America's Moral Duty to Defend People Like Us
Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. --Elie Wiesel
By the Editors.
Americans who personally experienced liberating a conquered people as more than an abstraction are few in number, and that group is dwindling as WWII veterans pass from their long lives. There is a character to a war of liberation of a people who are fighting tooth and nail for their homes, families, and freedom that transcends political division. It is this nerve, the realization that “these people are like me,” that pulls the rug from under neocon and New Right arguments of Putin’s “genius” or Ukraine’s relative value to American security.
Ben Domenech observed this week, “It turns out that Americans grasp that it’s foolish to try to make people like themselves — but they sure are happy to lend a hand when they see people who are like themselves.” We instinctively know the difference between imposing “liberation” on Iraq, or Afghanistan to transform them into a democratic, classical liberal society, and coming alongside Ukrainians who are fighting a Russian invasion. We know this because we know people like us when we see it.
First, let us be clear that “people like us” does not speak to racial or ethnic characteristics. We are talking about people who yearn to be free and who are willing to fight for freedom, regardless of their skin color, religion, or other externals.
In the 1980s, Americans saw the Mujahideen as freedom fighters, resisting the Soviet Union at the near peak of its power. In 1988’s Rambo III, Stallone took on the Russians and beat them. By 2001, the freedom fighters had become the Taliban, which we conveniently (for them) armed. By 2021, the Taliban took their country back, in an embarrassing exit by the world’s only superpower. In reality, it was always the Taliban’s country, whether the Soviets - or the Americans - wanted to transform it into something else. Americans understood this truth, despite the fact that many Afghans made lasting friendships with Westerners and became quite westernized in their thinking.
In the end, places like Vietnam, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Iraq belong to the Vietnamese, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Iraqis. Though our presence did affect those societies, they were not fundamentally transformed, and when we disengaged, both the people and the place, snapped back to their original forms. Ukraine is not like Afghanistan or Iraq or Vietnam.
We should also note that America’s, and the West’s, ascension and success have indeed transformed the world. From global supply chains came inexpensive advanced goods, from American entertainment giants came our culture, from American eating and shopping habits came fast food, Amazon, and supermarkets. It wasn’t Reagan, SDI, and NATO that defeated the Soviet Union’s communists, it was McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and Disney.
As we’ve all recently learned—but was known among Putin-watchers for decades—Vladimir Putin hated the West, and America in particular, because of its transformational effect on his world. He saw (and sees) it was American hegemony, and an erosion of Russian culture, power, and political influence. While China embraced American commerce while retaining its iron rule over a people it herds to cities and husbands into a homogeneous Han genome, Russia under Putin conquered impatiently.
When Russia went into Chechnya, Americans didn’t lift a finger as Grozny was laid waste. Georgia capitulated in two days. In 2014, when Russia took Crimea from Ukraine, we barely noticed, though many former Soviet states like the Baltic nations understood. They wondered if NATO would fulfill its obligations under Article 5 if they became the target of Putin’s next move.
People who have tasted democracy in some form, fighting for their homes and families, not for some abstract national security interest or proxy war, are like us. Every American who’s not a Native American is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. They came here because America is an ideal of a democratically elected republic. It doesn’t matter that America has fought, and even started, immoral wars. We know that Putin’s army has invaded Ukraine in an immoral war we didn’t start, and we must defend Ukraine. This should not even be a debatable point. To us here at The Racket News, it’s not debatable.
The United States, regardless of commitments to NATO or treaties, has a moral duty to defend Ukraine. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons when the Soviet Union broke up. They did this in exchange for two promises. One was that Russia would respect its territory and independence. The second was that the West would defend its right to the first promise. Putin has broken the first promise, and if America allows Ukraine to fall, we will have broken the second.
It may be that President Joe Biden did all he could for Ukraine, short of nuclear war or inciting World War III. Biden certainly tried to stir the West and Europe to take measures to deter Putin. Exposing Putin’s pretexts and ruses offered the moral high ground for what has become the West’s cancelation of Russia. Our military aid is helping Ukrainians defend Kyiv and other cities. But it looks as if the grind of Russia’s military power will eventually do to Ukraine what it did to Chechnya.
Besides isolating Russia and removing all the West’s economic dainties, finances, and culture, the only options left to us are military intervention. This can come in the form of direct conflict, or by offering supplies, logistics, and weapons. In World War II, America’s “lend-lease” program supplied many thousands of trucks to the Soviet Union, as well as airplanes to England. Giving MANPADs and shoulder-fired anti-tank weapons to Ukraine is having a definite effect in blunting the Russian advance.
But in World War II, eventually, America got involved. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill said he “slept the sleep of the saved and thankful” that America got into the war. Our direct involvement cemented the outcome. There was no doubt the West and the Allies would win.
In Ukraine, without American or NATO’s direct involvement, the outcome is far from sure. But the risks today are far more serious than in 1941. Putin is threatening nuclear war, and many are convinced he is not bluffing. There is a narrow corridor of action we can take without either expanding the war or provoking a holocaust. But America must act to assemble a multi-nation response, including military options, to establish bright lines that should Putin cross them, we will act.
In 2014, President Obama made a few “red lines” and then decided not to act. To Putin, this was a sign of a bluff. America, leading the West, must show Putin we are not bluffing. President Biden has a difficult task ahead of him.
There have been many comparisons made between the current situation and Hitler’s early moves in WWII. It is well-understood now that if the Allies had risked a small war to stop Hitler in 1938, they would likely have avoided a bigger one in 1939. Though we risk Godwin’s Law in making the analogy, we find too many nexus points to avoid it.
The comparison is valid. Putin, like Hitler, believes that the West is weak and that it will not risk a confrontation. When authoritarian strongmen believe that no one is willing to confront them, it makes a confrontation much more likely.
Also, like in 1938, the West has an opportunity to stop Putin now. His army is battered and bloodied. His economy is a shambles. Those who realize what is at stake in Russia are rising up against him. If we forgo this opportunity and Putin is allowed to digest Ukraine and rebuild his army, Russia will learn from the mistakes that it has made over the past few weeks when it prepares for the next annexation. That annexation may well focus on a NATO member.
We must stand strong against Putin and aid Ukraine to the best of our ability, hoping and praying that there are sane elements in Russia’s command structure that will prevent Putin from taking a course that will ultimately destroy the world. (See this interesting answer from Quora, written in June 2021, about Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, the man who stands between Putin and nuclear war.) Of course we can’t count on it, but with luck and a strong back channel, senior officers could seize upon Putin’s vulnerability in the wake of the Ukraine debacle to remove him from power. Again drawing on the German parallel, the German high command was poised to do this if the West had resisted in 1938.
Whatever risks we face now will only be multiplied if we don’t act. The West cannot afford to stand idly by and let a peaceful, free country be devoured by an aggressive superpower.
As Winston Churchill said, “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last.”
These days, there are lots of crocodiles in the world. They are hungry, and they are watching to see what we do.
We believe the U.S. and NATO are doing “the right things” in constrained measures, but still Ukraine is being destroyed. The moral thing to do is not constrained by treaties and measured diplomacy. It is hard to be the generation in the shadow of WWII and (dare we say) the Holocaust and think that it is okay to watch Ukrainian civilians killed and homes destroyed. And people trying to escape be gunned down.
Elie Wiesel said it well. Ukraine is the center of the universe today and it is an easy call to point out the immorality of Putin's gambit and why it needs to be stopped. Of course, the “how” is the hard and dangerous part. It may be far more dangerous if we don’t.
Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
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