‘As Long as It Takes’

The Russia-Ukraine War Enters Its Third Year with No End in Sight

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Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

Russia launched its “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24th, 2022. Russia and Ukraine had been feuding since 2014, with U.S. meddling in Ukraine exacerbating the tensions. NATO expansion to Russia and Ukraine’s borders, along with calls to incorporate Ukraine into NATO at some future date, also led to increased tensions with Russia. The result has been a costly and enduring war in which Ukraine has lost roughly 20% of its territory in the east; both sides have suffered high casualties in horrendous conditions that recall the trench warfare of World War I.

At the moment, Russia appears to have the edge. Ukraine recently lost the city of Avdiivka. Manpower in Ukraine is stretched thin. The average age of troops at the front for Ukraine is 43 even as I’ve seen stories touting the recruitment of young women for the front as well as 17-year-old teenagers. Artillery ammunition is in short supply; $60 billion in weapons, munitions, and other military aid from the United States is frozen in Congress. A path to military victory for Ukraine is unclear.

Nevertheless, the Biden/Harris administration is fully behind the Ukraine war effort. I take the title of this article from Vice President Kamala Harris and her recent vow that the U.S. will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” The word “it” apparently refers to a complete victory by Ukraine over Russia by force of arms, i.e. the expulsion or withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukrainian territory. Since it is unlikely Vladimir Putin will withdraw his troops voluntarily, the U.S. government has signed up to support Ukraine until it is able to defeat Russian forces on the battlefield, whether that takes one year, five years, or forever and a day.

Such an open-ended commitment by the U.S. requires some explanation. The conventional narrative goes something like this: Putin is a bully and a thug. He is the next Hitler, or even worse. If he’s allowed to win in Ukraine, he will be emboldened to strike at NATO countries in Europe. Meanwhile, other authoritarian dictators around the world will see Russia’s victory as permission to strike at U.S. interests globally, undermining democracy and the “rules-based order.” Supporting Ukraine with vast sums and amounts of weaponry and munitions, therefore, is necessary to stop worldwide aggression by Putin and those who would emulate him. This is, in essence, the narrative of the Biden administration.

I believe this narrative is wrong. I see no evidence that Putin has plans to invade NATO countries; indeed, his invasion of Ukraine has strengthened NATO and led to its expansion. Russia is bogged down in a costly war in Ukraine, and while its forces have generally performed better recently than they did two years ago when they first invaded, the outcome of this war remains unclear. The Russian economy isn’t strong; an enduring war in Ukraine isn’t beneficial to Putin or the Russian people.

So far, “diplomacy” seems to be the hardest word in this conflict. Negotiation seems to be seen as capitulation. There’s evidence to suggest the U.S. and Great Britain have discouraged – even sabotaged – talk of ceasefires and settlements. To my knowledge, there are no efforts by the U.S. to seek a truce or some kind of armistice or other agreement that would end the war with all its suffering and devastation. The war must go on, full stop.

More than a stated fear of Putin as the new Hitler is involved here. Domestic politics are critical. In the U.S., Democrats are using Republican opposition to $60 billion in more aid to Ukraine to accuse GOP members of favoring Russia and of sabotaging Ukraine’s noble and heroic war effort. If the Republican-controlled House doesn’t approve the $60 billion aid package and Ukraine suffers a serious setback this year, Democrats will accuse Republicans of having “lost” Ukraine, of having become Putin-appeasers. Facing this possibility, it’ll be interesting to see if Republicans eventually cave and provide the $60 billion in aid.

Meanwhile, the military-industrial-congressional complex continues to profit from this war. The U.S. State Department recently boasted of a 56% increase in foreign arms sales in 2023, much of that going to Ukraine. More and more, the State Department is simply a tiny branch of the Pentagon, “negotiating” through arms sales and shipments and boasting of profits from the same.

War may be the health of the state of the self-styled “arsenal of democracy,” but it’s very unhealthy for the people of Ukraine and Russia and indeed for the planet. The New York Times, consistently on the side of Ukraine and more war, recently referred to the heavy troop losses of both sides and the “relentless devastation” of a war being fought on Ukrainian territory. Recent articles in publications like Reuters and The New Yorker pose the question, “Can Ukraine Still Win?” Their conclusion seems to be “possibly,” but not in 2024, and not without massive aid from the U.S., and even then, “victory” by feat of arms is increasingly unlikely.

Meanwhile, I keep seeing articles that favor more offensive and destructive weaponry for Ukraine, most recently long-range missiles to strike at Russia. Recall that U.S./NATO aid to Ukraine first focused on defensive weapons such as Stinger and Javelin missiles. Very quickly, aid escalated to armored vehicles, including main battle tanks (Challenger, Leopard, and Abrams), heavy artillery, rockets, and now F-16 fighter jets. Tank ammunition included depleted uranium shells; artillery rounds included cluster munitions. All these weapons have increased the deadliness of the battlefield, ensuring a blasted, dangerous, and toxic environment for generations to come without delivering decision on the battlefield for Ukraine.

The outlook for 2024 seems dire. Ukraine, outgunned and outmanned, is facing another bleak year of war. Optimism about a decisive Ukrainian counteroffensive (that was supposed to come in 2023) is long gone, with U.S. advisors having pointed fingers at Ukrainian leaders for their alleged hesitancy in absorbing large casualties on the offensive. An increasing number of American voters are questioning whether a war costing them roughly $180 billion in two years (assuming the Biden aid package is approved) is truly in their national interest, even as Members of Congress tell them that much of that money provides good-paying jobs to Americans making bullets and bombs to kill Russians.

Is America an arsenal of democracy, or just an arsenal?

Having served in the U.S. military for 20 years during the end of the Cold War, I remember a time when U.S. leaders talked to their Soviet counterparts. Kennedy talked to Khrushchev, Nixon talked to Brezhnev, Reagan talked to Gorbachev. Agreements were reached; crises were deescalated; wars were avoided. Courage and resoluteness aren’t shown through more weapons and war; they’re shown by reducing weapons and putting an end to war. Why can’t Biden talk to Putin?

“Blessed are the peacemakers” is a sentiment that shouldn’t be limited to the New Testament. If only this nation’s leaders would work to pursue peace “for as long as it takes.” Sadly, war always finds a way, especially when it’s sold as stopping the next Hitler.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.

3 thoughts on “‘As Long as It Takes’”

  1. Lt. Astore (ret.) has set the hair of the warmongers/Christian Nationalists on fire talking about peace with his “blessed are the peacemakers”. I say thank you.

  2. “Russia is bogged down in a costly war in Ukraine, and while its forces
    have generally performed better recently than they did two years ago
    when they first invaded, the outcome of this war remains unclear”

    No, it doesn’t remain unclear. The only reason the Russian flag is not flying over Kiev – and Lvov – is because Russia is patient and has no desire for unnecessary casualties until its enemy has been ground down to nothing.

    Astore should be aware that Russia has not yet committed the bulk of its immediately available forces to the war. But then he’s former US military. And as Andrei Martyanov points out every day, US military officers are clueless about modern war.

  3. FEB 22, 2024 The Culpable Negligence of Placing Ukraine over ‎Lahaina, East Palestine, and America as a Whole.

    Ukraine is scheduled to get another $60 billion while around $300 million has been given to the victims of the Maui Fires and no federal dollars have been allocated to the Families of East Palestine.



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