About that ‘clear path’ in the Ukraine war


INDIANAPOLIS — Two years after the American Continental Congress had declared independence, George Washington’s army settled in for its third bitterly cold winter encampment at Valley Forge. Things looked bleak in 1778.

In 1863, two years after the Civil War began, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee disheartened the Union army with a spectacular victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia. A few days later more than 100 people were killed during anti-war riots in New York City.

And in World War II, it wouldn’t be until May 1943 that the allies turned the tide against Nazi Germany in North Africa. The Soviets defeated the Nazis at Stalingrad as winter began. It would be another six months before American, British and Canadian soldiers stormed the beaches at Normandy, breaching Hitler’s Fortress Europe.

It would take U.S. victories in previously obscure places such as Monmouth, N.J., Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Normandy that the tides of great wars shifted; that ultimate victory could even be fathomed.

It’s been a little less than two years since Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin made the unilateral decision to invade Ukraine, unleashing his genocidal armies to bomb civilian targets, power plants during the long winters, and commit wave after wave of atrocities using rape, drones and missiles against apartment buildings, schools, churches and hospitals. In doing so, U.S. intelligence estimates are that Russia has lost 87% of its invasion force and two thirds of its tanks.

Now further U.S. funding for Ukraine is being held up in Congress, with Republicans insisting that $111 billion the Biden administration has requested for Ukraine and Israel also including funding to “fix” the porous southern border.

“We stand at a real inflection point in history,” President Biden said with Zelenskyy at his side at the White House on Tuesday. Failing to approve more aid would give Putin, “the greatest Christmas gift they could possibly give him.”

While the new Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said, “We stand with him against Putin’s brutal invasion,” he accused the White House of failing to articulate a “clear path” to Ukraine’s victory.

Zelenskyy reportedly spoke to U.S. senators entirely in English, with one GOP senator telling PBS reporter Lisa Desjardins the gesture was “poignant.” Desjardins writes that there were a few times Zelenskyy had to look up definitions of words used by senators. “One word he didn’t know: Stalemate.”

But that is where Zelenskyy and Ukraine find themselves after two years of war. “The U.S. assesses that Russia believes it is helped by a military stalemate with Ukraine that saps Western support for Kyiv, making its war easier to win,” Politico reported of a U.S. intelligence assessment.

A new Pew Research Center survey (Nov. 27 to Dec. 3, 2023, among 5,203 members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel), finds that: 48% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the U.S. is giving too much aid to Ukraine, while about half say that the U.S. is providing the right amount of support (29%) or not providing enough (18%).

In December 2022, Zelenskyy described the states at a joint session of Congress as a hero. “It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans — for all,” he said. “This battle cannot be frozen or postponed. It cannot be ignored.

There is a lot to unpack here.

First, there is a crying — no, screaming — need to address the U.S.-Mexican border. There hasn’t been comprehensive immigration reform since President Reagan was in office. It needs to be bipartisan. It needs to be comprehensive. To suggest that this can be done on the fly and within days while Ukraine and Israel writhe in crisis, is not good governance.

Second, it is nearly impossible to articulate a “clear path to victory” at the two-year mark. Gen. Washington couldn’t do it in 1778, President Lincoln and Gen. U.S. Grant couldn’t in July 1863, and President Roosevelt and Gen. Eisenhower were unable to fathom how long it would take Berlin and Tokyo to fall in early 1943.

Third, Ukraine cannot defeat Russia without air power, just as the U.S. wouldn’t have won D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge without it. “Who controls the skies controls the war’s duration,” Zelenskyy said at a press conference. Johnson said in a letter to President Biden last week, “President Biden must satisfy congressional oversight inquiries about the administration’s failure thus far to present clearly defined objectives and its failure to provide essential weapons on a timely basis.” Providing “essential weapons” on a “timely basis” is the path toward “clearly defined objectives.” Everyone involved from Kyiv to Washington to Brussels must up their game.

Fourth, if we abandon Zelenskyy and Ukraine to Putin, it will be just a matter of years until NATO and the U.S. will be spending blood and treasure to fend off Putin’s expansion. These are lessons to be learned after his repeated incursions into Georgia, Chechnya, Crimea and now Ukraine over the past two decades.

Finally, U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz has faded as an advocate for her homeland. She was hyper-involved for the first few months after the invasion, before tangling with Zelenskyy’s chief of staff. She subsequently announced she wouldn’t seek reelection in 2024, essentially becoming a lame duck at the very time House Republican support for Ukraine began to evaporate.


Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.