At this point, the United States has sent more than $17 billion in cash and military aid to Ukraine for that nation’s fight against the Russians. The Ukrainian forces have, by any standard we would care to apply, done impressively well, particularly in light of early predictions that Kyiv would fall in a matter of days or weeks at most. Just yesterday, another $625 million in new military aid was approved. The United States has been far and away the largest, most generous patron of Ukraine’s government of any of the allies who are supporting this effort. But this has dragged on for quite a while now and it is long past time to begin seriously discussing the obvious question. How long are we supposed to keep this up? In fairly short order, the money we’ve sent to Ukraine will more than double the annual budget for the FBI. We’ve already given Ukraine more than five times the amount of aid we give to Israel each year, one of our closest and most important allies and one that exists in close proximity to multiple states that publicly proclaim their intention to drive them into the sea.

With all of that in mind, you are not a “pawn of Vladimir Putin” if you ask the government to explain what the long-term plan is and how much longer this will be sapping our resources and provoking our adversaries. The world is spiraling out of control at the moment and our continued firehose of advanced weapons and cash into Ukraine which they use to attack the Russians isn’t exactly enhancing our prospects of stability. Over at Defense One, analyst Erik Swabb takes a crack at this question and arrives at a depressing conclusion. In his opinion, even if the war ends or at least winds down to smaller and more infrequent skirmishes, we will need to continue funding Ukraine’s government and military forces for at least the next decade and potentially much longer. He begins by admitting that it is “fair” to ask this question and the public deserves some honesty about this. But from there he draws comparisons between Afghanistan and Colombia.

Recent history is illustrative. In Afghanistan, U.S. efforts to create a proficient military were akin to building on quicksand. The Afghan government lacked popular legitimacy. Pervasive corruption and cronyism deprived units of good leadership, manpower, and material. Afghanistan’s underdevelopment, including widespread illiteracy, compounded these problems, making training and maintaining equipment all the more difficult. The result was demoralized, ill-equipped troops in much of the force. It is no surprise that many soldiers did not fight during the decisive Taliban drive on the capital.

In contrast, U.S. support for Colombia in the 2000s was critical in transforming its armed forces into the most capable military in Latin America. With bipartisan support, the United States provided $10 billion of security assistance for over a decade and enabled Colombia to defeat the FARC insurgency there. Today, Colombia is the leading U.S. partner in South America and a source of stability in the region. However, this outcome was only possible because Colombia had a legitimate democratic government, skilled leaders, and a substantial level of development. This foundation allowed Colombia to absorb, use, and sustain the training and equipment Washington provided.

I will confess that I found myself having a bit of a grim chuckle reading Swabb’s glowing evaluation of the Ukrainian government. He predicted that (with enough aid over a long enough period of time) America could “gain a first-rate military partner.” He speaks admiringly of Ukraine’s “legitimate government, capable leaders, level of socio-economic development, highly motivated public, and combat experience.”

That part was where I found myself seriously amused in a sarcastic fashion. I suppose Ukraine’s government is “legitimate” in some senses, but let’s not forget that Zelensky’s government was under constant investigation for corruption before the invasion began and he was suddenly converted into a 21st-century superhero. He imprisoned his primary political opponent and shut down Ukrainian media outlets that covered his administration unfavorably. A “capable leader?” Perhaps, but “efficient” might be a more accurate description. Of course, you could say the same about Putin given how long he’s maintained power and dominated the region.

The Ukrainian people are certainly “highly motivated” and many of them now have combat experience. But both were forced on them. The public was highly divided about Zelensky and his main political rival until their collective attention was diverted to dealing with the monster that was barging through the door. If peace returns do we honestly believe that they won’t go back to how they had been acting in the past? For Pete’s sake, there are already people legitimately asking how much of the military aid we’ve sent to Ukraine has wound up on the black market. (Spoiler alert: We have no idea because nobody is tracking it.)

If the best we have to hope for is that Ukraine will wind up being some version of a “European Colombia,” that’s really not sounding like a fantastic investment. If we’re being honest, Colombia has plenty of problems of its own and has been acting rather anti-American lately. Ukraine is now demanding that it be granted prioritized access to join NATO. That would almost certainly be the beginning of world war three. The alternative is to keep Ukraine out of NATO but keep flushing weapons systems and ammunition into the country until Putin finally loses his **** entirely and begins lighting off nukes. We need to have an end date by which Ukraine must either drive the Russian army out of as much territory as it can and set up boundaries (wherever those land) or seek a settlement with Russia, even if it comes under less than optimal terms. I’m not hoping to see Ukraine destroyed entirely and I believe there are still ways to avoid that. But I have no intention of supporting a plan where we go down with their ship.

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