It is possible that the US can topple Vladimir Putin, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory for itself and allies. The only victor will be China
Even for someone like me who is very pro-US, the smoke-signals emanating from Washington regarding the Ukraine war are ominous. Even in best-case scenarios, the US may have hurt itself by not focusing on the right foe, which is China, not Russia. More worryingly, the Deep State may have pushed the US into a no-win situation, with the rest of the world suffering collateral damage.
The announcement of $40 billion approved by the US Congress as aid to Ukraine means the US may get bogged down in what could be a long, grinding war. This adds to earlier leaks that suggest US intelligence and weapons helped sink the Russian flagship Moskva and killed several Russian generals. Does this escalation suggest Vietnam? Afghanistan? And how on earth is Ukraine going to pay back this lend-lease debt? Or will it be forgiven?
Meanwhile, things are beginning to bite the US consumer. The New York Times tweeted: “Across the US, mothers say they are rationing food for their babies as they search for more formula. Some are driving hours, only to find empty shelves. Online, private sellers are gouging prices, marketing cans for double or triple their normal price.” Remarkable. The US Congress gave Biden $7 billion more than he asked for, while American babies go hungry.
It is possible that the Biden White House instigated this war for two reasons: one, the Military-Industrial Complex’s insatiable appetite for war, more war, and yet more war; two, the irrational Atlanticist fear of Vladimir Putin; For the moment, we can ignore other, more speculative reasons: eg. Hunter Biden’s business affairs in Ukraine, and Chinese infiltration.
The Deep State does remarkably well from war. Brahma Chellaney tweeted: “US’s Afghan war was an incredible windfall for US defense firms, five of which alone got a staggering $2.1 trillion.” Of all recent US Presidents, Trump is the only one who didn’t go to war. Is it cause and effect that he got booted out?
The Democrats seem irredeemably Atlanticist, probably because their nerve center is at Harvard, and a lot of them, eg. Brzezinski, Albright, Nuland, Blinken, et al have Eastern European roots and an atavistic fear of the Russian bear. Their generals are re-fighting the Cold War, which is no longer relevant. It would make more sense, Huntington-wise, for NATO (white Christians) to make a tactical alliance with the Russians (ditto), against Asia and Islam.
Both Russia and the European Union are becoming less and less relevant in the world at large. The few hundred years in which Europe, and the Atlantic, bestrode the globe, will in hindsight be seen as aberrations, and reversion to the mean suggests that the Asian heartland and the Indo-Pacific littoral states will once again dominate.
Russia is a walking wounded nation: Its demography is collapsing, and eventually it will simply not have the manpower to control its borders. Siberia will be overwhelmed by the Chinese. Russia’s nuclear weapons may be no more of a factor then than they are now in the Ukraine war. It is possible that the US can topple Putin, but it will be a Pyrrhic victory for itself and allies. The only victor will be China.
The European Union continues to be handicapped by its fragmented nature and inability to act in a coherent manner on any subject. In addition, energy is its Achilles heel. The EU estimates, according to the Financial Times, that it will have to spend 195 billion euros in the next five years to free itself of dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Furthermore, they will replace dependence on Russian gas with dependence on American fracked gas. A DW report on the ‘true cost of fracked US “freedom gas”’ points out that hydraulic fracking is banned across most of Europe, so a certain sleight of hand will be needed. The FT also reported that Mario Draghi is now talking about a ‘cartel’ of oil consumers!
Interestingly, US officials have been offering India similar “freedom weapons” with their siren-song of promised independence from Russian weapons. Caveat emptor!
The European relaxation of their once-mighty moral standards regarding global warming are quite risible. The ghost of Greta Thunberg will not be happy. In a sign of what’s to come, FT tweeted: “BlackRock’s decision not to support most shareholder resolutions on climate change represents a big step back. It in effect grants permission to other investors to relax their grip”.
So much for climate change. The new thing is Roe vs Wade, as the November election looms.
In another sign of the damage the war has wrought, Saudi Aramco has just overtaken Apple as the most valuable company in the world. Incidentally, and humiliatingly, both the Saudis and the UAE refused to take Biden’s call asking for higher oil output. Venezuela, and most recently Brazil, have also said ‘No’ to the US request for more energy supplies. This should show how isolated the US really is: only Western Europe and Canada/AUS/NZ are following its diktats.
Meanwhile, US inflation is historically high, but the impact of the war is far worse for developing countries. It is similar to 1973, when OPEC suddenly tripled oil prices. It was hard for developed economies too, but they made money selling things (eg. the US sold weapons) to the likes of Saudi Arabia. It was the developing countries like India that were squeezed badly.
On the strategic front, though, there are other dangers. One is that China may consider this an opportune time to invade Taiwan. Besides, Xi Jinping, damaged by the Covid lockdowns, needs to burnish his leadership credentials for his big coronation later this year (there are also reports that he suffers from a brain aneurysm). If an invasion happens, will the US be able to help defend Taiwan? Even the war-mongering The Economist is sceptical.
Can Americans really fight two wars at once? Do they have the capability? Americans remember how the country rallied around their leadership and turned on a dime to beat plowshares into swords when they entered World War II. Their immense industrial capacity was realigned. Detroit became the arsenal makers of democracy, as Biden put it. Can this happen today?
As the Ukraine war progresses, can the US supply ever more Javelin and Stinger missiles without dangerously depleting its own armoury? Even granting that the munitions are ‘smarter’ these days, it is hard to believe that traditional gear like tanks, artillery, and the like can be dispensed with, or that the US has essentially infinite stockpiles of these.
In 1940, according to an Economist podcast, there was a lot of spare capacity in the US industrial sector as it was coming out of the Great Depression. “Cadillac produced tanks, Chrysler made Browning machine guns, Ford… B-24 bombers”. Given the rapid de-industrialization of the US by the Chinese, it is hard to believe this sort of industrial miracle can happen in 2022. The US doesn’t even make semiconductors at scale any more.
Will the US be forced to, out of sheer lack of materiel and will, sit out a potential Chinese capture of Taiwan? What will this do to South Korea and Japan? Will the American-led ‘rules-based international order’ collapse overnight? In addition, will the US dollar-dominated economic system also be damaged?
Thus the dangers of deepening and widening conflict are huge, and the consequences to the US (and innocent bystanders such as India) may be drastic. It would be much better if some ‘jaw-jaw’ were to replace ‘war-war’, and the US were to give up on this quixotic quest to unseat Vladimir Putin.
The writer has been a conservative columnist for over 25 years. His academic interest is innovation. Views expressed are personal.