“We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.” — President John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1961
Those were simpler though no less dangerous times. The Soviet Union was seen as America’s No. 1 enemy. China had not begun to challenge its position as the world’s most powerful nation. Foreign policy then was mostly nonpartisan.
After a year of supporting Ukraine in its attempt to push back the Russian invasion and hold Vladimir Putin accountable for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has charged are war crimes, it’s time to ask some hard questions.
First among them is, what is our goal? If it is not victory (and victory defined), what is it? Since America’s last victory in World War II, we have been engaged either in stalemates or defeat. First, in Korea, which to this day is still called a conflict, that ended in a draw, resulting in more than 33,000 American battle deaths.
Then there was Vietnam, where 58,220 U.S. soldiers perished. We lost that one to the communist North. People still argue over the reason why.
Iraq seemed more of a success for a time, but its government remains shaky. “Only” 4,487 American troops were killed in that war. The earlier Operation Desert Storm was less a war than a quick invasion to roll back Iraqi troops from Kuwait. In battle, 154 military personnel were killed, and 65 died from nonbattle causes.
Afghanistan, America’s longest war, saw more than 2,000 American service members killed. And 3,800 U.S. contractors also lost their lives. Not only has the Taliban returned to rule, that war cost an estimated $2 trillion, in addition to the expense of military equipment left behind.
And now Ukraine. No U.S. troops have been sent there (yet), but again, what is our goal? Is it victory, and if not, what is it? Mr. Putin is a dictator, not responsive to voters. Once again, the United States is bearing most of the financial burden in a war that is sapping resources we don’t have, as our debt is now over $31 trillion and counting, with interest piling on daily. President Biden has promised another $500 million in aid to Ukraine. Are there controls on this money? Will it be used for its intended purpose, or will it sink into the black hole that has been defined by the country’s history of corruption?
There are strong arguments in favor of continuing to help Ukraine push back against Mr. Putin, but those arguments become weak if our intentions are not made clear and our military aid continues to resemble an installment plan.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Colin Powell viewed the purpose of the military — certainly ours, and it could be argued Ukraine’s — as winning with overwhelming force. Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger shared Powell’s views in a 1984 speech in which Weinberger outlined what should be considered before U.S. forces (and I would argue resources) are sent anywhere: “Vital national interests are at stake, the nation is prepared to commit enough forces to win, clear political and military objectives have been established, forces are sized to achieve those objectives, there is reasonable assurance of support of the American people and Congress.”
Most members of Congress and a majority of the public continue to support Ukraine, though lately, bipartisan doubts have been raised along the lines I mentioned.
Where and when will it end? Mr. Putin clearly believes the U.S. will grow tired of the expense and draw back its support. Mr. Biden has promised we will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”
The president should explain the goal and, in the meantime, ask European nations to step up their aid to Kyiv.
• Readers may email Cal Thomas at email@example.com. Look for Cal Thomas’ latest book, “America’s Expiration Date: The Fall of Empires and Superpowers and the Future of the United States” (HarperCollins/Zondervan).