A Really Tough Call

A Really Tough Call


Leonard Zwelling


It is difficult to decide what to do about the Russian aggression in and around the Ukraine now that it appears to be a full-scale invasion.

Bret Stephens does a great job in The New York Times on February 23 explaining why.

To come up with the right decision on the Ukrainian incursion by Russia requires first that President Biden put himself in the shoes of Vladimir Putin. Given that Biden usually sounds like he’s not in his own shoes, this may be asking far too much.

Let’s say our adversaries (e.g., Communist China) placed offensive weapons or even defensive ones near our borders—let’s say in Cuba. What might we do? Hmmm—

Remember the Bay of Pigs when American-backed Cuban exiles tried to retake the island? Or perhaps the Cuban Missile Crisis itself when Soviet offensive weapons were found on the island 90 miles from Miami in 1962. Under the Soviet Union’s violation of the Monroe Doctrine, President Kennedy installed a naval quarantine around the island and the rest is history. Krushchev backed away, but only after the secret promise to remove our missiles from Turkey six months later. So, when the Soviets put missiles near our borders, we responded.

Flash forward to the Ukraine today where Putin thinks NATO is right off his border. And he’s right.

Putin has set his sights on the Ukraine for years. He believes it is part of Russia and as such he’s not invading another country, but reclaiming what is rightfully his. Certainly he feels that the missiles of the Americans and NATO have come too close to Russian soil and it is best to view Putin today through the lens of President Kennedy in 1962.

Let’s also remember that Putin is far more determined to take the Ukraine than we are to continue the Ukraine’s trend to get close to the West and to NATO and to the EU. In essence what is in it for us is far less than what is in it for Putin when it comes to war. And, as Stephens notes, Putin “is willing to pay a higher price to get it.” The United States is not sending troops to the Ukraine and any proposal to do so would be met with loud objections in Congress and on Main Street. Wall Street is tanking already.

How then should Europe and the United States respond now that Putin has launched a full invasion of a sovereign state, but not one with which we have a treaty to defend?

The first thing we could have done is make some sort of Cuban Missile Crisis deal with Putin like saying the Ukraine cannot join NATO for ten years, but leave the question of joining the EU out. I didn’t like that idea because I thought the Ukraine ought to be able to chart its own course in alliances, but perhaps it would have saved 50,000 lives. We’ll see.

Or, we could have slammed the sanction hammer down on Putin immediately after the troops built up around the Ukraine and made him feel the financial pain of these strict sanctions and no exports immediately. After all, as John McCain said, Russia is just “a gas station with nuclear weapons” with a GDP less than that of South Korea. Cut off his markets for gas exports, give the Saudis some new airplanes in exchange for pumping more oil and perhaps we would be in a better position to leverage the Russians.

That didn’t happen either. We kept wishing Putin’s troops away from the border. That was never going to happen.

No, we have to admit that the Ukraine is more important to Putin to have in his mind than it is for us to fight for it to be aligned with the West. It is the Ukraine that wants freedom and democracy and autonomy from Russia. In fact, Europe and the US are not going to war over this especially after we just left Afghanistan and are still tied up in Iraq.

Stephens writes that the key question for the US is not “who are we?” but “who but us?” That may be true, but we are not going to send troops to the Ukraine nor are we going to bomb Russian military positions to stop Putin’s aggression. If Putin is proposing a Monroe Doctrine for Russia in the area surrounding his country, who are we to say he’s wrong? It is aggravating but nonetheless true. He wants the Ukraine more than the West does. But we better be ready because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are next on Putin’s list and they are in NATO. If Article 5 is invoked after a Russian invasion there, we are at war far from our shores yet again.

This is a really tough call. We will have to be as ruthless as Putin to exert pressure on Russia to back down, but I doubt Putin will back down here—or anywhere. He just seems more resolute, cold and calculating than Biden and the West. After all, he’s a bully and the only thing that stops a bully is a punch in the nose.

What’s the plan, Joe and it better be more than cancelling the American Express platinum cards of the members of the Duma.

2 thoughts on “A Really Tough Call”

  1. I enjoyed this primarily because you didn’t offer your own solution, but instead posed it to the supposed expert(s). Which is a bit worrying since you as suggested, even our “experts” tried wishing this away, and here we are.

    I have neither the wisdom nor expertise to weigh in. Like everyone else I’m heartbroken this is occurring. People just going about the lives one moment, having their homes and businesses destroyed the next. 2022 and brute force is still the best we’ve got. Dismaying.

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