the West.
But Putin has two aces up his sleeve.
- He knows the West NEEDS Russian oil as much as Russia needs the money.
- If we won’t buy his energy, China will.
Because of this, it is my belief that no amount of sanctioning by the West will move Putin in the direction we want him to move. For better or worse, he has cast his die.
What this means for peace is that the United States is going to have to become “war adjacent”.
It is not going to be enough to shuttle crates of bullets and guns to Ukrainian men in their 40’s. We are going to have to provide more and better and more tangible elements of war. Maybe this is securing air superiority in the region. Maybe it is by deploying rockets of our own. It might mean bombing key Russian installations.
Also, in lieu of sanctioning Russian exports of gas to the West, it might be time to bomb Russia’s energy infrastructure.
Short of this, there is little reason to think that the Ukrainians can do anything more than die with honor.
Long Term Goals
To be very clear, our long term goals have to end this obsession with the eradication of fossil fuels. I understand climate is changing. But it won’t change in any significant manner in such a time frame that warrants the danger to world peace that we currently find ourselves in. It is time to recognize that moving to a greener world can be accomplished by replacing energy sources that emit lots of CO2 with sources that, while still emitting CO2, emits less. Transitioning from coal to oil, then from oil to gas, is a win.
Take the dub.
Germany has to reopen its nuclear plants.
Germany has to replace the energy it is purchasing from Russia.
Same for the rest of the world.
The United States must restore energy independence that was in place when President Biden was elected.
This will almost certainly not occur under the current administration. Biden lacks the clarity of vision and even had he seen the light, the current democrat party as it is configured will not allow him to abandon the green energy policies that they have championed. The United States will have to elect a new President on an energy independent platform.
We find ourselves in a bleak position brought about by our own decisions and taken advantage of by a very shrewd Mr. Putin. We are not going to go to war, soldier v soldier, with Russia. We are as dependent of Russian oil as Russia is on Western money. There is not current appetite to change our energy policy in the US.
This means that the Ukrainians have a long night ahead, both literally and figuratively.