How many synonyms for “miscalculate” can you think of?
Now how many do you think Vladimir Putin knows, in Russian or Ukrainian?
And it is not just a question for Putin. American intelligence, which got most of the story of Russia’s invasion into neighboring Ukraine right, did expect the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to surrender to Russian forces within days. First lesson to be learned, never underestimate the Ukrainian people.
Ukrainian men of fighting age were told they had to stay while everyone else was encouraged to flee the Russian invasion. But on that score even the Ukrainians miscalculated. Many Ukranian women, especially those without children, elected to stay. And some with children took their sons and daughters to safety and then returned. Older men and women are volunteering for duty in the resistance.
And if Vladimir Putin figured the Ukrainians would surrender in the face of his blitzkrieg, that was only the first of the Russian dictator’s many miscalculations. He rained missiles down on the general population of Georgia for twelve days in 2008 before that nation surrendered control of two territories, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. He used soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms to stage a fake revolution that took Crimea away from Ukraine in 2014. And he obtained a de facto takeover of Belarus in 2020. But this time Ukraine is fighting back with everything it has. Ukraine estimates deaths among Russian soldiers are approaching 10,000. It has stood up against superior forces in the air and on the ground. The full-scale invasion began February 24, 2022, and it shows no sign of ending anytime soon.
Putin may also have miscalculated, first believing he could deliver reelection to his useful idiot, Donald Trump, in 2020 as he did in 2016. And second, once that failed, by believing that even without Trump in the White House, ready and willing to hold open the door at Ukraine’s border so the Russian invaders could march right in, Trump was right when he promised during his secret talks with the Russian dictator that NATO was a dead issue which no longer had the support of the American people. Trump, remember, withdrew American forces from Syria and Afghanistan, handing over American bases to the Russians. Trump had also promised to withdraw America from NATO during his second term in office.
Not only are the American people today voicing support for NATO‘s involvement in Ukraine, but NATO itself seems to have awakened from a long slumber. Members who have been reluctant to spend the 2 percent of GDP the organization demands on defense have suddenly declared they will increase their budgets. That includes Germany, which has dependably walked several feet behind the NATO consensus since the end of the Second World War. Germany has also joined in the economic sanctions against Russia, even at the risk of creating energy shortages for its people.
While not required to send military aid to Ukraine, which is not a member, NATO has been sending a wide range of increasingly lethal weapons to the besieged nation. They have warned Putin that an attack on any of their member nations will be met with a defense mounted by the entire organization. And they have been taking in Ukrainian refugees by the millions in what is the most dramatic movement of innocent civilians fleeing an onslaught since the German invasions so many years ago.
The reaction of the United Nations itself was miscalculated by most. The UN was never empowered to act militarily unless the action was agreeable to all five of the permanent members of the Security Council. On the subject of Ukraine, Russia therefore blocked any action. But the meeting did allow for high drama when the Ukrainian ambassador warned the Russian that war criminals “go straight to hell.”
But the UN General Assembly surprised observers by taking up the matter in an emergency session. Its votes are merely advisory, but the delegates still sent a clear message to Moscow, a total of 141 countries voted in favor of a resolution, reaffirming Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.
The resolution demands that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”
It was sponsored by more than ninety countries and needed a two-thirds majority in the Assembly to pass. Five countries – Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (more commonly known as North Korea) Eritrea, Russia, and Syria – voted against it, while thirty-five abstained.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his fellow travelers are throwing miscalculation after miscalculation. Trump calls Putin a “genius,” “smart,” and “savvy.” Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, adds, “talented” and a “capable statesman.” Trump acolyte Tucker Carlson asks, “It may be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?” Carlson has been joined by Fox hosts Laura Ingraham and Maria Bartiromo, among others praising Putin.
Thirty-one senators of the Trump-GOP voted against emergency humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine. Republicans, of course, have hated Ukraine since that country refused to give in to Trump’s extortion threat to withhold aid unless the embattled nation investigated Hunter Biden, the cause of his first impeachment.
This GOP miscalculation could prove costly in the 2022 midterm election. Sanctions, even economic sanctions that may increase inflation in the United States, are popular with voters anxious to help Ukraine but understandably concerned about being drawn into a wider war with Russia.
It is not a time for miscalculations. But these appear to be mostly what we have.