Political Observer comments.
The first four paragraphs of Mr. Douthat’s essay of March 2, 2022: Note that Mr. Douthat has ‘graduated’ from being that moralizing Catholic Scold, to being an expert in Foreign Policy, and in this case War. Yet Mr. Douthat has no military experience, like so many other would be Technocrats!
Headline: Looking for an Endgame in Ukraine
Let’s start with a very cold-sounding observation. The first week of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been the best week for American grand strategy in a very long time.
Before the invasion, the United States faced the following set of challenges: First, we had in Ukraine a tacit client state but not a formal ally, to which we had committed just enough support to make it a tempting target for Russian aggression but not enough — for sound strategic reasons — to actually protect it. Then we had a set of formal allies, our friends in Western and Central Europe, that were economically dependent on Russian resources and less-than-eager to shoulder new military burdens. And we faced a near-superpower rival, China, whose growing Pacific ambitions require American resources and attention, both of which were tied up by our inability to hand off our responsibilities in Europe.
Now everything has changed. Instead of just continuing to prod at Western weak points, Putin has committed himself fully and earned not a victorious coup de main that let him immediately menace Vilnius or Warsaw but the possibility of a long war of attrition if he sticks to his ambitions. At the same time, Europe isn’t just leading the economic and financial response; it’s promising the crucial steps that a succession of American presidents have sought — starting with German rearmament, the keystone of any effort to rebalance our own resources to Asia. And while China no doubt sees advantage in all the turmoil, the staggering start to Putin’s war and the unified and unexpectedly punitive Western response have to slightly dampen its own Taiwanese ambitions.
Unfortunately all these gains in realpolitik terms have come at an immense and increasing price: the suffering and brutalization of Ukrainians (and unwilling Russian conscripts), the economic suffering of ordinary Russians and the small but clearly increased risk of a more existential kind of conflict — the return of the nuclear shadow that lifted with the Cold War’s end.
Here are the ending paragraphs to Mr. Douthat’s ‘analysis’ :
But who actually has the upper hand? Putin offers to trade the territory he’s taken for some of his war aims — recognition of Russian rule over Crimea, neutral status for Ukraine, a repudiation of NATO membership. The Ukrainians and their outraged Western supporters offer to end the war on Russia’s economy in exchange for an unconditional Russian retreat and dismiss the idea of rewarding a criminal invasion in any way.
Between those incommensurate views of the situation, is there a deal to be made? Or is the likely result only stalemate, a new frozen conflict, Russia isolated and wounded and dangerous, and preparations for the next war in both Moscow and Kyiv? And out of the varying options, which is the best outcome for the United States — the one that banks our strategic gains at the lowest cost in human lives and long-term dangers?
So far the Biden administration has met the test of this war’s outbreak quite impressively, both in rallying support for Ukraine and in letting events unfold to our benefit organically without taking outsize risks. But those benefits are provisional, contingent on how the war ends and what kind of peace follows — and those tests are yet to come.
The last paragraph regarding the Biden Administration’s handling of this crises, as ‘quite impressively’ follows the Party Line, from the American Exceptionalism Handbook. The whole essay is too long, and larded with political clichés rather than actual thought.