Leading in the Nation That Kept Crying Wolf
Pres. Biden must rectify our present with our past.
As I write this, in just over a day, Russian President Vladimir Putin has effectively ordered an imperialist invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory after officially recognizing the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk as a pretext for sending troops to those areas and probably beyond them. He also reiterated his view that Ukraine is a “made up” country.
If you’re confused by all this, you’re not alone. Here’s a great piece from Julie Ioffe of Puck News that contextualizes everything involved here rather elegantly.
(Also: for those who use Twitter, I’ve compiled a list of experts to follow for unvarnished updates on the Ukraine-Russia crisis. It’s quite useful.)
My personal view on this is straightforward: Ukraine is a sovereign country with a strong sense of national identity and its citizens have clearly indicated their desire to be an independent nation that aligns with Western values. Putin is rejecting the will of the people of Ukraine and engaging in violent imperialism, lying and scheming along the way in order to justify military action. The United States and NATO and their allies should do everything in our power to prevent Putin from carrying out his vision. That is what I believe, and I’m right.
I don't see how any reasonable adult, regardless of their politics, could look at Russia's imperialist invasion of Ukraine and not agree that it's completely wrong. You can hate the U.S. government and NATO and still recognize this invasion is wrong on every level and that the world has a responsibility to hold Putin accountable.
And yet, this really couldn’t come at a worse time. Setting aside our ongoing struggle to get out of the pandemic and the internal threat of far-right terrorists who wish to take things much further than the Jan. 6th attack and the persistent efforts by the GOP to undermine our democratic process (blocking voting rights legislation, for example), setting aside all that, we’re still left with the pervasive feeling in our country that the War on Terrorism was deeply counterproductive and costly and embarrassing, which has led to entrenched skepticism about U.S. military actions moving forward.
I don’t need polling—though we will certainly see it—to know that it’s more than likely a majority of Americans oppose using the U.S. military to defend Ukraine.
And it’s not hard to see why. We just left an absolute shit show in Afghanistan, and regardless of where you may find blame for the outcome, the American people are exhausted with U.S. military interventions anywhere that are not done solely to prevent immediate threats to the safety of our country.
Americans have been told by president after president that military action was required in parts of the world most citizens couldn’t even locate on a map, only to find out later military action was unnecessary, inhumane, and counter to the safety and respect of the United States.
President Biden is leading in a nation with a long history of presidents who cried wolf against the interests of the American people, and now, he has to negotiate that more-than-understandable distrust while genuinely trying to do the right thing.
What we’re seeing from President Biden and his Administration right now is an effort to establish a reasonable pace for responding to Russian aggression without losing the support of the American people from the jump. They’re hoping that Putin’s completely batshit approach is enough to justify to Americans an escalation of U.S. military action, should it be necessary, while Pres. Biden can play the reasonable leader attempting to avoid war at all costs (which, conveniently, he is).
Pres. Biden may have voted in support of military action against Iraq, but one thing’s for certain: he sure as hell doesn’t want this war. The loss of human life, alone, is enough of a deterrent for him, but beyond that, it’s difficult to see any upside for the rest of his governing priorities.
And yet, allowing Putin to inflict horrific violence and oppression in Ukraine is a non-starter for Pres. Biden, especially with no clear indicator that Putin won’t go farther into Europe, against NATO allies, and further in his imperialist vision.
This is one of those extremely rare moments when having easy access to the might of the U.S. military would clearly be a net good for the whole world, but it follows two decades of horror in Iraq and Afghanistan perpetrated by the U.S. government against millions of innocents.
Thus, a leader is required who can walk the most unstable of tightropes in convincing our country that military action by the U.S. is needed but without provoking the massive loss of trust among Americans in our institutions in recent years.
Perhaps the one formidable silver lining here is that there may be no one better equipped to make that case to the American people than President Biden.
I hope he does. A lot is riding on it.
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