Winning An Existential War

Winning An Existential War


Leonard Zwelling

The United States has engaged in two types of wars as is delineated by Bret Stephens in this excellent op-ed from May 29 in The New York Times.

In the Civil War and World War II, the United States was fighting an enemy that was determined to end the existence of the republic. In these endeavors, the United States killed thousands of its enemy and its enemy’s citizens. Stephens estimates we killed 10,000 Dutch citizens, 60,000 in Italy, 60,000 in France and hundreds of thousands in Germany in WWII. In Japan, the number was enormous (see Oppenheimer).

The Civil War was the bloodiest war in American history and many thousands of civilians and troops died on both sides.

But, in both the case of the Civil War and the case of WWII, we were fighting for our existence as a nation.

Compare this with our latest fiasco wars in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and Afghanistan. These were not existential wars for the United States but wars of our choosing. We chose unwisely.

As Stephens points out, the current wars in Ukraine and Gaza are existential wars for Ukraine and Israel.

We must be slow to criticize our allied combatants for causing the deaths of civilians while at war after our performances in our existential fights. We also ought to be quick in supplying our allies with everything they need to win. That means all the arms Israel needs to eliminate Hamas and jets for the Ukraine Air Force.

The Biden Administration simply does not get it.

It has not supplied Ukraine with all they need and the leadership of Ukraine has had to come begging for Republican support for the weaponry needed to force the Russians out of their country.

Similarly, whatever Israel needs to uproot Hamas from Gaza and, for that matter, eliminate the Hamas leadership in Beirut and Qatar and clean house in the West Bank ought to be supplied.

There simply is no comparison between our existential wars and our wasteful wars where we kill thousands for no reason and lose thousands of our own troops for a cause we wind up forgoing.

As Stephens points out, we should not be asking Israel and Ukraine to fight their wars the way we fought our silly ones in Vietnam and Afghanistan—with one hand tied behind our back. Ukraine and Israel must win and it is in our interest for them to prevail. Give them what they need to do so and stop bemoaning the loss of citizen life in existential wars. There simply is no way to prevent that and preserve your country’s integrity.

The White House suggests there is some way for Israel to defeat Hamas and kill no innocent Palestinians. I am sorry. This is simply not so as long as Hamas hides behind these very citizens in tunnels below ground.

Furthermore, Ukraine needs F-16s. Give them the planes. If Ukraine falls, NATO countries are next.

Whoever wins the Presidential election in November had better make a good case for the use of force when our allies face existential threats. Taiwan and Lithuania are the targets of our enemies and Israel is still in Iran’s crosshairs.

The United States is in an existential struggle whether it admits it or not. Ukraine and Israel are our proxies. We need to stop acting like civilian deaths are unexpected in an existential fight and make sure the good guys win.

What will happen to Gaza and how to wrest Ukrainian territory back from Russia are problems for the near future. For now, wins are needed. It’s Game 7 in Ukraine and Gaza. America, man up!

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