When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, I instinctively supported Ukraine and wanted the United States of America to provide military support to Ukraine, but short of sending American troops. 

I had some concern about President Biden’s support given my perception of his years in office. There are media reports that Vice President Biden opposed President Obama’s 2010 “surge” of troops to Afghanistan and opposed sending SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. On August 30, 2021, President Biden precipitously pulled American troops out of Afghanistan with no apparent planning, without prior notice to the Afghans or our allies, leaving thousands of Afghans who supported America to suffer persecution and slaughter by the Taliban. And then there is Robert M. Gates, former Obama Secretary of Defense, who said “Joe Biden has been on the wrong side of nearly every major foreign policy decision in the last four decades.”

Although Biden has never addressed this country to explain what our policy is, I want my country to support Ukraine. The questions now are: how much support will my country give and for how long? Does my country know what it expects to get out of this? Does Biden know what it takes to get out of this?

To the extent that Biden has a Ukraine policy, it seems to be that Ukraine cannot lose and Russia cannot win. But that is wrong on both counts.

Biden’s policy is a recipe for a stalemate. The problem with the stalemate is that it prolongs the war. Biden followed a “don’t escalate” policy of withholding modern armaments, or at least delaying their arrival, so Putin did not use those arms as a pretense to increase his own attacks and weapons on Ukraine. The unspoken Biden policy communicates to Putin that he can keep what he has in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. In a stalemate the big guy with the strength to endure does endure and eventually wins.

For Putin, time is on his side. Putin leads a country with 140 million people. Ukraine has less than 40 million (and declining). There is no way a country of under 40 million people is going to outlast a country of 140 million people. Russia has a military reputation, but at a price that few other countries would pay. Russia defeated Germany on the Eastern Front of World War II, but in so doing, took more killed and wounded in action in fighting Germany than Germany took in fighting Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Italy and allies in the six years of World War II.

Putin feeds his perception of “himself as [a] history-making leader carrying on the legacy of past rulers who were willing to sacrifice untold numbers of lives to build a stronger Russian state.” 

In a war of attrition, Russia wins. Russia throws thousands upon thousands of troops into the battle. Russian troops come, keep coming and climb over their dead to come again. So what if thousands die? They are easy to replace. There is a European joke about the Russian Army. It is not good nor bad. It is just long. Very long.  

Ukraine can only suffer so much. There have to be limits on how much damage, how much killing, Ukraine can take.

The 32 NATO countries are coming to Ukraine’s support, but are they willing to sacrifice enough of their resources to stop Russia? For that matter, is the United States?

One disturbing element comes out of Biden’s reaction to the death of Alexei Navalny. The U.S. is now imposing hundreds of “new” sanctions on Russia. Biden says “the totality of these sanctions is crushing Russia’s economy.” Those are the same words Biden used on March 11, 2022 when the US imposed the first round of sanctions, to wit: “… these sanctions are crushing Russia’s economy.” 


Jim McErlane is a Chester County lawyer, Malvern resident, and U.S. Navy veteran.

One thought on “Jim McErlane: Biden’s Ukraine policy is a recipe for a stalemate.”

  1. Absolutely correct. It is refreshing to see the lessons of WWII have not been forgotten. Perhaps if those who are governing our country would not have used their history classes as nap time, we would have a real strategy for the Ukraine. I am reminded of a quote attributed to Stalin that I believe summarizes the Russian position on the war. “The death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

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