The Lessons of America's Civil War Don't Bode Well for Ukraine

Michael O'Hanlon thinks Russia will ultimately outpower Ukraine
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
The Lessons of America's Civil War Don't Bode Well for Ukraine
A Ukrainian serviceman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022.   (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File)

If you've been feeling pretty optimistic about Ukraine's chance of vanquishing Russia, Michael O'Hanlon is here to burst your bubble. O'Hanlon, the Philip H. Knight Chair in Defense and Strategy at the Brookings Institution, allows that Ukraine has "performed amazingly well so far" in a piece for the Hill, but he doesn't think it's sustainable for the long term. To illustrate his point, he likens this war to another: the Civil War. O'Hanlon lays out the parallels, starting with the population ratio of the North to the South (taking into account just white settlers) of about 3.5 to 1; that's in line with the Russia-to-Ukraine population ratio.

The military strength ratios are similar as well. The early battles of the Civil War—he calls out Manassas, Seven Pines, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville—were won by the "underdog," too. The tide began to turn in September 1862 with the Battle of Antietam, writes O'Hanlon, and he shares Ulysses S. Grant's assessment of the situation: "The enemy have not army enough." O'Hanlon writes "the Confederacy probably still won more of the battles than it lost—though not all—but not by margin enough to compensate for its disadvantage in size or resources." Yes, it's possible that Ukraine could be the underdog exception, but in O'Hanlon's view, it's unlikely. He sees the best, if "unpalatable," outcome as one in which Ukraine likely agrees to give up some of its territory. (Read the full column, which compares the current situation to two other past invasions.)

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