“Are We in the West Weaker Than the Ukrainians?”

Dec. 14, 2022

(An Urgent Message for Americans reprinted from THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Three women in military fatigues try on boots in a room with gray walls and a stack of black shoe boxes in the corner.
Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times
Nicholas Kristof

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

“We will beat the Ukrainian out of you so that you love Russia,” a Russian interrogator told one torture survivor I spoke to in Ukraine, before he whipped her and raped her. That seems a pretty good summation of Vladimir Putin’s strategy.

It isn’t working in Ukraine, where Putin’s atrocities seem to be bolstering the will to fight back. That brave woman triumphed over her interrogators, albeit at horrific personal cost.

But I worry that we in the West are made of weaker stuff. Some of the most momentous decisions the United States will make in the coming months involve the level of support we will provide Ukraine, and I’ve had pushback from some readers who think President Biden is making a terrible mistake by resolutely helping Ukraine repel Russia.

A woman named Nancy protested on my Facebook page that I was more interested in securing Ukraine’s border than the American border. She argued that we should focus on our own challenges rather than Ukraine’s.

“We’re over our head in debt but funding a war that we shouldn’t be involved in,” she said. “Enough is enough.”

Polls find American support for aid to Ukraine still robust but slipping, especially among Republicans. And almost half of Americans want the United States to push Ukraine “to settle for peace as soon as possible,” even if it loses territory — a finding that must gladden Vladimir Putin’s heart.

The exhaustion with Western support for Ukraine may continue to gain ground in the coming months as people grow weary of high energy prices and, in the case of some European countries, possible rolling power cuts.

So let me make the case, to Nancy and others, for why we should continue to provide weaponry to Ukraine.

The fundamental misconception among many congressional Republicans (and some progressives on the left) is that we’re doing Ukraine a favor by sending it weapons. Not so. We are holding Ukraine’s coat as it is sacrificing lives and infrastructure in ways that benefit us, by degrading Russia’s military threat to NATO and Western Europe — and thus to us.

“They’re doing us a favor; they’re fighting our fight,” Wesley Clark, the retired American general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. “The fight in Ukraine is a fight about the future of the international community.”

If the war ends in a way favorable to Russia, he argues, it will be a world less safe for Americans. One lesson the world would absorb would be the paramount importance of possessing nuclear weapons, for Ukraine was invaded after it gave up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s — and Russia’s nuclear warheads today prevent a stronger Western military response.

“If Ukraine falls, there will certainly be a wave of nuclear proliferation,” Clark warned.

For years, military strategists have feared a Russian incursion into Estonia that would challenge NATO and cost lives of American troops. Ukrainians are weakening Russia’s forces so as to reduce that risk.

More broadly, perhaps the single greatest threat to world peace in the coming decade is the risk of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait that escalates into a war between America and China. To reduce that danger, we should help Taiwan build up its deterrent capacity — but perhaps the simplest way to reduce the likelihood of Xi Jinping acting aggressively is to stand united against Russia’s invasion. If the West falters and allows Putin to win in Ukraine, Xi will feel greater confidence that he can win in Taiwan.

Putin has been a destabilizing and brutal bully for many years — from Chechnya to Syria, Georgia to Moldova — partly because the world has been unwilling to stand up to him and partly because he possesses a powerful military force that Ukraine is now dismantling. Aside from energy, Russia’s economy is not substantial.

“Putin and Russia are weak,” Viktor Yushchenko, a former Ukrainian president who challenged Russia and then was mysteriously poisoned and disfigured, told me. “Russia is a poor country, an oil appendage to the world, a gas station.”

The world owes Ukraine for its willingness to finally stand up to Putin. If anything, I’d like to see the Biden administration carefully ratchet up the capabilities of the weaponry it supplies Ukraine, for it may be that the best way to end the war is simply to ensure that Putin finds the cost of it no longer worth paying.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone backing peace negotiations is craven, fatigued or myopic. Gen. Mark Milley and other Pentagon officials are understandably worried that the Ukraine conflict could spiral out of control into a nuclear war. That’s a legitimate concern, and it’s always good to peer through the fog of war for off-ramps. But bowing to nuclear blackmail and rewarding an invasion would create their own risks for many years to come, and on balance those dangers seem greater than those of maintaining the present course.

In arguing for the West to stand with Ukraine, I’ve emphasized our national interest in doing so. But we have values at stake as well as interests, for there is also a moral question to face.

When one nation invades a neighbor and commits murder, pillage and rape, when it traffics in thousands of children, when it pulverizes the electrical grid to make civilians freeze in winter — in such a blizzard of likely war crimes, neutrality is not the high ground.

Let’s not let Russia beat the Ukrainian out of us: The world could use a spinal transplant from brave Ukrainians.

