VIPS MEMO: To Biden — Avoid a Third World War

No experience of the failure of policy can shake belief in its excellence, even though foreign adventures drained the treasury and led to imperial decline.



SUBJECT: Throwing Good Money After Bad: Decisions in an Intelligence Vacuum

Dear President Biden:

We noted in our January 26,2023 Memorandum to you that National Intelligence Director Avril Haines had expressed skepticism that Russian forces would be sufficiently prepared for Ukraine’s coming offensive. She said Russia was using up ammunition “extraordinarily quickly” and could not indigenously produce what it was expending.

You had just approved sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine. We wrote:

“None of the newly promised weaponry will stop Russia from defeating what’s left of the Ukrainian army. If you have been told otherwise, replace your intelligence and military advisers with competent professionals – the sooner the better.”

Russia Has Not Already Lost

On July 13, 2023, you said Putin “has already lost the war”. You may have gotten that from C.I.A. Director William Burns who, a week before, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying: “Putin’s war has already been a strategic failure for Russia – its military weaknesses laid bare.” Both statements are incorrect. Nor is the war a “stalemate”, as Jake Sullivan has claimed more recently.

Ukraine has lost the war, and this will become very clear in the weeks ahead. Given the lack of any prospect for negotiations, nothing short of nuclear weapons could stop the measured but inexorable advance of Russian forces. You have said you want to avoid World War III. That’s what nukes (including “mini” ones) would mean.


At this historic juncture, we might seek what wisdom historians might offer. Here is Barbara Tuchman in her highly relevant book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam:

“Wooden-headedness…consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

As an example, Tuchman offered 16th century Philip II of Spain: “No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.” In the end, Philip amassed too much power and drained state revenues by failed adventures overseas, leading to Spain’s decline.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s appeal Tuesday to U.S. allies to “dig deep” to provide Ukraine with more arms has the ring of wooden-headedness. It also brings to mind a more colloquial quip: “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Obama’s Take

We do not have to go back five centuries to Philip II. As you will recall, President Obama faced down bipartisan pressure to send arms to Ukraine. According to The New York Times, he warned aides “that arming the Ukrainians would encourage the notion that they could actually defeat the far more powerful Russians, and so it would potentially draw a more forceful response from Moscow.”

Lastly, attempts to dismiss President Vladimir Putin as paranoid don’t pass the smell test. Putin has heard from the lips of Secretary Austin:

“One of the U.S.’s goals in Ukraine is to see a weakened Russia. … The U.S. is ready to move heaven and earth to help Ukraine win the war against Russia.”

Our closing warning of a year ago seems worth repeating:

“Can the U.S. achieve Austin’s goal? Not without using nuclear weapons.

Thus, there is a large conceptual – and exceptionally dangerous – disconnect. Simply stated, it is not possible to ‘win the war against Russia’ AND avoid WWIII. That our Defense Secretary Austin may think this possible is downright scary. In any case, the Kremlin has to assume he thinks so. Thus, it is a very dangerous delusion.”

Willing to Help

Lastly, we are about to re-issue our quadrennial offer to be of assistance to all presidential candidates. This would, of course, include you.


  • Bogdan Dzakovic, former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)
  • Graham E. Fuller, Vice-Chair, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
  • Philip Giraldi, C.I.A., Operations Officer (ret.)
  • Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
  • Larry C. Johnson, former C.I.A. and State Department Counter Terrorism officer
  • John Kiriakou, former C.I.A. Counterterrorism Officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., U.S. Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
  • Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.)
  • Ray McGovern, former U.S. Army infantry/intelligence officer & C.I.A. analyst; C.I.A. Presidential briefer (ret.)
  • Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council & C.I.A. political analyst (ret.)
  • Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
  • Pedro Israel Orta, former C.I.A. and Intelligence Community (Inspector General) officer
  • Scott Ritter, former MAJ, USMC; former U.N. Weapons Inspector, Iraq
  • Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
  • Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)
  • Sarah G. Wilton, CDR, USNR, (ret.); Defense Intelligence Agency (ret.)
  • Ann Wright, retired U.S. Army reserve colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq War