Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to do something different by Business Insider, who asked me to lend my 40 years’ experience as a naval officer in a critique of popular war movies — some about real historical battles and some just pure science fiction. Doing the show required a little tongue-in-cheek, and the most frequent question I have been asked is, “Why would you pick a movie like ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ when there are so many others to choose from?” The answer is simple: I didn’t get a choice. The producers picked the movies, and I provided color commentary. 

In light of what is going on in the world today, I might have selected the movies “Red Dawn” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” instead. “Red Dawn” is a story about a communist invasion of the United States, led by Cuban surrogates, who were trained and equipped by Soviet advisers. In the final analysis, it did not go well for the Russians. The current parallels to the conflict in Ukraine are obvious.  

Charlie Wilson led a personal crusade to defeat Soviet forces after their invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, by providing training and weapons to a fledgling group of motivated Mujahideen in the 1980s. Emerging victorious with the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the Mujahideen ultimately proved incapable of governing, and a civil war ensued. Some members of the Mujahideen formed a splinter group called the Taliban that eventually took over the country and drew the United States into war in Afghanistan after 9/11. 

After the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Afghan campaign dropped in level of priority to a counter-insurgency operation. The Obama administration initially reinvigorated its commitment to Afghanistan with a troop surge and the establishment of a Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the form of veteran diplomat, ambassador Richard Holbrooke. 

I accompanied Adm. Mike Mullen and ambassador Richard Holbrooke on Holbrooke’s maiden voyage to Islamabad and Kabul. It was on this trip that Holbrooke installed the new ambassador to Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, USA (ret.), and three other supporting ambassadors in Kabul—a full court press by the Department of State.  

When we arrived in Kabul, the U.S. embassy hosted an event for all foreign diplomats to introduce the SRAP and ambassador Eikenberry. Holbrooke encouraged members of the delegation to seek out notables in the crowd like ambassador Zamir Kabulov, from the Russian Federation. It was rumored that he had formerly been a KGB agent in Kabul during the Russian occupation, and that he had a front row seat to the failure of his own country to establish a communist-friendly rule. For the rest of his time in Kabul, Kabulov was critical of the American mission in Afghanistan and maintained that nothing the Americans (nor the Russians) could do would turn the country around. In the final analysis, Kabulov was correct.  

Today, the Russians are about to make another strategic mistake reminiscent of their failed occupation of Afghanistan. If President Putin chooses to invade the territory of Ukraine, it may appear like the movie plot of “Red Dawn” — initial battlefield successes, incurring mass casualties on both sides, followed by a protracted war and insurgency inside the country. Any attempt to install a puppet regime in Kiev that is friendly to Moscow could end up with the same fate as Mohammed Najibullah in Kabul after the departure of Russian Forces in 1989. When the Taliban finally took Kabul in 1996, Najibullah was captured, tortured and killed.  

Furthermore, although the United States and its NATO allies have made it clear that NATO will not put boots on the ground in Ukraine to blunt a Russian offensive, that does not rule out the possibility that some Western democracies will continue to arm Ukrainian armed forces or Ukrainian insurgents in their fight against a Russian occupation. Ukrainian resistance could potentially continue to bleed their Russian occupiers for months or years to come just as the Mujahideen did with the support of the United States in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”  

Additionally, I suspect that the Russian Armed Forces do not have a viable exit strategy when it comes to an attack on the Ukraine. One-hundred thousand troops may make for a credible invasion force, but not enough to occupy and pacify a country that has tasted democracy and enjoyed its freedom for over 20 years. 

While we can’t be sure how effective the Ukrainian armed forces will be in defending their country against a Russian onslaught, they are not the same force Putin met in 2014, either in sentiment or in capabilities. Furthermore, Putin may have miscalculated in that he has single-handedly made NATO and the European Union more united than ever before against Russian aggression in Europe. Ambassador Zamir Kabulov is still around, and Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden says Russia attack could spike oil prices Experts paint dark picture for region, global order if Russia invades Overnight Defense & National Security — Russia throws curveball with troop withdrawal MORE would be wise to seek his advice before making a fatal and irreversible decision. Unfortunately, I suspect that he will not. 

James Foggo is the dean for the Center for Maritime Strategy at the Navy League of the United States and a retired four-star admiral.

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