2 Big Things: The War in Ukraine & What Chilean Progressives Got Wrong

Democracy Examined

Ukraine War

I am happy to introduce RDI’s first episode of General Ben Hodges’ analysis of the war in Ukraine, which you can watch here. This series, in collaboration with New Debate and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, will offer strategic analysis of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Hodges’ insights include the role that morale and logistics play during wartime, the strong strategic position Ukraine currently finds itself in, and the urgency of supplying additional western weapons to help Ukraine maintain its momentum.

This week, Hodges offers perspective on the last few months of the conflict and where it stands today. Here is an excerpt:

“We know from history that war is a test of logistics and it’s a test of wills. Whoever has the better logistics, and whoever has a stronger will, will inevitably win. 

Russia’s logistics system is exhausted. They don’t have the ability now to launch a new offensive of their own. In fact, they are barely holding on to the territory that they’ve already captured. Their rear area is unsecure. Russian airfields are now being hit almost every day. Russian ammunition storage sites are being hit almost every day. Their lines of communication are vulnerable, airfields, even in Crimea, are vulnerable.

The Sanctions are also taking their toll. Russia can no longer replace the precision weapons that they have employed because they need components which must be imported. Those are no longer available. So while they may seem to have millions of artillery rounds, they are running out of precision weapons, which they have been using against apartment buildings and residential areas, as well as port facilities. […]

These are manifestations of Russia’s logistical system, which was never designed to be able to do what it’s having to do now, being exhausted. The Ukrainian logistics system gets a little bit stronger each week as the Russian logistics system gets a little bit weaker.”

Watch the full video here.

What Chilean Progressives Got Wrong

On Sunday, Chilean voters rejected a new draft constitution that would have been the most progressive in the world. From an outsider’s perspective, the rejection might have come as a shock. 

Chile’s current constitution dates back to 1980, when the country was under the control of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. While the existing constitution allowed Chile to develop into a democracy, it was drafted behind closed doors with no input from the public. That Chileans would demand a new edition is hardly surprising.

The constitution has been controversial since its inception and has been amended dozens of times over the last four decades. But things came to a head in 2019 when students in Santiago organized protests against a metro fare increase taken as a symbol of the government’s indifference toward everyday issues like the cost of living. Eventually, the protests spread throughout the country, calling for, among other things, the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera and a new constitution.

Piñera refused to leave office, but just a month after the protest movement began, the National Congress agreed to hold a referendum on whether or not Chile should draft a new constitution. A year later, the public voted to have a constitutional convention, with an overwhelming 78 percent of people voting in its favor. Clearly, the public was fed up.

The protest movement and campaign to redraft the constitution were decidedly progressive. When it came time to elect delegates, that progressive momentum continued, delivering unconventional leftists, most of whom had never held office before and weren’t affiliated with any political party, a supermajority in the constitutional convention. Months later, Chileans elected Gabriel Boric, a Millennial former student organizer who helped negotiate the constitutional referendum while serving in Chile’s lower house, as their president. 

But the public was hardly impressed with the draft constitution. In the vote on Sunday, 62 percent of voters shot down the new constitution, sending the government scrambling for a path forward.

So what happened?

After securing a vote on drafting a new constitution in 2019, winning 78 percent support for drafting a new constitution in 2020, and then winning a supermajority in the constitutional convention while electing a Millennial student-organizer president, Chilean progressives had reason to be confident. Their campaign rhetoric to make Chile more environmentally sound, focus on alleviating poverty and lowering the cost of living, expanding social welfare programs, and recognizing indigenous rights captured the attention of a disgruntled public.

The problem is once they took power, the progressives drafting the new constitution made no attempt to pivot from aspirational campaign language into the difficult business of actually crafting a foundation for a government. Instead, they continued with flowery language and expansive promises with no means of achieving them. The new draft constitution reads more like a wish list than a legal document.

As Francisco Toro explains in Persuasion,

“The Chilean text doesn’t just give citizens a legal right to housing: it positively mandates the state to make sure they get it.  […]

You don’t just have a right to healthcare, you have a right to “health and holistic well-being, including its physical and mental aspects.” The state doesn’t just have to make sure you can see a doctor, it is mandated to create the conditions for you to reach “the highest possible state of health.” 

Vague and expansive promises like these define the new draft and ultimately led to its demise. Chilean progressives misread their mandate. In ignoring the input of moderates and conservatives, the constitutional delegates created something impractical. Compromise was ignored, and the result was damning.

Thankfully, disaster was averted for Chileans because the process outlined for drafting this constitution consistently requested the public’s consent. First, Chileans voted to redraft the constitution, then they voted for delegates to conduct the process, and then voted whether or not they wanted to carry forward with that draft. Now, the rejection of this constitutional draft offers the country a chance to create something more pragmatic and broadly appealing.

While the dust is still settling from Sunday’s election, early indications seem promising that the next constitutional draft will incorporate a wider array of opinions. The heads of Chile’s senate and house plan to meet with representatives from social organizations and political parties to begin the process of drafting a new constitution that can unite the public. After all, a constitution is a terrible thing to divide a country, and the Chilean people were right to demand a second attempt.