Waving the White Flag

The neoclowns are starting to push for diplomacy and a negotiated armistice in Ukraine in a new piece in Foreign Affairs entitled “An Unwinnable War”:

An entire new U.S. military command element, the Security Assistance Group–Ukraine, has been devoted to the aid and training mission, which is led by a three-star general with a staff of 300. Yet there is not a single official in the U.S. government whose full-time job is conflict diplomacy. Biden should appoint one, perhaps a special presidential envoy who can engage beyond ministries of foreign affairs, which have been sidelined in this crisis in nearly all relevant capitals. Next, the United States should begin informal discussions with Ukraine and among allies in the G-7 and NATO about the endgame.

In parallel, the United States should consider establishing a regular channel of communication regarding the war that includes Ukraine, U.S. allies, and Russia. This channel would not initially be aimed at achieving a cease-fire. Instead, it would allow participants to interact continually, instead of in one-off encounters, akin to the contact group model used during the Balkan wars, when an informal grouping of representatives from key states and international institutions met regularly. Such discussions should begin out of the public eye, as did initial U.S. contacts with Iran on the nuclear deal, signed in 2015.

These efforts might well fail to lead to an agreement. The odds of success are slim—and even if negotiations did produce a deal, no one would leave fully satisfied. The Korean armistice was certainly not seen as a triumph of U.S. foreign policy at the time it was signed: after all, the American public had grown accustomed to absolute victories, not bloody wars without clear resolution. But in the nearly 70 years since, there has not been another outbreak of war on the peninsula. Meanwhile, South Korea emerged from the devastation of the 1950s to become an economic powerhouse and eventually a thriving democracy. A postwar Ukraine that is similarly prosperous and democratic with a strong Western commitment to its security would represent a genuine strategic victory.

An endgame premised on an armistice would leave Ukraine—at least temporarily—without all its territory. But the country would have the opportunity to recover economically, and the death and destruction would end. It would remain locked in a conflict with Russia over the areas occupied by Moscow, but that conflict would play out in the political, cultural, and economic domains, where, with Western support, Ukraine would have advantages. The successful reunification of Germany, in 1990, another country divided by terms of peace, demonstrates that focusing on nonmilitary elements of the contestation can produce results. Meanwhile, a Russian-Ukrainian armistice would also not end the West’s confrontation with Russia, but the risks of a direct military clash would decrease dramatically, and the global consequences of the war would be mitigated.

Many commentators will continue to insist that this war must be decided only on the battlefield. But that view discounts how the war’s structural realities are unlikely to change even if the frontline shifts, an outcome that itself is far from guaranteed. The United States and its allies should be capable of helping Ukraine simultaneously on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Now is the time to start.

There are a few problems here. First, the Egypt-Israel model cannot apply, because unlike in the Middle East, the US and its allies are co-belligerents in Ukraine. Therefore, they cannot expect Russia to accept them as anything but adversaries; the situation on the Korean Peninsula is a more relevant analogy. Second, the US and its allies not only permitted, but actively conspired with Ukraine in undermining the previous diplomatic efforts that resulted in the Minsk Accords.

Third, this analysis presumes material military weakness and lack of morale on the part of Russia that does not appear to be in evidence. While the inabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now being recognized, the narrative of Russian military incapacity remains largely unchanged despite having been proven to be reliably wrong for the last eighteen months. While the writer recognizes that Ukraine is incapable of winning, he still doesn’t realize that the same is not true of Russia.

Fourth, there are zero indications that Russia has any interest in a diplomatic solution and a plethora of signs that Russia has absolutely no intention of letting Clown World off the hook in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. If WWIII has, as I believe, already begun, it is not going to be averted by a belated interest in diplomacy on the part of the neoclowns.

But the article is certainly worth noting due to the way it informs us that the formerly triumphalist clowns now recognize that what they previously believed to be their inevitable victory is, at the very least, no longer imminent, and may not even be possible anymore.