Festina Lente

Festina Lente

After months of wrangling, Ukraine’s Western partners have finally made the reasonable choice and dispatched NATO-standard tanks to Kyiv’s forces.  Yet the shadows of doubt cloud this success. The U.S. will not transport Abrams tanks from its stockpiles to Ukraine. Instead, it will order another 30-plus tanks directly from General Dynamics for delivery years from now.  The Biden administration argues this is part of a “long-term plan” for Ukrainian defense.  Instead, the U.S. once again demonstrates that it lacks a coherent strategy.  Prudence dictates resolute action. The time for caution and circumspection about the U.S. commitment occurred when Mr. Biden chose to help Ukraine defend itself.

Ukraine is not a crisis but a war. This distinction has been lost in American public debate for some 60 years. The Cuban Missile Crisis began the delusion.  Under the standard narrative, that of crisis management, President Kennedy remedied the Cuban question through a mix of resolve, restraint, and prudent compromise.  American resolve imposed and maintained the Cuba blockade once the Soviet missiles were discovered, American restraint prevented a strike against Cuba that would raise the odds of general war, and American prudence prompted the Jupiter missile trade that ultimately diffused the crisis.  The United States understood Soviet “red lines” and, per the oft-quoted Sun Tzu, built the Soviets a “golden bridge” to allow Khrushchev to “save face”

Crisis management, rather than actual strategy, has become the unconsidered lens through which to view non-military and military competition. For, as the conventional wisdom has it, victory is impossible when nuclear-armed powers are concerned.  The goal is not to win, that is, to achieve aims that further the national interest through the use of military force, but rather to manage competition to prevent long-term volatility, to achieve crisis stability.

This logic is on full display in Ukraine. It explains the Biden administration’s reticence to frame the Ukraine War as a war.

The Biden White House, by all accounts, operates off the Cuba Mythology.  This explains its continuous concern for red lines and unwillingness to articulate a set of objectives that the U.S. might use to identify a reasonable end-state.  If Ukraine is a crisis that must be managed, the flexibility the Biden administration affords itself appears prudent.

Yet the entire concept of crisis management is outlandish. Its intellectual foundations in the Cuban Missile Crisis are bizarre, even if the standard narrative on Cuba has entered the public discourse.  Indeed, the incident’s title in Western historiography, the Cuban Missile Crisis, creates an analytical path-dependency.  The public focal point of the crisis was the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles to Cuba.  But the disruption to the status quo that the Soviets executed was far broader than the missile question.  The Soviets sought a forward base in Latin America that could support operations throughout the Western Hemisphere. The grey zone campaign the USSR waged in Latin America – a campaign of proxy support and subversion combined with aggressive diplomacy – bore fruit by the early 1980s.

Read the rest at RealClear Defense.

Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute. He served as a naval officer and as deputy Undersecretary of the Navy and is the author of Mayday and Seablindness.

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