• What If Biden Gave a War and Nobody Came?

    July 11, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    What if Joe Biden gave a war and no one came? Such is the case in Ukraine where slogging Russian progress is unmatched by Biden’s and Biden’s alone belief a struggle for global hegemony is at stake, and that he is fighting his war at little cost. Here’s the war at about four months in, as Joe announces a new aid package of $1.2 billion atop his previous $40 billion “lend-lease.”

    Given that core NATO raises a quiet glass every night that it does not have to be militarily involved in the fight for the Donbas and Crimea (the latter invoking 19th century memories of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, as the area was last seriously contested between east and west when the British fought the Russians there, the Charge over the disposal of abandoned Turkish cannon) Joe Biden stands nearly alone thinking he is leading the west in some sort of epic struggle. In that the west does not have troops in the field, the western war is being fought with arms supplies and sanctions, both of which are failing and leave Biden exposed, one day to awake to find himself the Emperor of Donbas without any clothes.

    Rumors of the death of the Russian military have been greatly exaggerated, literally: Ukraine has claimed kill rates for men and machines in weeks what are produced over months and years (two decades in the case of U.S.-Afghanistan) elsewhere. Despite the sexy time women snipers and Ghost of the Ukraine, it has been massive arms shipments primarily from the U.S. which have limited Russian gains largely to the eastern part of the country.

    The biggest problem with trying to win simply via outspending the other guy is artillery and anti-tank missiles do not hold ground, infantry does. A brave Ukrainian taking on a T-72 may stop the tank (until another comes along) but he cannot retake a village or hold ground against a combined arms offensive. In short the flow of U.S. defensive-style weapons has done its job, doing exactly what it was intended to, blunt an offensive. The problem is there seems little plan for after that and so in areas like Donbas where Russia enjoys local support, or areas like around Mariupol where is it willing to employ a scorched earth policy, the Ukrainians are predictably losing and will continue to do so.

    There are other problems with trying to win simply with arms sales. One is finding a way to train Ukrainians not familiar with modern weaponry in a way that is fast and effective enough to make a difference on the battlefield while not escalating the fighting overall. The usual method, either bringing foreign personnel to the U.S. or using American Special Forces trainers on the ground, both would dramatically escalate the war and give Russia the excuse to begin killing Americans. The American “volunteers” on the ground now are only going to fool some people for some time before it is obvious the U.S. has had to become deeply involved in the actual fight.

    A secondary problem with dropping so many arms higgledy-piggledy into a fluid situation like Ukraine is blowback, always a great fear during the CIA-Russian war in Afghanistan. What would terrorists in the Middle East pay for a shoulder fired anti-anticraft missile? How many sophisticated anti-tank weapons (the pop-up capability that allows the missiles to strike down on a tank’s weaker top armor is highly classified) are the Chinese interested in? “While the response to provide more weapons to Ukraine is understandable, it would be prudent to consider the immediate and long-term security implications,” said one think tank. “We’ve seen time and time again how arms aimed at aiding an ally in one conflict have found their way to the frontlines of unforeseen battlefields, often in the hands of groups at odds with U.S. interests or those of civilians.” Ukraine has a very poor record in this regards; in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union the country lost track of $32 billion in weapons and sold China its first aircraft carrier.

    Supply is also an issue. America has currently sent about one third of its entire Javelin anti-tank missile inventory to Ukraine along with 50 million rounds of conventional ammunition, extraordinary quantities which strain production capability. Lastly, there remains concern over Russian reaction should American-made artillery rounds begin falling inside the Russian border. The recently shipped 155mm howitzers are seen by many as the first truly offensive weapon the U.S. introduced into the conflict. For Joe Biden what seems like a risk-free no brainer — send more weapons — actually carries with it considerable risk no one seems to be thinking about.

    But it was sanctions which were to have won the battle, forcing Russia to withdraw at the risk of her economy collapsing, perhaps along with Putin’s own regime. The problem is that not only has that not happened, U.S. sanctions have actually aided Russia. Though Russia’s energy exports fell by volume in reaction to American sanctions, surging prices driven by supply shortages have more than canceled out the effects. Russia’s export prices have been on average around 60 percent higher than last year. Simple supply and demand.

    Demand remains the thing thwarting Biden’s charge into the guns. France and Germany in particular have evolved the ability to talk tough and do little of substance, making quite an event out of the end of Russian energy exports via ship while quietly lapping at the pipelines like drunkards. And what demand does not fix supply steps in for. The EU reduced natural gas imports from Russia 23 percent in the first  days of the invasion. Meanwhile Russia’s Gazprom has seen its income levels double year-over-year, thanks to higher prices. The EU also reduced its direct imports of Russian crude oil by 18 percent but thanks to Russian re-exporters  India and the United Arab Emirates, that has lead to no net change in Russia’s overall oil export volumes. China, too, has helped make up for the EU shortfall, albeit more for domestic use and not re-export into the global market, as the largest single buyer of Russian energy. Japan holds that title for unsanctioned Russia coal exports. Even the U.S. itself helps out, buying unsanctioned highly refined oil products from the Netherlands and India that most certainly were made at least in part from Russia crude.

    Russia has shown it can also play offense, cutting natural gas flow to western Europe by 60 percent blaming technical difficulties. Germany correctly understood the latest curtailment in its gas supply as a political move. “Russia’s reason for reducing gas supplies is just a pretext,” the German Vice-Chancellor said. “Their strategy is obviously to drive up prices.” Poor Joe can’t catch a break it seems. May be it is time to seize another megayacht to show Putin who is boss?

    So where are Biden’s allies? The EU and Japan talk a great game but are hamstrung by their own energy needs. Next month Joe Biden travels to Saudi Arabia to bargain away any remaining American self-respect for oil. The UN, such as it is, saw 35 key abstentions, including much of Africa, on a symbolic get-out-of-Ukraine resolution.  The head of the African Union explicitly called for the lifting of sanctions on Russia. India re-exports Russian oil. Brazil and Mexico refuse to condemn Russia. China won’t step in. Biden stands nearly alone claiming the liberal world order is at risk. Or could it be those other nations have seen so little benefit from that order they are not sorry if they see it pass?

    Bottom line: Russian energy exports, which make up some 45 percent of the country’s budget, are stronger than ever. Russia has more money than ever to finance its war in Ukraine, and Putin is as secure in his post as ever before. The irony is with gas hitting $5.00 a gallon across the U.S., the sanctions driving that may indeed bring about regime change, albeit in Biden’s next Congress.

     

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy