World War II, Iraq, Vietnam, Afghanistan, war ends
Wars end – and then what? Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from © Ssgt. Brandon Cribelar/U.S. Air/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire, The White House / Wikimedia,Hohum / Wikimedia, and DoD / Wikimedia

All wars do come to an end. A look at how that happens and how it foreshadows what’s next in Ukraine.

Gabriel García Márquez famously said, “It’s much easier to start a war than it is to end it.” We’ve seen this in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and with both world wars. 

On this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast we talk with Gideon Rose, author of the classic work How Wars End. He is the long-time editor of Foreign Affairs and currently a distinguished fellow in US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Rose is also a former staff member of the National Security Council.

Someday the war in Ukraine will end, and Rose discusses the circumstances that might bring it about. The question is: Will the end be worth the cost in blood and treasure to Ukraine or Russia?

He reminds us that, historically, those who start wars seldom if ever think about how they will end. And even if they try, the best “business plan” for the war usually falls apart once the fighting starts. After all, Putin thought his war would be over in four days.

Most war planning, according to Rose, is at best wishful thinking. It’s less about grand strategy than about fallible statesmen whipsawed by the pressures and emotions of international confrontation. 

Rose quotes Carl von Clausewitz about the two underlying forces of any war that ultimately shape its conclusion: the use of physical coercion to compel the enemy to your will, and the unleashing of military power as a “political instrument, a continuation of political commerce.” 

For all its nuances, Rose defines the Russia-Ukraine war as the classic limited war of the nuclear age. As such, he thinks there are things that the US, NATO, and Ukraine can do to try to pressure Putin to end the killing. 

iTunes Apple Podcasts   Google Podcasts Google Podcasts   RSS RSS   MP3 MP3

Full Text Transcript:

(As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.)

Jeff: Welcome to the WhoWhatWhy podcast, I’m your host, Jeff Schechtman. Gabriel Garcia Marquez famously said that it’s much easier to start a war than it is to end it. Certainly, we’ve seen this up close and personal in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even, if we look more closely at the history, both world wars. It’s difficult to lose a war, but just as difficult to win, since winning a war is certainly not the same as winning the peace.

We see often in the corporate world that the founders of companies may be great at startups, but not so good at running mature companies. War is not that different. Those that start them, that direct them, and sometimes even win them may not be so good at ending them in a way that cements or makes worthwhile any victory. All these are important things to think about in the crucible of Ukraine, because someday this war will also end and whether it will be worth the loss of lives and treasure for the Ukrainian people or for Russia is certainly an open question.

It’s hard to imagine that either side is thinking about that end game at this point, but certainly, they should be. And that’s our focus today as I’m joined by our guest Gideon Rose. Gideon Rose is the Mary and David Boies distinguished fellow in US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Previously, he was the editor of Foreign Affairs from 2010 to 2021, prior to which he was its managing editor. He has also served as Associate Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council and the Deputy Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He has taught American foreign policy and authored the book “How Wars End.” It is my pleasure to welcome Gideon Rose here to the WhoWhatWhy podcast. Gideon, thanks so much for joining us.

Gideon: Thank you for having me.

Jeff: Well, it’s great to have you here. Is there any reason to think, certainly from a historical perspective, that those that either enter wars or start wars really spend a whole lot of time thinking about how they’re going to end and what the resolution might really be?

Gideon: So it’s a great question. They should, but they don’t always do so. The great philosopher of war, Carl von Clausewitz, famously defined war in two different ways. One is as an act of force to compel the enemy to do your will. You have to beat up somebody else. The other is as the continuation of politics with other means. You have a goal that you’re trying to achieve and the force you’re afflicting is not meaningless. It’s designed to get somebody to do something.

And so war has these two different aspects. It’s the use of force, but the use of force to achieve some goal. And strictly speaking, the only way to do that sensibly is to have your goal in mind and develop a strategy that deploys force to achieve it, and then try to make that strategy work. Nobody goes to war — or no same person does  — without thinking through how they’re going to achieve their goals, how it’s going to end, what they’re going to do, what they’re trying to achieve, and how to get it.

But in practice, many aggressors turn out to be not particularly willing to contemplate bad scenarios and therefore often launch wars with wishful thinking, in which they say they’re addressing the end game but they’re really doing so with a bunch of wishful thinking and ignoring all the real problems. The way Putin did in Ukraine obviously; the way we’ve done often, Iraq being the best example. And oftentimes the people who are on the other side of the war feel compelled to fight because they’re attacked or because the situation develops and in effect they say, “Well, we need to do this now and get in and we’ll worry about the details of how it all ends later.”

So even though it’s, as it were, best practices in military strategy, to start with the notion of your end and figure out how you’re going to get there and then base your strategy on that, in the real world of human, fallible statesmen it doesn’t always happen. Especially since, once you get going, the pressures of war itself make it very hard to think seriously and rationally about what you’re doing because you’re very, very emotional.

Jeff: How much of it depends on the nature of the war? The type of war, whether it’s one that is about territory or about politics or, in days gone by, even about religion?

Gideon: So this is exactly — Clausewitz actually says, specifically — the most important thing is to figure out what kind of war you’re fighting. So I would say it’s very important to figure out what kind of war you’re fighting, to be clear and self-aware about what you want and how you’re going to get it. But there are indeed structural similarities that are brought out by war regardless of many other seemingly different factors. So, for example, a war of religion, or a war of ideology, may resolve itself on the battlefield into a war of territory because, at the end of the day, somebody’s trying to capture territory and rule over the people within it.

So at the end of the day, whatever other things are going on in war, it comes down to combat and the ability to physically take something away from somebody else or stop somebody else from doing that to you. And Clausewitz makes another point: that combat in war is like the exchange of money in an economic transaction. There’s a whole lot of other stuff going on, but it’s the actual time when money changes hands that the system works. And that’s the same thing that happens in war — and that has its own logic, its own grammar.

Jeff: Does it have that same logic and the same unpredictability in some respects, even if one goes into war and follows all the edicts of the Powell Doctrine, for example: knowing what the objectives are, knowing whether it’s in the country’s national interest and whether or not it’s fully analyzed.

Gideon: So that kind of thing — the Powell Doctrine, the Weinberger Doctrine, the kinds of lists of things you should do that you’re referring to — are best thought of, I would say, as [formulated] by professionals to think through what you’re doing properly. They’re very rarely actually followed by anybody in office and the actual thinking that goes into a war is very rarely as worked out as it should be. But basically, if you were doing this, if you were Putin, you should have said: “What am I trying to achieve by this war? What is my plan for achieving this? What do I do if my initial plans don’t work out?”

And have a whole, in effect, business plan or a strategy, because what you’re engaging in is an entrepreneurial enterprise. You’re starting something new; you’re doing something. It happens to be very violent. You’re using force, but it’s a purposeful project. And like many things, sometimes these things are not planned out as well as they should be — and the need to pivot once you get into trouble is a sort of standard feature of war, because things never go exactly as people expect.

Jeff: And one of the things that enters into that equation is the difference between policymakers that may have in fact started the war, or at least set the predicate for the war, and the military leaders who are actually fighting it.

Gideon: Exactly. Because, as I said, war involves the use of force to achieve political goals, which means they’re specialists, as it were, in the political goals — that’s the national command authority, the civilian leaders, whoever’s running the war and trying to achieve it. And then there’s the specialists in the use of force — the military — and they will want to do things in a way that is efficient for the use of force. But the political types, might just not have a different view but want to make sure that the force links up to what the goal is. And that is the hardest part, because it’s much easier to think of either the logic of politics or the logic of force. And it’s very hard to think of them together, because not everything that is logical in one area is logical in the other. And so you have to do tradeoffs.

And that’s why at another point, Clausewitz — I keep going back to him but he’s the greatest philosopher and thinker about war ever, so he is worth going back to —  Clausewitz says that it’s at the end of the war that the statesman has to become a general and that is the apogee of strategic art because you’re bringing the two sides, politics and war, together. You’re not just figuring out how to take this particular field, and you’re not just deciding what’s in the country’s national interest in terms of an objective, you’re linking the two things together in the actual world, and that’s the toughest part of war. And that’s where people usually screw up, as you can see happening in front of our eyes in Ukraine today. Putin had goals, and he had means he did not connect them to, and now he is scrambling to figure out what to do next.

Jeff: And part of it — to use your analogy about the corporate world and a business plan per se — is you’re dealing with very different skill sets that involve starting a war, fighting a war, and ultimately ending it and making peace.

Gideon: It’s not so much that it’s different skill sets, in terms of starting it and ending it; it requires emotional and intellectual discipline, and that’s something that’s rarely in evidence except in great policymakers or leaders. So, for example, you often start a war in cold blood or in not quite the passionate state that you are in later on once it has begun, once there’s sunk costs, once you have all sorts of psychological procedures designed to support yourself psychologically and avoid cognitive dissonance. And the challenge with war termination, the challenge with ending a war, is that you’re not only dealing with these actual problems I’ve talked about —  about making force serve political ends and how to do that in practice on a changing battlefield —  but you’re doing that in a context in which you are almost uniquely primed not to think rationally. Just think how angry we and emotional we have gotten just watching the Ukrainian war.

Now, imagine if you’re Zelensky or if you’re Putin, you have all the challenge of dealing with war management, but you also have to do it against the backdrop of your hopes and fears about the death and destruction that’s going on, the criticism and support that you’re feeling and hearing. And so all those things make it even harder to figure out how to do things rationally and make your ends and means come into alignment. Even harder than it was in the first place, and you probably didn’t do a good job of it in the first place because people don’t take these things as seriously as they should.

Jeff: And certainly with contemporary war, the other factor that seems like it should enter into the equation is the speed at which events move, much quicker today than they did in previous wars.

Gideon: So that is true, but it’s also not true because only some things move more quickly. Certainly, a lot of information does, but the actual pace of the fighting doesn’t necessarily, so the Six-Day War literally took six days. Putin thought he was going to have a four-day war; it’s gone on into his third month now — the battle of Kyiv was longer than the battle of Okinawa!

So there’s enough time for this to happen, the problem is that you’re getting information from the actual fighting, and then you’re trying to use that information and update your calculations as to what’s going on. And it’s very hard to read the information coming, the returns on your strategy, because there’s the fog of war and things are very murky. And then at a certain point, when you do get information on the battlefield, you have to ask yourself: “Is this going the way that I expected, and do I keep going forward? Is it going the way that I expected and I should stop now? Is it going differently from how I expected? And, if so, can I change or affect that?”

And all these things have to be done while you are emotionally caught up in everything you’re doing. So the speed has made it, in some ways, easier to figure out what’s going on. You now have much better information than you did in the past, but that doesn’t mean that wars can’t continue. We were in Afghanistan for decades; we were in Iraq for nearly a decade; we were in Vietnam for a decade. These things can play out over very long periods of time, just not at a permanent level of high intensity.

Jeff: And to that point, how much is timing a critical element in when to try and maybe bring things to an end? And how much more difficult is that timing made by the fact that public awareness is so much greater and moving at a faster pace today?

Gideon: Well, that’s a great question because if you were just looking at the situation strategically, you could definitely see moments when, as it’s been said, they were ripe for negotiations. So for example, if one side thinks it’s winning, it’s going to keep doing that rather than turn to negotiations or try to end the war. If it thinks it’s going to win and it’s winning but will start to lose, that creates an interesting opening.

Similarly, if one side is losing but it thinks it can reverse the situation, it will probably try to continue fighting. But if it’s losing and realizes it’s not going to get back, then it might be willing to negotiate. In my research, it seems to me that wars have three phases. The first phase is essentially the initial phase, like the opening in a chess match: one side attacks and other side responds, and the game is on.

Then you have a phase, a long phase in the middle, in which basically both sides, having committed to war, try to use their fighting to achieve their goal. Now, each side thinks they can win; there’s a lot of uncertainty, or else they wouldn’t have fought in the first place; and the actual process of battle goes on as each side trusts the force of its arms until one of two things happens. Either the tide of war turns dramatically and pretty irrevocably in one direction such that everybody can see what’s going on. Or it slides into a stalemate and both sides realize it’s going to be very, very hard to move it off that.

And in those situations, when both sides agree the war is going strongly in one direction, or both sides agree that you have a stalemate, that’s the moment or the situation when you can imagine ending the war. Because that’s when both sides have a legitimate reason to prefer giving up the fighting and pursuing their relationship through non-military means, rather than continuing the fighting.

And that’s the point at which in effect you have to get yourself out of the emotions of war and start to think rationally about “Jeez, I mean, the turning point, is this right?” In Bosnia for example, in the very beginning of Bosnia, even though there were a lot of calls to stop the war, it was very hard to do so because one side was doing very well and other side was doing badly. There were a lot of interlocked populations and no obvious or easy stopping point, and it was just a nightmare for war termination, as well as for the actual participants involved.

After a while the war itself, the progress of the war, cleared up a lot of the ethnic enclaves and made the battle lines and political lines a little more synonymous with each other — at great human cost, but it simplified the situation. And then the Serbs started to lose while the Croats got stronger and you got to a point where there was a rough balance between the two sides, and that period of a rough balance between the two sides in which the former losing side had gotten strong enough to threaten the former winner. The former winner had gotten weak enough to be worried about what was going to happen next and they’d fought back to a middle stalemate.

That, plus a relatively simple map at this point, created the situation in which a negotiator like Richard Holbrooke could take the participants to the table and forge a peace and get the end game that we saw in Yugoslavia, and end that war. It wasn’t possible before, and it wouldn’t necessarily have ended the way it did if Holbrooke hadn’t launched a major negotiating effort, and even then it was still a dicey thing.

But clearly, the conditions on the ground can matter. We haven’t seen them in Ukraine yet, but we could be getting to the place now where we’re seeing them because both sides are now about to get to a point where the balance is about to switch with the Ukrainians getting strong enough to push back and the Russians getting weak, and a stalemated middle line of contact getting ever closer to where the start of the war was. Those could be the conditions in which you could move towards a settlement, or at least cessation of the massive violence, in the next month or so in Ukraine.

Jeff: Do the early days of a war, the initial forays on both sides, set a tone, a kind of culture for the war that plays out in the way it finally comes to an end?

Gideon: So I think the answer to that is yes and no, in the sense that there are realities that are made apparent during the early days of the war that end up affecting how it all plays out. But I don’t think it’s a total path determinacy. And so here’s a good example, the failure of the Russians to take Kyiv quickly and to conquer all of Ukraine in a snap early on in the first week of this war has been huge and decisive and has colored everything since then. But it wasn’t so much that everything happened just because of what happened the first week. It was the same qualities of the respective forces — the Ukrainian overperformance militarily, the Russian underperformance militarily — that made those events go the same way.

So in effect, the first week showed dynamics that have continued to operate throughout the whole war. And so the Russians, although they’ve done a little better in the battle of Donbas than they did in the battle for Kyiv, have not done that much better. And the basic patterns of overperformance by Ukraine, underperformance by Russia have continued to manifest themselves throughout the whole war. But there are times when you could imagine a particularly significant turning point that nobody can recover from, but that tends to be rare. It’s the middle phase rather than the early phase that sets the tone because initially each side has some expectations of quick victory. When those are disabused, they invariably double down on a real hard period of combat in the middle; and then after trying that, depending on how that goes, you might get to an end game.

Jeff: Are there historical parallels that we should look at with respect to this war in Ukraine?

Gideon: Oh, there are lots of parallels. And It depends on which particular aspect you’re looking at. One that I’ve written on recently is how this resembles a classic limited war in the nuclear age. Ever since 1945, policymakers have had to grapple with the question of war with nuclear weapons in proximity. Because basically if in every other war you used all the weapons you had, if you do that now you’d end up with obliterating the planet. Every war since 1945 that isn’t a total war is a consciously limited war if it involves a nuclear power like Russia or the United States or China.

The belligerence in Korea and in every later conflict essentially developed a set of rules or laws for fighting a war conventionally without breaking the nuclear taboo. Not because they were softhearted, but because it turned out that nuclear weapons are really only useful for deterring other major attacks and other nuclear weapons, not so much for actually fighting in war — and so they hadn’t been used, they weren’t going to be used. And I wrote that they haven’t been used so far in Ukraine because there’s no real good thing you can imagine to get by using them.

And so what the parties in these wars do is they end up fighting conventionally incredibly hard with everything they’ve got, while still respecting some red lines like using nukes, attacking another’s territory, threatening the regime of the nuclear power and so forth. And so that’s how you can see this playing out: the question about the US or NATO enforcing a no-fly zone in the Ukraine conflict, or sending troops, or trying to decapitate the Russian leadership. All those things, which were occasionally talked about by some people early on in the war, have been strictly avoided by the US government not just as a matter of choice, but as a matter almost of professional necessity and best practice.

Those are the rules — you don’t get directly involved. We don’t want to be in a situation in which the Russians and we potentially are killing each other, because that would trigger a potential escalation up to nukes. We don’t want the Russians to think that their regime is under threat, because that might lead them to be so desperate to actually use a nuke. And so in effect, both sides are fighting with whatever they’ve got inside the Ukrainian theater rather than escalating the fight to a nuclear level or to other places.

There are patterns like that. There are other patterns that exist depending on how you want to look at them. Everyone’s always has been impressed by how stupid Putin was in failing to plan properly and basing his invasion on all sorts of wishful thinking about how well it would go. There are patterns in that regard with lots of US wars: all you have to do is think back to the Iraq war, in which the Bush administration really convinced itself in just the same way that it would be easy, that they were going to be greeted as liberators, that their puppet government would be welcomed — only to find themselves disabused in exactly the same way. There definitely are patterns in which Ukraine plays out very similarly to other wars.

Jeff: And from that point of view, and thinking about it from particularly Putin’s point of view and losing in this situation, I think it was Rumsfeld who once talked about the solution to an intractable military problem is to create a bigger problem. That if you expand the scope of the battlefield or the playing field, that somehow things could take a turn that you might not expect and that could work to your advantage.

Gideon: So that can be true, but it could also be very, very risky. And the situation in which a leader might want to resort to the ultimate disaster or escalate to a totally chaotic level like using a nukes or whatever would be one in which they really see no other choice because they’re facing terrible destruction or imminent death themselves. Which is why we don’t want to keep talking about, let’s say, getting rid of Putin.

Because the one thing that could make him potentially willing to bring down the house like Sampson all around him would be if he felt that was going to happen anyway and he had no choice. As long as he thinks that he is safe — and there’s every reason to believe that, however much discontent there is in Russia, he’s not in imminent danger of death or anything like that, because he has strong control over his regime.

This is a war of choice for him. It’s being sold as a war of necessity. It’s being sold as an existential struggle but it’s not; it’s a war of choice. Russia existed just fine before 2014 and it could exist without Ukraine. And so what you’re really trying to get Putin to do is recognize that he has more to gain by backing down than he does by escalating forward. He’s been held in a stalemate, he hasn’t gotten what he wanted, he might be being pushed back from the early gains, that he’s getting [beaten].

