In statements addressing Western leaders, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked for help fighting the Russians. But in a way very unusual from the American experience. He has asked to be armed with weapons.
Zelenskyy said that no one needed to die for Ukrainians, they will fight for themselves. They will fight for freedom, just give them the firepower to do it.
“If Western politicians are scared, we are saying: Let us do it. Give us, the Ukrainians, warplanes and fighter jets, which we can use to protect ourselves, our children, our friends, our parents, our cities, our memory, our architecture. Give Ukraine anti-missile defense to guarantee that no one will blast a nuclear power plant, and Ukraine and all of Europe won’t be destroyed. What else is there to think about?”
While Afghanistan was not a proxy war to the extent that Vietnam was, it was a repeat of the same failed military strategy. America essentially took over a war for a weaker nation, then abandoned it. Vietnam was a civil war that America became involved in because of the perceived Cold War threat against the Soviet Union and China. After the Soviet Union left its occupation of Afghanistan, the nation had a dysfunctional coalition government that experienced factional infighting before one group emerged as a dominate political force, and it was hostile towards America.
Whatever the definition assigned by military historians for those conflicts, American troops engaged in combat on foreign soil against an internal enemy. They supported one faction in the conflict against another.
In the case of Vietnam, America fought the North Vietnamese with the South Vietnamese, but often on behalf of the South. President Lyndon B. Johnson considered how to extract American troops from the war and turn it over to the local citizens when he said:
“We are not about to send American boys 9,000 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
Under Nixon, billions of dollars of military gear was left for the South Vietnamese to continue their fight against the North. But it was common knowledge that the South Vietnamese military had little ability to win when America – with all its might – could not. The South had American equipment, but none of the experience to maintain or operate. We gave them jets and tanks, with no way to fuel them in combat conditions.
Afghanistan was similar in that sense of the American withdrawal. United States forces left behind a ton of military equipment for a factional army that was uninterested to fight. Elite and well funded troops had failed after 20 years of effort. There was no reason to believe their absence would suddenly favor conditions for a domestic army’s victory.
In the case of Ukraine, Russia’s unjustified invasion is an existential threat to the United States. With Trump’s help and his Republican allies, Putin has been actively trying to destabilize American democracy for several years.
President Zelenskyy has begged America and NATO to enforce a “no fly zone” over Ukraine air space, to deny Russia the ability to target civilian populations. Such acts are clearly understood to be war crimes. But to establish a “no fly zone” would mean the enforcement of such restrictions, and that would put America and NATO squarely in the position of a hot war with Putin.
It has been made clear that no American troops would be sent to fight on Ukraine soil. But instead of asking American troops to fight, Ukrainians want to fight for themselves. They just need the weapons, which is an irony of sorts considering the examples of Vietnam and Afghanistan.
America seems to only understand how to fight never ending wars, and leave weapons behind to armies that are unwilling to fight for themselves. It is in America’s self-interest that Ukraine stops the Russian invasion. Therefore, the federal government should approve the funding and logistics necessary to supply President Zelenskyy with the weapons his nation needs to defend itself.
Unlike with Vietnam and Afghanistan, America does not need to take on the self-appointed role of a White Savior. Ukraine has stood up against the mighty Russian army on its own, and prevented Putin’s dream of a quick victory. In fact, because the Russian military has failed so badly against the smaller Ukrainian forces, it adopted the terror tactics that target civilian populations. They blow up homes and hospitals, in violation of the rules of war, because they have been unable to succeed on the battlefield.
America and NATO are currently deploying weapons to Ukraine, and the logistics are impressive. But only time will tell if it is too little too late. The Ukrainians did not ask for war. They did not provoke it. A madman thrust it upon them. If America is unable to fulfill its security obligations that were assured when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons, Americans should support every effort possible to empower Ukraine.
Ukrainian soldiers are fighting their own war, for their own country. In a reverse proxy of sorts, they are fighting America’s enemy so that American soldiers do not have to.