Biden chooses appeasement over sound war-preventing diplomacy
The first twelve minutes of Joe Biden's State of the Union message was devoted to a strong statement of support for the people of Ukraine and a salute to their courage. It was, however, short on specifics of what the U.S. was prepared to do to help Ukraine to repel what is likely to be a massive assault on its civilian population.
In response to a question from Peter Doocy about the failure of sanctions to deter the Russian invasion, Jen Psaki more realistically reflects what the United States and its NATO partners are actually willing to do. At the end of the clip, she was quite clear that avoiding a direct military confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia is our number one priority. In spite of all the praise of the heroism of the Ukrainian people, military support for them sufficient to defend their country, in either weapons or personnel, is not coming because it would risk a wider war with Russia.
The State of the Union address and the news that NATO halted Poland's offer to send military planes to Ukraine are hauntingly reminiscent of the church scene from the movie High Noon, which ends with the final decision of the town asking the sheriff to leave. Contrary to what some commentators are suggesting, it would be a mistake to believe that the elites in the United States and Europe are beating the drums for war. It is the images of the Ukrainian resistance and the defiance of its leaders, brought into homes all over the world, creating popular demands for more military assistance. People are responding to President Zelensky's statement "I don't need a ride, I need ammunition." Like the movie-goers viewing High Noon, much of the public sees the actions of Western leaders as cowardice rather than reasonable caution. The intense criticism of Putin, though justified, comes across as cowardice masquerading as virtue.
The NATO reaction to Russian actions toward Ukraine has consistently been a day late and a dollar short. Our reluctance to act decisively for the nine months before the invasion was interpreted by Putin as weakness. The humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan only confirmed Putin's assessment. The 80 billion dollars of military equipment abandoned to the Taliban would have been put to far better use in defense of Ukraine.
The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) helped prevent nuclear weapons from ever being employed in the 80 years since their initial use in 1945. This gruesome game of chicken did not end in a nuclear holocaust because each side had to assume that the other side might actually use its nukes. With few exceptions, it deterred both sides in the Cold War from ever risking a direct military confrontation.
When asked about our failure to supply Ukraine with the weapons needed to deter the invasion, the Biden administration and its NATO partners have stressed they do not want to risk getting into a war with Russia. By going out of our way to assure Russia that we are afraid to risk a confrontation, we are in effect replacing MAD with a one-sided Singularly Assured Appeasement. When combined with denunciations of Putin, the policy, in essence, amounts to replacing "speak softly and carry a big stick" with "act weakly while carrying a big mouth" — which served only to embolden Putin.
The sanctions on Russia are indeed severe, and the Russians may eventually come to regret the invasion. Sadly, economic consequences do not seem likely to change the military situation on the ground and provide little more than moral support. However well-intended, the policies of NATO and the United States are likely to maximize our humiliation as we stand poised militarily on the borders of Ukraine, watching helplessly, as Russia slaughters that country's brave defenders.