Top US military officer: 'Greatest threat' to peace and security in my career

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2023 defense budget, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Washington. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2023 defense budget, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Washington. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Senior US officials on Tuesday denounced Moscow's assault on Ukraine in extremely strong terms. The withdrawal of Russian forces from areas around Kiev to focus on the east and south of Ukraine has exposed Russian brutalities against civilians, precipitating extremely harsh criticism from US officials and warnings about the potentially very serious implication of these events.

Moreover, atrocities similar to those committed in Bucha, a suburb northwest of Kiev, which has now come to light, have been committed in other areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian troops, and those atrocities, too, will soon become known to the world, Ukrainian officials say.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the Bucha massacre is "unfortunately, only one example of what the occupiers have been doing on our land for the past 41 days," as he charged these were "the most terrible war crimes we've seen since the end of World War II."

After the Gulf War: the Iraqi Precedent 

With such developments, it becomes increasingly difficult to see how the US and other leading powers, including the Europe Union as well as Japan, will ever be able to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin as they had before—to treat him as a legitimate leader or see him as such.

Rather, it seems more likely that Putin will remain a pariah, particularly as evidence of more Russian atrocities come to light. Indeed, the US and EU have both announced that they are supporting Ukrainian efforts to develop evidence for war crimes trials that will hold those Russians responsible for them accountable.

Thus, absent Putin's overthrow, which does not appear likely, it seems that a stalemate will ensue, not unlike the one that followed the 1991 Gulf War. 

Some three decades ago, on Feb. 28, 1991, US President George H. W. Bush called a unilateral ceasefire in the US-led war against Saddam Hussein, which followed an earlier, totally unprovoked war: Iraq's Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait. 

Bush's surprise announcement of a ceasefire stunned virtually the entire Middle East, including key US allies: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel. Saddam was on the run, so why end the fighting at that point?

Bush had been led to believe, perhaps as the result of an Iraqi ruse, that Saddam would be overthrown in a military coup after such a stunning defeat.

Of course, there was no coup. Saddam soon demonstrated that he remained defiant and unrepentant. The Bush administration resolved to maintain sanctions on Iraq (including the Kurdistan Region) to keep Saddam weak and promote his overthrow.

Thus, Putin's actions in Ukraine, starting with his unprovoked aggression and including the brutality of Russian forces, make it entirely possible that some version of that approach will follow: the US and its allies, including the EU, will continue their punitive measures, including economic sanctions, against Russia, even after the fighting ebbs and as long as Putin remains in power.

Gen. Mark Milley: Greatest Threat to Peace and Security

"We are witness to the greatest threat to the peace and security of Europe, and perhaps the world, in my 42 years of service in uniform," Gen. Mark Milley (US Army), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Tuesday.

Some 42 years ago, when Milley joined the US Army, it was 1980. Ronald Reagan was elected president in November. The year before, 1979, had been a terrible year for the US. In November, Iranian "students" overran the US embassy in Tehran and proceeded to hold 52 of its citizens hostage. In December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

That was the Cold War. Relations between the two superpowers were very frosty, indeed. But there were rules that both sides understood and respected. They included no direct confrontation, lest that escalate into nuclear war.

Putin, however, appears to have thrown out many of those rules in what Milley described to the HASC as "unprovoked, premeditated actions to violate a sovereign nation."

"With the invasion of Ukraine," Milley said, "Putin has created a dangerous, historical turning point." He also noted Moscow's "very provocative rhetoric" concerning Russia's nuclear force alert levels.

Indeed, such rhetoric was avoided during the Cold War. The general feeling on both sides was that nuclear weapons should not—and would not—be used, but Putin has created a degree of uncertainty. 

Blinken: "Deliberate Campaign to Kill, to Torture, to Rape, to Commit Atrocities"

Before leaving on Tuesday for Brussels, where he is attending a NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in similar terms from a State Department perspective.

Above all, Blinken stressed Russian atrocities, which he suggested would be investigated for the purpose of holding war crimes trials. 

"As this Russian tide is receding from parts of Ukraine," Blinken told reporters, "the world is seeing the death and destruction left in its wake."

"What we've seen in Bucha is not the random act of a rogue unit," he continued. "It's a deliberate campaign to kill, to torture, to rape, to commit atrocities."

"This reinforces our determination and the determination of countries around the world to make sure that one way or another," Blinken affirmed, "one day or another, there is accountability for those who committed these acts, for those who ordered them."