Are we about to send ‘advisers’ to Ukraine? Seem familiar?

I guess we’ll have to repaint them first — some none-desert color.

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…

This is what a Leopard 2 looks like. This one was just a prototype, but it was the only image I could find in the public domain.


27 thoughts on “Are we about to send ‘advisers’ to Ukraine? Seem familiar?

  1. Doug Ross

    This answers your question about why we don’t value teachers more.

    Your idea of a “peaceful” solution starts with tanks. That says it all. When are you going to wake up and understand that the government (and it’s military industrial complex overlords) DOESN’T WANT PEACE? We could take Putin out for the cost of one bullet if he was really a threat. That’s not the objective — the objective is continually war around the world funded by the U.S. taxpayers. If there’s no boogeyman to fight, we don’t need all the weapons. If we don’t need the weapons, the defense contractor lobbyists have no reason to pay off politicians.

    There are 3.6 million public school teachers in the U.S. We have sent $100 billion to Ukraine in the past two years. That money could have given every teacher in the country a $5k raise for the next 5 years. What do we value you ask? There’s your answer.

    1. Doug Ross

      Vietnam and Afghanistan proved it’s not about winning a war, it’s about extending it until people grow tired of the current war and then moving on to the next one.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, I realize that a lot of people think that way. But I consider it to be magical thinking.

      I take it that YOU believe that when Russian tanks are rolling across your country and killing your people, peace is best achieved by wishing for it really, really hard — no tanks needed to stop them. To me, THAT says it all….

      I think that part of the problem is that, being an engineer AND a libertarian, you don’t see how different human actions and attitudes interact to cause real-world consequences.

      Did you read what I said? Do you understand that promising the Abrams tanks is less about deploying them on the battlefield, and more about maintaining cooperative solidarity among the civilized countries supporting Ukraine’s efforts to resist Putin? Or does that matter to you? Do you think Putin can be made to back down by, I don’t know, sticking a daisy into the barrel of one of HIS tanks?

      1. Doug Ross

        They aren’t rolling across my country or yours. They are rolling across a border between two countries on the other side of the world.

        I’ll worry about the Russians when then cross over Canada into North Dakota.

        This has nothing to do with being an engineer or libertarian. It’s about not being a military fanboy who was raised to think our military is all that keeps the world safe. Your worldview is simply a product of your upbringing. You want to pretend you’ve got deep insight into it but it’s pretty simple – army brat who couldn’t qualify to serve. A therapist could work that out for you.

        Meanwhile, let me know how many tanks you’d give up to give SC teachers a raise. Your values should drive that decision.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          You know, I try to give all my antiwar friends a little gift. All those people who are so SURE Vietnam was crazy, or evil, or both.

          I say, here you go — a real-life decision, right now, that is like the escalation we saw in the early 60s. I think it needs to be done, but folks, it makes ME nervous. Any thoughts? I mean honest, serious, let’s-deal-with-reality thoughts? Let’s work together on this.

          What do I get?

          I’ll worry about the Russians when then cross over Canada into North Dakota.

          Which causes me to think, thank God Doug is in absolutely NO way involved in national security decisions, and never will be.

          The rest is just his usual personal insults.

          Come on, people. There must be some serious, civil, thoughtful people out there who haven’t been run off by the constant, dripping, repetitive antagonism of the blog trolls.

          But maybe not. Maybe this medium has run its course…

          1. Bryan Caskey

            The War in Ukraine has certainly lasted longer than everyone expected it to. However, isn’t that always how wars go through history? Think of the Civil War: Citizens of DC famously followed the Union Army out to Manassas (a/k/a Bull Run) for the first battle in 1861 expecting an easy and quick victory, and that war lasted another 4 years killing somewhere between 600,000 and 850,000 people according to most historians. There are countless examples of wars people think will be quick and easy, and then they run smack into reality that war can take a longer time than you thought and bring a much higher death toll than first imagined. Look at the First World War…same thing.

            So, who knows how long the War in Ukraine will last? At this point, we’re starting to see it devolve into a war of attrition rather than one of maneuver and attack. It’s starting to look more like Verdun than Alexander at Issus. At this point, we’ve been sort of doing what we did with Britain and the allies at the beginning of WWII in Lend-Lease. The idea of “You give us the weapons, and we’ll finish the job” is where we are with the Ukrainians. As with WWII, that lasted for awhile…until we got pulled in at Pearl Harbor. Had there been no Pearl Harbor, we might have gone on just sending material and aid to the allies, and Britain might have held on…or maybe they wouldn’t have held on.

