There was a moment back at the beginning of the Ukraine war when I transformed into a werewolf of war, all claws and fangs and bloodlust. Most humans share this detestable gene to one degree or another, and on this day, it was shouting out of my eyes.
That long armored column, remember? The miles-long column of soldiers, materiel and artillery slogging its way toward Kyiv to perform slaughter and destruction. We watched it day after day as it creeped closer and closer to the city… until it just stopped.
Nobody could quite figure out why, and as Ukraine’s forces began picking it apart, it dawned on those observing that maybe the vaunted Russian military wasn’t quite up to the drill. Hitler and Napoleon were thwarted by Russian snow; in this, Russia was thwarted by Ukrainian road mud and the misplaced optimism of the top command. Meanwhile, many lives were lost brutally every day, on both sides.
There the long column sat, and I could not help but think of the so-called “Highway of Death” in Iraq, when U.S. air power massacred Iraqi forces that were retreating from Kuwait down Highway 80. This was arguably a war crime, as those Iraqi forces were running away, and was a gruesome slaughter by any measure… but there, outside Kyiv, was an attacking army bent on destruction that was stuck in place. If they got unstuck, they’d likely rain hell down on a massive city.
One wing of A-10 Warthogs, I whispered to myself around a mouthful of newly sharp teeth… I am no combat pilot by any stretch of the imagination, but I am certain every fighter jock who saw that column was thinking precisely the same thing. Warthogs were made to eat armor, and a Google search for “A10 Warthog Russian Column” proved I wasn’t the only one with the same idea (though it’s apparently not as easy as my lurid imagination would have it).
In the end, nothing came of that traffic jam. The column melted into the larger maw of the war, and I was left to contend with the chilly fact that the caveman with the rock axe lurks behind my eyes, too.
It can be argued that the failure to confront and damage that convoy represented an immediate tactical failure, but for one thing: The only entity in the theater capable of such an attack is NATO, and had NATO done so, we would all be up to our eyelashes in a full-fledged war with a nuclear-armed nation under the sway of an unbalanced autocrat.
The term is “escalation,” also known as “mission creep,” and in the present circumstances, both are to be avoided to the greatest possible degree. Vladimir Putin enjoys personal control over a nuclear arsenal that can destroy a city block or an entire city, depending on his mood. He has rattled the launch keys at the West more than once since his invasion of Ukraine, and these weapons have been deployed around the Baltic Sea since before the invasion.
Disturbingly, a different sort of escalation has been taking place over the last few weeks. Official U.S. voices have been increasingly gleeful in their public bragging about how our direct assistance to Ukraine has led to the deaths of a slew of Russian generals and the sinking of the Russian Naval flagship, the Moskva.
“After reports in The New York Times and NBC News about the intelligence, Mr. Biden called Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III; Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence; and William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, to chastise them, according to a senior administration official,” reports The New York Times. “That seemed to be where Mr. Biden was drawing a line — providing Ukraine with guns to shoot Russian soldiers was OK, providing Ukraine with specific information to help them shoot Russians was best left secret and undisclosed to the public.”
On Monday, President Biden signed into law an updated version of the Lend-Lease Act, which allowed the U.S. to more easily provide support for beleaguered Europe in the days before our involvement in World War II. He has also demanded that Congress pass $33 billion in further military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, “a package that congressional Democrats plan to increase by another $7 billion,” according to the Times.
A sign of how important this aid is to the Biden administration came when the president separated the Ukraine funds from COVID aid funds. Initially, the two were to be combined in a single package for easier passage, but Republicans chose once again to be Republicans and tossed up roadblocks over the COVID money. Rather than endure another protracted mud fight along these lines, Biden has put up the Ukraine funding on its own.
For some in our government, this slow bleed toward open war is exacerbated by the best of intentions; only a heart of stone can witness the horrors in Ukraine and not long to do something to stop it (even though, for many, that urge is being erroneously directed toward military escalation).
For others, however, mission creep is the way to increased profits for the war-making sector of the economy, and that beast is always hungry.
We are perilously close to a conflict that could spiral out of control and into nuclear confrontation. While Ukraine cannot be abandoned, maybe it’s time for those who should know better to stop bragging to the public prints. Remember: The Lend-Lease Act was the last step before we entered WWII. That was a different time, and now is not the time to repeat that history.
The werewolf is in all of us. That does not mean we have to let it out.