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Ground Troops to Ukraine, Really Mr. Ambassador?

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In a 15 April OPED published in the Washington Post, former Ambassador and Bush Deputy National Security Advisor, James Jeffrey, now a fellow at the Washington Institute argues for the commitment of American ground forces to “quell the crisis” in Ukraine.  In yet another American triumph of ill-considered military adventurism over statecraft, Ambassador Jeffrey seems to think Mr. Putin will be impressed with the gradual appearance of a few U.S. Army ground units on Russia’s border. Meanwhile, like Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Jeffrey is ignoring the simple truth that Mr. Putin is doing the West a favor by removing the Russians from Ukraine through annexation.

The good news is that Mr. Putin is creating the conditions for the emergence of a free, democratic and smaller, as well as, demographically more homogenous Ukrainian State.  A quick glance at Ukrainian election results over the last several years demonstrates conclusively that the Ukrainians living west of the Dnieper River in overwhelming numbers want to divorce themselves from Russia and live inside Europe.

Instead of threatening Moscow, it is now time for Secretary of State Kerry and his colleagues in the European Union to ask Mr. Ranko Krivokapic, the President of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to meet with Mr. Putin and propose an OSCE-monitored plebiscite in Ukraine’s Russian speaking areasIf the population in Eastern Ukraine wants to join Russia, then, they should be allowed to vote themselves into Russia with a plebiscite. However, at the same time, the Ukrainians in the West should be allowed to join the EU without joining the NATO Alliance, much like Sweden, Austria, or Finland.  This outcome would provide Mr. Putin with what he thinks he wants and Ukraine’s true Ukrainians with what they want: membership in the European Union.  None of these developments or proposals involves a military confrontation between Russia and the West.

Sadly, instead of looking for a solution that people in the region can live with, Ambassador Jeffrey wants to exacerbate the tension by providing the very threat that makes Putin’s public claims about NATO credible when Putin’s assertions clearly are not valid.  The Ambassador’s assertion that a few U.S. Troops will “quell” the crisis is worse than naïve.  Jeffrey’s policy recommendation is both dangerous and unnecessary.

Unless the United States can send 150,000 US combat troops, at least 50,000 in the first 30 days, then, Jeffrey is simply courting disaster.  Without such a core force, the Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Slovaks and Hungarians cannot hope to assemble a similar number of forces.  More important, to be credible, the U.S. force must be heavily armored and include substantial quantities of rocket artillery, air and missile defense units, as well as, logistical elements.  Evidently, the Ambassador is unaware that no such U.S. ground force exists.

Thanks to the last 12 years of superb political and military leadership, what forces the United States once had were squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today’s wheeled Army constabulary forces along with Army and Marine light infantry are incapable of challenging Russian ground forces anywhere in Central or Eastern Europe without risking certain annihilation.  As for alleged American conventional superiority, policing Arabs and Afghans with no armies, no air forces, no air defenses and no missile forces is not much evidence for the kind of military superiority the Russians respect.

If Ambassador Jeffrey’s policy recommendation is the best the State Department can produce, Americans are in lots of trouble.  Political and military leaders like Ambassador Jeffrey who turn to military power for answers always hope military will be purposeful and short, but they fail to provide realistic answers to the questions of strategic purpose, method and end-state before and during military operations.  In this case, Ambassador Jeffrey wants to employ American military power when there is no need to do so.  Worse, the Ambassador is unaware that the U.S. Army and Marines lack the warfighting capability the United States would need if Washington acted as the Ambassador suggests.

Good military strategy consists of knowing when to employ military power and when to not to employ military power.  Unfortunately, Ambassador Jeffrey exemplifies the problem that afflicts thinking inside the beltway: U.S. national decision-making is more often shaped by the military capability to act than by the strategic need to do so.

Col (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books.  His most recent is Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting.

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