Before the invasion, our top military commanders believed Russia would conquer Ukraine in 72 hours, but last week they claimed the war could go on for an indefinite period, up to a decade, and nothing could have prevented it except for US boots on the ground. Rarely has history been rewritten to cover abject failure so fast.
Way back in February, as in barely two months ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, told lawmakers behind closed doors that the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv, could fall within 3 days if Russia mounted a full scale invasion. Should this occur, he estimated some 15,000 Ukrainian troops would be killed along with 4,000 Russians, and his thinking well represented the establishment’s view at the time. The overall consensus was that Ukraine was completely outmatched with no chance to expel a Russian invasion. Perhaps the only people who disagreed with that assessment were the Ukrainians themselves, who insisted they’d been preparing for a possible Russian invasion for years and were ready to take on the Russian bear. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, claimed that “420,000 Ukrainian soldiers and every without exception commander have already looked in the eyes of death. Commanders of the Forces, commanders of brigades, battalions and companies are specialists in their field and patriots of their state. We will not give away a single piece of Ukrainian land!”
Alas, no one believed them, giving them no credit whatsoever until it was far too late. It should be obvious by now that this collective failure of both faith in the Ukrainian military and knowledge of the weaknesses of the Russian army are the main reasons we didn’t arm Ukraine with the heavy weaponry needed to succeed including fighter jets and anti ballistic missile systems before the invasion began. What would be the point of wasting good equipment and the manpower to move it in place if Russia was going to take over the country easily anyway? Instead, we attempted to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin with an ill-defined, incoherent set of sanctions, promising we would unleash economic misery at a hitherto unseen scale. In December, President Joe Biden insisted he told his Russian counterpart exactly that. “There were no minced words,” he said. “I made it very clear: if in fact he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences, economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen.”
As we know, President Putin was not deterred and proceeded to initiate the full scale invasion on February 20, 2022, but then something very surprising happened, at least to the establishment: The Ukrainians offered much stiffer resistance than expected. The fighting has dragged on for almost two months now, even without the weaponry they’ve asked for. Russia has been able to decimate cities, commit atrocities, kill thousands of people, many innocents, including women and young children, but they have not been able to take the capital or consistently hold Ukrainian lands. The result, so far, is a powerless international community looking on in horror at the worst military conflict in Europe since World War II. Some are claiming the current situation is a stalemate, or the Russians have stalled, or even changed strategies to focus on shoring up disputed regions in Eastern Ukraine, but nobody knows for sure what move they will make next. At the same time, everyone understands that the balance of power might well be tipped to the Ukrainian side if they had access to more advanced weapons, or if Western Europe and the United States had the will to implement a more aggressive strategy like a no fly zone. These strategies, however, risk a more direct conflict with Russia and, given they have one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals at their disposal, and President Putin appears hell bent on achieving his objectives in Ukraine whatever the costs, most observers are loathe to escalate our involvement beyond the status quo for obvious reasons.
Therefore, a rapid rewriting of history appears to be in order, lest the establishment be revealed as completely and utterly incompetent, and so General Milley along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin appeared before Congress last week, stunning the entire world with two never before uttered claims. First, he insisted that nothing short of US troops on the ground before the invasion could have prevented it. Given that this was never an option, as in never, ever, ever, not happening, couldn’t happen, and was never even discussed, he is asserting that the invasion was inevitable no matter what we or our allies might have done in some parallel universe. He might as well claim that only the spaceships from Independence Day floating over Kyiv could’ve stopped it. “Candidly, short of the commitment of US forces into Ukraine proper, I am not sure he was deterrable,” General Milley informed the House Armed Services Committee. “This has been a long-term objective of his that goes back years. I think the idea of deterring Putin from invading Ukraine — deterring him by the United States — would have required the use of US military forces and would have risked armed conflict with Russia, which I wouldn’t advise.”
