Preparing for a Wake-Up Call
A Response to Francis Fukuyama
I’d like to take the time in this reply to not be trite and make some sort of remark, as many do, with the infamous concept of the “end of history.” Mr. Fukuyama is not the first one at the end of a conflict or historical period of time to think so, and one should be mindful of that as we make our set ups for puns, jokes, and dunks. For those of you unaware, last week, Mr. Francis Fukuyama wrote a short set of observations of the current events in Ukraine in American Purpose.
If you’re wondering what Mr. Fukuyama is up to these days, he tells you up front, just in case you thought he had passed or quietly retired. He’s currently in Skopje, North Macedonia, where for the last week teaching a Leadership Academy for Development course. Despite being in the Balkans, he writes twelve observations, which I intend to reply to, or offer observations on. I’m going to list the twelve points below, and then respond in kind. If there is only one quip to offer, I suppose it was for the best that he offered 12, 14 would have been too on the nose.
Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine. Russian planning was incompetent, based on a flawed assumption that Ukrainians were favorable to Russia and that their military would collapse immediately following an invasion. Russian soldiers were evidently carrying dress uniforms for their victory parade in Kyiv rather than extra ammo and rations. Putin at this point has committed the bulk of his entire military to this operation—there are no vast reserves of forces he can call up to add to the battle. Russian troops are stuck outside various Ukrainian cities where they face huge supply problems and constant Ukrainian attacks.
The collapse of their position could be sudden and catastrophic, rather than happening slowly through a war of attrition. The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize. This is at least true in the north; the Russians are doing better in the south, but those positions would be hard to maintain if the north collapses.
There is no diplomatic solution to the war possible prior to this happening. There is no conceivable compromise that would be acceptable to both Russia and Ukraine given the losses they have taken at this point.
The United Nations Security Council has proven once again to be useless. The only helpful thing was the General Assembly vote, which helps to identify the world’s bad or prevaricating actors.
The Biden administration’s decisions not to declare a no-fly zone or help transfer Polish MiGs were both good ones; they've kept their heads during a very emotional time. It is much better to have the Ukrainians defeat the Russians on their own, depriving Moscow of the excuse that NATO attacked them, as well as avoiding all the obvious escalatory possibilities. The Polish MiGs in particular would not add much to Ukrainian capabilities. Much more important is a continuing supply of Javelins, Stingers, TB2s, medical supplies, comms equipment, and intel sharing. I assume that Ukrainian forces are already being vectored by NATO intelligence operating from outside Ukraine.
The cost that Ukraine is paying is enormous, of course. But the greatest damage is being done by rockets and artillery, which neither MiGs nor a no-fly zone can do much about. The only thing that will stop the slaughter is defeat of the Russian army on the ground.
Putin will not survive the defeat of his army. He gets support because he is perceived to be a strongman; what does he have to offer once he demonstrates incompetence and is stripped of his coercive power?
The invasion has already done huge damage to populists all over the world, who prior to the attack uniformly expressed sympathy for Putin. That includes Matteo Salvini, Jair Bolsonaro, Éric Zemmour, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán, and of course Donald Trump. The politics of the war has exposed their openly authoritarian leanings.
The war to this point has been a good lesson for China. Like Russia, China has built up seemingly high-tech military forces in the past decade, but they have no combat experience. The miserable performance of the Russian air force would likely be replicated by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, which similarly has no experience managing complex air operations. We may hope that the Chinese leadership will not delude itself as to its own capabilities the way the Russians did when contemplating a future move against Taiwan.
Hopefully Taiwan itself will wake up as to the need to prepare to fight as the Ukrainians have done, and restore conscription. Let’s not be prematurely defeatist.
Turkish drones will become bestsellers.
A Russian defeat will make possible a “new birth of freedom,” and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy. The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to a bunch of brave Ukrainians.
We’ll go point by point, as that only seems to be the best way to tackle this.
Point 1: Defeat, either in a military or political sense of the term, doesn’t appear to be an inevitability as so purported. There has yet to be any mounted counter-offensive, and despite issues with logistics, steady progress has been made. So far the best maps to illustrate this, based on available data, is from the Institute for the Study of War.
Compare March 6, 2022:
To that of just earlier today on March 14, 2022.
