Biden Not Getting Pre-Election Battlefield Victory He Was Hoping For
In a song that he wrote about the Korean War, the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie mocked General Douglas MacArthur and Defense Secretary Robert Lovett for promising that U.S. troops would be home by Christmas, emphasizing that MacArthur and Lovett had not actually specified which Christmas the troops would be home by.
With the U.S. fighting a proxy war in Ukraine, we have seen similarly optimistic prognoses that look to be false, much like in the Vietnam War.
On June 5, Ukraine launched its much-vaunted counteroffensive, with the aim of reclaiming territory taken over by Russia in eastern Ukraine and taking the war to the Russians.
The counteroffensive received the blessing of President Joe Biden who recognizes its importance to his re-election bid.
Sounding much like General MacArthur in Korea, former CIA Director David Petraeus predicted that the Ukrainian counteroffensive “would be very impressive.”
Petraeus told the BBC:
My sense is that they [the Ukrainian Army] will achieve combined arms effects in other words, they will successfully carry out combined arms operations where you have engineers that are breaching the obstacles and diffusing the minefields and so forth; armor following right on through protected by infantry against anti-tank missiles; air defense keeping the Russians’ aircraft off them; electronic warfare jamming their radio networks; logistics right up behind them; artillery and mortars right out in front of them.
And most important of all…is that as the lead elements inevitably culminate after 72-96 hours, physically that’s about as far as you can go, and they’ll have taken losses…you have follow-on units that will push right on through and capitalize on the progress and maintain the momentum and I think that can get the entire Russian defense in that area moving, then I think you have other opportunities that will open up on the flanks as well.
Very early into the counteroffensive, however, it was apparent that Petraeus’s predictions were off-base and too over-confident. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 17 that Ukraine was pausing the counteroffensive in order to reevaluate its military strategy.
The Washington Post previously reported on the wiping out of Ukraine’s 37th Brigade—freshly trained and supplied with U.S. weapons—south of Velyka Novosilka in the southeast Donetsk region; its men were shelled by mortars from three sides after being left in the field without tanks or heavy armor.
The blogger Moon of Alabama wrote: “The Ukrainian army used at least four brigades for its [initial counteroffensive] attack. At least two of those were from the 12 brigade reserve that had been built up for the counterattack. With losses of some 30%, those involved were seriously mauled for little to no gain.”
The New York Times reported that the Russians looked to be succeeding in their strategy of “trying to inflict as many casualties and [to] destroy as many vehicles as possible in a battle zone ahead of the main defensive line, depleting Ukrainian forces before they reach it.”
According to the Times, the Ukrainian military was “especially vulnerable immediately after seizing new ground, when they are still clearing mines, fighting Russian stragglers, and figuring out where to find cover and firing positions in the newly reclaimed villages and in thickets of trees. If the Russian strategy proves effective, Ukraine could lose too many of its newly trained troops—which number in the tens of thousands—and too many tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to breach the main line. Even if they get that far, the forces might be too weakened to stream south and help accomplish a major objective: severing the so-called land bridge that connects Russia to the occupied Crimean Peninsula [which would be done by reaching the Sea of Azov, about 60 miles away].”
At a news conference in Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged the prospect of high casualties on the Ukrainian side, but said that Ukraine’s fight was “not some easy sprint to the finish line” and would “likely take a considerable amount of time and at a high cost.”
Of the Russians, Milley said: “Their leadership is not necessarily coherent, their troops’ morale is not high. They’ve been sitting in defensive positions; many of them don’t even know why they’re there.”
The Russians counter this narrative by pointing to the fact that Ukraine has suffered from a huge number of casualties (estimated to be 13,000) and lost three times as many tanks as the Russians since the counteroffensive began.
Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that at least 25% of the combat vehicles provided to Ukraine for the offensive were destroyed, including 160 battle tanks and more than 300 combat vehicles, while Russia suffered the loss of only 54 tanks.
Pro-Russian social media accounts have frequently shared videos of the destroyed armor online to champion what they are saying is a failed offensive.
This latter view was corroborated by a senior European military officer in Kyiv, who referred to the Ukrainian counteroffensive as a “suicide mission,” comparing it to an infamous 1854 battle in the Crimean War in which Britain’s Light Cavalry Brigade made a suicidal charge into a massive Russian cannon and were then wiped out.
Ukraine’s desperation appears evident in the June 6 attack launched on the Novaya Kakhovka dam in an attempt to cut the water supply to Crimea, which resulted in the flooding of several villages and part of the town of Kherson.