It’s difficult to describe what a startling admission this actually is, almost two months into the war and after two months of Russian military build up in advance of the invasion. It’s not as if President Biden and his administration didn’t spend much of this period touting sanctions, actually merely the threat of sanctions, as a preventative measure. Even after Russia began the invasion, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was talking up their deterrence ability. National Security Advisor Daleep Singh claimed, “Sanctions are not an end to themselves. They serve a higher purpose. And that purpose is to deter and prevent. They’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said, “The purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war.” Pentagon Secretary John Kirby chimed in with, “We want them to have a deterrent effect, clearly.” Now, however, they are insisting this was all so much blather, nothing resembling a strategy that could actually prevent the war because nothing could’ve prevented this in the first place. This, of course, is complete nonsense, pure political spin to cover their abject failure. Russia’s economy is smaller than the state of Texas. If the combined might of the United States and every NATO ally is so powerless they cannot deter a minor economic power from launching an unprovoked invasion, what is the point of any of it, either the alliance or our economic might?
Incredibly, it seems not a single person in the international community attempted the obvious strategy: Convince Russia that they could lose the war in the first place, or at a minimum the costs would so far exceed the benefits it would be a losing proposition even were they to take the country. After all, no leader in the entire history of the world has ever wanted to be on the losing side of a conflict outside of The Mouse That Roared. Instead of feeding into Russian propaganda that Kyiv would fall in 72-hours and the Russian army would tear through the country as if their military was composed of boarding school cadets armed with toy guns, how about we took the time to tell Putin he had no idea what he was getting into and he was staring straight down a military disaster of epic proportions, one that could well result in his losing his own grip on power? We could’ve made this point far more plain by shipping weapons, including fighter jets, into the country before the invasion, rather than threatening toothless sanctions, many of which haven’t even taken effect yet. We could’ve ensured the Ukrainians were well armed and stocked with the very tools that would tip the balance of power in their favor. We might even have helped them set up a no fly zone on their own, clearing the skies before Russia moved in, making it far more difficult to invade in the first place. Imagine what the world might look like now if Ukraine had the tools to destroy the stalled Russian convoy outside of Kyiv before the invasion started. The message that would’ve sent.
Sadly, not one of these ideas was considered to my knowledge, and now we are left with the prospect of another unending war with prolonged civilian casualties and a negative effect on the entire world, but don’t take my word for it. The second startling admission from General Milley was precisely that. Democratic Representative Bill Keating asked how long he thought the war could last. At first, General Milley claimed it was “hard to tell,” but he continued. “It’s a bit early, still. Even though we’re a month-plus into the war, there is much of the ground war left in Ukraine. But I do think this is a very protracted conflict, and I think it’s at least measured in years. I don’t know about a decade, but at least years for sure.” “This is a very extended conflict that Russia has initiated,” he added, “and I think that NATO, the United States, Ukraine and all of the allies and partners that are supporting Ukraine are going to be involved in this for quite some time.”
From 72-hours to “quite some time” in barely two months, while President Biden gets increasingly stringent and unmoored, calling it genocide yesterday while being powerless to stop it. Rarely does it get more obvious how badly our supposed best and brightest military minds miscalculated this tragedy. Nor is this a moot point for even those safe at home, thousands of miles away from the conflict. President Biden and his administration have argued recently that the recent spike in inflation is “Putin’s price hike.” Yesterday, inflation hit a whopping 8.5% with no signs of slowing down, causing real earnings to 0.8% decline for the month. What is that figure going to look like if this conflict, taking place in what is known as the breadbasket of Europe, lasts for years? They’ve already suggested there might be food shortages as well. What are they really telling us here? Get used to the highest gas and food prices in history, assuming you can even get what you need at the store in the first place? I probably don’t need to tell you that this isn’t exactly a winning formula for the future of America or the world, but then again we shouldn’t be surprised. General Milley and Secretary Austin have stumbled from the worst American military defeat since Vietnam to the first land war in Europe since World War II in less than six months, representing perhaps the two worst foreign policy failures presided over by the same team so close to one another in American history. At least, I can think of nothing similar. They should have been fired after the first debacle. One has to wonder how they are still in the positions now. What’s it going to take for President Biden to realize he desperately needs a new team and some new ideas? The whole world is waiting on an answer to that question, but none seems to be forthcoming.