Define the Mission
The White House has an obligation to explain, explicitly and officially, what we are trying to achieve in Ukraine.
Within a month of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced during a press briefing that President Biden was traveling to Europe to send a “powerful message that we are prepared and committed to this for as long as it takes.”
Soon after, other top officials in the administration, including the president himself, began parroting this same message. Yet to this day, it remains unclear to Americans what “victory” means for us in Ukraine.
One theory suggests the United States should facilitate peace talks to prevent the spread of the war from entering a NATO member country. While that’s a just cause, our government has thus far guaranteed a continuous stream of funding and weaponry to Zelensky and scuttled efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Another theory, that proffered by Secretary Blinken, entails removing all Russians from Ukraine, including Crimea, a territory that Ukraine has not controlled since 2014. This mission would require drastically different resources from our government—and it’s one that Congress should debate before sending another dime of assistance to Ukraine. Meanwhile, if this is the mission, Ukraine lacks the means to achieve it. Zelensky has been unable to garner the combat power necessary to achieve that decisive outcome.
The most radical theory, championed by acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, would entail a war crimes tribunal for Putin, and potentially regime change in Russia. Fundamentally, this approach would require active combat directly with Russia and would be an act of aggression on our part.
Make no mistake, the United States is currently in a proxy war with Moscow. The Biden administration is obligated to inform Americans if its mission is to facilitate a broader war with Russia—and Congress must hold the White House accountable.
To date, Congress has appropriated more than $113 billion to Ukraine, even though it’s impossible to properly allocate resources to a cause without first defining what the United States intends to accomplish. While Zelensky has inspired our support and Ukraine has waged a strong defense, the war has reached a stalemate that ultimately favors Russia.
To sustain the status quo, war hawks here will doubtless push for another Ukraine supplemental appropriations bill this fall, even as our citizens have grown increasingly skeptical of America’s participation.
Congress should not contemplate additional funding until the administration provides us with a comprehensive strategy. Instead, I constantly hear war hawks espousing the phrase, “If only Ukraine had more weapons, they could defeat the Russians.” This logic has failed repeatedly. While it is grinding down part of the Russian army, it is destroying Ukraine and depleting their ability to sustain combat.
After Zelensky rallied Ukraine’s defense against the Kremlin’s initial invasion, we were told Javelin missiles would alter the course of the war in Ukraine’s favor. Not long after, certain war hawks claimed a no-fly zone, enforced by the United States Air Force, was the answer to winning the war. Proponents of this policy skipped the details: An American-enforced no-fly zone would effectively declare war against Russia. Our military would not only shoot down Russian planes, but also attack any Russian anti-aircraft systems on the ground.
As the war drags on, calls have grown for “bigger and badder” weapons, shifting from Abrams tanks to long-range missiles to F-16 fighter planes to cluster munitions. As the cost and weapons employed escalates, the Biden administration still parrots the same “as long as it takes” approach without specifying what they want to do.
Meanwhile, the lack of accountability and in-depth media coverage leaves the American people in the dark about our involvement in Ukraine—as was done in prior endless wars.
In recent weeks, NATO issued an announcement from their Vilnius summit stating, “Ukraine’s future is in NATO. We reaffirm the commitment we made at the 2008 Summit in Bucharest that Ukraine will become a member of NATO….”
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As a former Army Ranger, I recognize that without a defined mission from the Biden administration, there is no way to develop explicit objectives, allocate the proper resources, hold anyone accountable for failure, or honestly claim “mission accomplished.”
That is precisely how the United States ended up with former President George W. Bush aboard an aircraft carrier flight deck with a “Mission Accomplished” banner draped behind him on May 1, 2003. Everyone knew Bush’s infamous speech was not the end of the war; the United States proceeded to stay in Iraq until officially withdrawing in 2011. Despite this major foreign policy failure, no one has ever been held accountable.
While the circumstances are different, the lessons learned from that moment should be applied now. Congress, and the American people, must be given a mission statement for America’s involvement in Ukraine. It’s the only way to seriously debate our participation and ensure the American people aren’t sleep-walking into another endless war.