After the Bay of Pigs debacle, John F. Kennedy supposedly said, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” Whether or not he actually said it is unknown, but the expression has been with us ever since. Supposedly it was an updated version of the Tacitus line, “It is the singularly unfair peculiarity of war that the credit of success is claimed by all, while a disaster is attributed to one alone.” Kennedy was pithier but Tactus captures the truth of the matter.
We are seeing this with the Ukraine war. The news from the battlefields is uniformly bad for the Ukrainian army. The West is slowly coming to terms with the reality of the much publicized counter-offensive, which ended in disaster soon after it was launched, but the West spent the last few months in denial. Ukraine does not publish numbers as far as casualties, but independent guessing suggests they lost between seventy and one hundred thousand men in the counter-offensive.
As the overall condition of the Ukraine military comes into focus, the recriminations are beginning to turn up in Western media. This long story in the Washington Post is a good example of the general tone. Washington is looking to place the blame on the Ukrainians, while the Ukrainians are placing the blame on their Western backers or on one another as the situation warrants. Europe has yet to join the blame game, but in time they will no doubt blame the Ukrainians.
Another pithy expression that is useful regarding the Ukraine debacle is “You learn more from your failures than your successes.” Washington never learns from its failures, which is why they have the Ukraine debacle, but the rest of us can gain some insight into how our pollical leaders stumble into these disasters by looking at some of the major blunders in this war. How they managed to reach this point speaks to how they view the world and their role in it.
The first major blunder was getting into a land war with Russia. This is right up there with “Never getting into a land war in Asia” and the slightly less well-known “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.” The Russians are bad at many things but when it comes to fighting a land war, they are exceptional. When they view the land war as an existential threat it quickly becomes a great patriotic war and the whole of Russia organizes to defeat the enemy.
This is what the West managed to do in what should have been a low-grade border conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The West made this into a game of the world against Russia and the Russians accepted the challenge. The sanctions regime was clearly intended to hurt average Russians, which made it easy for the Russian leadership to recast this conflict as this generations great patriotic war. That war is with the West, not just the Ukrainians.
The question is why did the West do this? The reason is they assumed Russia was too weak to fight an actual war. They came to this conclusion not based on observable facts but on the power of their own rhetoric. They kept saying that Russia was a “gas station masquerading as a country” so often that they believed it. Instead of looking at what was happening in Russia, the West told themselves appealing stories about what would happen if they blew hard enough on the Russian house of cards.
This gets to the second colossal error of the West. The Russians crossed into Ukraine with a force of about one hundred thousand men with the assumption the West would demand a peace meeting. They were not prepared for an actual war. Ukraine, on the other hand, had an army of over three hundred thousand regular army troops and another three hundred thousand reserves. Russia, the attacker, was outnumbered three-to-one one by Ukraine, the defender.
In the spring of 2022, the Ukrainians had a chance to smash the Russian army if they went on the offensive. It would have come at a price, but they could have pushed the Russian back into the Donbas and maybe out completely. Instead, the Ukrainians dug into defensive positions along the line of contact. This gave the Russians time to reorganize their lines into more defendable positions and begin the process of building a much larger force to take on the Ukrainians.
The reason Ukraine did this is they were repeatedly told by their Western backers that Russia could never sustain an army in the field for long. The best people ran to their favorite media outlets predicting an imminent Russian collapse. The intellectual everyone in the West considers a seer claimed early on that Russia would not just lose but disintegrate as a result of the war. The fact that Fukuyama has not been right about anything in his career has not lowered his status in the West.
Here again we see that the West blundered into a catastrophic mistake not because they misread the evidence but because they confused their own magical thinking about the world and their role in it with reality. People with what passes for impressive credentials in the managerial class spun fabulous tales about the imminent collapse of Russia and those tales became reality for the war machine. Meanwhile, the Russian army used this time to prepare for what we see happening now.
This brings up the third colossal error. Having figured out that Russia was not going to disintegrate in the face of what amounted to an internet cancel campaign, the West prepared Ukraine for a big arrow offensive. They conscripted close to one hundred thousand fresh troops, trained them in NATO tactics and supplied them with NATO weapons for the purpose to driving the Russians out of the Donbas. This was the great spring counter-offensive that kicked off in the summer.
In the early hours of the offensive, columns of Western armor barreled into the Russia outer defensive lines in the south with the aim of driving to the Sea of Azov. Instead, they bogged down in massive minefields. The mine clearing equipment provided by the West turned out to be useless for the task, so the armored columns were trapped in the minefields and obliterated by Russian artillery. A large area in the south is called Bradley Park because it is full of destroyed Bradley fighting vehicles.
It is impossible to overstate the failure here. The Ukrainians not only lost the entire army assembled for the task, but they stripped their lines in order to supplement this army on the expectation that it would smash through the Russian defenses and those reserves would then flood into the breech. Instead, these reserves were thrown into what was called a meatgrinder. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians were killed and maimed in order to capture one tiny village in the south.
What is even more stunning than the enormity of the failure is the fact that Western military planners were so slow to accept reality. Even as it was clear that the Russian defenses were too strong, General Milley was talking like it was just a matter of time before they collapsed and Ukraine rolled to victory. Even after thousands of videos appeared online of burning Western tanks, Western generals kept saying that things were on schedule for a glorious victory.
The result of this catastrophe is Ukraine no longer has offensive capabilities and is struggling to maintain its defensive positions in key areas. The massive losses of men and material cannot be replaced. Ukraine is running out of men to conscript for the war and the West is out of equipment to send them. This is why we are seeing reports in Western media talking about who is to blame. No one wants to be the father of what is going to be a collapse of Ukraine in 2024.
The theme throughout this two-year debacle is that the people making the decisions have substituted a preferred reality for actual reality. These are the type of people John Derbyshire once described in another context as those who are “awfully good at creating elaborate, plausible, and intellectually very challenging systems that do not, in fact, have any truth content.” For the last two years their version of reality has crashed into a reality that rests on the truth, not narrative.
The Ukraine debacle is a microcosm of what plagues the West. The people in charge are long on credentials that are meaningful only within the artificial reality that is the managerial class. The result is an echo chamber populated with credentialed idiots who compete with one another to produce the most pleasing sounding narrative to describe what they imagine lies outside their reality. They live in a simulation but seek to impose what they experience on the world around them.
These are the same people now operating the court system based on their paranoid fantasies about invisible enemies and staffing the air traffic control system to match their image of the inclusive society. What lies ahead for the West is what we are seeing in Ukraine which is the fantasies of a delusional and deranged ruling class smashing into the reality of the world, all paid for by the common man. Reality is that thing that does not go away when you stop believing in it.
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