Ukraine War, August 7, 2022: Zalmay Khalilzad’s good suggestions for U.S. strategy

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Dispatches

1) Zalmay Khalilzad, “The West Needs to Call Russia’s Bluff on Peace in Ukraine; Moscow claims to want a political settlement. It will get serious only if it sees a real threat of defeat,” Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2022 (6:39 pm ET);

2) Christian Esch, “Wie Putins Krieg mein Moskau verändert hat; Seit 14 Jahren lebt SPIEGEL-Korrespondent Christian Esch in der russischen Hauptstadt. Nun erkennt er selbst Bekannte kaum wieder. Warum unterstützen so viele Menschen den Krieg?” Der spiegel, den 5. August 2022 (q13:00 Uhr)–aus DER SPIEGEL 32/2022.

Analysis

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad punctures the Russian propaganda line that it is interested in peace negotiations, and offers three sensible suggestions for U.S. policy in support of Ukraine.

He accurately describes the current situation, as follows:

For a reliable indicator of Russian intentions, look to what they are doing on the ground. It looks nothing like a prelude to a political settlement. Instead Moscow is preparing for escalation and a land grab. This includes preparation to annex territory currently under its control, gain control of additional territory, conduct attacks on major cities outside the Donbas region, and eradicate the Ukrainian identity wherever possible.

He then offers three suggestions for U.S. strategy toard Russia.

First, the U.S. should deter Russia from annexing rececently conquered Ukrainian territory. Khalilzad writes:

One step that may force Moscow to recalculate is for senior U.S. officials to clearly convey that Russian escalation will be met by an accompanying escalation of American support for Ukraine. This would include providing armed systems with greater reach (which the U.S. so far hasn’t supplied) that enable Ukraine to threaten disputed and Russian territory, including Crimea and beyond.

This is something the U.S. should already be doing as part of its strategy to defend Ukraine. But if Biden is unwilling to take this step now, he should at least use the threat of such action as Khalilzad suggests.

Nonetheless, Putin’s failure to annex Ukrainian territories should not foreclose the adoption of this measure in the future.

Second, Khalilzad suggests that the U.S. improve the chances that Ukraine’s planned offensive operations succeed by ensuring that their plans are realistic and by delivering to Ukraine additional HIMARS artllery in a timely manner.

The suggestion reveals a bias toward telling the Ukrainians how to run their war. This should be avoided. The U.S. must always distinguish between advising and dictating, and should not withhold military assistance to force Ukraine to accept its “advice”.

Third, Khalilzad hits the nail on the head in in pointing out the weakness of U.S. efforts to enlist support for Ukraine in Africa and Asia, where it is losing the information war.

It is also losing the information war in the Middle East and in parts of Latin America.

He makes a key point, stressing that, “Ukrainians are the best spokesmen for their own cause. The U.S. should help them make their case—to the receptive West, around the world and inside Russia.”

To make the strongest case, the U.S. must overcome its squeamishness about referring to international law and the U.N. Charter.

All of the b.s. about supporting a “rules-based international order”, which has become common jargon among NATO and other allies, should just be abandoned.

It lacks the punch and specificity of “international law and the U.N. Charter, lacks the resonance of the latter in the countries of “the South”, and is in effect meaningless verbiage with little or no persuasive effect.

See,

“Ukraine War, May 24, 2022 (II): Stop it! Stop saying ‘international rules-based order’; the correct term is ‘legal’ not ‘rules-based’; We are talking about ‘international law’ as defined in Article 38 (1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, not any old politician’s concept of ‘rules’ or what is ‘rules-based,'” The Trenchant Observer, May 24, 2022.

To use international law effectively, it may be necessary to appoint a new secretary of state. Antony Blinken, though he holds a law degree, appears to hold international law in low regard. Over 18 months after entering office, he has not yet appointed a Legal Adviser to the Department of State.

The Legal Adviser is the highest international law official in the U.S. government. He or she is responsible for overseeing the Legal Adviser’s Office, whose highly qualified lawyers are responsible for stating the position of the United States on international law issues. When they are called in and backed by the Legal Adviser, Legal Advisers can play an important role in shaping decisions, as they did during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Nor has Blinken used international law effectively in criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

It appears to be a blind spot for Blinken.

Yet it is too important, in terms of generating support for Ukraine and in many other ways (e.g., deterring China from threatening or using force against Taiwan) to be allowed to persist as a blind spot for the United States and its allies.

While Khalilzad comes from the foreign policy ranks of the Republican Party, his suggestions are excellent, and should be followed by President Biden.

The Trenchant Observer

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