The Ukrainians need heavy tanks to fend off the increasingly desperate efforts by Vladimir Putin to crush their country.
I’m glad they’re about to get them. And I hope and pray that a peaceful solution can soon be found — not the kind of “peaceful solution” Putin would like, in which Ukraine is under his thumb and the world trembles in fear of him, but one in which it is a safe, self-governed nation, living next to a Russia that will never do this again.
But right now, they need the tanks. So it is a good thing that the Germans are going to provide Leopard 2s, and allow other European nations to share theirs. But they refused to do it if we weren’t in it with them, so we have decided to hand over some Abrams main battle tanks.
The Pentagon had been unwilling to do this, “citing concerns about how Ukraine would maintain the advanced tanks, which require extensive training and servicing.” By contrast, the Leopards are relatively simple to maintain and operate, or so I read.
But since the Germans wouldn’t agree without our participation, we’ll be sending the M1s. They mostly likely won’t arrive until the fall, but that’s not the point. The Leopards are what is needed to help resist the expected spring onslaught. They’re a gesture of solidarity. To the Germans, this gives them the ability to say to Putin, “Hey, don’t just blame us…” That’s the point of all this.
Assuming, though, that we follow through, and assuming also that they are impossible to keep running without having a bunch of experienced people maintaining them, it seems highly likely that we’ll soon have “advisers” in Ukraine. They may just be maintenance crews for the most part, but it will be a presence we don’t have now.
(Mind you, I’m no expert on tank operations and maintenance. I couldn’t change the oil on an Abrams any more than I could repair a television. And maybe we can teach the Ukrainians everything they need to know before the tanks arrive there. But it doesn’t sound like the brass over here think that can be done. At least, they didn’t think so last week. It’s one thing to teach people to drive the tank and fight with it. It’s another to keep complex machinery going once it’s deployed, and that doesn’t sound to me like a long-distance procedure.)
There have been Americans in uniform there before now. But this will be different. It won’t be combat troops, but it will be people who are essential to the war effort, even if mainly in a political and diplomatic sense. Meanwhile, we have elements of the 101st Airborne Division right next door in Romania. And soon the 10th Mountain Division will also have a presence there.
Is this the moment that historians will look back on, 50 years from now, as the one that the “Ukraine Quagmire” began? Assuming historians still exist then. I mean, assuming this (or something else) doesn’t lead to the nuclear exchange that we worked so hard — and successfully — to avoid during the Cold War. Which is what enables us to sit around and argue now about how that was accomplished.
Will this be like when JFK sent the 500 advisers in 1961, to reinforce the 700 Ike had sent in 1955? (A sort of follow-up to the ones Truman sent in 1950 to help the French, but the French ignored the advice.) By the end of 1963, there would be 11,000 Americans in-country.
Today, the consensus is that boy, we really screwed that up. Correct me if this is not what you would say, but I can imagine most Americans saying, “We just kept sending more of our boys over there to a place where we had no business being.”
And Americans tsk-tsk about the foolishness, and worse, wickedness of it all. And they’re so sure they’re right, and that they are so much wiser then the Best and Brightest who got us into Vietnam, and couldn’t get us out. Or refused to get us out, until Nixon came along and saved the day by abandoning Saigon.
Myself, I can — with the benefit of hindsight — point to a truckload of mistakes and miscalculations made that got us deeper and deeper into a conflict that was simply not going to turn out our way. But I also look back and see how every mistake was made, and how it didn’t look like a mistake to those making it.
A lot of people around me think they know better. I guess I’m writing this to make sure they’re noting this as it happens — assuming I’m reading it right, and something similar, or at least analogous, is occurring. Yes, the situations are different in a thousand ways. But what I’m pondering here is the bits that seem familiar.
It would be great if we, as a country, could have foresight that is half as perfect and accurate as everyone’s hindsight is regarding Vietnam. That would lead inevitably to a happy ending in which Ukraine and the rest of Europe are safe, and Russia has learned the lesson we’d like it to learn.
But we don’t have that, and right now — in light of this and that and the other thing in the real world we’re looking at — it seems right to send the Abrams tanks. I hope and pray — yep, I’m repeating myself — that it is…