War of Attrition
It appears that Republican support for Ukraine in its war to turn back Russian aggression is going a bit soft. In a recent townhall meeting former President Trump called for an end to the killing and asserted that, if elected, he would end the killing within 24 hours. He neglected, however, to elaborate on how he would go about ending all the killing. Mr. Trump is not big on elaboration. He wants you to trust him seeing as how he is such a great deal maker.
And Mr. Trump’s potential opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has called for a truce, also without details. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has rejected the idea of a truce because that would freeze Russian incursions into Ukraine at their current positions. Positions that include the Donbas and a strategic land bridge to the Crimea. Allowing Russia to consolidate those gains and to strengthen its depleted forces in the region would be a major setback for Ukraine.
The Republican Freedom Caucus wants to audit all the money and equipment being sent to Ukraine. And in his townhall, former President Trump lamented all the equipment and ammunition that the US is giving away (almost as bad as all the killing). He was joined by another contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Vivek Ramaswamy, who vowed “not another dollar” for Ukraine. He believes that China is hopefulthat the US will waste resources necessary for the defense of Taiwan on Ukraine.
President Biden has been criticized by some military leaders as being too timid in supplying Ukraine with the equipment needed for its defense, but he is downright hawkish compared to the newly dovish Republicans. In the Divided States of America., if the Democrats are for something the Republicans are pretty much against it. And vice versa.
Historian Stephen Kotkin noted in a recent interview by Peter Robinson on the Hoover Institution’s series, Uncommon Knowledge, that the war on Ukraine has devolved into a war of attrition. The months long battle around Bakhmut has killed many thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and has expended tens of thousands of rounds of artillery shells and rockets to gain a few hundred yards of territory. Professor Kotkin noted that wars of attrition not only depend on the ability of the opponents to continue to supply the equipment their armies are destroying but it is also a test of the willpower of the opponents to continue the battle. Putin has the willpower even if the Russian people don’t and the country is struggling to continue to supply soldiers and weapons to the front despite Western sanctions. And although Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians have the willpower to continue fighting, it is not their willpower that is the key to victory. It is the willpower of the United States to continue to supply and support Ukraine’s defense of its territory and its democracy. And that willpower, at least among Republicans, is beginning to weaken.
If there are any essential attributes required of a world leader, it is the will to lead and the defense capabilities to back that up. But the rate of depletion of US defense equipment and ammunition in supplying what would in a major conflict be a secondary front has made it apparent that the United States did not have the defense capabilities necessary for global leadership even prior to the Russian invasion. Communist China is rapidly increasing its defense spending and while they still spend less than the US, they don’t have to have global defense capabilities, only regional capabilities. Already their navy is larger and more modern than the US Navy (although we do have the advantage on aircraft carriers). They are building airfields and docking facilities in the South China Sea and increasing their nuclear strike capabilities.
The Biden administration asserts that climate change is an existential threat to the United States. Perhaps it is. But it is an existential threat twenty or thirty years in the future. China and Russia are also existential threats to the United States, but the time horizon of those threats is measured in years, not decades. We need to prepare for the existential threat presented by China and Russia if we want to survive long enough to solve the threat posed by climate change.
As I noted in my recent commentary about Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign (Vivek Who???, May 8, 2023), he needs to amplify his vision of America’s future as do the other candidates. All these candidates are trying to not alienate Mr. Trump’s base of supporters (MAGA Republicans as President Biden calls them) even while they try to differentiate themselves from Mr. Trump. It all comes down to Mr. Trump’s vision of what made America great. But Mr. Trump’s vision is even more circumscribed than Mr. Ramaswamy’s.
Recall Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale who, as he was about to be executed by the British, famously stated, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” A country that didn’t yet exist. A country that only existed in the minds of Hale and other Revolutionary War heros that were the Founders of this country. America’s foundation was the Enlightenment ideals and principles that motivated the Founders to rebel against Britain. And if the American people lose faith in those ideals and principles, America ceases to exist.
The Founders knew they had created something special. Founder Charles Thomson coined the motto for the Great Seal of the new country, “Novus ordo seclorum,” a New Order for the Ages. That was written long before the United States was rich and powerful. Donald Trump is wrong. Wealth and power are not what made America great. America became rich and powerful because it was great (actually exceptional) at its creation. If we truly want to make America great again, we can only do that by embracing those original ideals and principles on which America was founded.
Ukraine, in its desperation, is begging for the weapons and munitions that America’s great wealth and power can provide. And if America is nothing more than wealth and power, then it is reasonable for the Republicans to resist the diminution of that wealth and power. Many countries want to tap into America’s wealth and power for their own reasons. But we must remember why Russia invaded Ukraine. Ukraine aspired to be more like America and the West. And Putin couldn’t stand for that so he invaded Ukraine to stop them from adopting the ideals and principles that made America great.
Other peoples and nations aspire to be more like America. Not wealthy or powerful, but free. America remains a beacon of hope around the world despite the many times we have failed to live up to those ideals and principles. And that is why we have to support Ukraine in its resistance to Russian aggression. We need to summon the willpower to be the global leader we once were. We need to keep that beacon of hope alive. For many people around the world, that hope is all they have.