This Is Not How You Play Poker
Imagine if you will a not unlikely scenario. Due to multiple American mistakes, Iran has built or acquired a nuclear weapon and is threatening to use it against Israel unless all sanctions against Iran are lifted and the United States pays Iran billions. The Israelis take this ransom scenario seriously and are ready to bomb all Iranian military targets pre-emptively. Would the Israelis say this is their plan? Of course not. Might they do it? They might. Then again they might not. That’s deterrence. The likely Israeli ambiguity plus the fact that Israel has its own nuclear weapons, but never has acknowledged the fact, might make Iran hesitate before launching a nuclear attack on Jerusalem.
In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on March 21, Hoover Institution and Hudson Institute fellow Nadia Schadlow makes clear that the United States did a poor job in deterring Russian aggression against Ukraine simply be telling the world what the US would not do. President Biden took the use of direct American military intervention off the table even before the Russian invasion. Multiple American Presidents of both parties have refused to take Putin’s land grabs seriously nor attempt to deter any further Russian aggression by making it clear America would do nothing in the face of that aggression. Biden said, we “had no intention of fighting Russia.” Guess what, Russia has every intention of fighting the United States and NATO.
As Schadlow points out, all of this public disclosure of American intelligence about Russian intentions and our accompanying lack of will to do anything about it have given Putin the green light to invade. You can’t be an effective poker player by showing your opponent the cards in your hand.
The key to great leadership is vision and will. A great leader anticipates what will happen many steps down the road and has a five- to ten-year time horizon. Furthermore, a great leader is determined to prevail. In the case of the United States, prevailing means helping maintain free and autonomous governments where ever they are and to oppose autocracy around the world from Russia to China to Iran to North Korea. These countries are our enemies. We cannot work out agreements with them under their current leaders. We must resist them everywhere they wish to assert their authoritarian rule on people (e.g., Hong Kong and Taiwan) and certainly not tell our enemies what we are or are not willing to do to defend freedom.
Putin invaded because he knew the consequences of doing so were small compared to the risks of direct confrontation with NATO including the US. Let us not make that mistake again.
When Mr. Biden goes to Europe this week let the public communication from the meeting be that we all met, we are on the same page and we have no intention of telling you what we are going to do if you step one inch over a NATO border.
Then to signal one possible scenario NATO should amass hundreds of thousands of troops on that border, increase the supply of weapons to Ukraine, and seal the skies over NATO countries from any Russian aircraft—commercial or military.
After that, let Putin guess what comes next. As the second article from that same issue of the WSJ outlines, “don’t go wobbly on Ukraine now.” The Ukrainians are putting up a hell of a fight. They deserve our full support and Putin doesn’t need to know what that looks like before it occurs. Let him contemplate what his next likely actions will incur in retaliation from the west. Since his first plan of Russians being welcomed as saviors by the Ukrainians seems to have failed, he is moving on to his second choice—leveling the country and installing his own government in Kyiv. He is doing that by surrounding key cities and starving them to death. It’s airlift time in the west to get relief to Ukraine.
And if Putin shoots down supply planes, well, at least he didn’t know what we would do in response before we did it and that goes double for what NATO does next.
Putin has assessed the west as having no will. Let’s fool him and show we have at least as much will as do the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. Two months ago, Kyiv looked like New York or Houston. Mariupol could have been Boston. Mr. Biden needs to keep in mind what Mr. Putin is capable of doing and demonstrate he cannot get away with it should Mr. Putin have his eyes set on Latvia or Poland. Don’t tell Putin anything. Show him you mean business.