Ukraine update: The price of ‘we need to do more’ is much higher than most people realize

Ukraine update: The price of ‘we need to do more’ is much higher than most people realize

It’s hard to read through Twitter or the Daily Kos comments and not see people shocked by Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, demanding that we “do more.” This is a common sentiment, from very smart people: 

This makes me very sad. Like I am not doing enough. I have girls this age. We (the world) must do more to help Ukraine. I understand all the political and escalation lines. I don’t care. We can and must do more.

— John Spencer (@SpencerGuard) March 10, 2022

Spencer is military, an expert on urban warfare. He gets the stakes, but he’s so moved by the images coming out of Ukraine that he feels compelled to throw all caution to the wind and demand that we “do more.” To many, it’s a moral imperative that we act. How can we say “never again” when talking about the Holocaust when we allow mass murder to take place in Ukraine? 

They could be from Ohio.

I’ll ignore the eurocentrism of that argument since none of those people have demanded we “do something” about the mass carnage in Yemen, Myanmar, or Africa. Heck, 5.4 million civilians died in the Second Congo War, between 1998-2003. I’m willing to bet most of you didn’t even know that war existed. But I get it, Ukraine looks like rural Illinois, unlike Iraqi deserts, Vietnamese jungles, or Afghan mountains. Sure, they don’t speak a western language, but they’re white enough, and photos don’t have audio on them anyway. 

This thread is fantastic: 

A quick thread about moral injunctions, imperatives, MiGs, no-fly zones, and the standards for effective judgment. Overall message: Acting on the basis of imperative-driven thinking, especially under time pressure in a crisis, is a common prelude to disaster

— Mike Mazarr (@MMazarr) March 9, 2022

To summarize, whenever world powers act on impulse and a feeling of urgency, they get sucked into bigger disaster. 

7/ This pattern of “imperative driven thinking” is littered all over the transcripts, records, + memos of groups marching righteously toward disaster. Iraq 2003. Vietnam 1964-5. Market Garden 1944. Moscow + Afghanistan, 1979. CEOs of financial firms bounding into CDOs pre-2008

— Mike Mazarr (@MMazarr) March 9, 2022

Here, we don’t have to go far to see how disastrous engaging military in this war would be for the world. Let’s even take the nightmare scenario off the board—let’s assume Vladimir Putin won’t be so mad as to launch nuclear missiles. Even if that was guaranteed, enlarging the war would be folly. The reason is simple: 

The argument for doing more is predicated on the civilian carnage we’re seeing in Ukraine. Putin must be stopped, it is argued, to save civilian deaths. However, a wider war doesn’t mean fewer civilian deaths, it means more. If Russia’s modus operandi is to bombard its foes into submission, what makes anyone think that Russian bombs and missiles would stop falling on population centers? What’s more likely is that they’ll start falling on more population centers. Suddenly, capital cities like Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Tallin, Bucharest, and Sofia would be in range of Russia-based missile systems, and many more in range via Russian naval and strategic air assets in the Mediterranean, North, and Baltic seas. 

And that’s not including the Belorussian and Russian civilians who would die on the other side of the line (in case anyone cares). Even if we take nuclear weapons off the table, what’s stopping a desperate Putin from dropping chemical weapons on population centers across the region? Are we willing to put tens of millions of new civilians at risk, to feel better about the millions currently at risk? I know this sounds heartless, and especially so to those currently trapped in Russia’s line of fire. But adding a broader international profile to the casualty list doesn’t bring back the victims of Russian aggression. It just adds to them. 

We are doing a lot. We’ve armed Ukraine with modern weapons systems that have allowed it to fight a vastly superior enemy to a standstill. It is that effectiveness that has unleashed death on Ukrainian civilians. Ironically, if “saving civilians” was really the moral imperative, we never should’ve armed Ukraine. But of course, that’s not what we’re all fighting for. We’re fighting for freedom and democracy and the right of self-determination, and Ukrainians knew the stakes, and they decided to fight. Our job is to support them in that fight, and make sure they get the most effective equipment for the job. (So not fighter jets, because they’re difficult to maintain and easy to destroy, but new air defense systems that can reach higher altitudes than the man-portable ones currently used so effectively by Ukrainian forces, to name one example.)

It’s okay to be frustrated and want there to be more to do. But remember, actions have consequences, and in this case, additional civilian deaths. And so we need to manage the situation as carefully as President Joe Biden has thus far.

Friday, Mar 11, 2022 · 11:06:47 PM +00:00


.@USAirForce airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron process shipments of body armor and helmets bound for 🇺🇦 Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) March 11, 2022

Love this. That’s a lot of body armor and helmets, which will protect brave Ukrainian defenders. Note that when I talk about the choice of what to send, given the logistics chain, that’s like 20 large anti-aircraft missiles (a patriot missile is 19’ and weights 2,500 lbs)… or armor to protect thousands of Ukrainians fighting on the ground. The logistical demands of 29 MiGs would be even larger. So what is the best bang-for-buck for the defense of Ukraine? As paternalistic as it sounds, I think the U.S. has made the right choices, and we’re seeing them in the success Ukraine has had on the ground.

Saturday, Mar 12, 2022 · 3:53:51 AM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Nightmarish scenes in port of Mykolayiv this evening. Regional governor Vitaly Kim says Ukraine has repelled the attack. The city is key to any future assault on Odessa, further down on the Black Sea coast

— Oliver Carroll (@olliecarroll) March 11, 2022

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