Additionally it is important to address the matter of incompetency of the Russian military. The offense so far seems to have been severely slowed down by logistical breaks in supply lines or not getting fuel and ammunition where necessary. To say that they came with their dress uniforms packed (without corroborating evidence) is indicative that what Mr. Fukuyama is prognosticating, is nothing more than propaganda out of Kiev or the latest social media influencer push. This is a war of memetics and simulation, where clips of War Thunder, Digital Combat Simulator, and edited footage from 2014 have played a major role in hiding what exactly is going on here. As for the rate of advance or how this was made, I’m inclined to believe that the move to invade was a hastily made decision based on the intelligence available to Putin and his military leadership. Prior to the invasion, there were conflicting reports of artillery strikes in the Donbass, many articles alleging that Russian backed separatists, the Russians claiming the Ukrainians. A significant amount of attention to a region besieged now for years. At risk of “spouting Russian propaganda,” the Russians have been adamant that the Donbass was a likely target for Ukrainian military offensives. This may have been the reason for invasion, and not just the military build up that was probably the Russian calculus to bring them to the table. Even from the mouths of those who write for the Atlantic Council such as Vladislav Davidzon, hoped that continually arming the Ukrainians would spark deterrence. If anything, it was a now or never situation, but the march towards Kiev continues.
Point 2: Collapse doesn’t seem likely to be sudden and catastrophic, if the recent maps and data show us anything. So far we in the West know little to nothing as to the Russian morale, and we’re being told that the Ukrainians are killing more Russians on a scale comparable to losses in the second world war based on their kill to death ratios. It feels like this, if I’m being quite honest.
The Russians have yet to deploy all of their forces, and in the North there has even been reports of Belarusian support being talked about as a military belligerent in the conflict, but so far nothing yet. If anything, we cannot accurately predict or assume the Russians are doing poorly, although we can say that there are anti-war protests in Russia. Meanwhile the US and other nations are protesting for escalation of a no-fly zone. Overall, what has been covered in point one does aid in responding to this point here.
Point 3: “There is no diplomatic solution to the war possible prior to this happening.”
A diplomatic solution was available prior to the war that the US and NATO balked at. The NATO Secretary General was so blatant that “Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence,” that we’re incapable of finding a diplomatic solution after decades of eastward NATO expansion and American sanctions. Mearsheimer, Maitra, Posen have spent years pointing this out. But in a rather escalatory tone, and with dangerous disregard for the consequences, Mr. Fukuyama appears to be suggesting that the diplomatic solution can only come when Russia’s military forces lose suddenly and catastrophically. Since that hasn’t happened, is he advocating for more military force? Considering we’re dealing with a nuclear armed state with a first use policy, we should be more considerate of the rhetoric we use rather than act like certain fluoride-skeptic generals.
Point 4: The UN Security Council has been helpful in talks previously, and famously discussions at the UN were helpful in negotiating and facilitating peace with the Soviets during Cuban Missile Crisis. The UN General Assembly Vote showed just how some of the largest population centers on earth, whether it was the BRICS or the usual “baddies” to the US that voted to abstain or outright no. This push to sanction has been primarily from the following from the US, EU, and US sphere of influence in East Asia, hardly the rest of the world’s population or economy as the graphic from the Daily Mail indicates.
If anything, Mr. Fukuyama appears to be confusing prevaricating actors with dwindling American influence abroad. We’re no longer most of the world’s #1 trading partner anymore, the Chinese have replaced us in that regard, and now our recent threats to sanction India shows the world’s largest democracy that the US isn’t a trustworthy partner (not that we ever have been.)
Point 5: Finally something that makes sense. I agree that refusing to declare a No-Fly Zone and giving the Ukrainians MiGs were sensible decisions. It seems to be the primary objective of the US and NATO at this time to make sure the conflict stays localized to Ukraine. And it should be. However the tragedy of the ongoing situation will continue as long as the US continues to give arms and supplies to a military and government that wants foreign citizens flown in to fight, radical extremist groups, conscription and its military to take on Russia’s equivalent, with humanitarian corridors in the crossfire. If Syria can be an example of what a long, protracted war against foreign backed groups and a state military looks like, this will only continue the bloodshed. Diplomatic efforts must be pursued.
Point 6: Defeating the Russian military on the ground would require far more resources than what is currently being provided. This incurs the risk of escalation, which has already been suggested by the Russians. Troops are surrounding Kiev slowly, and there are even rumors that Zelensky isn’t even in the country. But this is just Mr. Fukuyama coming from the liberal worldview that Russia must be defeated, akin to Cato the Elder. This prognostication has a feel of hawkish zealotry for Ukraine that doesn’t come to any real peaceful consideration, again, dealing with a nuclear armed state.
