America Taking Baby Steps to Boots on the Ground in Ukraine

Any single step might turn out to be the giant leap that lands us waist deep in a new conflict.

Via Wikimedia Commons
President Wilson on the deck of USS George Washington upon his return to the U.S. from the World War I peace conference in France, July 8, 1919. Via Wikimedia Commons

America is taking baby steps on the road to war in Ukraine. Unnoticed by a public with other things on its mind, any single step might be the giant leap that lands us in a conflict our citizens don’t want.

Toddling into war is something of an American tradition, from the War of 1812 to the fights against Mexico, Spain, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Each began with baby steps, and pledges from hawks in Congress and the White House that our boys — and now girls — wouldn’t be called upon to shed blood “over there.” 

University of Maryland Critical Issue polls conducted in March, May, and June each showed less than a third support “loss of lives of U.S. troops” against Russia. President Biden has assured the country “no boots on the ground.”

Yet America has chosen to fund one side, backing Ukraine to the tune of $54 billion and counting, each installment a baby step just short of the about $60 billion that the Kremlin spends in an entire year.

It’s only the final step to war that is marked on calendars later, and nobody can know what it will be. Take the German U-boat sinking RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 including 128 Americans. 

It is commemorated as the moment that launched us into World War I. President Wilson, though, had been taking baby steps by funding Germany’s foes, Britain and France, and shipping them billions of dollars’ worth of war supplies despite professed neutrality. 

Although Wilson never felt comfortable with his 1916 re-election slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War,” he lived up to it by ignoring calls for military preparedness to deter the Kaiser’s aggression.

Americans fell for the promises and gave Wilson a second term. When he had no choice but to ask for volunteers to fight the Hun, the response of Americans he’d sold on peace was tepid. 

Wilson resorted to a draft, and American doughboys faced the Western Front horrors they’d been assured would stay across the Atlantic. Once war came, the peace camp, on the right and left, folded like a house of cards. 

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed to come out of the blue, too, but America had embargoed oil sales, just as we have slapped sanctions on Russia. The bad guys have a say in war, too.

Most baby steps are little noticed by the public. On Monday, the Biden administration agreed to treat at a military hospital in Germany Ukrainian soldiers, who, if and when they’re back on their feet, will return to killing Russians.

Last week, Fox News ran a story headlined, “Lawmakers Want U.S. Military Advisers Sent to Ukraine.” Advisers were the first baby step to the Vietnam War.

“I don’t think anybody is advocating for any [American] military on the front line,” Congressman Michael Waltz, Republican of Florida, told Fox, but in Ukraine, like in Vietnam, there are no neat trenches with a buffer of No-Man’s Land.

Just as it was in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, every village and cafe is the front, with the entire country in range of Vladimir Putin’s guns. With the Russians’ recent push to drag Belarus into the fight, a new front could spring up anywhere, at any moment.

Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, Democrat of New Jersey, signaled her support “for a larger American presence on the ground.” She suggested to Fox that we confine Americans to our embassy at Kyiv.

This could easily turn into another baby step because — as the Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, disclosed back in May — the Russians were “running through their precision-guided missiles at a pretty fast clip.” 

Targeting isn’t as sharp with dumb bombs and could result in a repeat of the American bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 campaign in Yugoslavia.

America has always tried to help friendly nations picked on by totalitarians. History, though, warns our leaders to tread with care to avoid another blunder into war, this time with a nuclear-armed foe.

Citizens — like parents when babies are crawling around — must keep an eye out for dangers, because the world is full of them, and disaster has a way of striking at the moment their backs are turned.

The New York Sun

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