America’s proxy war

Donald Kirk Donald Kirk (kirkdon4343@gmail.com) writes about war and peace from Seoul and Washington.

The last thing the Americans can afford is involvement in a significantly wider war in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, two regions where the combatants are fighting limited but bloody proxy wars. America is in no mood to offer more than multi-billion dollars worth of arms, along with advice, either to Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza or to Ukraine, fighting off the Russian invasion with highly mixed results.

As far as Washington is concerned, the Israeli and Ukrainian armed forces are basically proxies for American power. Americans can see what’s happening on television and the internet but don’t have to worry about American bloodshed while others are fighting for them.

How long, however, can the fighting go on before, inevitably, Washington has to face the choice: Send in American troops or risk defeat in both wars? How prepared are Americans to take the critical step that turns American forces from advisory roles — or observers whose presence on the sidelines is intended to intimidate the enemy — to something more?

Although the Ukraine and Gaza wars are extremely different in scope, like the enemy and the degree and type of support that all the combatants are receiving, the basic questions are quite similar.

Washington has long since left no doubt that American warplanes should not fly over Ukraine, creating a no-fly zone that would almost certainly provoke Moscow and instigate aerial dueling between American and Russian planes. From there, the fighting could break out on the ground between American and Russian forces. And then what? Involvement by America’s NATO allies? War across Europe? World War III? The dangers are endless.

Israel’s campaign to exterminate

Hamas, surely about as bloodthirsty, brutal and barbaric a force as has existed in modern times, may seem far more confined, geographically, and in a sense much simpler. Having shown their cowardice and cruelty by killing and kidnapping Israelis across the border, Hamas can offer little real resistance to Israeli forces in fighting to exterminate them from Gaza.

Just to prove the Israelis are not fighting alone, two American aircraft carriers, supported by destroyers and supply vessels, hover in the eastern Mediterranean, but they are not about to play any direct role in the war. American warplanes are not needed to join the Israelis in bombing Hamas strongholds. They would only join a wider war. None of Israel’s bitterest enemies, led by Iran, are the least bit interested in waging a war that they would surely lose.

The Americans, though, could not be certain of victory in a still wider war. There is no mood across America to renew the draft, which formally ended in January 1973 as the last American troops were withdrawing from Vietnam as Henry Kissinger signed the Paris Peace Accords ending the Vietnam War.

These days no one is throwing away his draft card. Rather, Americans still are not too sure where to find Ukraine on a map and are only vaguely aware of the war that seems likely to go on forever. President Biden is well aware he would face massive protests if he dared go beyond showering President Zelenskyy with the means to try and stave off the Russians, President Putin knows his best chance lies in the long game, waiting for the Americans to tire of the whole thing.

Americans, if anything, might be still more reluctant to keep financing Israel. Sure, Hamas’ best hope lies in a ceasefire that would derail the Israeli advance into Gaza, but cries for just that are growing across America. Support for Israel as an enclave of democracy in a hostile region runs headlong not only into antisemitism but protests against Israeli bombing of Gazan civilians.

Ukraine and Gaza in themselves are highly limited wars, confined within certain boundaries. What could be a better time for China’s President Xi to decide, now’s the perfect time to invade Taiwan, to seize the moment while President Biden is distracted by problems at home. Just because the two of them got along pretty well at their recent meeting in San Francisco doesn’t mean the time is not ripe at last for dragging the lost province back into Xi’s embrace.

Would Biden, a pacifist at heart, really want to rise to Taiwan’s defense as promised? For sure, he would hate to risk American lives in a ground war. The idea is all the more difficult to imagine while the U.S. already has Ukraine and Israel fighting wars that Americans back home don’t understand — and don’t want to risk dying for.






The Korea Times Co.