            Anyway, we’re now up from ammo and supplies, moving through anti-tank weapons, and now to actual tanks, apparently. However, it’s clear we aren’t going to see an American tank on the battlefields of Ukraine for at least a year. Maybe that’s a feature, and maybe that’s a bug. We’re not even going to give them tanks we currently have. We’re going to procure (a/k/a buy and build) new tanks specifically for the Ukrainians. That’s going to take a long time. Then, we’ve got to get them halfway ’round the world. Tanks are big and heavy. You can’t move them really easily. A silver lining of that taking so long is maybe we can use that time to train up some Ukrainians on how to operate the snazzy new tanks that we’re buying for them. Not sure where that will happen, or who is going to do that, but operating a modern (MBT) main battle tank isn’t just something you pick up in a few days.

            So there’s lots of logistical issues with getting an actual tank over there and getting it operational. Even once you do that, there’s the issue of supply and maintenance. Originally, one of the President’s main reasons given for not sending tanks was that they couldn’t be serviced or supplied. That’s still true. There aren’t any new facilities that sprang up overnight to service and supply our modern MBTs that are extraordinarily complex. So that’s a problem. Even if we did get these facilities, who is going to run them? Americans? People the Americans train? I don’t know, but somebody’s got to be over there servicing these tanks.

            One thing history has shown us is that Russia is good at throwing lots and lots of people into the meatgrinder of death in war just to overwhelm the other side in sheer quantity. Russia hasn’t done that yet, but they could. (Maybe, I don’t know the Red Army reserve situation.) Who knows.

            Russia is definitely a country run by a very bad person who wants to go back to the bad ol’ days of the USSR where Russia was the big bully on the block. Everything Putin has done has shown himself to be a bad actor, and weakening him through a proxy war seems like a good idea. If the Ukrainians still want to fight, it’s right that we support them. Countries should see that invading another country in an open, aggressive war for land is met with stiff consequences. Spending our money is better than spending our blood. (Even if we don’t really have the money.) So I’m all for helping Ukraine, but I think we need to do it in a smart way, and not just give them unlimited resources based on what they are asking for everything like a kid in a toy store.

            However, I think we should spend it wisely. The question should be: What material and support will most effectively help the Ukrainians kill enough Russian soldiers in order to break the will of the remaining Russian soldiers to fight? That’s why we kill people in wars…to break the will of the other side to keep fighting.

            So are tanks the most effective thing? I don’t know. If we’re trying to take out Russian tanks, maybe sending them some old A-10s might be a cheaper, quicker, and more effective way to do it. I don’t know enough about the details of the battle to know what the best thing is. I do know that logistics are important, and we want to think very clearly about what we do, because a long, grinding war could be in the future.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Hey, remember when we spoke on the phone briefly last night, and I told you I was in the middle of responding to your comment?

              I don’t know what happened to that. To try to reproduce it…

              The A-10s could probably deal with Russian armor quite effectively. But who would fly them?

              That was it, I think, except I wanted to bring your attention to something I saw in The Washington Post yesterday, headlined “Putin is embracing Stalin’s way of war.

              I hope you can find a way to read it. If not, here is the nut graf:

              The Russians started this war as a relatively high-tech blitzkrieg. But after the retreat from Kyiv and the Kharkiv region, and the loss of Kherson, their conduct of operations is rapidly reverting to the way Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union fought the Great Patriotic War (as the Russians almost always refer to World War II): a maniacal slog over the corpses of Russian soldiers. The dismissal earlier this month of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, the former commander of the Russian troops in Ukraine who organized a more or less orderly withdrawal from Kherson, reiterated the message: Saving soldiers’ lives is of no importance; pushing forward at any cost is…

              As to “Maybe, I don’t know the Red Army reserve situation,” well, it would warm Putin’s heart to hear you call it that, but on the whole, I’ve gotten the impression that reserves are in short supply. A couple of months back, I kept reading about all the unrest back in the Rodina because of the way Putin was drafting guys and throwing them into combat with little or no training.

              Of course, if you’re fighting Stalin-style, maybe that works…

            2. Barry

              “So I’m all for helping Ukraine, but I think we need to do it in a smart way, and not just give them unlimited resources based on what they are asking for everything like a kid in a toy store.”

              We haven’t.

              Ukraine has actually asked for numerous things- weapons systems- etc that we have not offered them or even considered offering them.

          2. Ken

            Here’s a let’s-deal-with-reality thought:

            What should constitute “victory” in Ukraine? Or, alternatively, what does it mean to say, Putin cannot be allowed to win? Does it mean maintaining roughly the current status quo? Does it mean pushing the lines back to before the 2022 Russian invasion? Does it mean pushing Russians out of Crimea? Does it mean restoring Ukraine’s pre-2014 borders? At least publicly, the Ukrainian govt is currently advancing maximalist goals, including re-taking Crimea and all of western Ukraine. Should those be our goals as well? Are they in our interest (recognizing that national interest includes a realistic calculation of what is possible)?

            Since a core problem with our involvement in Vietnam grew out of our failture to define what our goals were there, it seems essential that we do so with regard to Ukraine.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I think everybody’s wrestling with all those questions. The big question is, what is acceptable? Do we end it with current lines? Is the goal to retake Crimea?

