Not all options on the table as Biden brings troops closer to Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Biden flexed American military might in hopes of deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine with his announcement th...


WASHINGTON — President Biden flexed American military might in hopes of deterring a Russian invasion of Ukraine with his announcement this week that 3,000 American troops were heading for Eastern Europe.

But Mr. Biden is not preparing for war with Russia. The troops will be strengthen NATO countriesfailing to defend Ukraine itself – which is not a member of the alliance – as Russian President Vladimir V. Putin builds up military forces near its neighbor’s borders.

And to avoid any misunderstandings, Mr. Biden has made it clear on several occasions that he has no intention of sending American troops to Ukraine. During national security crises, presidents often issue the cryptic warning that “all options are on the table.” But Mr Biden pointedly said in early December that the military option was “not on the table”.

“There will be no US forces entering Ukraine,” Biden reiterated to reporters last month.

Mr. Biden reflected a political reality in a war-wary Washington, where even many reliable warmongering voices in both parties show no appetite to see US troops fight and potentially die for Ukraine. His thinking is also certainly informed by the chilling reality of Russia’s nuclear stockpile of 4,500 warheads, which experts say Moscow would be quick to use, at least on a limited scale, in any losing fight with the West.

That stance has frustrated some Russian hawks who think it’s wise to let Mr Putin second guess America’s intentions – and even some who say the US should be prepared to go to war over Ukraine .

“Putin is someone who reacts to brute force. And he is prepared to pay a very high economic price for Ukraine,” said Ian Brzezinski, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO policy under President George W. Bush. “So Biden has diluted our most important source of leverage in this crisis.” Mr. Brzezinski said that, among other actions, Mr. Biden should consider sending troops to western Ukraine as a deterrent.

But Mr. Brzezinski is part of a distinct minority. In a speech to the Senate on Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and outspoken critic of Mr Putin, said some people feared that “Biden could send American troops to Ukraine and start a war with Putin if the Russia invades”.

“I want to be clear and unequivocal,” added Mr. Cruz. “Under no circumstances should we send our sons and daughters to die to defend Ukraine against Russia.”

It is a rare point of agreement between Mr. Cruz and the Liberal Democrats, and even former President Barack Obama, who Recount Atlantic magazine in 2016 said Ukraine was “an example where we need to be very clear about what our core interests are and why we are ready to go to war.”

Politically, it was an easy call for Mr Biden, who was proud to have ended the 20-year US war in Afghanistan last year, declaring: “We have been a nation for too long at war. . A YouGov poll of American citizens conducted from January 24 to 26 revealed that only a third of those polled favored the United States arming Ukrainian forces if Russia invaded the country. Only 11% said they would support sending US troops to Ukraine to fight Russian forces. (Four percent said they would support a direct US attack on Russia.)

Such sentiments are likely fueled in part by comments from right-wing figures like Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who said the United States had no real stake in the fate of Ukraine, and the former President Donald J. Trump, a Putin admirer who told his supporters at a rally on Saturday: ‘Before Joe Biden sends troops to defend a border in Europe, he should send troops to defend our border right here in Texas.”

Republican opinion, however, is not unanimous. “I wouldn’t rule out American troops on the ground,” Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in December, in response to Mr. Biden’s pledge. Mr. Wicker noted that the United States could “rain destruction on Russian military capabilities” from a distance, using naval forces in the Black Sea.

And even a former Obama official went further. Last month, Dr. Evelyn N. Farkas, a former senior Pentagon official for Russia, wrote an essay entitled “The United States must prepare for war with Russia over Ukraine”.

If not, she wrote, “Putin will force us to fight another day, probably to defend our Baltic allies or other Eastern European countries.”

But many foreign policy veterans consider such talk unnecessary given the underlying realities.

“You shouldn’t make threats that you’re not prepared to keep,” said Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama. “The American people are not ready to go to war directly with Russia over Ukraine, and Joe Biden needs to reflect that reality because he is the president of a democracy, unlike Vladimir Putin.”

Mr. Biden instead musters other aspects of American power, such as preparing for tough economic sanctions against the Russian financial sector, accelerating arms deliveries to fortify the Ukrainian army and strengthening the allies of NATO near the Russian border.

Some analysts say Mr. Biden’s aversion to direct force, as understandable as it is, leaves a disconnect between what he calls the global historical issues of the moment and how he is prepared to respond.

Former President George HW Bush justified the 1990 Gulf War to expel Iraq from Kuwait largely on the grounds that the US-led coalition stood for an international order – “a world where the rule of law, and not the law of the jungle, governs conduct”. Peoples “.

Last month in Berlin, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken gave a speech laying out in similar terms what he called Mr. Putin’s threat to “the guiding principles of international peace and security”. . The consequences of a Russian invasion would be “catastrophic”, he said.

Asked the next day why the Biden administration wouldn’t consider fighting for those principles, Blinken said aid to Ukraine and economic threats were the “most effective” way to deter Mr Putin. And he noted that Ukraine is not part of NATO, whose members are required under Article 5 of the alliance treaty to defend each other against attack.

Mr. Putin’s ultimate deterrent is not mentioned in public by Biden officials: his nuclear arsenal. Military strategists differ on whether the United States and Russia could realistically wage a non-nuclear war.

Because of its relatively weaker conventional forces, Russian military doctrine accepts the relatively early use of nuclear weapons against the United States or NATO, said Jeffrey Edmonds, former director of the National Security Council for Russia at the Obama White House.

“For them, nuclear weapons are not above this weird glass ceiling like they are in the United States,” Edmonds said. Initially, at least, he said Russia would turn to tactical battlefield weapons, not strategic ICBM attacks on American cities that could trigger all-out nuclear war.

Graham Allison, a Harvard political scientist, said history shows how Washington has repeatedly backed down from direct conflict with Russia, since President Harry S. Truman’s refusal in 1948 to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. with American troops. (Mr. Truman instead led the highly successful Berlin Airlift.)

As recently as August 2008, when Mr. Putin sent his forces to neighboring Georgia, George W. Bush administration officials considered limited military action to prop up the outmatched Georgian government. After debating several options — including a surgical airstrike to collapse a key tunnel through which Russian forces were moving — the Bush team shelved the idea, according to “A little war that shook the world” a 2010 study on the conflict.

Brzezinski cited what he called a counterexample: In February 2018, US troops in Syria were attacked by a pro-regime force largely made up of members of the Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary organization linked to the Kremlin. A US counterattack killed around 200-300 Russian mercenaries. Russia did not retaliate.

“It was basically uninformed extensions of the Russian military,” Brzezinski said. “It had a very sobering effect on Putin. He backed off.

Although there is little appetite in Washington to test this proposition, a full-scale Russian invasion could change that sentiment.

Even among those who support Mr. Biden’s decision to send troops to NATO’s eastern flank, there are growing concerns about the possibility of fatalities or miscalculations.

“There is an intentional war where we would choose to fight Russia, and I think that’s just out of place,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a Russia expert with the Center for a New American Security who advised the Biden transition team. “And then there is the risk of unintended escalation.”

Like it or not, she added, “the risk of a direct confrontation with Russia is now higher than at any time since the Cold War.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Not all options on the table as Biden brings troops closer to Ukraine
Not all options on the table as Biden brings troops closer to Ukraine
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