Panic pushes Western elites to look for a new definition of success in Ukraine

Calin Rechea
English Section / 27 noiembrie 2023

Panic pushes Western elites to look for a new definition of success in Ukraine

Versiunea în limba română

Calin Rechea

In his major work, the Histories, Herodotus writes about the attempts of the Persian king Darius to conquer the entire known world. This is how he reached the territories inhabited by the Scythians, which are currently part of Ukraine and Russia.

The military campaign did not go well at all for Darius. The king of the Scythians sent him "gifts" through a soil, which did not receive any instructions for the "interpretation" of the meanings.

The gifts were a bird, a mouse, a frog and five arrows. King Darius interpreted the gift as a symbol of surrender, but one of his advisers explained it differently: "Persians, if you do not turn into birds and fly, into mice and enter the earth or frogs and jump into lakes, then you will be pierced by these arrows".

The counselor was right. The campaign was a disaster, and King Darius is the first documented case in history where an invader declared victory and went home to cover the shame of defeat.

Another well-known case is the "victory" of the United States in the Vietnam War. For some officials, the situation was clear as early as 1966. Then Senator George Aiken argued that "the United States must declare victory and leave," as Stephen Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University, pointed out in an editorial published by Foreign Policy magazine in December 2012.

Professor Walt recalled Senator Aiken's statement while the Obama administration was also looking for a way out of Afghanistan. The exit took place during the mandate of Joe Biden and was done under disastrous conditions for the prestige of America, which spent hundreds of billions in an occupation of about two decades, the result of which was, in the end, the replacement of the Taliban regime with a Taliban regime.

It seems that now it is the turn of a new redefinition of failure as a success by the American authorities, and this implies a radical change in the way of "supporting" Ukraine.

At least that's what the proposal of a recent editorial in Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, an organization that has been defining the foreign policy priorities of the United States for over a century, says.

Under the title "Redefining Success in Ukraine: A New Strategy Must Balance Means and Ends", Richard Haass, former president of CFR from July 2003 to June 2023, and Charles Kupchan, member of CFR and professor of international relations at Georgetown University, show that a new strategy is needed in Ukraine, which "balances the means and the objectives", in the conditions where "the political will to continue the economic and military support of Ukraine has begun to erode both in the United States and in Europe" .

The two authors recommend the "comprehensive reassessment of the current strategy that Ukraine and its partners are pursuing", which will lead to the disclosure of an uncomfortable truth, respectively "Ukraine and the West are on an unsustainable trajectory, one characterized by a glaring mismatch between goals and available means".

Another painful, not only uncomfortable, truth is that the Western allies have seriously underestimated both Russia's military capabilities, since the beginning of the military operation in Ukraine, and the resilience of its economy in the face of sanctions.

Regarding the military aspect, the authors state that "despite Ukraine's much-heralded counteroffensive, Russia actually gained more territory during 2023 than Ukraine did," and "time will not be on Ukraine's side if a war of high intensity is extended to infinity".

On the other hand, "the sanctions had only a modest effect on the Russian economy", which is now "on a war footing" and is financed including from the revenues obtained from the delivery of energy and on markets other than the traditional one.

This is the context in which "the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian soil and the complete restoration of its territorial integrity, including Crimea, remain unassailable objectives from a legal and political point of view", as the two CFR members write, but who then admit that "from a strategic point of view, they are out of reach, certainly for the near future and very possibly beyond".

I mean never?

In other words, the objectives always present in the statements of the leaders from Kiev and the Western ones are just illusions, and in these conditions Haass and Kupchan propose the redefinition of success.

They recommend the American authorities to direct their efforts towards "the creation of a new policy, which establishes achievable objectives and aligns the means and ends".

But who assumes and pays for the failures of the old "policy"? Isn't that what the notion of "responsible authorities" implies? And if no one pays, where would the trust in the new policies come from, especially when this trust is expected, at least to a small extent, from the Russian adversaries?

According to Haass and Kupchan, the United States should begin consultations with Ukraine and its European allies to develop a strategy "centered on Ukraine's willingness to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia and, at the same time, change its focus military from offensive to defensive".

But weren't there negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, hosted by Turkey even after the invasion of Ukraine, which had no effect following the pressure exerted by the Western powers on Ukraine?

Why would Russia accept any kind of negotiations under conditions other than those it can impose from a position of strength?

The shift from an offensive to a defensive position would allow Ukraine, according to the authors, to recognize new short-term priorities, such as "defending and rebuilding the more than 80% of the country that is still under its control."

The new defensive position would also allow "limiting the loss of its soldiers and directing more resources to long-term defense and reconstruction". Moreover, the Kiev authorities would demonstrate that they deserve to continue receiving the support of Western partners, because "they have a viable strategy, which aims at achievable objectives".

The conclusion of such a statement is simple: Ukraine has until now "functioned" on the basis of an unviable strategy, whose objectives are unattainable.

Probably the Ukrainians were inspired by the American "ally", which has a defense strategy characterized as "insolvent" in a recent report from the RAND Corporation, mentioned by the authors of the article in Foreign Affairs.

After once again emphasizing the enormous human and economic costs of the war, Haass and Kupchan argue that the additional supplies of Western weapons to Ukraine will not have the desired effects, given that "the Ukrainian army shows no signs of being able to break through the formidable defenses of Russia, no matter how much and how hard it fights".

Their attitude is simply defeatist when they state that "the West can send more tanks, long-range missiles and possibly F-16 fighter jets, but there is no silver bullet capable of turning the tide from the battlefield".

In these conditions, the authors had no choice but to emphasize, once again, that "Ukraine must move towards a defensive strategy, far from the current offensive strategy", because "Kiev's current approach is one of high costs and prospects low and puts the Ukrainians in the awkward position of asking for unlimited Western assistance in the name of an effort with diminishing chances of success."

Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan admit that their recommendations represent "a bitter pill for Ukraine", but this pill can be sweetened by Western friends, who "should commit not only to long-term economic and military aid, but also to guaranteeing Ukraine's independence".

It seems that Haass and Kupchan chose to end their article on a note of macabre humor.

On the side of the editorial in Foreign Affairs, Larry Johnson, former CIA analyst and former adviser at the State Department, claims that "the article shows a shocking lack of critical thinking capacity of the authors" and appreciates that all the proposals are useless and broken from reality.

Johnson considers the article signed by Haass and Kupchan as evidence of the panic that gripped the foreign policy elite in Washington.

In the opinion of the former CIA analyst, the proposals are broken from reality because "none of the systems offered to Ukraine by the United States and NATO allies have worked", and Russia will not accept a cease-fire, given that "the authorities in Moscow have realized that any promise of the West is not as good as the paper it is written on".

"Haas and Kupchan live in a fantastic world, populated by unicorns and gnomes," writes Johnson, who then emphasizes that "Russia will set the conditions, not Ukraine."

"Russia wields a sledgehammer, and Ukraine is a nail. No one in the West or in Ukraine has a magic device against the sledgehammer. Russia will continue to strike until Ukraine and the West surrender", is the conclusion of the former CIA analyst.

Such a conclusion will never be accepted by Western leaders, and the special military operation in Ukraine will continue, with unnecessary loss of life, until Russia decides that it has achieved its strategic objectives.

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