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Newscasts this week have been dominated by the miraculous story of Ukrainian forces liberating “3,0000 square kilometers” of their homeland.
Putin’s troops are retreating as fast as their legs will carry them and leaving behind vast quantities of weapons and equipment that Ukraine will soon use against them.
The first thing to do here is praise Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people for their stiff resolve. No one really knows the full human cost, but parsing the UN’s data, it’s likely that tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded.
What a toll to pay for a chance at freedom.
But the second thing to do is praise an American institution that everyone loves to hate: the Military Industrial Complex.
It – and the Pentagon – have validated their multi-trillion dollar existence these past few months, and have helped notched one of NATO’s largest strategic victories since World War II.
Let’s review. American military leadership has done the following in Ukraine:
- Trained a brand new army, starting in 2014
- Rapidly transferred advanced weapons to their forces, starting in March
- Shared intelligence & targeting information to put those weapons to work
Functionally, what this means is that the US and its allies have been a turn-key solution to defeating global bad guys. Just add tax dollars.
We’ve provided the expertise to build a professional army, and since Putin’s invasion, we’ve provided both the hardware and software necessary to make Ukraine’s over-matched military lethal.
This has also been a glimpse into how American military strategy matches up with that of “near peers” like Russia – and yes, China – and it is a vindication of choices made by years of bureaucrats.
While Russia & China have focused on buzzy weapons like hypersonic missiles and stealth aircraft (that may not actually be stealthy), the Department of Defense has developed less sexy, but more powerful tools: advanced sensors and data networks that can rapidly identify where enemy combatants are, provide targeting information, and then dispatch missiles or ground troops that will hit them where it hurts the most every single time.
American warfighting is as ruthlessly efficient as its private sector. And now, Ukraine has that capability too.
The Pentagon won’t take credit for this, but most of the experts agree that it’s happening. The military math of Ukraine’s recent victories just doesn’t add up without it.
So here we are. The Russians are running for their lives. And as they retreat from the battlefield, Putin also retreats from the global game of thrones.
And even if Putin does turn things around in the short-term, it’s safe to say that his invasion has already done irreparable damage to Russia in the long-term.
We’ll get to why specifically, but first, remind yourself of how bad the situation in Russian was before the war:
- Russia’s population has been in decline since the 1990s
- Its GDP is only slightly larger than Florida’s
- Russia’s best and brightest are fleeing the nation
- Russia cannot offset its demographic decline by attracting skilled immigrants.
In fact, the brain drain is so bad that Putin recently suspended income taxes for anyone working in the technology sector.
Remember, the U.S.’s exploding national debt owes much to the fact that our population is not growing FAST enough. So imagine how bad it is when your demographic future is in actual decline.
After that, add in the War in Ukraine, which has made Russia a global pariah. The data makes it clear that this has accelerated Moscow’s cataclysmic decline.
Documents leaked to Bloomberg show that Putin’s own government thinks that the economy will be contracting until 2025. Bloomberg’s analysts think the real timeline is closer to 2050.
This owes to the collapse of Russia’s industrial and agricultural sectors, thanks to sanctions. Firms operating there simply cannot get the materials and widgets they need to maintain operations, so they are shutting down or operating at reduced capacity. Entire sectors of the economy, like Russia’s defense industry (10% of GDP) will soon be gone.
Bad timing while you’re at war.
Russia is out of the global power game. Completely knocked out. And the price Americans have paid to send Putin’s government to the back bench of the 2nd world has been astoundingly small.
NATO, led by the U.S., has provided about $30 billion in aid to Ukraine so far.
For scale, OnlyFans, a porn company, is valued at $115 billion. An average year fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan was $100 billion. A single aircraft carrier is $13 billion.
Western nations have brought Putin’s regime to its knees for the geopolitical cost of a hamburger & fries. And this is going to have big impacts in more important venues than Moscow.
Without Putin’s menace to occupy European foreign policy, the West can stand united against the real threat to liberalism – China. This will have implications for the subjects you’ve heard about for years: fair trade, IP transfer, and creeping Chinese militarism in places like Africa.
There is a lesson here that cynics won’t want to hear:
Sometimes the institutions we love to hate earn their keep. Sometimes, we see an example that should give us confidence in our system and values. This is one of those times.
Everyone should be inspired by Ukraine’s willingness to fight.
But taxpayers should also realize that the so-called Military Industrial Complex has stepped-up in a way that is worthy of their courage.
It’s not enough to possess high-tech weapons. That’s just step one. It’s also about having the logistical genius to get them into a war zone – and get them there fast.
Finally, there is a third component: having leadership, in this case, President Biden, who can rapidly assemble a global coalition to support & sustain the effort.
Give Biden credit. And give those evil defense contractors their due too. You may not like one or either, but at this time, they deserve a thanks.