_______________

Like Nicholas Kristof, I believe it is essential–for the Ukrainians’ sake, for ours, and for the future worldwide–that we in the US continue to support President Biden’s efforts to assist Ukraine–financially and militarily. There are many indications that the Russians will be running out of artillery in the coming months. The Ukrainians have seemingly defied all odds despite the despicable onslaught of Russian attacks aimed at civilians. I fervently hope you’ll join me in notifying your legislators that you continue to support Ukraine–especially if you live in a state with Republican majorities.

This is, to me, Kristof’s key message:

“The fundamental misconception among many congressional Republicans (and some progressives on the left) is that we’re doing Ukraine a favor by sending it weapons. Not so. We are holding Ukraine’s coat as it is sacrificing lives and infrastructure in ways that benefit us, by degrading Russia’s military threat to NATO and Western Europe — and thus to us.”

UPDATE: If you want daily reports about the war, stories, photos, opportunities to donate directly to Ukraine, and more, please check out this site: https://war.ukraine.ua. The website is “co-funded by the European Union, UK aid from the UK Government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”

The page for donations offers “The Initiative of the President of Ukraine,” a “transparent platform” with options to contribute to

–Defence and demining
–Medical aid
–Rebuilt Ukraine

with auditing done by Deloitte in Ukraine, part of the international Deloitte organization.

Private Ukrainian organizations in need of funding are also listed.

Annie


42 thoughts on ““Are We in the West Weaker Than the Ukrainians?”

  1. Americans are notorious for being ignorant of, and disinterested in, events outside the US. Most Americans’ grasp of what’s going on in Ukraine and what’s at stake has always been somewhat superficial and based on emotion, and so there’s always a risk that support could erode for trivial reasons. However, for some elements of the right, there’s another factor at work. They actually admire Putin because his regime is an explicitly Christian-identified authoritarian state — which is what they want to see here. Ukraine, on the other hand, they see as a “decadent” democracy resembling the things they don’t like about the US.

    Among more sensible Republicans, I don’t think there’s much risk of support for Ukraine eroding, perhaps less risk than erosion on the left. The US right wing is traditionally nationalist and anti-Russia, and many still feel that way.

    The moral issues at stake in Ukraine can be made more vivid by spreading information about the atrocities the Russians have been committing. This will shore up support on the left and among the sane right. The Trumpists and lunatic fringe don’t case about morality, but they’re a minority. There’s also the imperative of solidarity among democracies, but again, this only has value to those of us who really believe in democracy.

    The total value of the weaponry the US has supplied to Ukraine so far is less than six percent of our annual military budget. If, for that price, we can knock out Russia as a major power, it will be the bargain of the century. Most people can understand that point if it’s put to them that way.

    If the worst comes to the worst, remember that we aren’t Ukraine’s only arms supplier. The UK, Poland, and most other east European countries would continue helping, because they understand the Russian threat all too well from their own history. Germany and France would as well, though they’re less reliable.

    If Ukraine falls, there will certainly be a wave of nuclear proliferation

    That will happen no matter what the outcome in Ukraine. It is now clearly a simple matter of plain fact that Ukraine made a serious mistake by giving up its nuclear weapons. If it still had them, then this invasion, with all the horrific suffering and destruction it has brought, would not have happened at all. The example of Israel, which suffered repeated attacks by Islamic states early in its history but none since 1974, shows that even for a small country, a modest nuclear arsenal can guarantee peace by deterring enemies from attempting invasion and conquest. There is already a serious debate in South Korea about creating an independent nuclear deterrent, and over 70% of the public there supports doing so. If the Taiwanese are not already planning to build a nuclear arsenal, they are fools. The example of Ukraine suggests that Taiwan, too, could probably defeat an invasion with Western help — but it also shows that it is far better to deter the invasion from happening in the first place.

    (This isn’t just because of Ukraine. The Trump administration showed our allies that the US isn’t as reliable as they thought — if he could get elected president, then he or someone like him could be elected again at some point. I’m sure many other democracies have become more focused on being able to defend themselves independently — and in practice that will mean at least considering nuclear weapons.)

    In any case, it’s absurd to imagine that it’s we who are doing Ukraine a favor. Ukrainians are doing the fighting now that we would have to do later if Ukraine were defeated and Putin became emboldened to further aggression, which would eventually cross some line we couldn’t tolerate. Supplying weapons is the easy part of the job.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Infidel: I appreciate all the aspects of this issue that you’ve introduced.

