Lessons From the U.S. Civil War Show Why Ukraine Can’t Win | Opinion

Michael Gfoeller and David H. Rundell

During the early years of America’s Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought a limited conflict against people he still regarded as fellow countrymen and with whom he sought reconciliation. Only after three years of stalemate did he turn to “Unconditional Surrender Grant,” who in turn unleashed General William Tecumseh Sherman to “make Georgia howl” and help bring the war to its decisively violent conclusion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin waited only six months before switching from a special military operation to full scale war against Ukraine. Putin’s initial assault was limited to barely 150,000 troops. He expected a quick victory followed by negotiations on his principal concerns: Russian control of Crimea, Ukrainian neutrality, and autonomy for the Russian population in the Donbas, but he was wrong. Putin had not counted on Ukraine’s stiff resistance or the West’s massive military and economic intervention. Faced with a new situation, Putin changed his strategy. Now he is about to unleash his own General Sherman and make Ukraine howl.

Last month Putin gave General Sergey Surovikin overall command of Russia’s war in the Ukraine. Surovikin comes from the technologically sophisticated Aerospace Forces, but has fought on the ground in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria where he is credited with saving the Assad regime. Surovikin has stated publicly that there will be no half measures in Ukraine. Instead, he has begun to methodically destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure with precision missile attacks.

Armies need railroads and while Sherman systematically tore up the tracks leading to Atlanta, Surovikin is destroying the electricity grid which powers Ukrainian railroads. This has left Ukrainian cities cold and dark, but Surovikin seems to agree with Sherman that “war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

Russia has now put its economy on a war footing, called up the reserves, and assembled hundreds of thousands of troops, including both conscripts and volunteers. This army is equipped with Russia’s most sophisticated weapons, and contrary to much Western reporting, is far from demoralized. Ukraine on the other hand has exhausted its armories and is totally dependent on Western military support to continue the war. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley noted last week, Ukraine has done about all it can.

Once Ukraine’s rich black soil has firmly frozen, a massive Russian onslaught will commence. In fact, it has already begun at the important transportation hub of Bakhmut, which has become something of a Ukrainian Verdun. We expect Bakhmut to fall and predict that without much more Western support, Russia will recapture Kharkov, Kherson, and the remainder of the Donbas by next summer.

As the West did in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, we are stumbling into another optional, open-ended military commitment. Ukrainian troops are being trained in Europe. Western defense contractors are already maintaining Ukrainian military equipment and operating the HIMAR missile systems. Active-duty American military personnel are now in Ukraine to monitor weapons deliveries. As the Russian offensive gains momentum, we expect loud voices to call for sending ever-more advanced weapons and eventually NATO boots on the ground to defend Ukraine. These voices should be unambiguously rejected for many reasons. Here are a few.

Generations of Western leaders worked successfully to avoid direct military conflict with the Soviet Union. They recognized that, unlike Moscow, the West has very little strategic interest in who controls Donetsk. They were certainly unwilling to risk a nuclear war for Kharkiv. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and the alliance has no obligation to defend it. Nor has Putin threatened any NATO member, but he has made clear that any foreign troops entering Ukraine will be treated as enemy combatants. Sending NATO troops into the Ukraine would thus turn our proxy war with Russia into a real war with the world’s largest nuclear power.

Some have presented this conflict as a morality play, between good and evil, but the reality is more complex. Ukraine is no flourishing democracy. It is an impoverished, corrupt, one-party state with extensive censorship, where opposition newspapers and political parties have been shut down. Before the war, far right Ukrainian nationalist groups like the Azov Brigade were soundly condemned by the U.S. Congress. Kiev’s determined campaign against the Russian language is analogous to the Canadian government trying to ban French in Quebec. Ukrainian shells have killed hundreds of civilians in the Donbas and there are emerging reports of Ukrainian war crimes. The truly moral course of action would be to end this war with negotiations rather than prolong the suffering the Ukrainian people in a conflict they are unlikely to win without risking American lives.

