VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Questions without answers about Ukraine
Russia’s cruel strategy is to grind down Ukraine and turn its eastern regions into a Verdun-like deathscape.
March 25, 2023 - 9:02 pm
Ukrainians, and many Europeans and Americans, are defining an envisioned Ukrainian victory as the complete expulsion of all Russians from its 2013 borders. Or, as a Ukrainian national security chief put it, the war ends with Ukrainian tanks in Red Square.
But mysteries remain about such ambitious agendas. What would that goal entail?
Giving Ukraine American F-16s to strike bases and depots in Mother Russia? The gifting of 1,000 M1 Abrams tanks? Using American Harpoon missiles to sink the Russian Black Sea fleet? A huge arsenal that would guarantee total victory rather than not losing?
Russia’s cruel strategy is to grind down Ukraine and turn its eastern regions into a Verdun-like deathscape. So is a brave Ukraine really winning the war when it loses about 0.6 soldiers for every Russian it kills?
Russia plans to leverage its extra 100 million people, its 10-times larger economy and its 30-times larger territory to pulverize Ukraine and tire its Western patrons — whatever the costs to Russia.
Yet why were only a few in past administrations calling for a joint Western effort to expel Putin’s forces from the borderlands and Crimea captured in 2014?
Why are Putin’s 2014 invasions now seen as urgent rectifiable crimes of aggression in 2022, but were not regarded as reparable during the prior eight years?
Is the United States economically capable or politically unified or socially stable enough to wage a huge proxy war on the frontiers of a nuclear Russia?
During the last comparable multibillion-dollar military efforts — the First Gulf War in 1990-1991 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq — the ratio of American debt to GDP was respectively 40 and 50 percent. Today it hovers at nearly three times that figure at 129 percent, given some $33 trillion in accumulated debt.
Currently, the American economy is entering a stagflationary crisis. Banking, real estate and financial sectors seem on the brink of imploding, especially after the near-record multibillion-dollar collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX and the meltdowns of the Silicon Valley and Signature banks.
Around 7 million illegal entries have occurred across the southern border since January 2021 alone. Millions of new impoverished foreign nationals tax social services, spike crime and strain relations with an increasingly antagonistic Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
An emboldened Lopez Obrador now brags that 40 million of his countrymen have cumulatively crossed the border, many illegally. He urges them to vote for Democratic candidates to ensure more open borders.
Last year, more than 100,000 Americans died of opiate overdoses. Most of the deaths were attributable to Mexican cartels’ brazen export of fentanyl across an open border. Nearly 1 million Americans have likely died of such overdoses since 2000 — more than double the number of fatalities in World War II.
Given its shell-shocked inner cities and toxic downtowns, America is beginning to resemble mid-19th-century England that sent forces all over its global empire while novelist Charles Dickens chronicled the misery and poverty at the imperial core in London.
Is the Ukrainian war also creating the most dangerous anti-American alliance since World War II?
China is buying cheap Russian oil, while stealthily supplying its weapons. India, normally a rock-solid democratic ally, keeps buying both banned Russian oil and armaments. Most of the major countries in South America have not joined the sanctions. Clients such as nuclear North Korea and soon to be nuclear Iran are empowered by overt help from Russia. NATO member Turkey and once-allied Saudi Arabia appear now friendlier to Iran, friendlier to China and friendlier to Russia, than they are to America.
In terms of combined oil reserves, nukes, population, area and GDP, this new loose coalition of apparent anti-Americans seems more powerful than the United States and its squabbling friends in Europe.
Why were those now calling for a veritable blank check for Ukraine formerly quiet when the United States fled in humiliation from Afghanistan?
Why were they mostly silent when an appeasing President Joe Biden begged Russian President Vladimir Putin at least to spare some U.S. targets on his otherwise extensive anti-American cyberwar hit list?
Or why were they indifferent when Biden said he would have fewer objections if Putin’s anticipated attack on Ukraine would be “minor”?
Or why were they not so eager for confrontation when Putin earlier acquired the Eastern Ukrainian borderlands and Crimea in 2014 in the first place?
Or why so subdued when the United States in 2015-16 refused to sell Ukrainian offensive weapons?
Why does the United States discount the serial and ascending nuclear threats from Russia, but we remain careful not to antagonize China? After all, China sent a spy balloon brazenly across the United States to surveille and spy on American strategic locations.
And why is the administration so quiet about a likely leak of an engineered deadly COVID-19 virus from a Chinese virology lab that killed 1 million Americans?
These are Ukrainian war-related questions that never seem to be answered — but should be as the carnage rises and the nuclear threshold falls.
Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.