      I just heard an interesting discussion about Ukraine with Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia, and Barry McCaffrey, a retired US Army general. Both said they believe the Ukrainians can win if we give them the weapons they need–they’re encouraged by the latest artillery we’re sending. McFaul said Putin wants to live and wouldn’t be first to use nuclear weapons–but is happy to use the threat of them to prevent the West from sending the armaments that could be decisive. McCaffrey said the US is right to be cautious because we don’t known how erratic Putin might be now that things are falling apart around him.

      I’m not as sanguine as you are about the Republicans, as I’m not sure how many of them are now behaving sensibly. The” traditionally nationalist and anti-Russia” folks you’re talking about are not about to control the House of Representatives. Au contraire.

      As for the increased chances of nuclear proliferation, I remain hopeful that if Ukraine is able to defeat Russia, there may be room for a renewed effort to prevent further spread of such devastating weaponry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ukraine can certainly win. There are precedents for a smaller country defeating an invasion by a major power, notably Vietnam against the US and also against China in 1979, and Vietnam wasn’t getting anything like as much outside help as Ukraine is. There’s also the Afghan defeat of the Soviet invasion, with some US help. The fact that Putin has switched to attacking Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure suggests he knows he can’t win on the battlefield and is just trying to terrorize the population into giving up.

        I think there’s an excellent chance that if Putin tried to launch a nuclear attack, the military or his own inner circle would overthrow him. They don’t want to die, or see Russia destroyed, over one megalomaniac’s bad judgment. But Putin is probably rational enough not to try such a step. He didn’t get where he is today by being crazy.

        I would argue that it’s the obsession with nuclear non-proliferation that should be termed “devastating”. The Ukraine war, which will probably rack up a death toll around a quarter million by the time it’s over, would not have happened if Ukraine had defied Western pressure and kept its nuclear arsenal. That’s a pretty massive pile of human sacrifices on the altar of the non-proliferation Moloch. A Taiwanese nuclear deterrent could prevent a similarly bloody war in that country. We’ll never know how many further Arab-Israeli wars were prevented by the Israeli arsenal, but it’s probably at least a couple. Ditto for the standoff between India and Pakistan. And without MAD, there can be no doubt that at some point during the Cold War, the US and USSR would have stumbled into another world war at least as bloody as World War II. The hydrogen bomb is the second greatest life-saving technology humans have ever invented, after vaccines. It deserves to be recognized as such.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, I can’t “like” the advocacy of an even MAD-der world than we have now, Infidel, because the concept of additional nuclear proliferation curls my toes. But I do see that Russia’s using the threat of nuclear weapons has probably increased the likelihood that what you regard as “the second greatest life-saving technology humans have ever invented” will gain currency wherever countries have the wherewithal to develop them. To me, that’s a massive failure in the human race, not a triumph.

        On what I regard as a more life-saving note, I updated this post with information about https://war.ukraine.ua, a multifaceted website from Ukraine with lots of information and opportunities to donate directly to Ukraine. If you haven’t listed it in your Sunday roundups in the past, I think your readers will find it of great interest.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Two facts for those lost in the fog.
        Good and bad are totally fungible. There is a oft told story of “Sāi Wēng lost his horse”.
        And for those stuck in a duality I suggest the ending of a Matthew Broderick vehicle “War Games” in which a sentient machine learns how to “win” a thermonuclear war. A lesson best learned by playing mind games unless one truly desires to live in a lunar landscape.
        I personally feel that we are standing at the point in societal evolution where we move from a regal direction to a kungic society but all we see is the froth and fog.
        “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” Viktor E. Frankl

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Once again your references send me researching, Richard—much appreciated. I’ve somehow reached this point without knowing about the regal/kungic society discussion. While I’m not as confident as you that we’re moving toward the kungic—and I find some of the distinctions puzzling (eg, why would kungic have higher suicide rate?), there’s much food for thought here.

        For any other interested readers, here’s a source to this topic:
        https://books.openedition.org/obp/4583?lang=en#ftn4.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Your welcome. The kungic in my understanding relates to the Sans people on the edge of the Kalahari Plains.. They are some of the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa and are reported to have gone without war for 60,000 years.

        Like

      6. Got excited at your interest so missed the question. It deals greatly within that good/bad thing. I am not a disinterested party so the high suicide rate conflicts me greatly.
        Fatal car accidents, job-site accidents, successful suicides, and risky behaviors of every kind categories not exclusive to but dominated by white men without college degrees.
        A regal society has use for this skill set. A kungic one needs some alternative way.
        By the way this seems more Erasmus than Charles evolution.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. The article I cited mentioned “anomie” suicides—apparently originating in Durkheim’s list of suicides: he attributed anomic suicide to a breakdown of social standards.