Point 7: This is purely speculative, as Western understanding of Putin’s power base is limited, and if Mr. Slavsquat has indicated, there is some kind of capital flight going on in Russia. This may been precaution to protect capital assets for wealthy Russians, oligarchs, and the like for upcoming events or the likelihood of sanctions. However, the recent invasion seems to also be keeping him in the good eye of the public consciousness, if reports are to be believed. A loss would be a blow to Putin, but I don’t think it would be his end, at least immediately. There are no rumors of a successor to Putin that at the moment can be taken seriously, his grip on power, for now, seems solid. (Upon further discussion, with no successor, defeat would throw a devastating blow to Putin, and unless his circle has a viable successor waiting in the wings, this would lead to a power vacuum.) With Nalvany and Western backed opposition more or less jailed, Mr. Fukuyama’s point hinges solely on the complete defeat of the Russian military and by extension, the Russian state. This isn’t rational thinking, but his openness to imply and state his revealed preference is a breath of fresh air. It’s almost as if there’s some sense he wouldn't mind a replacement coming to Russia on a traincar.
Point 8: Again, a reiteration of the liberal preconceptions of Mr. Fukuyama, and the same kind of threat of “populism” we’ve heard from anyone who deviates from the current ruling order/elite. It’s populism when Tony Blair wins the mandate to become Prime Minister, but not when Bolsonaro, Trump, or Zemmour do it. Not hypocrisy, hierarchy, friend/enemy distinction, the usual. Outside of the dissident right, Russian nationalists, and enemies of the United States ruling order, this hasn’t been something that major populists across the globe have supported. Trump’s joke about false flags aside, the only “populist” to pay attention to is Bolsonaro, whose economy is reliant on Russian natural gas for nitrogenation of its fertilizer. If anything, the populists are more focused on something that’s sounding a lot more like realist foreign policy than it is from anything we’re getting out of the current elite.
Point 9: Again, not another bad point. Russia’s last conflict with a significant degree of infantry and armor deployment was 2008, and even that didn’t have the same level of foreign armament and support as we see with Ukraine. Additionally, China’s last state to state conflict was against Vietnam in 1979, so China’s military is relatively untested for that kind of kinetic conflict. I would imagine that China’s leadership is a bit more realistic in its capabilities, in addition, the Chinese model of warfare has been far different than the Russians.
Point 10: Is that even politically possible? However, given the value of an American promise these days, this would be something for the Taiwanese to actually consider.
Point 11: This has high levels of potential to be true. Tested now in Ukraine and Ethiopia. With Turkey trying to reassert itself within its own foreign policy, I do expect these drones to do well in the international market, or at least with deals with neighboring nations. This will come at the ire of Russia, wherein recent events in Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Syria have only made their relationship more tense.
Point 12: If the bunk of declining democracy can only be shaken off by the defeat of a boogeyman that has been used in substitute for conservative, majority white Americans and other native Europeans, what does that say about democracy? That Democracy is the other ruling over the native, homogenous populations until they are no longer the majority demos? That the liberal, global project of democracy has led to people lashing out? Brexit? Zemmour? Trump? It’s only democracy if you vote a certain way, and I mean that unironically. The spirit of 1989, comes with rampant corruption, economic stagnation, and lost faith in government. If anything, the spirit of 1989 doesn’t come because of a bunch of Ukrainians and plucky redditors get blown up by Russian missiles, it comes from the nations being ruled by a democratic order that hasn’t served the benefit of their native peoples for decades.
Mr. Fukuyama has not left his liberal predilections at the door since history resumed. Russia does not appear to be imminently collapsing and neither does their military advance in Ukraine as it gets closer and closer to Kiev. (I refuse to change my spelling of the city to Kyiv, as its been part of mainly Western propaganda efforts.) The reality is blatantly written on the walls. The West, and by that mainly the United States, has yet to seriously consider the second order consequences of their sanctions campaign or their eastward expansion of NATO. As I discussed last Sunday, the second order impacts from this will be hurting the US’ ability to get more oil, whether by being ignored by the Saudis, or having a recent attempt at Venezuelan Oil imported fall apart by Maduro telling Biden to shove it; the US is quickly realizing the tools in its toolbox are more like antibiotics, a resistance has certainly been developed. This isn’t to say that the Russian economy will hurt, but for the laundry list of nations not Russia’s “hostile nations” list, the United States will watch as nations try to circumvent sanctions, whether it be Brazil, India, South Africa, Egypt, and China.
Instead Mr. Fukuyama’s short prognostication was the resumption of the usual whiggery that is to be expected. Can we call liberals whiggers? Or do I have to use it with an a at the end? While there is a semblance of a decent take in this list, this is once again nothing more than the usual points we’ve seen from establishment and liberal voices. This is at a time where individuals are calling John J. Mearsheimer a Putin sympathizer for making the case 8 years ago about why this situation is the West’s fault. I suppose my sharing of this opinion will one day make me the target of my own government, if I haven’t already.
History has indeed resumed, Mr. Fukuyama, and it would be best to keep that in mind. As for the rest of you, you can find better geopolitical analysis here.