And then there is always the unexpected turn of events where tensions in one region compound and spill over into another. There is a growing possibility of Iran launching a preemptive military strike on Israel. The revolutionary regime in Iran is facing an increasingly serious popular revolt. A new government in Israel is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The JCPOA is dying and with it any hope of sanctions relief for Iran’s failing economy. A war would unite Iran’s population in a patriotic struggle, damage Israel’s ability to strike Iran, and pressure the West to negotiate an end to sanctions.

There is little doubt that the United States would be drawn into any conflict between Israel and Iran. What worries us is that Iran has been supplying Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine and Moscow might feel obliged to come to the aid of its allies in Tehran. That sort of domino effect is precisely what started the First World War. Who expected that the assassination of an Austrian grand duke by a Serbian anarchist in Bosnia would lead to thousands of Americans dying in France? We do not need a replay.

Perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps there will not be a Russian winter offensive or perhaps the Ukrainian armed forces will be able to stop it. However, if we are correct and February finds General Surovikin at the gates of Kiev, we need to have soberly considered and honestly debated as a nation and an alliance the extent of our commitment to Ukraine and what risks we are willing accept to our own security.

David H. Rundell is a former chief of mission at the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia and the author of Vision or Mirage, Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads. Ambassador Michael Gfoeller is a former Political Advisor to the U.S. Central Command. He served for 15 years in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.

https://www.newsweek.com/lessons-us-civil-war-show-why-ukraine-cant-win-opinion-1764992

18 comments

  1. “Once Ukraine’s rich black soil has firmly frozen, a massive Russian onslaught will commence. In fact, it has already begun at the important transportation hub of Bakhmut, which has become something of a Ukrainian Verdun. We expect Bakhmut to fall and predict that without much more Western support, Russia will recapture Kharkov, Kherson, and the remainder of the Donbas by next summer.”

    It’s fucking sickening to hear these russian paid experts predicting the fall of Ukraine. For one, Ukraine has a vast rail network that relies on diesel trains, not electric ones. Secondly, this onslaught on Bakhmut has gone nowhere in 6 months of trying. Thirdly, what sophisticated weapons?

    • I’d never heard of these two putler jackboot-lickers before. One of them is married to a Russian and the other is an Arabist. They seemed to have neatly summed up the positions of the Trump wing of the GOP, Peter Hitchens, Tucker Carlson and a whole load of other putinoid scum.
      It’s sad that people like this can get paid good money to promote genocide.

    • I tried to read this but I just couldn’t finish it. This was my favorite part of this propaganda piece:
      “Kiev’s determined campaign against the Russian language is analogous to the Canadian government trying to ban French in Quebec.”
      I guess these Putinazis think the French were committing genocide on the English speaking Canadian people?

  2. The US War of Northern Aggression is not of the same type as the Russian war. First, Ukraine is far ahead of the Russian army in quality of equipment and proficiency. Ukraine has not squandered its manpower as Russia has. And last, the Russian commander, even though he is like Grant and Sherman in their attitudes in war, the north far outstripped the south in population and industry and was able to make up for the tactical murder of the northern armies. Russia has none of that and the current Russian commander is as incompetent as the ones he replaced.

    Add in the poor equipment Russia now has to fall back on, and the very low quality of the troops, you don’t get victory.

    • Where in the world did you get “US War of Northern Aggression” Sir Oh???
      But I agree with your comment of “…the current Russian commander is as incompetent as the ones he replaced.
      Add in the poor equipment Russia now has to fall back on, and the very low quality of the troops, you don’t get victory.”

      • Lincoln’s war is falsely labeled as a civil war. It had none of the characteristics of a civil war as eh south had no desire to rule the north, just to be left alone.

        Lincoln ginned up a casus belli at Sumter. The Fort was no longer on US territory and Lincoln tried to supply it against the will of the sovereign of the territory. As a consequence, it was northern aggression that started the war.

    • “US War of Northern Aggression” is a term of propaganda used by the South to deflect that the war was over slavery. It is a claim that the North entered the war for profit. It is like saying the Ukrainians are Nazis or Satanists. It’s a false cover.

      In fact, historical letters to the editor of my State’s newspaper show my state debating whether to follow out State’s law that forbid slavery when a slave was brought with a Southern family on vacation to escape the heat and asked to be freed.