        Like

      8. Durkheim thought “anomie” suicides unimportant, and at the time of his studies they were probably rare. But today with the expansive screen time available not so much.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. “Among more sensible Republicans, ..”
      “Sensible Republicans”?!! yet another oxymoron to add to jumbo schrimp and we had to destroy the village to save it. Like unicorns a mythical creature who’se existense was extinguished by addled ronnie raygun, perjurer poppa bush the twit and diaper don.
      “The US right wing is traditionally nationalist and anti-Russia,”
      I agree with the first part of this quote the thuglicans are nationalistic and not only recognize sympathic movements in other countries but admire those that aicheve “goverance” i.e. Putin, Orban, Netanyahu etc.
      Other then cheerleading for Putins “nationalistic christanist’s” campign against the 21st century against women, people of color, and human rights in general while using a nascent theocracy as a cudgel against any who would have the temerity to question such leaders of “tradtionalist” movements.
      The thuglicans and their leadership are a continueing study in cognitive dissonance.
      As an example look at thuglicans unquestioned support of the mationalism of Netanyahu’s administration while refusing to condemn their prtie leader for dining, and granting “legitamacy” to virulent anti- semites here in the US.
      And we are back to the absense of those mythological “sensible republicans”.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Neil. ( I responded earlier, but the gremlins snatched it away.) Yes, it’s hard to understand how the Republicans, once the party of national security and suspicious of all things Russia-related, could have so drastically changed course.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The basic game played out since 1945 between USA / USSR has been one for structural and political supremacy, but usually an equal dynamic. It is nothing new, they are the latest players, although China is now stepping up to be the third player.
    This rather tragic knee-jerk response from sections of the US right who embrace without thought anything that the liberal & moderate section are against suits Putin fine. What they are obviously ignorant in is that in the power politics and attendant military moves, there are no equal partners. The Kremlin as it is would only accept the acquiescence of the USA to ‘keep out of’- only the ‘keep out’ zone would keep expanding.
    In the very long game the Kremlin aims to have a fracturing of the USA, China would join in (then they two would squabble afterwards).
    The ultimate dream scenario of both Russia and China would be a USA so divided it is effectively a loose network of separate states, most ripe for one sort or another of client state.
    The term ‘Useful Idiots’ applies to any American who sides with the current Russian regime.
    If not that one then ‘Quisling’ is another.
    The irony is this is coming from The Republicans; what the ghost of Joe McCarthy would make of this would make a good one-act play.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Roger. I always appreciate your adding historical perspective. The Russia/China “ultimate dream scenario is surely apt. And “useful idiots” and “quislings” don’t seem too strong in describing American Putin supporters. As for your last line: You write fiction: how about it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh how true.
        In the world of my trilogy the first three would either not have survived more than a few chapters, or just had a miserable time being foiled and kicked around until their eventual demises. Elements of their characteristics turned up, along with several others. Trump was too easy a target and of no use at all.
        Now Stalin being a consummate professional would take a whole book to dispose of.
        The books always have upbeat, but somewhat messily happy endings.
        Anyway I’m pondering on the project Annie.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s trying to line ’em all up in the right order. So far there’s Tucker Carlson lying in bed being visited by the ghosts of McCarthy and Stalin- too late for ‘Christmas Carol’ so something out of Shakespeare…. I’ll let you know Annie.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t disagree with anything in that article. Aside from all the subsidiary arguments about value for money, pushing for peace, focus on home instead of foreign policy etc., at the simplest level possible, helping a country defend itself against unwarranted aggression is just the right thing to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great post. Agree, agree — and some pretty quotable lines in here. Holding the coat, finding the spine . . . so true. Thanks for posting this and for your continued work on such important subjects.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you and Kristoff, Annie. And as Infidel points out, 6% of our military budget is a small price to pay in lieu of having to fight the Russians directly should they win and continue on a path of expansion. Putin is a horrifying menace and the sooner he’s stopped, the better for mankind.

    Thanks for the Ukraine aid link.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re very welcome, Carol. I hope the link to https://war.ukraine.ua is widely circulated. And as Zelensky is addressing Congress tonight, I fervently hope the incoming House majority will be able to respond with some semblance of decency and stop their dangerous talk of defunding this essential war effort that’s so tied to our own national security.

      Like

      1. It is actually war.ukraine.ua, not .us (you have it correct in your post but with .us in a couple of the comments, which doesn’t work). I’ll be including it in my next link round-up.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, Infidel. I think that’s an autocorrect that I didn’t catch because I’ve caught it elsewhere. I’ll fix. I’m planning to send it to everyone I know.

        Like

      3. Right, I knew it was in one of the link round-ups but I forgot that that one was already posted (so, last Sunday rather than next Sunday). I always double-check every single link to make sure it actually opens as it should.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I always check links in my posts as well (admittedly not as arduous a task as vetting your roundup links!). I don’t normally add links manually to comments, but from now on I will certainly check them too.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s