When the Combined Chiefs of Staff Conference in Casablanca, Morocco ended in January 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill held a press conference. Toward the end of the press conference, FDR told the correspondents that the Allies were determined to demand the “Unconditional Surrender” of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
FDR later said that Ulysses S. Grant’s 1862 ultimatum of “Unconditional Surrender” to the Confederate garrison holding Fort Donelson in Tennessee was his inspiration. Grant was trying to speed the capture of an isolated fortress and avoid unnecessary casualties on all sides.
But FDR’s policy of “Unconditional Surrender” during a destructive global war was unwise and costly. It stiffened German resistance, lengthened the war, pushed violence to its utmost limits and rejected any resolution to the conflict other than the opponents’ complete annihilation—the kind of result that Stalin and Hitler called “victory.” Sadly, there is no evidence that anyone in the White House or the Pentagon studied the policy’s psychological impact on the German or Japanese peoples before it was announced.
Biden’s speech on March 26 in Warsaw removed any doubt in Moscow’s governing circles that Washington’s goal was Russia’s destruction: “…that’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO…—we must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul…and for the years and decades to come.” In case there was any lingering uncertainty, Biden added, “For God’s sake this man [Vladimir Putin] cannot remain in power.”
President Biden’s policy in Ukraine seems equally thoughtless and it’s having a similar effect on Russia and the course of the war. Since Biden delivered his speech, Russian control of Ukrainian territory has jumped from 5 to and estimated 22%, the same portion that provides Ukraine with 85% of its GNP. Moscow abandoned the “fight and negotiate strategy” of the “Special Operation” for a new one: extend permanent Russian control over the Russian-speaking areas in Eastern Ukraine from Kharkov to Odessa. When the fighting ends, Moscow will likely control roughly 30-35% of Ukraine’s former territory.
Meanwhile, Moscow mastered Washington’s economic sanctions and, as James Rickards notes, continues to reduce the supply of natural gas to Western Europe with has resulted in Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, relying on its energy reserves as winter approaches and Russian supplies dwindle.
At home, inflation will cost the average American household more than $5,200 this year. A few days ago, Dr. Ron Paul described the situation: “Inflation is a tax on middle class and poor Americans. The wealthy—like those who run Raytheon and Lockheed Martin—always get the new money first before prices go up. The rest of us watch as the dollar buys less and less.” As Washington celebrates the commitment of more and more dollars to fighting Russia in Ukraine, the rest of America struggles with open borders and rising criminality in its major cities.
The timeless lesson is that emotionally charged speeches should never frame national policy, but Biden is in good company. Lyndon Johnson talked himself into a similar dilemma in Vietnam when he insisted, “If we are driven from the field in Viet-Nam, then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American promise, or in American protection.” Eventually, LBJ was trapped by his own rhetoric.
He discovered what Biden is discovering in Ukraine. LBJ found out the hard way that the North Vietnamese were far more committed to “victory at any cost” than were the American people. In the aftermath of North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive, American support for the war dropped dramatically and the specter of defeat plunged the Johnson administration into a crisis of legitimacy.
Biden has forgotten that a lost war, even a proxy war, weakens the right to rule of those who govern the nation. The Biden administration is ignoring the fundamental truth that proxy wars like the one Washington is waging against Russia in Ukraine are not exempt from war’s iron discipline: all wars put national existence, power and prestige at risk, making victory or defeat the only real options.
Like the North Vietnamese, Moscow is far more committed to victory in Ukraine than Washington or its European allies. Once again, U.S. support for ongoing operations in Ukraine is razor thin and growing concern in the U.S. and Europe is that Biden’s unlimited war aims could involve the use of nuclear weapons to reverse Ukraine’s defeat.
Of course, the idea of using nuclear weapons in this way runs counter to Eisenhower’s fundamental point that nuclear weapons are weapons of last resort in defense of the nation. Whether tactical or strategic, nuclear weapons have no other rational application in modern warfare. Frankly, their use for any other purpose is suicidal. Anyone inside the Biden administration or Congress who is considering their use in Ukraine should be locked up.
The price of gratuitous self-righteousness is always high. Moscow will never again allow Washington and its allies to transform Eastern Ukraine into a launching pad for offensive military operations against Russia proper. Washington’s distorted view of the world and the realities of twenty-first century warfare will not alter Russia’s control of Eastern Ukraine.
President Biden’s insistence that Russia must be defeated regardless of how long it takes or how much it costs the Americans, Ukrainians, and NATO members is worse than FDR’s unconditional surrender demand. It endangers the American people, and eventually, if carried to its logical extreme, this policy stance will induce our allies and strategic partners to abandon their alliance with Washington.
Colonel (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, the former senior advisor to the acting secretary of defense in the Trump Administration and the author of five books. His most recent is “Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War” (USNI, 2016).
Jonas E. Alexis has degrees in mathematics and philosophy. He studied education at the graduate level. His main interests include U.S. foreign policy, the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the history of ideas. He is the author of the new book, Kevin MacDonald’s Metaphysical Failure: A Philosophical, Historical, and Moral Critique of Evolutionary Psychology, Sociobiology, and Identity Politics. He teaches mathematics in South Korea.