The Washington bipartisan War Party (the neocons/neolibs, the deep state, and the military-industrial-congressional complex) goes on record in this Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) article telling the world: "What Does the West Want in Ukraine? Defining Success—Before It’s Too Late" (April 22, 2022).
This article is written by Richard Haass, President of the CFR. For those who don’t know, Mr. Haass – given his position – is the spokesperson for Washington officialdom on foreign policy. He is on Morning Joe on MSNBC a couple of times a week preaching the "forever war" doctrine to his flock in Washington.
Thus, this article isn’t just a MSM journalist or foreign policy academic pontificating on his/her own personal viewpoint – it reflects how the bipartisan War Party in Washington wants the Ukraine/Russia war to play out. President Biden blew off Haass, the CFR, the neocons/neolibs, and the rest of the ‘forever war’’ crowd with his withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan in 2021. This pullout – despite its high level of support by the electorate – cost Biden a lot of political capital in Washington officialdom. Given his litany of other problems, it’s unlikely Biden will blow off this crowd again. So, in effect, Haass is telling Biden how he has to handle Washington’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine – or he (not Russian President Putin) will face regime change.
Most CFR articles are behind a paywall – but this one is a freebee so everyone around the world (including other NATO heads-of-state and Ukraine’s President Zelensky) gets the message on what the Washington overlords want to see happen in their proxy war in Ukraine.
I provide the below comments on this illuminating article as someone who gained firsthand knowledge on how things work and how people think in Washington officialdom from having worked for eight years for the State Department and USAID in the Iraq and Afghan wars as a field-level governance advisor. These three wars are similar in many ways.
1. It’s not a coincidence that this stake-in-ground CFR article on April 22 came fours days after Trump issued a written statement on April 18 which he says the war in Ukraine "never should have happened" and Russia and Ukraine "should be sitting down and working out some kind of an agreement. If they don’t do it soon, there will be nothing left but death, destruction." Trump had previously endorsed J.D. Vance – the most antiwar candidate in the race – in the crucial GOP senate primary in Ohio. Trump’s antiwar position gained more high profile advocates (e.g., Jeffery Sachs in an April 20 article on CNN and Pat Buchanan on Antiwar.com also on April 22). Since this end-the-war-now advocacy is anathema for the Haass foreign policy crowd and their like-minded cohorts in the military-industrial-congressional complex and MSM, it had to be stopped before the tide turned against another forever war.
2. To preclude the possibility of a quick end to the war, Haass stipulates in his CFR article, "The Ukrainians have every right to define their war aims. But so do the United States and Europe." In other words, Zelensky will need Washington’s sign-off on any deal he makes with Putin. This War State dictate eliminates the agency Zelensky seemingly had in March to negotiate a peace deal with Russia on his own terms. When asked by David Muir of ABC news on March 9 – two weeks into the war – about Moscow’s demands that Ukraine change its constitution to reject any intention to enter NATO as well as recognize Crimea as part of Russia and the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent state, Zelensky answered Muir saying he was "willing to compromise on most of those points" and was "ready for a dialogue." Although such concessions were apparently acceptable to the Biden Administration to achieve a peace deal, they were unacceptable to the War Party as recounted by retired General Jack Keane on Fox News on March 24.
3. Notwithstanding the Washington overlords declared veto over any peace deal, Haass affirms that "from the outset of the crisis, the United States made it clear that it would not place boots on the ground or establish a no-fly zone, since doing so could bring U.S. and Russian forces into direct contact and raise the risk of escalation." Thus no matter how bad things get for the Ukrainians, they are on their own in this war – with the US having a veto right over any concessions they may want to make to Russia to keep their country from being "wrecked" (i.e., John Mearsheimer’s primrose path prediction from 2015 coming true.)
4. Haass presents three possible war-ending scenarios. The first is that Russia wins the looming battle in the Donbas and "realizes its ambitions of asserting greater control in the Donbas region and establishing a land bridge to Crimea." The problem with this outcome, according to Haass, is that with this military success, "Putin may again revise his war aims, in this case upward." He further opines, "What is almost certain is that no legitimate Ukrainian government would formally accept an outcome so favorable to Russia." Okay, but why does the US government get to make this decision for the people of Ukraine and not their elected leader? Isn’t the West supporting and financing this war to defend Ukraine as a real democracy? Instead, Haass says the US and NATO need to keep pouring weapons into Ukraine – and get more Ukrainians killed – to prevent this favorable outcome for Russia from materializing. (Spoiler alert: Pouring more weapons into Ukraine and prolonging the war is Haass’s recommendation under all three scenarios.)
