The home of the brave needs to live up to its name with Ukraine
The immeasurable courage exhibited by the people and armed forces of Ukraine in response to Russia’s brutal invasion has inspired the entire world. This stands in stark contrast to the Biden administration who initially adopted a strategy of surrender, fearing that sanctions and weapons shipments would provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin. Only gradually has the U.S. government reinforced the Ukrainian military, constantly concerned at each step that any further increase would be seen by Putin as escalatory. Rather than ensure total victory on the battlefield, our security assistance to Ukraine has heretofore been intended to strengthen the nation’s hand at the negotiating table. Finally, in a major policy shift, the U.S. has begun to openly support Ukraine winning.
For Ukraine, this is still not enough. During his recent meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin indicated that the U.S. objective is to weaken Russia to the point that it can no longer do what it has done in Ukraine. That message is far too tepid for the task at hand. The goal should be clear and simple — destroy the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. Such a bold and brave direction is not only the key to winning, it is the most expedient way to end the horrific atrocities that continue to be exacted on tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians. It is abundantly clear that military defeat is the only way to end Russia’s brutal aggression, and we must take additional action now to hasten this outcome.
First, we must once and for all impose sanctions that hurt. Incredibly, despite $3.8 billion in U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, the National Security Council balked at sanctioning Putin’s rumored mistress for fear, once again, that it would be escalatory. We are well past that stage. This is the moment for the U.S. to demand that Europe cut off all energy supplied by Russia to drive a stake in the heart of Russia’s economy and severely undermine Putin’s war machine. Such an impactful move would make a relatively modest sacrifice compared to the precious blood spilled by so many in Ukraine on the altar of democracy.
Biden must also reverse course on the use of our most powerful means of deterrence — our nuclear arsenal. While Russia has consistently flagged the risk of nuclear war, the U.S. has canceled pre-planned nuclear weapons systems tests to be seen as a responsible nuclear power. Such risk adverse behavior does not create a credible deterrence. While Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Miley is right to have said that Russia’s talk of nuclear war is totally irresponsible, we need to use words like those of Zelensky when he spoke not about fear, but of readiness. The U.S. has the means to stand up to Putin in this arena — it is time to show the will as well.
Lastly, let’s leverage the world’s strongest Navy to assist Ukraine and demonstrate the magnitude and unwavering nature of our resolve. Protecting the critical Ukrainian port of Odessa is vital to the economic livelihood on which the country’s war effort depends. Just as the Biden administration has performed an about-face with arms shipments to Ukraine, we can correct for our craven withdrawal from the Black Sea by insisting that NATO member Turkey permit entry of a U.S.-led task force comprised of the world’s most advanced mine clearance assets and surface combatants to create a maritime humanitarian assistance corridor and provide useful wide area surveillance to support Ukraine’s ground forces. We could then back this up with an aircraft carrier strike group in the Baltic Sea to signal support for our aspiring NATO partners in the region. Along with the aircraft carrier strike group in the Mediterranean, such an audacious regional presence by the U.S. Navy would create an unmistakable show of strength and cast in sharp relief the unprecedented weakness of the Russian Navy, still reeling over Ukraine’s sinking of the Russian Black Sea fleet flagship Moscva.
During the War of 1812, the U.S. battled a British invading force to successfully defend the nascent independence that we courageously earned a few decades before. This second victory over the British cemented our standing as the “home of the brave” — a cherished title so aptly enshrined in our national anthem by Francis Scott Key while he was a captive prisoner of war during that conflict. By mirroring Ukraine’s bold defiance by fearlessly facing Russia with strangling sanctions, determined deterrence and our massive maritime power, the U.S. can earn that title anew.
Rear Admiral (ret.) Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., is a former acting undersecretary and assistant secretary of commerce and served for 32 years in the U.S. Navy. He is the CEO of Ocean STL Consulting, LLC and a member of the Consensus for American Security and the Renew America Movement.
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