When the Best and the Brightest (sic) Govern

Someone in Washington is not giving this matter a great deal of thought:

That the United States and NATO have the capability to “level the playing field” by arming Kiev with radars and anti-tank missiles is a commonly held idea among supporters of McCain’s preferred policy option. The argument goes something like this: every time Kiev’s forces have been on the verge of victory over the separatist forces, Russia has stepped in, escalated and turned the tide in favor of the rebels. We see this happening right now in the battle taking place in and around the Debaltseve junction in eastern Ukraine. We may well see something similar occur in and around Mariupol. If the West, so the argument goes, would just provide Kiev with the armaments it needs, then Kiev would have a better chance at securing a victory over the rebels. After all, if the Russians can supply their clients, why can’t we supply ours?

Besides the fact that such a program of proxy-supply rarely works, and when it has, has usually come back to haunt us (see under: bin Laden, Osama), the idea that Kiev would emerge victorious if only we act as its principal arms supplier is fallacious simply because there is nothing that we could provide them with that Russia, in turn, couldn’t and more to the point, wouldn’t, supply the rebels. It would simply mean a net increase in armaments on both sides, which would almost certainly result in more and more civilian deaths. The simple fact of the matter is that Russia is so situated geographically that it has an overwhelming advantage over NATO in the region.

Carden, a writer for both The National Interest and The American Conservative, noted in an interview with Scott Horton that the goal of the Obama Administration’s policy is to inflict higher costs — and casualties — on Moscow in order to both provoke dissent within Vladimir Putin’s government and possibly even force the Russians to back down and end their involvement.

It’s a stunningly stupid policy approach, and is utterly blind to the rational and national interests of other governments and other nation-states. Does Washington, D.C., really think the world works this way?

The sad — and terrifying — answer is yes. Because this line of thinking is a lot like the thinking followed by Lyndon Johnson and his team of “best and brightest” as they tried, beginning in 1965, to find the correct amount of military force to compel North Vietnam to back down from its support of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam (as well as the Pathet Lao and the Khmer Rouge). Johnson and his advisors were convinced that once North Vietnam saw a demonstration of U.S. power and the willingness to use it, they would “rationally” back down. After all, who wants to confront the United States? Convinced of their own cleverness, power, and righteousness, and mislead by their elite educations (Johnson reportedly referred to a number of his advisors left over from the Kennedy administration as “The Georgetown Jellybeans”), never once did the Johnson administration ever consider looking at the conflict from the side of North Vietnam, and that the North Vietnamese, when faced with American force, would increase their commitment to the war, and would not back down. Instead, they doubled down, bore the brunt of US air raids, and increased their commitment to the NLF.

While we can argue about the effectiveness of US force in Vietnam (especially during the Nixon years), we know how that ended.

And we have every reason to believe Russia will respond in a similar fashion. Then what?

There is also a key difference here. North Vietnam was an impoverished third-world country in the 1960s, with no technological base of its own and no way to retaliate against the United States itself. The US could bomb North Vietnam with impunity to its heart’s content. Russia, however, possesses something resembling a high-tech infrastructure (no one gets into orbit right now in anything other than a Soyuz spacecraft), 10,000 nuclear weapons, and the ability to hurl them across the world if provoked. I’m sorry, but push comes to shove, I’m not willing to trade Chicago — or any American city — for Kiev. Or Lvov. Or even Vilnius, Warsaw, or Bratislava (sorry Slovak loved ones; Putin shows up, you’re on your own). The stakes here are simply not worth it. (This is why NATO should have gone out of business in 1993.)

That anyone is even considering taking us down a road that leads to this kind of thing is foolish beyond compare. This is sleepwalking toward a cliff, or potentially diving blindfolded into a swimming pool filled with piraña.

And this is how smart people wage war.

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