Yesterday, Charles Krauthammer skewered the White House for treating Ukraine’s besieged leaders like hungry beggars.
With Russian forces continuing to push into Ukraine, Kiev asked the White House for military arms. In return, Obama offered pre-packaged military meals.
Krauthammer’s response—a blistering criticism of the administration delivered on Monday night’s Special Report—was right on: “recoilless tuna sandwiches” are not the answer. Likewise, Krauthammer’s analysis that the President’s inept response to the crisis has only emboldened Putin is also accurate. But, these criticisms also raise an important question: What is the best way to help the Ukraine’s military?
There is no shortage of ideas. No one has advocated putting U.S. boots on the ground, but suggestions range from giving the Ukrainians military hardware to establishing a NATO no-fly zone over the country. Many of these notions confuse “diplomacy” with “military power”; making arms or assistance a political gesture—now that’s dangerous idea. If a statesman wants to practice statecraft, he should make a speech. Military tools should be used for military matters—and for practical military effects. The last step a statesman should take is to throw arms or armies at a problem in order to send a signal to the other side.
Our war colleges used to teach that there were three criteria as to whether to take a military action:
- Is the action “suitable”;
- Is the action “feasible”; and
- Is the action “acceptable”
In other words, will military action actually accomplish anything worthwhile? Will it work? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? If the answer isn’t yes to all three, then keep the powder dry.
The president’s chosen course of action—don’t make the Russians any angrier—is just plain dumb. But figuring out a responsible alternative requires something more thoughtful than just handing over weapons. Indeed, assistance only makes sense if it can have a practical impact.
Instead of doing almost nothing, here is what the president could be doing to look after our national interests and protect the transatlantic alliance. Ukraine does not enjoy the security guarantees afforded to America’s NATO allies, but the U.S. has several military options available that in no way involve the deployment of American forces into Ukraine. Putin understands force, and the risks he incurs in widening the war. The U.S. can make the price of Putin broadening the invasion of the Ukraine much higher. For example, America and its allies have the ability to help organize, train, and support Ukrainian forces so that Kiev would be better able to contest Russia’s next move for a considerable period of time. But this type of operation takes planning to be effective.
Right now, prior to further Russian aggression, an appropriately structured team of military planners should be working with Ukraine’s General Staff to understand their situation, wants, and ability to effectively use such support to defend their territorial integrity.
However, supplies, equipment, or small arms should be sent only with some measure of confidence that the materials would help to stabilize Ukraine’s situation—and not fall into Russia’s hands or those of Russian loyalists.
Rather than offering Ukraine’s leaders tuna sandwiches, the White House should be putting together a strategy that send a clear message to Vladimir Putin: further incursions into Ukraine will come at a very high cost.