by Lincoln Institute | April 08, 2022

By Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring

The element of surprise is a valuable strategic asset in the successful conduct of war. A close corollary is unpredictability. The more predictable one side is in the conduct of war, the easier it is for the other side to mount a successful opposition. Anyone who understands war understands the fundamental truth in both of these precepts. Anyone except President Joe Biden, that is.

Vladimir Putin has cagily suggested that Russia’s entire arsenal may be employed in his brutal and immoral war against Ukraine. As reported in Forbes, “Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, would not rule out the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons if it is faced with an “existential threat,” and admitted Russia has not achieved its goals yet in its invasion of Ukraine …

In February, three days after Russia first invaded Ukraine, Putin declared he was putting his nuclear forces on “special combat readiness,” according to the New York Times. Following the shift, President Joe Biden elected not to raise the U.S.’s nuclear alert levels, and said Americans should not be concerned about the possibility of nuclear war with Russia, according to Reuters. The weekend before the invasion, Putin held visible exercises of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, including ballistic missiles and hypersonic systems.”

The possibility that Russia could use nuclear weapons is not the only option that Russia has refused to take off the table. So is the possibility that they could use chemical and biological weapons.

CNBC reports … “increasing concerns that Russia could be prepared to use chemical weapons to attack Ukraine, with Western officials and strategists warning the threat posed by Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin in this regard is credible and serious.”

By contrast, the reliably pro-Biden New York Times said that during national security crises, “presidents often issue the cryptic warning that “all options are on the table.” But Mr. Biden pointedly said in early December that the military option was “not on the table.” In other words, Mr. Putin was putting the most destructive weapons ever devised on the table, while Biden was taking options off the table. Russia wanted the world to know that it should be seen as both powerful and unpredictable. Biden wanted the world to know that US assistance to its ally Ukraine would be limited and predictable. Can’t you see Putin’s reaction in your mind?

Meanwhile, the valiant but under-gunned Ukrainian forces have begged its Western allies and the United Nations for defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles and aircraft to create a no-fly zone. Biden’s reaction, once again reflecting weakness, was to deny both. He said providing aircraft or troops to Ukraine would risk irritating Putin, who might then escalate the war. In other words, Biden would be predictable in the face of the unpredictable Putin. Does a single listener to American Radio  Journal think that is a good posture to strike?

So what does the US do now? Here’s a proposal: Biden should draw a clear distinction between offensive military weapons systems and defensive weapons systems. Aircraft can be either, as can ground troops, and to maintain some semblance of rational consistency, he can justify withholding both from this conflict. But missile systems like the Patriot missile system are inherently defensive. The US should supply as many Patriot systems as needed. The ostensible reason Biden hasn’t offered Patriot systems to Ukraine so far is that trained American troops are required to operate the Patriots, and he has said that the US would send no troops.  But the troops used in operating the Patriots would be engaged in an entirely defensive posture, and they are not ground troops in the unusual understanding of that term. Therefore, he could reverse himself without appearing to have done so – and the Ukrainians would benefit enormously from such a decision.  While many of the gruesome atrocities committed by Russian solders are the work of their ground troops, most of the physical devastations of cities like Mariupol has come form the skies, either in the form of cruise missiles or bombs form aircraft. The Patriot system could thwart the effective of both. Likewise, once we have agreed ti supply Patriots, we should urge the Israeli government to supply some of their Iron Dome missiles, with support staff. The Iron Dome is similar to the Patriot, but different in that the Iron Dome is designed to bring down lower-flying missiles. Once the US has installed Patriots, and justified their necessary support staff as inherently defensive, the door is open for the Israelis to follow suit.

Biden needs to strengthen his support for Ukraine without appearing to have admitted the foolishness of his earlier policies, and this would provide a way to do just that.