The Fog of War Applied to Editorials

I found the editors’ of the New York Times’s remarks on Ukraine extremely confusing today. I may actually agree with them but I’m honestly not sure. For example, how do they reconcile these two statements:

In March, this board argued that the message from the United States and its allies to Ukrainians and Russians alike must be: No matter how long it takes, Ukraine will be free. Ukraine deserves support against Russia’s unprovoked aggression, and the United States must lead its NATO allies in demonstrating to Vladimir Putin that the Atlantic alliance is willing and able to resist his revanchist ambitions.

That goal cannot shift, but in the end, it is still not in America’s best interest to plunge into an all-out war with Russia, even if a negotiated peace may require Ukraine to make some hard decisions. And the U.S. aims and strategy in this war have become harder to discern, as the parameters of the mission appear to have changed.


A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal. Though Russia’s planning and fighting have been surprisingly sloppy, Russia remains too strong, and Mr. Putin has invested too much personal prestige in the invasion to back down.

I guess it hinges on their operative definition of “free”. If by free they mean that the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia will remain either Russian or “autonomous”, then it’s not so confusing. That seems like a counter-intuitive definition of free to me. I agree that there is no reasonable prospect for a decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia.

And this:

The United States and NATO have demonstrated that they will support the Ukrainian fight with ample firepower and other means. And however the fighting ends, the U.S. and its allies must be prepared to help Ukraine rebuild.

But as the war continues, Mr. Biden should also make clear to President Volodymyr Zelensky and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster. It is imperative that the Ukrainian government’s decisions be based on a realistic assessment of its means and how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain.

I agree that’s a necessity. Actually, I would go farther. I think that the U. S. needs a clear, verifiable audit trail of its support. Be that as it may, I find it difficult to reconcile the previously stated objective with that proviso. Are the editors saying that the president should set a monetary value on the objectives we’ve set out? I don’t believe that’s how wars are won. Not in any sense.

I do agree with their conclusion:

Confronting this reality may be painful, but it is not appeasement. This is what governments are duty bound to do, not chase after an illusory “win.” Russia will be feeling the pain of isolation and debilitating economic sanctions for years to come, and Mr. Putin will go down in history as a butcher. The challenge now is to shake off the euphoria, stop the taunting and focus on defining and completing the mission. America’s support for Ukraine is a test of its place in the world in the 21st century, and Mr. Biden has an opportunity and an obligation to help define what that will be.

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