Op-Ed: Ukraine is Europe’s problem, not ours so why is Biden wasting American energy on a fight that’s none of our business instead of tackling the true threat from China
January 28, 2022
By Lt. General (Ret.) Keith Kellogg in Daily Mail
Both are flashpoints in understanding what is fast coming together to be President Biden's 'America Last' foreign policy.
In national security, perhaps more than any other area, the impact of a single decision by an American president can be immediately felt and alter the very nature of a policy challenge, if not the broader geopolitical dynamics, as the aftermath of the Afghanistan and Ukraine crises might bring.
In such settings, a president's own judgment and instinct are brought to bear, and the quality of his advisors matters most.
Biden and his advisors failed us in Afghanistan and appear to be heading in the same direction in Ukraine, as Putin's Russia continues to mass military forces for a possible invasion.
Unfortunately, the current administration's view could not be more different from the one we had when President Trump was in the White House. Our America First plan did not mean 'America Alone,' but it did mean we would embrace a world view of what was good for America, first, and then how our actions affected the rest of the world.
President Trump had the perfect background to marshal our actions, having had none of the baggage of a Washington politico and the needed experience of dealing with risk, profit and loss that his business background offers.
He saw that other nations took advantage of America's decline and that American families were the ones footing the bill.
President Trump, and we who helped him carry out his foreign policy agenda, determined there should be no commitment of American lives or tax dollars without a clearly articulated benefit to the American people.
This stemmed from a deep appreciation of how exceptional America is and Americans are and, therefore, how important it is to protect and invest in what we hold dear.
That is the precise opposite of what we are witnessing and experiencing today.
Alongside a persistent awareness of the dangers of strategic overreach, the foreign policy of America First pursued by the Trump Administration elevated the nation state as the key actor in geopolitics and focused all foreign policy decisions around the top priority of protecting our Nation's citizens.
Where necessary and overwhelming force were deemed necessary, disciplined power was used. There had to be a clear pathway to winning when conflict was needed.
When it comes to Ukraine, there is no clear pathway for success, and certainly not through the direct use of American power.
Ukraine is primarily a European issue to solve.
But the Europeans are failing.
Economically, they've come to rely on Russia for 35% of their natural gas.
Perhaps the data point most emblematic of Europe's failure is the fact that Germany did not allow the United Kingdom to use its airspace to fly lethal military aid to Ukraine.
On the other hand, the US has shipped over $2.5 billion in arms and aid to Ukraine since 2014, which really started in earnest under President Trump.
Over the past 8 years, there has not been a resolution over the Donbas issue in Ukraine.
Putin is now determining whether the Russian military will solve the issue.
To Russia, the issue of Ukraine is deeper and more personal. To Russia, it is about their security.
Lacking the buffer of the former Warsaw Pact states, Russia believes any further expansion of NATO to the east poses a threat to its security.
Putin intends to stop that expansion, which becomes his red line with Ukraine, NATO, and, ultimately, the United States. We are watching Putin's clear understanding of what Ukraine means to him politically and strategically and his unwavering commitment to seize an opening to pursue his agenda.
Unlike President Biden, Putin is thinking strategically and has two immediate goals.
Resolve the Ukraine impasse to his advantage and fracture the NATO/European alliance with the United States.
He can achieve the first goal unilaterally through invasion of the country, and the second through dragging out engagement with the United States over Ukraine and having those negotiations fail. We are already witnessing gaps between how some European nations see a resolution to Ukraine and how we view it.
The current impasse was preventable with some 'diplomatic finesse.'
Russia should have been told that Ukraine is a sovereign nation, but there is no intention for it to become part of NATO due to governmental corruption. We could have persuaded other NATO members to do the same to reinforce.
Ukraine remains in the top third of corrupt governments in the world. In Europe, only Russia is more corrupt.
In its current state, Ukraine does not qualify for admission. Each country in NATO must agree to add a new member to the defensive alliance, and it takes two-thirds of the U.S. Senate for the United States to agree as well. The issue could have been taken off the table in the short term.
Instead of being bogged down in a non-NATO European issue, we should have continued the intellectual and strategic move recognizing China as the preeminent emergent threat to America.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Putin's efforts is how effectively he drags Biden deeper into Russia's priorities and away from the top national security issue that matters most to Americans and should be top of Biden's mind: The rising and increasingly emboldened threat of China.
In early February, China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics—likely when Russia's plans with Ukraine will materialize.
China will undoubtedly use this international forum to tout its ambitions, and American institutions, whether corporate boardrooms, Hollywood, universities, or professional sports, will be the ones doing Beijing's bidding.
There is perhaps no more vivid image of China's threat to America and no more stark contrast than when it happens, as the focus of Biden and his team is entirely on the European issue of Ukraine.
Lieutenant General (Ret.) Keith Kellogg is the Co-Chairman of the Center for American Security at the America First Policy Institute (AFPI). He served as acting national security advisor to President Trump and national security advisor to Vice President Pence. He is the author of War By Other Means: A General in the Trump White House (Regnery Publishing, 2021).
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