The New Word for the Western Strategy in Ukraine Is ‘Scholzing’

Who will step forward to articulate a western plan of action for winning the war?

AP/Markus Schreiber
Chancellor Scholz at Berlin, January 25, 2023. AP/Markus Schreiber

In the spring of last year — as war raged in Ukraine, President Macron staged photo-ops with the German leader, Chancellor Scholz, and played an unavailing game of telephone footsie with President Putin — the Kremlin’s talking heads gifted a term, “to do a Macron.” Broadly understood, the phrase suggested a state of telephoning incessantly to no end — or, as this column then opined — working toward no good.   

Some eight months later, a new term has emerged in European politics: “Scholzing.” The neologism is a gerund that captures the act of communicating good intentions only to manufacture innumerable reasons for their failure to materialize. As in, “I was Scholzing on writing this column.” Though conceived as a reproach, the term connotes a kind of dithering in the face of grave uncertainty.

For weeks, Mr. Scholz had been Scholzing on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Western allies have long argued that the German-made battle tanks could likely help Kyiv mount a counteroffensive against Russia. Despite setbacks endured in the summer and fall, Russia’s military appears to have at least partly recovered and — inasmuch as it can be said to have an overall war strategy — gotten smarter. So for Ukraine, tanks, so the thinking goes, are now of the essence.

Why then the floundering, Herr Scholz? Some pundits are positing incompetence. Others are pointing to the SPD’s history of coziness with the Kremlin — arguably the most important relationship in post-war Europe. Others in Berlin a  Neue Ostpolitik, i.e., a new version of Willy Brandt’s outreach to the East beginning in 1969. There was, too, a nod to the nervousness that unleashing the Leopards could expand war in Europe. 

With German Leopards now on their way to Ukraine, America poised to send Abrams M1s, and Spain and Sweden signaling that they, too, will likely send significant numbers of their armored vehicles, that is now what has happened. 

The unpleasant reality is that ending wars between fairly balanced adversaries is hard. Short of an improbable outright resolution through brute force, compromise — that pesky word — is the likeliest path, though to date, this remains the road untraveled.

Like Kyiv, Moscow has shown its capacity to remain in the fight and deny Ukraine victory. Via its economic ties with hedging states — Communist China and Iran — it has a resource base it can continue to access. Both states have demonstrated high political will and cost tolerance. Both believe their fight is existential, with much at stake.

It is therefore unlikely that the delivery of tanks will at this point do much to deter Moscow. Rather, such armor is likely to be interpreted as a Western escalation — irrespective of whether that is indeed the intended aim. On Tuesday, Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyev moved swiftly to threaten Germany as a party to the conflict

“German tanks appearing in Ukraine will lead us to consider German territory, military bases, and other sites to be legitimate targets,” he said.

On Wednesday morning, Anatoly Antonov, the Kremlin’s attaché in Washington, called America’s dispatch of Abrams tanks to Kyiv a “flagrant provocation.” While often easy to dismiss, in much of Russian propaganda there often lies a kernel of truth. Lest we forget Western dismissals of Mr. Putin’s menacing before he unleashed the dogs of war last February.

So, then, what next?

Putting more, and more sophisticated, weapons in the hands of the Ukrainians would indeed be prudent were the West in possession of an overarching strategy for ending the war. Yet save for calls that Ukraine must win — which, indeed, one hopes it does — no such strategy has so far been articulated. 

What is the desired endgame? What is politically and militarily feasible? When? At what human and financial cost? What if Moscow indeed comes to regard Germany as a party to the conflict and moves to attack German railroads and roadways? Or attacks transit centers for the supplies, most likely in Poland?

Either scenario would trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, plunging Europe and the West even deeper into war. While such a gamble would likely deter many a Western leader, it might not be enough to deter Mr. Putin. Nearly a year into the war, there is little evidence that it would. 

Given that Washington and Europe could soon be faced with dangerous decisions, who is painting a strategic vision for the Western powers? Not European leaders. Not the American president. And if the President of America won’t deliver a strategic blueprint , which of the potential Republican challengers will?

Meantime we are, as we once did in Vietnam, escalating absent an identifiable strategy and with no end in sight. Moscow and Kyiv have little interest in coming to a negotiating table, and those who dare venture diplomatic solutions are regularly shouted down. Out with the Leopards it is, then, — though perhaps leaving a little room for, as it were, strategic caution. That is, for some Scholzing. 

The New York Sun

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