5. Haass’s second scenario is a stalemate. Given Russia’s military superiority which it is just now beginning to assert in its Phase 2 operations (as Scott Ritter, retired Colonel Macgregor, and other objective military experts have detailed), this scenario refutes reality. Nonetheless, Haass addresses the theoretical case where "neither Ukraine nor Russia were able to achieve decisive military progress." (Note to Haass: Russia already has and continues to gain territory in eastern and southern Ukraine as military progress per its stated prewar objectives.) Haass frets, "This outcome could be acceptable to Ukraine, which has a powerful incentive to end a war that has caused so much death and destruction. It would be peace at a price, but potentially a price worth paying." He worries that Ukraine might even agree not to join NATO in this case. But this won’t happen, according to Haass, because "it would be overly optimistic to imagine that a military stalemate would pave the way for a diplomatic settlement." Isn’t this statement blatantly counterfactual?
6. In reality, Haass is foretelling by his above comment that the US will veto any deal that precludes Ukraine from joining NATO. Haass also opines, "Many in Ukraine would reject any arrangement that left Russia in control of any Ukrainian territory." But Haass conveniently does not identify the "many" he is referring to as the fascist ideological faction in Ukraine who support the War Party’s stake-in-the-ground/don’t-give-an-inch of territory position. Thus, in his fictitious stalemate case, Haass again exhorts Congress and NATO: keep the weapons convoys coming – even if most are destroyed by Russian aircraft and missiles as soon as they cross into Ukraine!
7. Haass’s third scenario is even more implausible: Ukrainian Military Success. In this case as imagined by Haass, "Russia would be forced to accept not merely the pre-2022 status quo but the pre-2014 status quo." In advocating this end-game scenario for the war, Haass and his cohorts in Washington are relying on the fake intel and bogus self-serving Pentagon war-status reports reiterated by MSM as the same litany of lies and deceptions that I lived through during my eight years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan as these hopeless wars were prolonged.
8. Believing in the War Party’s fanciful scenario 3, Haass opines that even though Ukraine may be able to win the looming Battle for the Donbas, it will not be good for the West if they did so. Hass says Putin would just get mad and retaliate with chemical or nuclear weapons. Hence, Haass’s advice to Zelensky is to refrain from combat in the Donbas; avoid making any concessions; and wait out Putin’s presidency as the West’s sanctions wreak havoc on Russia’s economy and weaken its resolve. This last point is another counterfactual given Putin’s soaring postwar popularity in Russia and the boomerang effect of the West’s sanctions on Russia to date.
9. As further evidence of the War Party’s convoluted thinking, their advocated ‘forever war’ in Ukraine supposedly will achieve "success for now. . . by winding down of hostilities, with Russia possessing no more territory than it held before the recent invasion;" while "continuing to refrain [Putin] from using weapons of mass destruction." Haass continues, "Over time, the West could employ a mix of sanctions and diplomacy in an effort to achieve a full Russian military withdrawal from Ukraine."
10. The War State needs intervention if it really believes Russia’s body politic fears the US-backed Ukrainian military so much and is so indifferent to its own nationalism, history, and the fate of ethnic Russians in other countries, that Putin (or any successor president) will capitulate and allow Kiev to take back Crimea, Mariupol, the Donbas, and Russia’s other blood-soaked territorial gains without even a fight. This overestimation of US influence and wishful geopolitical thinking (as Mearsheimer and other foreign policy experts forewarned years ago) is straight out the War Party’s Iraq and Afghanistan playbook. Haass and his cohorts seem to have already forgotten how those two wars – involving far less formidable adversaries than Russia – turned out.
11. Finally, the War Party’s desire for another ‘forever war’ is unambiguously declared by Haass in his seminal statement: "Whatever goals [for the outcome of the Ukraine war] the West ultimately settles on, requiring that the war end with a formal peace agreement should not be one of them." Hence, Washington officialdom wants this war to drag on and be indecisive for years, just like their misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are indifferent to the casualties – both combatants and civilians – and the destruction of communities and livelihoods their forever wars have caused around the world.
Until there is a change of political leadership in Washington, the convoluted, counterfactual, and fanciful thinking displayed by Mr. Haass in this recent CFR article will prevail in Washington. Thus, the only good that can possibly come out of the War Party’s current third unnecessary and unwinnable war in the post-Cold War era would be for the American electorate to vote out of office the political leadership in Washington responsible for our forever wars that are unrelated to our country’s national security and are leading our county into financial insolvency.
Mr. Enzweiler is a Harvard MBA , MIT graduate, and US Air Force veteran who has lived, worked, and traveled extensively in the Greater Middle East, including working as an USAID contractor and US Foreign Service (limited) Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 through 2014. He is retired and lives in California and Mexico with his wife Elena. He’s written a book critiquing US foreign and military policy titled, When Will We Ever Learn?, and has written other articles for Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Institute.