New course for Ukraine

The ‘total Russian defeat’ is unrealistic

Washington Watch

In recent weeks, there have been a number of irresponsible op-eds pressing the Biden Administration to supply more advanced US weapons to Ukraine, arguing that the only acceptable outcome to the conflict is a “total Russian defeat.” It is maddening how often these “pundits” have wrongly sought to justify the expanded use of force in conflict zones.

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Both Russia and Ukraine are now escalating their attacks. Russia continues to find sources to replenish its armaments, and the USA is either directly supplying or facilitating its allies’ transfers of new advanced weapons to Ukraine. As a result, any careful assessment of the Russian war on Ukraine must conclude there is no foreseeable end to the conflict. Not only is there no end in sight, but also nothing good will come of this horrible war which no one will win.

There is no question that Russia is at fault for launching this terrible war of aggression against Ukraine. Russia has violated international law by invading a sovereign state, attacking its civilian population, and annexing its territory. But because international law is “honored more in the breach than the observance,” the Ukrainians can’t turn to the United Nations or the International Court of Justice for action. Both institutions, which were created precisely to deal with this sort of criminal behavior, are paralyzed by lack of capacity and/or recognition or support from one or another of the major powers.

As a result, we’ve seen the world divide into camps, with the USA leading a group of mainly Western states backing Ukraine, Russia leading a much smaller coterie of supporters, and China, while not overtly in the Russian camp, playing the “non-aligned” game with the rest.

The Biden Administration’s early efforts to isolate and punish Russia through sanctions have had only limited success, with most nations in the Global South opting to remain non-aligned or to pursue what they call “strategic autonomy.”

In some cases, this positioning is due to a lack of trust in the USA. Given the hubris and topsy-turvy run of US foreign policy during the past two decades, the USA is simply not viewed as a reliable partner. As a result, many countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Arab World are unwilling to put their eggs in the US basket.

At the same time, many nations of the Global South are unwilling to risk the strong trade relations and investment ties with Russia and China that they have developed. And so, they have made the strategic decision not to take sides in this conflict which they see as a problem for the USA, NATO, and Russia.

Instead of pressuring others to support what they have come to see as our war, forcing them to non-align, we should be offering them the alternative to join a campaign for peace and security, investment and trade, that can benefit all of the nations of Eastern and Central Europe.

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Then there’s the matter of the USA’s double standard that weakens our ability to bring other nations to our side. After our invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, our regime change assault on Libya, and our drone attacks in countries across Asia and Africa, it is difficult for other nations to see the USA as the beacon of righteousness that must be followed.

When it comes to the Arab World, this matter of the double standard is especially troubling. Other nations will agree that it is completely justified to be outraged over Russia’s violation of sovereignty, disproportionate attacks on civilians, forced transfers of Ukrainians from their land, and annexation of territory. But what makes the USA claim to moral leadership unconvincing or even hypocritical to many Arabs, is our silence in the face of Israel’s identical behavior vis a vis Palestinians.

Finally, there is the argument that countries should band together to oppose Russia’s behaviour because it threatens the “liberal rules-based international order.” This is a uniquely American construct, developed to sidestep mention of international law or conventions, which the USA and its ally Israel have repeatedly violated, or the International Criminal Court, which the USA has not recognized and to which it only pays lip service when it serves US interests. As a result, the appeal to adhere to a “rules-based international order” is just a thinly veiled effort to mask an ad hoc American attempt to apply the “rules” it wants to create the “order” it seeks.

Given this disconnect and growing distrust between the USA and so many other nations, it appears that instead of mobilizing the world against Russian aggression, we’ve ushered in a new Cold War in which some nations are opposed to our leadership while most are ambivalent, with their feet planted in both camps.

The tragic reality that confronts us is the need to recognize that as one side secures new arms, the other will find ways to do so as well. And as one side escalates, the other will match their escalation. As a result, this war could go on for years, posing untold dangers to the Ukrainian people and the possibility of expanding into a broader regional war.

It’s time, therefore, to put to rest infantile fantasies of a “total humiliating defeat” for one side or the other and to chart a path toward a resolution of this conflict that no one can win. To start, instead of pouring gasoline on the fire, the USA should put China to the test by inviting them to join us in mobilizing a new multinational peace coalition to secure Ukrainian sovereignty and security, while pushing back on Russian expansionism.

This will require a change of outlook and rhetoric. We will need to offer incentives for peacemaking.

And instead of pressuring others to support what they have come to see as our war, forcing them to non-align, we should be offering them the alternative to join a campaign for peace and security, investment and trade, that can benefit all of the nations of Eastern and Central Europe.

This may seem unrealistic, but it is a better path than the fool’s errand of accelerating this conflict for years to come with the unrealistic expectation that total victory can be won.

Dr James J Zogby
Dr James J Zogby
The writer is President, Arab American Institute.


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