The Indispensable Nation: a Return of Forces to Europe
a nation's word is its own
The words of former SECDEF Gates was on my mind all weekend;
Moscow has deployed some 100,000 troops to the borders of Ukraine. What now? Putin finds himself in a situation where Russian success is defined as either a change of government in Kyiv (with the successor aligned with Moscow) or conquest of the country. The 18th-century French diplomat Talleyrand is meant to have said: “You can do anything you like with bayonets except sit on them.” Putin must use those troops soon or face the humiliation of withdrawing them without achieving anything except pushing Ukraine closer to the west. In either case, he has placed himself in a difficult position at home and abroad. The US and its allies must do what they can to exacerbate his difficulties.
Regulars here on the Front Porch know I want none of this. How long have we begged continental Europe - especially the strong powers such as Germany - to spend enough to be a credible balance to Russia, to make the risk of conflict too great, to force her to look to other means besides violence and blackmail to learn to live with her neighbors?
The Europeans are richer and larger - in aggregate - than Russia and in the 21st Century need to be able to hold their own without the USA, because as I have warned even before I started blogging 17 years ago, there is a good chance that the USA will either tire of doing all the heavy lifting, or we may find ourselves either internally or externally distracted by concerns greater than defending the welfare ethno-states of Europe.
That being said, we are still the irreplaceable nation for the West. We have our obligations. As a threat from the east rises again, we have a choice; we can reinforce our friends in the front line NATO states ... or we shrug.
We have betrayed those who trusted us once in the last year, we cannot do it again.
I've advocated for decades a decoupling of our ground forces in Europe, but we need to do that on our time, our schedule, in a way that is not destabilizing, and not when our friends are under immediate threat. We can address that decoupling some other time. This is not the time.
What is happening on the borders of Ukraine is different. Ukraine's neighbors are our allies. You don't show weakness at times like this. Bollocks to the Germans and French and their fecklessness in the face of this threat. Regardless of what they do, our response is on us.
How long have I warned of where weakness always leads, aggression? So, here we are.
As it becomes clear that the Russians are not playing games, the Biden Administration seems to be slowly moving in the only responsible way;
Ukraine is not our ally, but she borders many good allies. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Romania.
A strong and free Ukraine is in our interest, but not worth going to war over. That being said, you may want to avoid a war, but a war may not want to avoid you.
If the Russians invade Ukraine, there are innumerable places for error and mistakes at the wrong place at the wrong time - not to mention the wave of refugees that will flood west, further disrupting western Europe.
We cannot do anything about the unalloyed irresponsibility of the new German government. It is the 3rd decade of the 21st Century and the Germans are well passed their probationary period and need to step up as a responsible nation ... but as they are led by the useful idiots that protested NATO in the 1980s (look it up, ISNY), so what do you expect? We will deal with them later (yes, I have ideas - many I've outlined here before). France is looking at an election coming and are being ... well ... French. The only other significant NATO power of any use (Turkey does not count), is the United Kingdom. In many ways, they are being more forward leaning than we are. At least the Brits get the moment.
Of the medium NATO powers don't expect much that isn't laden with national caveats and tokenism. DNK, NLD and perhaps NOR will help the frontline states. That is about it.
So, it is up to the adults. So be it.
Make no mistake, if RUS makes UKR come to heel, exceptional pressure will come to our frontline NATO allies. Former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics, they know the Russians better than we do ... and I am sure the Russians have deeply penetrated their government and civil society enough to make trouble. If DEU and FRA won't help as per their strength, then we just need to ignore them and as stated above - note their behavior and deal with it later at our leisure.
The next three weeks will be critical. If we can make it to Valentine's Day and things have settled out, we may be through the window of greatest threat. If they are still escalating after the 20th of February when the Russian forces "exercising" in Belorussia are due to head home ... then ... well.
Regardless of how we are doing, think of the Ukrainians. Yes, their government leaves a lot to be desired, but for those of us who served with Ukrainians know, they are great professionals and patriots.
Take some time today to see photographer Timothy Fadek latest from Ukraine;
"They have embraced the inevitability," Fadek said. "I was talking to one of the soldiers and he said: 'It's inevitable. We've accepted this inevitability of an attack.' And then there was a little bit of an argument between two soldiers. One said, 'The Russians will not come across the border, they will attack from the sea,' meaning the Sea of Azov. Another soldier disagreed with both those assessments and said, 'No, the attack will come from Belarus.' "
But while they might not agree with where an attack will come from, they are all 100% convinced it is going to happen.
"They've resigned themselves," Fadek said. "But they're extremely relaxed. There is not a hint of nervousness in their faces. They're ready to fight. They've been ready for many years now. They don't want to. I asked them, 'Do you want this war?' And they're like, 'Of course not.' "
Timeless. So it has been for countless for thousands of years. That is the one constant of human existence and always will be - war.
...and so, the Ukrainians wait;
One final note; it appears that if thing go pear shaped, we need to all get ready for more national humiliations. See Jennifer Griffin's note below. I feel the need to point out that the State Dept. may say, "will not be in a position to" but it really should be "won't."
It is a choice.
They won't do it. They could if they wished, but once again - they are planning on abandoning American citizens to their fate.
We voted for this; we own it.
Morally, we owe Ukraine as a part of the negotiations in removing the nuclear weapons from the country. We gave assurances I understand. They gave up their nukes; arguably, had they retained them, this situation would not exist as it does.
As a practical matter? Several equations are in play and pretty much immutable.
- Like Hitler and the Sudetenland, Putin will assure the world that once he gets Ukraine, he's done with aggression. He just wants that one little piece to insulate Russia.
- Like Hitler, it's a foregone conclusion that he already has the power and ability to walk into Ukraine. Sure, some pain and maybe some partisan attacks, but we have seen playbooks on how to manage that. Putin has read them.
- As a practical matter, there is no credible force that can move in from the west to counter. The moment troops started moving, he will just jump off and have things wrapped up.
- We don't have the 3 months it would take to get our worn equipment, bedraggled troops, rusty ships into place as a legitimate counter. Were we to do so, we would merely be closing the barn door after...... And Putin knows that we would tire of being on a war posture and leave after a while anyway.
- You mentioned elsewhere this conflict and Xi/Taiwan. I'll toss in Un/ROK as well. All three go at the same time or in close proximity and the forces we have? (Or, more accurately, the ability to transport the forces we have?) That trifecta would lead to paralysis here. Each would only want one piece of ground and state that they have no further interest. Hard to get much national sentiment up to go fight on foreign shores in that case. We might inflict some pain on DPRK, but with all three conflicts... we aren't able to respond to all of them. Maybe some response to ROK, but again, we don't have what it takes to do a sustained campaign.
You are right. We own this administration and we own the situation(s) as they stand.
And, we own the impotency we have created for ourselves as a result. I wish I could be more optimistic. But I'm just not seeing it...
"WE" didn't vote for this, in so many ways. Ship the rapid reaction Light Infantry Divisions, 101st, 82nd, send troopers to mate up with prepositioned armor and move them, and start shipping ground forces. Get the air bases hardened in NATO and move dependents. Putin will stop.