              It’s further complicated by how one defines “we.” Obviously, “we” has to include the Ukrainians. It’s not a decision that’s up to “us” as Americans.

              Basically, we’ve got a guy who’s doing something outrageous and intolerable. He’s trying to conquer another country, and make it his own. And he’s killing a lot of the people to accomplish it.

              So we KNOW what “defeat” looks like — it’s allowing Putin to keep doing what he wants.

              But there are a lot of elements involved in “victory.” And it can be measured in a number of ways. Let’s look at the military and diplomatic measurements. Right now, we’re trying to prevent a military defeat — stopping the Russians from rolling over Ukraine in the spring. The Leopard 2 tanks are seen as important to that effort.

              So we have scrambled to achieve what at the moment appears to be a diplomatic victory — getting NATO nations to provide the tanks. In order to do that, the U.S. had to offer the Abrams tanks. What was accomplished by the Abrams gesture has no immediate, direct military effect, because they won’t be there for a while. But it told the Germans “We’re in,” and loosened their grip on the Leopards. Which, it is hoped, will soon have a military effect.

              There are parallels to Vietnam, but they’re very different situations. The main similarity was that defeat was far easier to define than victory. Defeat was what we saw in 1975, two years after the U.S. quit. It was entirely predictable. Victory would have been Hanoi quitting, and satisfying itself with staying within its own borders, and the Viet Cong either accommodating themselves to the Saigon government, or repatriating to the North, or something — we never came close to that, so the details didn’t have to be defined. But none of those things were going to happen, and I suppose the simplest way to explain why we quit was that we realized that…

              1. bud

                We realized it no thanks to the hawks who stubbornly insisted we fight on. And on and on. What a waste. Antony one who insisted we stay in Iraq and Afghanistan should immediately be disqualified from seriously having their advice considered on Ukraine. These people have been wrong again and again and their judgement in such matters is crap.

  2. Ken

    This paper (recently cited in the WPost) by two analysts with the Rand Corp. offers a very lucid, careful and balanced perspective on the problems and options in Ukraine:

    Major takeaways:
    There is excessive focus on territorial control.
    The war will end through negotiations, not victory or defeat.
    A protracted war is not in our national interest.

  3. Ken

    “a diplomatic victory — getting NATO nations to provide the tanks”

    It’s still largely a symbolic gesture. The two NATO countries holding the largest stocks of Leopard 2s, Greece and Turkey, are refusing to release any. And the couple of tank batalions formed with Leopards from elsewhere are unlikely to be a game-changer in Ukraine.

    Also, there is cause for skepticism about the US’s stated reasons for its former reluctance to send Abrams. The tanks operate on kerosine. But getting kerosine to Ukraine isn’t a major logistical lift. Plus, according to the manufacturer, the Abrams can also operate on diesel or regular gasoline as well. Abrams are not necessarily more complicated to operate than the Leopards. And the logistical hurdles involved in getting them to Ukraine are not that high, not for a country with the lift capabilities the US has.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I wouldn’t be too shocked if we overemphasized the difficulty — so we could say OK to sending the tanks, but say it’s going to take awhile. Because the U.S. goal here wasn’t to send the tanks; it’s to get the Germans to release the Leopards. So we say OK, OK, but grumble about the difficulty.

      I’m not saying these difficulties don’t exist. I mean, if I have a brand-new $10 million tank, and its considered best to run it on X, I’d use X — even if it was possible to run it on unleaded. But if the Russians were landing at Myrtle Beach, I’d fill them with gas if that’s all I had.

      But this isn’t a “Russians landing at MB” situation. It’s a “we want to help Ukraine, but we’d rather not have Putin hit the nuclear button” situation…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, you’re right that they can run on anything, based on my Googling it — even cooking oil. I don’t see anything about kerosine, although that would seem to be included in the “anything.”

        I’ve seen some confusing stuff in recent days, including that they run on “jet fuel.” Which I suppose they can, that fitting under “anything.”

        Which takes us back to the main difficulty being that the Leopards have diesel engines and the Abrams has a turbine engine — which is harder to maintain. How hard, I have no idea…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I didn’t know the Shakers sounded like that. I thought they sounded more like this:

          Not that the people singing in the video are necessarily Shakers themselves. I think they’re Episcopalians.

          There aren’t many Shakers around these days. As Jubal Harshaw said, “any church that is agin sexual intercourse (as they were) doesn’t last long.”

  4. Ken

    ““we” has to include the Ukrainians”

    Actually, no, Ukrainians do not get to decide what is in our national interest.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I wasn’t aware anyone had said they do.

      I thought we were talking about what it would take to end the war — or as you put it, to achieve “victory.” Right?

      1. Ken

        As I wrote originally, we have to define our goals (based on our national interests). The Ukrainians will of course define theirs. But the two may not match. And the Ukrainians do not get to define ours. That should clear it up, as far as that goes.


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