Ukraine’s fight on behalf of the Western notion of freedom and democracy is facing a gathering darkness in the United States as its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” rages on – and, if left unchecked by Washington, could lead to an apocalypse in Eastern Europe and beyond.
As we enter the Presidential election cycle, US public support for the war in Ukraine appears to be waning. In a new CNN poll, 55 percent of Americans are opposed to new funding in support of Kyiv, 51 percent believe Washington has “done enough” and this, soberingly, is in stark contrast to the 62 percent who supported aiding Ukraine at the start of the war in February 2022.
Even more troubling, the divide in the US is becoming partisan between Democrats who support continued funding – 62 percent, and 71 percent of Republicans who oppose it. Support is also deteriorating among independents; 56 percent now say enough is enough.
This is just one poll. Yet, nonetheless, the downward trend for support to Ukraine is becoming evident. In mid-June, a Pew Research poll found only 47 percent of Americans supporting US aid to Kyiv.
The growing darkness is not just at the grassroots level. More and more politicians, arguably opportunistic in motivation, are exploiting the softening of US support for Ukraine.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), during an interview on Fox News with Laura Ingraham on Monday, foolishly and derisively dismissed Ukraine’s fight against Putin and likened it to “a junior high team playing a college team.”
Putin, undoubtedly, welcomed Tuberville’s comments as light at the end of his very dark tunnel. Tuberville fails to understand the US is very much up against Russia’s varsity. Not just in Ukraine, but in Syria, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, the Arctic – and now, potentially Niger and other parts of the Sahel across central Africa. Tuberville, in essence, is a coach without a game plan.
Yet, President Joe Biden and his administration bear a good deal of responsibility as well for creating this overall skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to win. Policy-wise, this is a Vietnam redux wherein there is no clear and decisive administration definition of how to win against Putin and the pathway to get there. Only reassurances that the US will stand with Ukraine and continue to provide weapons for their defense.
Absent a winning strategy that is demonstrably clear to the American people, it is not surprising that Biden’s political opponents are seizing on the notion that Ukraine cannot “win.”
This “losing” narrative has been creeping into the mainstream national discussion since Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI.) argued in March that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s fight against Putin is a “lose-lose-lose for everybody” and that “Nobody can win at this point.”
This growing domestic divide in the U.S. could not come at a worse time for Ukraine. Kyiv’s counteroffensive is facing an entrenched Russian resistance. Forward progress is slow and costly in terms of men and weaponry – and Washington knows it.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL.), after visiting US bases in Europe training Ukrainians described his briefings as “sobering” and declared “This is the most difficult time of the war.”
That the outcome of the war in Ukraine is now hanging in the balance is not surprising. The Biden Administration’s slow-walking of close air support and precision deep strike capabilities necessary to enable a combined arms offensive is why the West is facing this moment in time.
Ukraine still does not have ATACMS nor F-16s. Despite administration apologists in the media – political and military analysts alike – Biden’s repeated dithering over the winter and spring months afforded Moscow the time it needed to prepare its “multilayered defensive lines in the eastern and southern parts” of Russian occupied Ukraine – including trench networks and minefields in depth. Brady Africk’s graphics depicting this build-up between September 2022 – July 2023 in The Washington Post is telling.
It is also why Ukraine’s counteroffensive is in danger of stalemating. As Ukraine probes for weaknesses in Russian defenses to break through to liberate the Donbas and Crimean Peninsula, they have yet to breach any of Russia’s primary defensive lines in the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions – nor in the Donbas despite some gains in encircling Bakhmut.
The absence of close air support, engineering assets, and precision deep strike capability has forced Ukraine to alter their tactics away from NATO doctrine and fight with the Army they have. Ukraine has shifted towards a strategy of attrition and condition setting.
First, find and destroy Russian artillery, counter battery radars, and ammunition storage facilities. Artillery is the lynchpin to Russian doctrine; it is the number one casualty producer on the battlefield. Degrade this capability – then with dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) clear the trench lines, breach the minefields, and break through the Russian defensive lines.
Concurrently, they are interdicting Russian supply lines and isolating the Crimea Peninsula – making it untenable. Air-launched cruise missiles provided by the United Kingdom and France, along with Ukrainian-made aerial drones, surface and sub-surface naval drones have damaged the Kerch Strait Bridge, Chonhar Bridge, the Olenegorsky Gornyak landing ship, ammunition storage facilities, fuel depots, and repair depots.
Once the ability to sustain and reinforce Russian ground forces in Ukraine has been defeated – rapid exploitation of Russian defensive belts can be achieved.
F-16s could have provided close air support to expedite the breakthrough and set conditions for the next day's battle, but the Biden administration wavered on its decision to train pilots and their maintainers. U.S. Air Force officials now assess that Ukrainian fighter pilots could be trained in “four to five months.”
One can only imagine where Kyiv’s counteroffensive would be at this point if the White House had approved Zelensky’s request for F-16s in August 2022 – instead of giving into his administration’s incessant escalation fears.
We are dangerously entering an “Apocalypse Now” type perfect storm in the making – domestically in terms of declining support for the war and on the frontline battlefields of Ukraine. In Vietnam, the emphasis on fighting a defensive war contributed to South Vietnam losing.
Now, Biden’s straightjacketing Kyiv to, in essence, do the same is also putting Ukraine at risk of losing – as well giving Putin an ideological win against the West.
As the war continues now into its 18th month and the US enters the Presidential election season, Americans are beginning to increasingly look inward.
The pace of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is being portrayed by some as a failure, rather than a tactic to fit the current capabilities of the Ukrainian Army.
Biden must embrace a Ukrainian victory and provide them the resources they need to win the war – then he must take that message to the American people. The second and third order effects of that outcome will likely impact the security environment in the Middle East, Africa, and the Arctic region.
Either Putin’s growing darkness in Ukraine prevails and then spreads globally – or Biden boldly sees the metaphorical light, overcomes his escalation fears and fully enables Ukraine to go for the win.
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