Why You Shouldn’t Be Surprised by Ukraine’s Success

“Nobody knows anything,” William Goldman, the legendary screenwriter said. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

I’m starting to think the same thing is true of foreign policy. Culminating over the weekend, the Ukrainian military has achieved some remarkable victories over their Russian invaders in the northeast of Ukraine. The scope and speed of the victories seem to have surprised everyone, starting with the Russians, who abandoned vast amounts of materiel as they fled in panic—or as the Russians put it, “regrouped.” It’s the most significant Ukrainian victory since they thwarted Russia’s assault on Kyiv in March.

Except for Russia and its fan club, everyone—markets, politicians and media alike—was pleasantly surprised by Ukraine’s success.

Surprise seems to be an overarching theme in foreign policy these days. After all, many of the same people were surprised by Vladimir Putin’s invasion in the first place. They were shocked again by Ukraine’s success in thwarting Putin’s plan for a quick, surgical, decapitate-and-conquer “special military operation.” The White House (and probably the Kremlin, too) was stunned when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy refused to flee—sorry “regroup”—reportedly telling American officials: “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”

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