There was a moment long ago when I believed not only what politicians said but also what I read in newspapers and magazines, about the evil in the world . . . and what we as a nation, and I as a citizen, were supposed to do about it. This led to my driving a patrol boat on the Saigon River in an ill-advised adventure in Southeast Asia where, late one evening, I was elevated high into the air by an underwater explosion, splashed into the water, and spent five months in various personal-repair facilities dotted around the globe. What our nation, and the two-and-a-half million other young guys who joined up, got out of the deal was a lot of grief and expense and social turmoil. What I got out of it was a good story; a suspicion of elected officials with agendas; and a heart-shaped, purple badge I no longer wear because it doesn’t match any of the outfits in my civilian closet.
Decades later I watched as Secretary Powell, the only man in our government I trusted, bloviated about weapons of mass destruction tucked away in Iraq. By then I’d practiced law long enough to know a lie when I heard one. Now, a few decades after that, I’m starting to wonder whether I shouldn’t harbor the same suspicions about our increasing involvement in the war in Eastern Europe.
Don’t get me wrong, I yield to no man in my eagerness to see Vladimir Putin humiliated, and humiliated bad. Still, I can’t help thinking there may be things about this Ukraine business, things that we all know but haven’t thought through.
This jumped to the front of my mind a couple of days ago while reading a Reuters article where, way down at the bottom, I came across a couple of paragraphs describing an interview with a civilian official who’d been assigned to Kherson after the Russians pulled out. The official was complaining about how effective Russian propaganda had been, and how hard that made it to win the hearts and minds of some of her liberated countrymen.
I watched as Secretary Powell bloviated about weapons of mass destruction tucked away in Iraq. By then I’d practiced law long enough to know a lie when I heard one.
This started me thinking about some of the things Mr. Putin has been saying, at least that he’s been saying since his troops were thwarted on their way to Kyiv — that the goal of his war is to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians from the predations of the Ukrainian government. Given my lack of knowledge of the mixed-together language groups in Eastern Europe, I didn’t know much about Russian speakers outside of Russia. But it didn’t take much thumbing through Wikipedia to discover that 45% of the population of Kherson speaks Russian at home.
Along with 74% of people in Kharkiv, 89% of the residents of Luhansk, 93% of the inhabitants of Donetsk, and 97% of the citizens of Crimea.
I can’t speak for the patriotism of these folks, or how it might have been switched around by the shelling, war crimes, and missile attacks of their linguistic brethren, but I’m left with the suspicion that if Mr. Putin had allowed an internationally supervised referendum before annexing the four regions in Eastern Ukraine, the referendees may well have voted the way he pretends they did.
We’ve been here before, sending huge amounts of resources to places that say they need our help, only to watch it make its way into numbered bank accounts.
A second thing that sticks in my craw about our involvement in this war is, What is really happening to the aid we send over there? According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perception Index (the latest one available), Ukraine is 122nd out of 180 countries in the world, slithering in behind the likes of Zambia. Not that Russia is any great shakes in this department, being 136 out of 180. Still, we’ve been here before, sending huge amounts of resources to places that say they need our help, only to watch it make its way into numbered bank accounts. All of which causes me to question whether the current spat is one we want to wade farther into.
And, most important, I worry, What is the endgame over there?
I’d been thinking about this anyway, but Hal Moore, author of We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young, one of the finest memoirs to come out of my war, wrote a second book, Soldiers Still, in which he returned to Vietnam a quarter of a century later and met, among other former enemies, General Vo Nguyen Giap. Giap, who ran the Japanese, the French, us and, later, a Red Chinese army out of the country is acknowledged by pretty much everybody as one of the greatest military leaders of the 20th century. He told Moore that he admired the heroism of American soldiers but didn’t have much use for the way our leaders ran the war:
Americans had no overriding strategy or goal in the war, only the weapons and tactics of a modern army and President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration that we were not there to defeat North Vietnam, only to protect and preserve the South Vietnamese government. Our goal was to win.
That approach wound up humiliating our country, alarming our allies, wasting the courage and sacrifice and idealism of a generation of young Americans, abandoning billions of dollars of equipment along with millions of people who’d befriended us — abandoning them to the reeducation camps and bullets of true believers who valued ideological purity more than the lives of their countrymen. In Afghanistan we did it all over again, except that the Taliban don’t bother with reeducation camps.
Our government has given Ukraine close to $100 billion in cash, short-range missiles, military intelligence, and heavy artillery. According to Lt. Col. Daniel L Davis, writing in Business Insider, this comes to $16 billion more than the entire Russian military budget for 2023. Some of the cash, according to one story I heard, has been used not only to pay the salaries of Ukrainian officials but also to contribute to their pension funds.
In addition, we’ve promised to deliver a few main battle tanks in three or four months along with a single Patriot air defense system. A Patriot battery, Lt. Col. Davis noted, ordinarily operates “as part of an integrated defense system which may include numerous US and NATO systems. A single battery, however, can generally defend a single point target.” A large part of Kyiv, perhaps. But not the entire city.
Our government has given Ukraine close to $100 billion—$16 billion more than the entire Russian military budget for 2023.
Meanwhile, a handful of tanks from America, along with a few dozen from other countries, added to the 500 that the Kyiv Independent says are already in Ukraine, might prove decisive in a local fight. But they won’t do much to change the situation along what Pravda, and you’d think they’d know, describes as a 1,300-kilometer-long battlefront.
We have not, you will note, given Ukraine long-range missiles to take out Russia’s command and control centers or collapse the 12-mile-long bridge across the Kerch Strait and isolate their troops in Crimea, or destroy the ammo dumps pulled back from the fighting. Everything is calculated, it seems to me, to keep Ukraine in the war but nowhere near enough to allow it to win.
So, I ask again, what is our overriding strategy or goal other than to use the money and weapons and tactics of a modern army to protect and preserve the Ukrainian government?