      This was before just before the civil war at a time when Blacks (even free ones) had been declared by the US Supreme Court to not have any legal rights in America (see Dred Scott v. Sandford). People in my small agricultural state worried the cost of defying the south and US would be a major economic cost.

      Still, the court in my county ruled the slave was a free women if she chose and the overwhelming support of the people to do the right thing despite any cost to our people was our motive. It is clear from historical records of the support for freedom.

      I have written these words before as the term is used by any who wish to claim that the North was seeking profit. Look at how tax money has flown from the North to the South (paid in the North and spent in the South) though and that claim is laughable. Except no-one is laughing about the loss of life.

      What’s interesting about the Civil War is “semper Fi” [“Semper Fidelis” (“Always Faithful”)] now said by US Marines. Of course, many of the defected to the South at the beginning of the war a couple of years before the term was used. About a third of officers defected.

      Anyway, the North was always going to win. All Sherman did was create resentment in the South that we see to this day.

      Ukraine must prevail for the sake of humanity. If humanity is lost, there is nothing.

      • “Civil War” is a propaganda term used by conformist historians lying about the war. Fort Sumter was no longer on US territory and could not be legally kept open with the permission of the Confederate government. The attempt to supply it was an act of war. It is not propaganda to call it what is was the War of Northern Aggression. It’s an accurate description.

        • Yes, the North waged war on the South to end the practice of enslavement – brutal and unending Chattel slavery where human beings are considered legal property — to be bought, sold and owned forever and violently subjugated when they seek their undeniable human rights.

          We know the South claimed property rights over that which they can not own and a war arose because of it.

          If the South was justified to attack for the North shipping supplies to an area where the South claimed ownership, the North was infinitely more justified in shipping supplies to an area they knew they’d need to end the absolute horror of human slavery.

          The South had no legitimate claims to the legality of a system of human ownership. That they chose to fight to defend such a system is not the fault of the North. Never was and never will be.

          I reject your claims of ‘conformist’, ‘propaganda’ and ‘lying’ and asset basic human rights are unalienable.

          • That is not the reason for Lincoln’s war. Read Lincoln’s own statement on the war. He didn’t care about slavery. All he wanted was to force the south back into his raw deal.

  3. What the f… David H. Rundell must have spent too much time in the sun and has sand for brains. Michael Gfoeller has also spent time in that clam baked clap trap.
    First off their article premise of comparison to a civil war is completely off base in the facts that ruzzia’s genocidal war of choice on Ukraine is not a civil war.
    I would definitely prefer to see Surovikin smoked to ash. There has to be a gap in his armor that can be pierced.
    “This army is equipped with Russia’s most sophisticated weapons, and contrary to much Western reporting, is far from demoralized.”
    ~though they have some fancy contraptions, they have few of them, and have some major flaws due to the way mafialand siphons off the budget. They do have many older systems they are throwing into the fire and a ton of ammo still, yet ammo dumps keep burning, while there older kit is breaking down and being utilized by increasingly inept “personnel”. The demoralization of pootin’s genocidal horde continues though we see numerous instances of it being at rock bottom.
    ” …a massive Russian onslaught will commence. In fact, it has already begun at the important transportation hub of Bakhmut, which has become something of a Ukrainian Verdun. We expect Bakhmut to fall and predict that without much more Western support, Russia will recapture Kharkov, Kherson, and the remainder of the Donbas by next summer.”
    ~What a load of horse-pucky. I still stick by my belief that rashist will neither pass nor capture Bakhmut. Ukrainian Verdun my ass. I do agree that Ukraine still requires much more western support, but their assertion that ruzzia could do what they say by next summer is ludicrous. Ukrainians have captured the hearts and minds of the world. They are a friend and an inspiring ally. We need to quit air-hugging from a distance and fully commit to Ukraine’s TOTAL victory as has been laid out by Zelenskyy. We need to quadruple down on our efforts together to stop the madness of genocidal putler and his zzombies.
    “As the West did in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, we are stumbling into another optional, open-ended military commitment.”
    How do they figure it is anything like that? The problem is, the west is “stumbling” into it instead of charging in with all we can muster. IMO Ukraine already has, and rightfully so, open-ended commitment. Unlike the wars mentioned, this one has clear cut goals backed by intelligence, strength, and sheer will to exist, thrive, and be free of the genocidal nightmare that putler wishes to inflict.
    “Generations of Western leaders worked successfully to avoid direct military conflict with the Soviet Union.”
    ~It’s true that the whole idea of NATO is that they don’t want to go to war. It is as said a defensive alliance based on deterrence, not engagement. I liken it to the pact in the 1981 flick called “Heavy Metal” the pact was as follows, “To defend, this is the Pact. But when life loses its value, and is taken for naught –
    the Pact is to avenge. IMO it was extremely stupid to not let Ukraine and Georgia in when there was a chance to avert such horrific catastrophe.
    “Some have presented this conflict as a morality play, between good and evil, but the reality is more complex.”
    ~No!, it’s not that complex, it IS good verses evil. The lies they say about Ukraine is as usual preposterous.
    “we need to have soberly considered and honestly debated as a nation and an alliance the extent of our commitment to Ukraine and what risks we are willing accept to our own security.”
    ~We need to do what is right in this, not just what is convenient, easy, or “safe”.
    God bless Ukraine and give her total victory!

