Former President Donald Trump has a secret plan to end the war in Ukraine. It’s so exquisitely simple that only a drooling halfwit could fail to comprehend it. In fact, but for the rare collection of imbeciles leading the democratic world, the war would already be over. We are so unworthy of even an elementary education in geopolitical affairs that Trump seems to have concluded not to share his wisdom. At least, not until he’s elected to the presidency again.
In a video message to his followers, the 45th president began by distinguishing his approach to managing the crisis in Europe from Joe Biden’s by endorsing Biden’s dubious recitation of Russian propaganda. “Joe Biden’s weakness and incompetence have brought us to the brink of nuclear war,” Trump said, “and now Biden is doing what he said ten months ago would lead to World War III.”
Here, Trump has both mangled Biden’s ignorant comments about the way in which nuclear deterrence breaks down—which were flawed even on his own terms and lent undue credence to Russian saber-rattling—while also putting words in the president’s mouth by insisting the tripwire for what Biden called “Armageddon” would be the introduction of Western tanks to the battlefield. But that’s not the point. Trump’s point is that the West could end the fighting if only someone in power possessed even an ounce of his muscular fortitude.
“We must end this ridiculous war and demand peace in Ukraine now before it gets worse,” Trump concluded. “And believe it or not, it would be easy to do. It would be very easy to do.” Fade out. Click donate below.
Though short on details, this was sufficient to convince Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance to prostrate himself before this display of blistering genius. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Vance endorsed Trump’s reelection bid and predicated his support on Trump’s manifest “statesmanship,” which is most apparent in how his administration behaved with restraint abroad.
Set aside the fact that Biden, too, is not “starting any wars” or that the Trump administration did not shy away from executing strikes on controversial military targets associated with state actors like Iran and Syria. Stripped of the elegance afforded authors who submit their work to the editorial process, Vance issued a more revealing statement on Twitter: “While others want to foolishly march us into WW3 over Russia and Ukraine,” he wrote, “Trump is the only candidate running with the courage to stand up to the corrupt bipartisan foreign policy establishment.”
All this false bravado serves only to spook skeptics out of asking a simple but probing question: How?
How, precisely, are we to “end this ridiculous war?” Light on details as Trump is, we must look to Vance’s policy preferences. Concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine, Vance wants to end America’s material support for Kyiv’s independence. “Eventually,” at least. “We cannot fund a long-term military conflict that I think ultimately has diminishing returns for our own country,” he told reporters last year.
How the cessation of American support for Ukraine would “end” the war is a mystery. It would not force Russians to retreat back across the border or even to dig into the positions they occupy now. At most, it would disadvantage Ukrainian forces, but it wouldn’t sap their will to resist occupation, abuse, and murder. It would likely expose more Ukrainian civilians to death and deportation because there would be more fighting over a broader swath of Ukrainian territory.
How are the returns America generates from this conflict “diminishing,” in Vance’s estimation? Can he articulate what those returns are, given that he concedes they existed at one point and in some form since they’re deteriorating now? And how would America’s actions beget “World War III?”
Vance elides the fact that the West has gone to great lengths, even despite Ukraine’s entreaties, to avoid the appearance of escalation. Proxy warfare is not a uniquely destabilizing condition in Russo-Western relations; it typified much of the Cold War and has been the status quo since Russia intervened in Syria in 2015, where NATO forces were already operating. It’s not the result of luck but deconfliction efforts on both parties’ parts that have prevented regular Russian and NATO assets from engaging in direct conflict. How does that break down?
The answer to that question puts the onus on Moscow because it would be Russia that engages in offensive actions against a NATO asset—actions that would have to be unambiguously deliberate for NATO forces to respond proportionately. But even in this scenario, Russia would be the aggressor. So, how are Westerners pushing the nation reluctantly into World War III?
The nationalist refrain sidelines much of the NATO alliance, perhaps because its existence hopelessly complicates their argument. One of Biden’s foremost challenges since Russia inaugurated hostilities has been the delicate balance he’s had to preserve within the alliance. The Eastern nations on the frontier are understandably jittery over Russia’s revanchism. Western nations, while resolved to check Moscow’s expansionist ambitions, are more cautious. And then there are wildcards such as Turkey and Germany.
Keeping all these competing interests in line doesn’t happen entropically, and abandoning that obligation would fracture the alliance. That would certainly advance one of Russia’s core strategic interests, but a condition in which the European states freelance their own respective approaches to the war would only produce more instability. Such a scenario would have infinitely more potential for an event that leads to a conflagration. So, how would the abdication of America’s prima inter pares role in the Atlantic Alliance preserve stability?
Unless you’re beholden to the hope that Russia somehow ceases to exist in its present form or that the Putin regime dissolves and takes with it Russia’s permanent interest in strategic depth, it’s reasonable to assume that this war will end with a negotiated settlement. The terms of those negotiations will be set on the battlefield, which was and remains far too fluid for either party to this conflict to assess either their leverage or their opponents’. It is incumbent on nationalist critics of America’s strategy to explain how it is in U.S. interests for Ukraine to have a weaker hand at the negotiating table by giving Russia greater capacity to dictate the tempo of the war.
Serious people think a lot about these hows. Their nationalist critics do not. They issue white-hot indictments of everyone else in lieu of a coherent and viable alternative foreign policy. The flippancy they exhibit in grappling with the most serious challenge to the post-Cold War order exposes their lack of seriousness. Even if you’re disinclined to invest much importance in the global marketplace and the once unimaginable peace the American-led geopolitical status quo has delivered, an honest broker who shares your vision should have enough respect for you to elaborate on it. Which leads us to our final question: How are you not insulted?