US War Aims in Ukraine

By Matthew P. Daley

From the outset, there has been considerable ambiguity surrounding the war aims of the Biden Administration.  The US intelligence assessment of the impending decision by Putin to invade Ukraine was spot on, and US intelligence surprised Moscow by revealing ahead of time the various pretexts it would deploy to justify a “special military operation.”  

The Administration’s first response to its knowledge of Putin’s plans took the form of reassuring Moscow and nervous NATO capitals of what we would NOT do, i.e., involve US forces in a direct confrontation with Russian forces in Ukraine.  This was an ill-judged part of the otherwise useful and laudable goal of “uniting” NATO, albeit at its lowest common denominator. Nonetheless, NATO was sufficiently united to provide basic anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems to Ukraine. Doubtless these systems played an important, perhaps even a critical role, in stymieing the Russian effort to seize Kyiv.  

Behind the scenes the US offered Zelensky a flight to freedom which he honorably declined and even after initial Ukrainian successes on the battlefield, the US reportedly pushed concessions upon Ukraine to secure a negotiated outcome which would have diminished its territorial integrity.  The people and military of Ukraine persisted and have succeeded in holding off the Russian military in a manner few predicted.  

The question for the US now becomes the war aims that will inform our policy going forward.  Much to my surprise, the Washington Post editorial page of April 10 addressed that question with unaccustomed directness. It doubtless discomfited the Biden Administration when it stated “The United States and other Western democracies must ensure that Ukraine’s forces have the weapons they need to win.”   

In plain English, “win” means to prevail on the battlefield and drive Russian forces out of Ukraine.  It does not mean to enhance Kyiv’s negotiating position so it can minimize the truncation of its nation.  

At a moment in history when time is of the essence, the Biden Administration, while moving the right direction, has too often taken counsel of its fears, has engaged in self-deterrence and has been too slow off the mark.   

The Washington Post rightly notes that the time has come for “a political gut check.” It asks “Are we with it [Ukraine] for the duration?  In response, the United States and its fellow democracies must not equivocate.”  Bravo WaPo!

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