And so the choices he’s facing now are: Do I go forward further and try and escalate? Which is a very bad option for everybody involved. Do I just keep the stalemate going in a low-grade war? Which is the default option you might say. Or do I say, “You know what, this was a mistake; my assumptions were wrong and maybe I should just try and liquidate this and walk out and move on to fight another day, have my [unintelligible 00:26:13] back?”

The challenge is with that last course, which is what you want him to take. We would all benefit from his taking that last approach. But if you ask yourself, if you have made a giant mistake, if you are humiliated, if you are being forced and pushed to recognize your mistake by the cold cruel facts of life, how do you respond psychologically? The answer is most of us remain in denial or we resist it. If your wife tells you to do something that you know you should do, the more she yells at you the more you are unlikely to want to do it, even if it would end up doing good.

So what we have to do here I think is bring in psychology. From the late 1960s in Vietnam, the US knew it had to get out. The entire Nixon administration was about getting the hell out of Vietnam. The question was, how do you do it in a way that wasn’t deeply humiliating, deeply corrosive to your credibility, et cetera? From the mid-[2000s] on in Iraq and Afghanistan, we basically felt the same way. How the hell do we get out of here? What do we do now? How do we do it without having complete disaster follow us?

That is the situation Putin’s in now, which is that Putin has screwed up. He made wrong assumptions. Yes, he’s a violent thug. Yes, he’s evil. Yes, he has done all the bad things people are saying. But in this case, in this particular aspect, he is a war leader who has made very bad judgments, listened to his own propaganda, created a system in which, yes, men told him things about his forces and the likely success of his operation that weren’t true, and all that is being revealed in practice on the ground.

And so what you’re trying to get Putin to do is go through what the psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross talked about as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You’re trying to get him to recognize what had happened and accept it all and then make a rational decision to move back. That’s his call, not ours, and the question we have and the challenge we have now is how do you facilitate his coming to that conclusion? It means stopping him on the battlefield, but also preparing the ground and in some ways not trying to humiliate him, trying to basically give him a path out that is more attractive than escalation.

Jeff: And in terms of escalation aside from nukes — putting those aside for the moment — he still has the ability to maybe send a few missiles Poland’s way or Estonia’s way, draw NATO into this and change the whole complexion of the war?

Gideon: So, I don’t think so actually, because those are the kinds of things… the great thinking about NATO is it’s Article 5, collective security aspect. If you bring NATO in, that’s bringing the United States in, that’s bringing the nuclear subject. There’s a reason why he didn’t want Ukraine to join NATO. Think of it that way, because NATO is off limits. There’s no reason to think in my opinion that he is going to attack NATO or that he was going to attack NATO. Because it’s precisely that he realizes could be a semi-permanent membrane that blocks him from ever getting this back. And he knows that attacking NATO, especially any direct way, would bring on retaliation and military defeat. Even the Ukrainians can beat them up; what NATO forces could do themselves, after the fight, it could do an amazing bit of damage.

So I don’t think the danger is that. The danger that I think was more plausible, but still unlikely, and so far has not yet happened, is that he could try to move from the limited war that he’s doing to a more expanded war. And in fact, change the name from a “special military operation” to an actual war, call up the nation’s reserves, raise new armies to throw into the battle, and so forth. That is a possibility of something that some people were actually expecting him to announce on May 9th in his big speech on Victory Day.

The problem with that is, again, he didn’t expect this to be as costly as it is — having decided and realized just how costly it is, and just how much response, was key. He didn’t expect the West to respond as strongly as it did, Europe to be as united, the sanctions to be as significant. And so the idea that having made a bad judgment he’s going to double down on that at even greater cost because he found out it was too… If he found out Ukraine was more expensive than he thought, it’s unlikely that digging deep into the national bank account, to go into permanent debt, just to try to win it again, is what he would do.