Ukraine has further destroyed the ammonia pipeline linking Togliatti to Odessa, which was part of the grain agreement, and bombed the Chonhar bridge linking Crimea and Ukraine in an attempt to punish the people of Crimea for voting to rejoin Russia. These are war crimes of the kind for which Nazi leaders were prosecuted and then hung after the Nuremberg trials.
French correspondent Christelle Néant reported major Ukrainian setbacks around Novodonetske, Lobkove and other neighboring areas after the beginning of the counteroffensive along with heavy Ukrainian casualties (1,900 soldiers wounded and killed June 3-6 alone) and destruction of Ukrainian tanks and weapons.
According to Néant, the 47th Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Army were trained by NATO forces to fight with the help of troop coordination systems (GPS signal and communication) that have been jammed by Russian electronic warfare systems.
Without this high-tech crutch, the Ukrainian soldiers found themselves totally disorganized on the battlefield, unable to deal effectively with the Russian Army’s fire. Facing the prospect of imminent death, some of these soldiers, according to Néant, are beginning to refuse orders.
Carl von Clausewitz once wrote that war is politics by other means.
His dictum applies to the war for eastern Ukraine. Its people primarily welcome the Russians as liberators after nine long years of Ukrainian army shelling and atrocities following a U.S. backed coup, and because of the strong economic, cultural and historical ties of the region to Russia.
Petraeus’s prediction is so off-base because he has obviously not read von Clausewitz in a long time. He also does not understand the political dynamic in eastern Ukraine—much like General MacArthur in Korea, where the U.S. was involved in another unwinnable war that nearly resulted in World War III.
The song, written in 1952, was titled “Hey General Mackeymaker.” See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “‘Hey Hey General Mackymacker, Ho, Ho Mr. Lovitt:’ Woody Guthrie’s Forgotten Dissent From the Atomic Bomb to the Korean War,” The Asia Pacific Journal, April 1, 2018, https://apjjf.org/-Jeremy-Kuzmarov/5133/article.pdf ↑
In an article entitled “Ukrainian Counteroffensive’s Second Week Ends in Failure,” former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter wrote on June 17 that “Ukraine lacks the military capacity to overcome Russian defenses. Ukraine’s most elite assault brigades, equipped with the latest Western military technology, failed to advance out of what Russian defensive doctrine calls the ‘cover’ line of defense—the buffer that is designed to channel and disrupt an attacking force prior to reaching the “main” line of defense. Ukrainian casualties were extremely heavy, with Russia achieving a 10:1 kill ratio in terms of manpower, which is unsustainable from the Ukrainian perspective. The reasons for the Ukrainian failure are fundamental in nature.” The first reason Ritter cites is the quality of Russian defenses combined with the tenacity of the Russian defender and the overwhelming superiority Russia enjoys in terms of fire support against which Ukrainian forces and tactics are insufficient. Secondly, “the Ukrainians are paying the price for Russia’s impressive suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) campaign that has been ongoing for many weeks now,” Ritter continues. “Russia has not only neutralized Ukraine’s ability to defend strategic targets far beyond the front lines, but also to project any meaningful air defense capability into the actual zone of conflict. This, combined with the lack of any viable air force, leaves the attacking Ukrainian ground forces exposed to the full weight of Russian air power.” In a column published on June 24, Ritter suggests that Ukraine exploited internal fissures within the Russian ruling class to help foment a coup attempt with support by Western intelligence services by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, what he calls, “a Moscow Maidan” in reference to the February 2014 Western-backed coup in Ukraine that triggered the conflict.
CNN cited unnamed “Western and U.S. officials” in order to say that the counteroffensive is “not meeting expectations on any front.” It turns out, they add, that Ukrainian troops and armor are proving vulnerable to Russian minefields, missiles, and air power. CNN paraphrased their experts: “Russian lines of defense have been proving well-fortified, making it difficult for Ukrainian forces to breach them. In addition, Russian forces have had success bogging down Ukrainian armor with missile attacks and mines and have been deploying air power more effectively.” ↑
Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies wrote of the moral bankruptcy of U.S. and NATO political leaders, who are “sacrificing the flower of Ukraine’s youth in a proxy war they will not send their own children or grandchildren to fight.” According to Benjamin and Davies, “if Ukraine’s Spring Offensive plunges on to the bitter end, it could be more like the British and French Somme Offensive, fought near the French River Somme in 1916. After 19, 240 British troops were killed on the first day (including Nicolas’s 20-year-old great-uncle, Robert Masterman), the battle raged on for more than four months of pointless, wanton slaughter, with over a million British, French and German casualties. It was finally called off after advancing only six miles and failing to capture either of the two small French towns that were its initial objectives.” ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.