History Lesson

February 15, 2024

In today’s The Wall Street Journal General Wesley Clark USA (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and an invaluable member of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN) sets out lessons Ukraine – and the United States – can learn from history and concludes Ukraine can defeat Putin with U.S. support.

As FOUN and others have been arguing for at least two years, General Clark makes the critical point that the United States, instead of supporting Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” must commit to supporting Ukraine’s taking back its territory, including Crimea.

Getting Ukraine what it needs to do this is in our own vital national security interests.

Before getting to General Clark’s excellent lesson, I cannot help but note Wes writes with a historical perspective.  Learning from history is critical. Certainly, it is critical in governing wisely. Yet it appears the growing reluctance of far too many in Congress to support Ukraine’s efforts suggests a lack of understanding of history or a refusal to learn from the past.

It is pointed out elsewhere in this morning’s news that most of the Senate Republicans who voted against the supplemental are under 55 years of age.  Is age a factor? There is ample evidence younger Americans have very little sense of history, that the study of history has not been promoted as seriously as it was with earlier generations.

Knowledge of history is not a strength in our society or in Congress.

A huge percentage of Americans have not experienced in their lifetime an American victory in war.  Having experienced defeat, leaving the battlefield before finishing, pulling out of war based on a calendar and not a winning result – do they really believe America can win?  

Certainly, their life experience does not provide a full appreciation for the importance of being a superpower that acts like a superpower.

Does the doubt in America’s power and influence abroad lead to withdrawal and denial of real threats to our national security?

Before the isolationists condemn us to reliving our history of ignoring threats until we have to mobilize and go to war listen to General Clark, and support giving Ukraine the weapons we have known they need to defeat Russia since before Putin crossed into Crimea in 2014.


What Ukraine Can Learn From D-Day

With U.S. support, along with recon, rehearsal and deception, Kyiv can evict Russians from the east.

By Wesley Clark

Feb. 14, 2024 6:40 pm ET

I don’t include photos published in articles in the mass media, but here is a cartoon correctly indicating Putin’s clearly stated Post-Ukraine objectives. RAM

Recognizing the need for a change in strategy, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has appointed a new commander to lead the fight against Russian invaders. The U.S. should do something similar and redefine its policy toward the now two-year-old war. Instead of supporting Kyiv for “as long as it takes,” Washington should commit to supporting Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, including Crimea. That would require providing greater and timelier support for a large-scale military operation—breaking through Russian defenses—that, if successful, would protect Ukraine and the West from Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian designs. The U.S. experience in World War II reminds us that such a campaign is possible.

With U.S. support, along with recon, rehearsal and deception, Kyiv can evict Russians from the east

In 1942 Allied leaders were eager to take the war to Germany from the West by seizing a beachhead in France. Haste, however, made waste. A Canadian-led raid of more than 6,000 troops, including a regiment of tanks, was thrown into a frontal assault against the occupied city of Dieppe. Within seven hours, half the force had been killed, wounded or captured. More than 100 aircraft, a destroyer and 33 landing craft were destroyed.

By the time the Allied forces launched their full invasion of Normandy nearly two years later, they’d learned their lessons. Troops planned, prepared and rehearsed their operation weeks before D-Day, during which time they gathered detailed reconnaissance, established air superiority over northern France, disrupted German mobility corridors, and deceived the German high command about the location and timing of the amphibious assault. Three weeks after the initial landing, the Allies had secured the beachhead with more than a million troops and 150,000 vehicles crammed ashore.

That initial success notwithstanding, the forces struggled to press forward. It wasn’t until Allied commanders had gathered some 2,000 aircraft to attack German forces near the French village of Saint-Lô—saturating a breakthrough zone of roughly 4½ miles with more than 4,000 tons of bombs—that they broke the Nazis’ defenses. Victory depended, again, on detailed planning, air superiority and organized combat power at the breakthrough point while other forces pinned down German reserves elsewhere.

Ukraine’s eastern battlefields are different from France’s 80 years ago. Satellite reconnaissance and drones make concealment difficult and surprise near impossible. Precision strikes by missiles, accurate long-range air defenses, and drones can inflict damage with relative ease. Radios and guidance systems are highly vulnerable to jamming and misdirection through electronic warfare. Russian forces have laid down physical obstacles even more treacherous than those in Normandy.

Yet with Eisenhower-style planning, Ukraine’s forces can evict the Russian invaders from their positions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. That effort would require many of the tactics from Ike’s playbook: detailed advance reconnaissance, organized special tactical equipment and reserve troops, and deception. Ukraine would have to arrange offensive air interdiction before breaking through Russian lines to degrade the enemy’s reserves and impede its reinforcements. Above all, Ukraine would have to achieve air superiority across most of its front. Breaching each obstacle zone would take several hours under optimal conditions—after which mobile forces would have to pour through to penetrate enemy defenses, overrun reserves, and force Russia’s general retreat.

As today’s battlefields are different from their 20th-century predecessors, so too are the modern tools of warfare. At critical moments, enemy eyes must be blinded, their communications blocked, their air defenses stunned. This can be accomplished with electronic warfare, lasers and unmanned systems, as well as artillery and rocket fire. Ukrainian forces must develop multiple attack points and deceive the Russians about the location of their main effort. They could gain air superiority largely with drones and long-range air defense—pending receipt of a few more Patriot systems, as well as additional enhanced technology in electronic warfare and drones. That would enable precision strikes behind Russian lines and against maneuvering enemy forces with a fraction of the ordnance and cost required in World War II.

U.S.-supplied F-16s, piloted by Ukrainians, would be useful in these efforts, particularly after Ukrainian forces have suppressed Russian air defenses. Much of the breaching would be done with unmanned systems, with the operations obscured by layers of blinding smoke. This would have to be planned and rehearsed extensively, using resources and terrain likely inside Ukraine—during which time Ukrainian forces must continue to degrade Russian defense logistics, mobility corridors and reserves with missiles and drones. That ought to include strikes in eastern Ukraine and inside Russia itself.

Though Ukraine is rapidly rebuilding its military industrial base, the U.S. and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies would still be required to help supply sufficient aircraft, rockets, munitions, and armored vehicles. Kyiv would doubtless have to build specialized equipment itself, particularly for radio-electronic combat and drone warfare.

Those skeptical of the costs and risks of such an operation would do well to reflect on the Allies’ determination to liberate France and defeat Germany. That operation was successful, thanks in no small part to Allied courage, resourcefulness and materiel. Ukrainians have the same drive to liberate their country but need the sufficient and timely resources that much of the West hasn’t yet provided.

For Ukraine, this is a matter of national survival. For the West, it is an opportunity to secure Europe and the rules-based international order at minimum cost and risk. It is the last best chance to avoid a larger confrontation with Russia that might require a general mobilization and engulf NATO in open warfare. China is watching. We mustn’t wait for another Pearl Harbor to recognize and respond to the growing threat to our country.

Mr. Clark, a retired U.S. Army general, served as NATO’s supreme allied commander Europe, 1997-2000.

Appeared in the February 15, 2024, print edition as 'What Ukraine Can Learn From D-Day'.


Co-Founder, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation

Director of External Affairs, Friends of Ukraine Network

The introduction is Mr. McConnell’s and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and/or the Friends of Ukraine Network.