The most hardcore supporters of Ukraine in the West are too gung-ho about war aims, to the point of being entirely counterproductive. In geopolitics, prudence is often a virtue.
As you may have heard, the war in Ukraine that has been raging since the Russian invasion last February is reaching a new phase: a major Ukrainian counteroffensive. This push by Kyiv to retake its lost territory will fundamentally alter the entire picture and tenor of the war going forward. Lines of contact will shift, breakthroughs will occur, and new lines of contact and defense will be settled for the fall and winter campaigning seasons. Many of the NATO weapons systems transferred to Ukraine will get their first real chance to make a difference on the battlefield. Moves are likely to be made in several theaters, including partisan actions within Russia itself – something we have already seen in Belgorod and elsewhere. The war will likely continue for several years, but this Ukrainian counteroffensive can set the terms for what happens going forward.
Now that this new phase of the war has begun – one with Ukraine decidedly, albeit temporarily, on the front foot – commentators and politicians in the West have started to debate, discuss, and reassess war aims. This is always a crucial topic of conversation when a nation in involved in a war, whether directly as Ukraine and Russia are, or indirectly as the United States and NATO are. These discussions usually involve questions like “What do we seek to gain through this conflict?”, “What is a positive endgame for us in this war?”, and “What is an acceptable solution for our national interests?” These are very important questions, but the answers from those on the fringes of the discourse – especially those who are the most outwardly supportive of Ukraine – have been seriously lacking.
Should the strong protect the weak? The answer to this question says a great deal about the divergence between contemporary European and American attitudes on foreign policy.
Over the past few decades, Western European and American conceptions of foreign policy and international affairs have drifted apart, especially during Republican presidencies in the US. Those administrations have typically been more hawkish and clear-eyed about the dangers that the West faces; from Islamic terrorism, to Iranian nuclear proliferation, to the irredentist, expansionist dangers of Russia and China. In a 2012 debate between Mitt Romney and then-President Barack Obama, Western Europeans laughed along with American liberals at Obama’s sardonic criticism of Romney’s focus on Russia as a geopolitical foe. Just two years later, Romney would be proven right, as Russia invaded Ukraine. One would think that such a blatant assault on the international order – on the European continent, no less – would undermine this attitude of naïve optimism about potential foes. Unfortunately, it did not.
Western Europe continued its permissive and conciliatory posture towards the triumvirate of Iran, Russia, and China, despite the egregious human rights abuses and outwardly belligerent stances taken by those nations. Iran should be lauded for coming to the table to discuss its nuclear ambitions, while its constant support for international terrorism and regional instability can be conveniently swept under the rug. Russia is a trustworthy source of the energy that powers our civilization, even if they are chronic saber-rattlers and seek to reconstitute the imperium of old. China must be our friend because of commerce and climate; just ignore the genocide, economic coercion, and revanchist hegemonic aims. And, of course, European nations need to spend even less on defense and focus more on positive engagement and diplomacy. What sort of barbarian spends a whole two percent of its budget on its military?! Preposterous. History has ended, and we have won.
This has been how Europe – I’m using Europe here as a shorthand for the Western Europeans who largely run the EU and influence the continent’s broad foreign policy – has behaved internationally for the past decade. And now they’re faced with the consequences of their actions.
This site is not the only place to find my writing; I have been published at numerous other outlets across the web. In this recurring series, I’ll post some choice passages from these outside pieces and show you where to find the rest. Think of this as a mere tasting of the full smorgasbord. Without further ado, here’s Compendium #1, covering late March through mid-April 2023.
The Biden administration has a fatally flawed understanding of our position vis a vis our geopolitical adversaries; their consequent reluctance to capitalize on weakness betrays American interests.
Geopolitics has always moved quickly in the modern era, accelerated by rapid communications and technological progress. Swift nautical vessels carried letters across vast distances in the Early Modern period; railways connected the world even faster, fundamentally altering the human perception of time itself; wired telegraphy made it so that messages could be transmitted as quickly as electrical currents could flow, while wireless telegraphy – the radio – created mass culture as we know it; television and satellite coverage made those messages into a natural audiovisual medium, bringing global events into sharp focus. Now, in the 21st century, information can flow from one corner of the world to the other instantaneously and powerful human and computer networks can work together to analyze, contextualize, and present this data nearly as quickly. This technology allows decision-makers near-total perception of the information environment. The task of statesmanship is to understand this information, determine what is salient and what is not, and – ultimately – to make choices on that basis.
Regrettably, the Biden administration is failing on that crucial task. Instead of making timely strategic and tactical decisions to forward our national interests and grand strategy, they have seemingly adopted a policy of reluctance. In an era of rising Great Power competition and conflict, we are signaling impotence with respect to our two primary geopolitical antagonists – Russia and China – just as they are each dealing with significant weaknesses of their own. This is exactly the time we should be showing strength and capitalizing on the challenges of our rivals, but instead we are proving indecisive and hesitant. That is a recipe for disaster.
The passage of a new military aid package for Ukraine shows that American hegemony can be protected & defended on the cheap.
American hegemony is under its greatest threat since the fall of the Soviet Union over 30 years ago. We are faced with an enormous civilizational challenge from China, led by the genocidal, totalitarian Chinese Communist Party. We are dealing with belligerent states like Iran & North Korea which have clear designs on wiping out their neighbors with nuclear weapons. And we are trying to contain the largest invasion of European territory since 1945, where Russia is attempting to reconstitute a Tsarist imperium on the bones of Ukrainian civilians. All of these threats, although facially oriented against other nations, are in reality aimed squarely at the heart of American power: the global system which promotes our prosperity and seeks the freedom of nations & peoples everywhere. The US, along with our allies across the globe, can handle these challenges and win the fight for the 21st century. But we have to get serious about the danger we face and how we choose to handle it. Fortunately, there are some signs that we might be on the right track, at least when it comes to responding to the most pressing current crisis: the war in Ukraine.