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Military analysts understand military realities but miss the political context: a response to Col. Daniel Davis

Updated: Feb 27

In his interview with Joshua Klein, reported by Breitbart on 25 February 2024, Colonel Daniel  L. Davis, a respected retired US army officer, argues that stalemate on the battlefield in Ukraine mandates a negotiated solution and that debates about the passage of a bill for US Congressional aid for Ukraine are irrelevant to battlefield outcome or to other expected political outcomes of this confrontation which are inevitable. Col. Davis is a respected figure within the US military establishment and although the context in which he has provided this interview is seemingly interminable Congressional wrangling about whether to pass a US-Ukraine aid bill to the floor of Congress for a vote that will surely pass - something apparently being held up unilaterally by US House Speaker Mike Johnson - his observations ought to be taken seriously as he is a man of considerable military experience with substantial experience in theatre. Such perspectives are often lost amidst political debates that can be more about points scoring.

Nevertheless Col. Davis’s interview - if recorded fairly and appropriately by Breitbart - may represent military acuity combined with political naivety. In any event his expression of his opinions is sufficiently sophisticated to warrant analysis and remark.

Col. Davies makes the following assertions.

Firstly, he observes “There is no path to military victory for Ukraine”. Secondly, he says “further aid packages will have virtually no effect on the conflict’s outcome”. Thirdly, he comments that “American influence is waning” in the conflict. Fourthly, he asserts that the two-year mark of the conflict “actually represents a decade of diplomatic failure”. Fifthly, he continues that “there is no possibility for Ukraine to ever win the war as defined by pushing Russia back to the 1991 border”. Sixthly, he criticises both the West and Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy as doing something “insane to try to achieve the unachievable”. Seventhly, he observes that Ukraine “doesn’t have the troops to go more years … they’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel now”. Eighthly, he disconnects the recent Ukrainian Armed Forces withdrawal from the strategic Donetsk suburb of Avdiivka from the failure of Congress to pass the Ukraine aid package as misconceived because “that money would have had absolutely zero impact on that battle … it’s not as though there’s a bunch of pallets of 155mm shells sitting … somewhere, and if you just had the money you could just go buy them.” He continues with these pessimistic assertions to conclude that Ukraine must be forced to reach a negotiated solution with Russia by her western allies along the current front line of the conflict.

Col. Davis brings a well-needed dose of military realism to this conflict. He is surely right that after a year of stalemate the front line is not moving and no sums of money are going to be able to assist Ukraine to prevail in a complete territorial victory over Russia. However from that moment on he undertakes a series of political missteps in virtually everything he says. The fact that a war is “unwinnable” in the sense of the stated strategic military goals being ones that cannot in fact be achieved is not a reason to cease fighting a war. That is a very western, NATO-based perspective upon strategic war goals and it does not apply to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. That is because Russia does not have strategic war goals but only blunt, brute imperialist ambitions to seize as much territory as she thinks she can get away with; therefore there is no value in negotiating with Russia because anything you agree with Russia is not worth the paper it is written on (Russian foreign policy does not believe in pieces of paper); therefore Col. Davis’s proposed political strategy - negotiate a peace with Russia along the existing front line - is quite misconceived and must be excluded.

Col. Davis fails to understand the politics of war with Russia and this is where he goes wrong. Conflict with Russia is an interminable affair in which, over years and potentially even decades, the West must stand up to a warmongering military machine that will seek to dominate the entirety of Russian society whether under President Vladimir Putin or whoever his successor(s) may be. For these reasons you must fight to stand still. I do not know whether Col. Davis is right that the quantity of bullets or shells Ukraine needs to continue fighting effectively against Russia on the 1,000 kilometre frontline in Ukraine are available for sale. But one thing is for certain: arms manufacturers are not going to enhance their production facilities to make the necessary quantities of ammunition and matériel available for sale unless the financing is available to buy them. It is a simple question of supply and demand. IN market economies, which is what the West represents, in order to increase military production capacity, which is what Russia is doing to threaten the West and potentially even to overwhelm parts of Eastern Europe currently theoretically under the NATO umbrella, you need to stimulate supply by creating demand and that requires the allocation of funding to purchase of the relevant munitions. This is why Congressional passage of the Ukraine funding bill is so important: it will stimulate the military sectors of western economies to start producing munitions to Russian scales as Russia triples her defence budget from 2023 to 2024 and thereby help develop the military-industrial complex that the West will need to possess in order to win the Second Cold War that will be fought all over the world just as was the First Cold War.

Col. Davis may have political ambitions in connection with an anticipated Trump administration, which is why he may be providing an interview to a Republican-leaning political magazine purporting to justify the actions of Trump ally Republican Speaker Mike Johnson in holding up the Ukraine aid bill. I do not blame Col. Davis for that if those are his motivations. I also respect his hard-headed military realism about the conflict in Ukraine which is indeed, as he says, unwinnable in the conventional sense of the word. However that does not mean we should go into negotiations with Russia or that diplomacy so far has been a failure. Diplomacy of the regular type does not work with the Russians, as former (and potentially future) President Trump is well aware. Instead negotiation with the Russians involves massive military build-ups to cause them to pause in their otherwise relentless imperial ambitions and we need to stimulate our own domestic military production facilities in the West by freeing Congressional funding that will be applied for military purposes. In that way we provide a show of force to the Russians; we cause them to back down; and we can reach an uneasy truce that will lead naturally not to a negotiated peace but a perpetually tense Second Cold War that it will likely take us years or decades to win just as did the First Cold War.


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