‘We win, they lose’: America must end the danger Putin poses

Ronald Reagan in 1977 summed up his Cold War strategy as: “We win, they lose.” Observing Ukrainian war refugees while in Poland last week — mostly mothers with babies, and the elderly — the thought occurred to me that we need Reagan-esque clarity and confidence in American policy now. The stakes cannot be higher for Ukraine, the West, democracy, the rules-based international order and the free world. 

The Soviets intervened to preserve communist rule in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968; Yugoslavia descended into civil war in 1992. Yet Vladimir Putin’s Russia is doing something unseen in Europe since Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin attacked neighbors in 1939-41: invade a country, destroy its government, and subjugate its civilians through war crimes. If Putin succeeds, the world will return to the law of the jungle, which made the first half of the 20th century a time of unprecedented bloodshed.

{mosads}Putin irresponsibly discusses misusing nuclear weapons in this crisis, and his forces’ attacks on Ukrainian industrial and nuclear plants attempt to create field-expedient weapons of mass destruction. None of his Kremlin predecessors was as reckless on such serious matters, except perhaps Nikita Khrushchev during the Berlin and Cuban missile crises in 1961-62, before John Kennedy stared him down.

These unsound statements and actions take place within a wider context of worsening behavior.  Putin’s premiership began with his security service blowing up apartment buildings full of sleeping Russian civilians, blaming the atrocities on terrorists to justify renewing the Chechen conflict. Putin invaded Georgia in 2008. He takes personal interest in murdering defectors in creatively painful ways. If the tactics of his allies and proxies in Syria and eastern Ukraine are any indication, chemical weapons use and attacks on commercial aviation are possible. 

Regarding the United States, Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election. He reportedly placed bounties on American service members in Afghanistan and likely was responsible for causing brain injuries to hundreds of U.S. officials (and their families, including children) with a directed-energy weapon. He allows Russian criminals’ ransomware attacks on America’s critical infrastructure.

Why Putin acts with increasing rashness may be unknowable, but the danger he poses is such that the strategic goal of the United States and her NATO allies should now be the defeat of Russia in Ukraine — and through that, regime change in Moscow. Here are four ways and means toward those ends.


In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt’s lend-lease support of Winston Churchill through the Battle of Britain, provide Ukraine with more and better weapons. Not just small arms and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, but counter-battery radar and mortars to use against Russian artillery, anti-ship missiles to use against Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and yes, fighter aircraft. Those who find the idea of the U.S. facilitating the transfer of Polish aircraft to Ukraine too provocative should remember that Soviet pilots flew sorties against Americans during the Korean and Vietnam wars, while U.S. pilots volunteered for the Eagle Squadrons of the Royal Air Force and the Flying Tigers of China’s air force before Pearl Harbor. Help Kyiv deny Moscow air superiority over Ukraine and sea control over its littorals.

In the traditions of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and Special Forces, the U.S. should train, advise and assist resistance forces to conduct unconventional warfare in Russian-occupied Ukraine. OSS did this successfully in Nazi-occupied Europe, as Green Berets did throughout the Cold War.

Reinvigorate Radio Free Europe and give it technical capabilities to defeat the Kremlin’s efforts to jam it. Allow brave dissidents to tell fellow Russians the truth about Ukraine, and the misdeeds of Putin, who expropriated over $100 billion from his countrymen. Encourage defections from the Russian army and discourage Russian families’ sons from reporting for conscription.

{mossecondads}As sanctions continue to bite into the Russian economy, those who can flee abroad likely will do so. These expatriates are great sources of information, as were emigres in World War II. The best of them can organize opposition to Putin among the Russian diaspora, and influence leaders in Russia’s intelligence and military services in positions to end his misrule.

The Biden administration is understandably concerned about escalating the conflict in Ukraine, but Putin does not share this sentiment. Taken too far, their legitimate worry can unintentionally give Moscow a form of psychological mastery over Washington policymakers, undermining principles of extended deterrence that has kept comparative peace in Europe since 1945.

Stop telling Putin what America won’t do. Asked what kept him up at night, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis replied, “Nothing. I keep other people awake at night.” It’s time for the United States to disturb Putin’s sleep.

Kevin T. Carroll is in private legal practice. He served as an Army and CIA officer, senior counsel to the House Homeland Security Committee, and senior counselor to the Secretary of Homeland Security. The views expressed here are his own.

Tags Biden foreign policy James Mattis John Kennedy Ronald Reagan Russian invasion of Ukraine Ukrainian crisis Vladimir Putin Western sanctions on Russia

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