Monday, April 25, 2022

Is the Ukraine Russia's Vietnam?

Many moons ago, Gil and I went to Vietnam on a whim. It wasn’t long after the end of the Vietnam war. We saw people cooking pho in GI helmets on the street, purple hearts were on sale in junk shops, crashed helicopters in gardens, the signs and wreckage of war were everywhere. Some images from Ukraine reminded me of this. The folly of thinking that full armoured divisions and helicopters will defeat a more determined army.

The Ukraine is, indeed, starting to look like Russia’s Vietnam. As the war continues, a highly motivated, agile, local army continues to out-think and ambush the invader at every opportunity, not with heavy armour but local support and surprise. The body bags keep piling up, angering folk back home and an increasing use of conscripts is being used as casualties (circa 20,000) continue to rise. This is a much faster casualty rate than either Vietnam for the Americans or Afghanistan for the Russians. It will take its toll.

Putin is even starting to look like Nixon, lost in his own peculiar Alice in Wonderland fantasy world of uber-long tables, sitting in big Baroque chairs (dictators adore these) in big white rooms, having Mad Hatter tea parties with expressionless guys in big brown and red military hats and epaulets. What worries me is the possibility that he turns into Kurtz, who takes that Marxist historicist, dialectical materialist BS and turns his thesis and anti-thesis, into the final nuclear synthesis. Historicism has a bad habit of becoming deterministic, driven by what he, and Marx, perceived as destiny. I thought that shit had died in 1975 with Pol Pot. It hadn't, the flame still kept alive by mad dictators and hapless academics.

For the present, however, despite his delusional bombast, Russia lost the Battle of Kiev, lost their flagship Naval vessel, a week later they have made no progress on their new fronts, are fighting clearly subversive fires on Russian territory and, unbelievably, Mariupal is still not completely conquered. Like the US in Vietnam, they have responded by simply bombing the hell out of the place. That’s desperate, it’s also morally despicable.

In truth, like the US, they had lost the war the minute they invaded, as the damage they inflicted in trying to win was sure to destroy most of the country. The means had become worse than the end. Their troops are most likely exhausted, demotivated, poorly supplied and want this to end as quickly as possible, just like the GIs at the time. 

The sad truth is that this whole exercise, like Vietnam, seems ‘doomed to succeed’ in that Putin, once he had started, couldn’t back down, even though he has unleashed forces - militarily, economic and political - way beyond his expectations. They’re now stuck in a global quagmire, having made more enemies than friends. The US had the economic clout to pay for Vietnam and recover, Putin may, single-handedly, have created a second Soviet Union collapse, similar to that of the 90s. Lloyd Austin said as much yesterday “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. It has already lost a lot of military capability… we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”

The similarity doesn’t end there. Within two years Kennedy was dead (we tend to forget that it was a very popular President Kennedy, who escalated that war but that’s another story), LBJ rumbled on and Nixon was eventually kicked out as the country turned against him. War does funny things to so-called leaders - both good and bad.

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