I think that the more likely scenario is walk away, take a little bit of the Donbas, try to claim a victory, as it were, by taking some territory. And then using his control over his own information space to say, “Hey, that’s all I wanted in the first place was the little stretch of territory in the east. Now, I’ve got it. I’ve taught them a lesson. No one’s ever going to worry about attacking Russia.” In his own mind, he has indeed issued terrible punishment to Ukraine. It happens to be unprovoked, but in his mind, he could sell it to his people as this was necessary and we’ve got a victory.

I think that’s the most likely end game given what we’re seeing here, because the Ukrainians have managed to hold off the best the Russians have thrown at them. Russian forces are now getting to the end of their rope, for at least this army that they’ve sent in. And the Ukrainians are now just starting to see the benefits of the massive amounts of military aid and weaponry that NATO is now sending them. And so in the next few weeks, you might have a situation in which the Ukrainians find with these new weapons that they are able to actually turn the tide of the war a little bit, and that would get really interesting again.

Jeff: Finally, in addition to turning the tide of the war with these new weapons, what could Ukraine do politically, and perhaps in concert with the US and NATO politically, to psychologically position Putin to better come to the realizations you were talking about?

Gideon: This is a great question, and the short answer of course is no one knows because no one actually understands Putin completely. But what I would say is the best practices strategy would be to essentially confront him, confront Putin, with a variety of choices that make it logical for him to choose the one that you want.

In other words, instead of saying there’s one strategy that’s going to get him to do everything, or this is going to compel him, or this is going to entice him, what you want to do basically is present him with a calculus that says, “We are fighting you on the ground militarily, and we’ll hold that line and continue to fight and actually even get better and push you back. So you want to go this direction, we’ll play this game and we’ll happily beat your ass at it the way we’ve been continuing to do. Do you really want to do that? We’re happy to play that if you want. By the same token, we’re happy to end this on somewhat reasonable terms. If you want to do that, let’s talk about that and what that would mean.”

And in effect, give him the choice of which way he wants to go while making clear the costs and benefits of each option, one more attractive and one less attractive. The question of how Ukraine does that, how we do that, not on the military side, but on the political side of what is the end that you want for this. What does the end game actually look like at this point? This is where I said it gets really interesting. The first big surprise of this war is that Putin actually attacked. Many people did not think he would, and if he did, he certainly wouldn’t do so as dramatically and comprehensively as he did.

Second big surprise was that the Ukrainians turned out to be better at war than the Russians and fought them back throughout the war. Again, shocking surprise —  nobody called that one. The third big interesting up-in-the-air question will be, okay, so what happens when the Ukrainians have themselves held off the best the Russians can throw and Putin is now facing the real question of, I have no more immediate reserves to throw into the battle and what do I do now?

That’s where the question that I said about integrating force and politics comes back into the play, because it’s not just a question of Will the Ukrainians push him back? It’s not just a question of Will our aid be able to help the Ukrainians fight the Russians on the ground? It’s [the question of] what point do you switch from fighting to not fighting, which is the way you should think about ending the war. How do you get a settlement in which you say, this is not going to be everything I wanted but it’s better than continuing to have this terrible destruction, which is going to screw my country.

And that’s somewhere between now and the Russian border, with the status quo lines from February 24th, is the point at which there may be some kind of negotiation possibility if both sides can, in effect, get over all the emotions involved — which is very, very difficult — and realize that what they’re doing is trying to move forward to a better situation than the current one we’re in, and that that’s going to be achieved not just by fighting but by negotiating.

Jeff: Gideon Rose, I thank you so much for spending time with us today, here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Gideon: My pleasure.

Jeff: Thank you. Thank you for listening and joining us here on the WhoWhatWhy podcast. I hope you join us next week for another radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you like this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it, by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to


  • Jeff Schechtman

    Jeff Schechtman’s career spans movies, radio stations and podcasts. After spending twenty-five years in the motion picture industry as a producer and executive, he immersed himself in journalism, radio, and more recently the world of podcasts. To date he has conducted over ten-thousand interviews with authors, journalists, and thought leaders. Since March of 2015, he has conducted over 315 podcasts for

    View all posts

Comments are closed.