Leading from behind: Why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now more than a proxy war for the United States
Although Washington insists that it is not interested in a direct military conflict with Moscow, the latter claims that the United States is, in fact, directly involved.
On September 8, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared in Kyiv on an unannounced visit. He carried with him pledges of yet another military and financial package of nearly $3 billion, mostly to Ukraine but also other Eastern European countries. According to a report published by The New York Times last May, U.S. financial support to Ukraine has exceeded $54 billion.
Devex’s Funding Platform states that “a relatively small percentage of that funding is humanitarian-focused”. The same source also indicates that the total amount of mostly military aid provided by the West to Ukraine between February 24 and August 16 has topped the $100 billion mark.
For such a massive military arsenal to operate, one can imagine the involvement of legions of military experts, trainers and engineers. Washington’s latest package includes hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, such as more High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).
And more is coming. According to Blinken, “President Biden … will support the people of Ukraine as long as it takes.”
The Russians, however, have no illusions that the U.S. military support for Ukraine is confined to mere shipments of weapons or limited to financial transactions. On August 2, the Russian Defense Ministry accused the U.S. of being “directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine.”
As the nature of Russia’s brutal war changed, so have the type of weapons provided by Washington. What began with weapons of defensive capabilities and limited outreach, became weapons of offensive capabilities with long-range artillery systems, including HIMARS and M270.
Much of the U.S. involvement can be understood through common sense. Consider Politico’s report on August 29, alleging that “since the early days of the war, Kyiv has seized the initiative as missile strikes and mysterious explosions have wreaked havoc on the Russian fleet, sinking several vessels … and devastating its Crimea-based air wing in a dramatic attack this month.” If these details are accurate, it is hard to imagine that such success would have been carried out by, as described by Politico itself, a “small Ukrainian navy.”
When American weapons are provided and operated by American military experts, and when the movement of Russian forces is monitored by American satellite coordinates, one should easily conclude that the U.S. is indeed at direct war with Russia. This argument is strengthened by the fact that the U.S. is utilizing all of its expertise in economic warfare, used against Iraq, Cuba and others, to devastate the Russian economy.
But why does the U.S. refuse to accept that it is engaged in direct war against Russia?
Successive U.S. administrations have perfected the art of engaging in military conflicts without making such a declaration. As the U.S. fought its protracted war in Vietnam starting in the mid-1950s, it engaged in many other military conflicts that were mostly kept secret. These undeclared wars included the Nixon Administration’s secret bombing campaigns of Cambodia, which resulted in the estimated death of 100,000 people.
To curtail the power of the president to conduct war without notifying Congress, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, also known as the War Powers Act. Despite a presidential veto, a two-third majority in Congress managed to pass the resolution into law. Still, successive administrations found ways around the law, including the U.S. involvement in the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and again, in the U.S. war on Libya in 2011.
In fact, it was in Libya that the phrase “leading from behind” was used in abundance. Americans seemed to have found a brilliant way of engaging in war while avoiding its costly political consequences.
Even if the U.S. engages in direct combat against Russia, chances of war being declared are almost nil. Therefore, the extent of the U.S. involvement can only be gleaned from evidence on the ground.