  4. Another piece of rubbish fit for a wastebasket.
    Comparing the US civil war with this war is the epitome of stupidity.
    What expertise do these sorts of experts have? Expertise in alternative ruskie propaganda? Or, maybe expertise in creating red herrings?

    “As the Russian offensive gains momentum…”
    How? If it hadn’t gained momentum in 9 months of war and having lost colossal amounts of men and material, how is mafia land going to gain a momentum now? The author doesn’t mention this anywhere. Some “expert” indeed!

    “Surovikin has stated publicly that there will be no half measures in Ukraine. Instead, he has begun to methodically destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure with precision missile attacks.”

    The guy who wrote this garbage is as much a moron as Surovikin. Both don’t seem to realize that terrorizing civilians won’t win a war. Especially Ukrainian ones!

    There are too many backwards thinking and ignoring facts in this article. Reading it is a waste of time.

  5. Though I admit I didn’t read very far in this, that was enough to note a fatal flaw in its “argument.” The Confederate States of America, or “the South” of that war, didn’t have any military support beyond their own territorial industry. Primarily, the Confederate States were agricultural, and didn’t have a large amount of foundries or other production of weapons. It’s said that an army marches on its stomach, but if that army doesn’t have enough weapons to fight, then they will lose anyway. Ukraine already is well known for its farming, so I expect there’s a hearty supply of food for the UAF. But additionally, it IS getting more supplies, especially weapons it needs to fight. The Confederate Army didn’t get much from outside sources, and additionally, they were fighting for dishonorable reasons. The cause of owning slaves.

    Though there may be some similarities, it is a POOR COMPARISON to suggest at best, that Ukraine is going to face the same fate as the Confederacy!

  6. Yes, between 1991 and 2014, Ukraine had problems adapting to democracy and the western environment. Again between 2014 and Feb. 2022 there were struggles. Today, Ukraine isn’t even the same country it was 10 months ago.

    Proximity to russia and the shared history and border have made Ukrainian progress slow and difficult. Yes, oligarchs, corruption and fraud have found and still hold a place in Ukraine.

    An interesting read is the 6 year project to completely rebuild the power grid from the poles in the ground to the most complicated switching systems. The plan was to switch from the russian grid system to the European grid system in 2023.

    After 6 years of hard work, the big test was scheduled for Feb. 23 of this year. Ukraine disconnected from the russian grid to see if their new system would hold up for 72 hours. They never went back. Two weeks later the European system gave them a passing grade and hooked them up.

    This doesn’t prove that Ukraine has solved all it’s problems but I think it shows a resolve to succeed. During that period, Ukraine has also tried to join EU and NATO. They can’t always get the President, the Prime Minister and Parliament to pull in the same direction. Russian influence and greed have often been part of the problem. Like I said earlier, Ukraine isn’t the same country it was 10 months ago.

  7. Fark I could not read all of this crap. They seem to be nothing more than rashist trolls.

What is your opinion?