I was a child during World War II, and in the many years since–although the United States has rarely not been at war somewhere–I had come to believe that warfare would continue to be confined to localized conflicts and terrorist forays. The world economy had become too interrelated and interdependent for “old fashioned” state versus state conflicts.
Or so I thought.
Putin’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine certainly tests that theory. In a recent “Letter from an American,” Heather Cox Richardson suggested that, as a result of that attack, the world may be experiencing a “paradigm shift.”
The question, of course, is the direction of that shift.
Despite the naysayers on the Left, the traitorous crazies on the Right, and those in the media who have automatically defaulted to what Jennifer Rubin calls “partisan scorekeeping,” President Biden has thus far managed America’s response masterfully. Despite his predecessor’s constant attacks on NATO, he has strengthened that body and united the West (including, unbelievably, Switzerland) in opposition to Putin’s assault. As Rubin says,
We are all too familiar with the journalistic inclination to make every story into a political sporting contest denuded of moral content or policy substance. Who does this help? How did Biden fail? Aren’t the Republicans clever?
This sort of framing is unserious and unenlightening, failing to serve the cause of democracy, which is under assault around the globe. (If you think the media’s role is pure entertainment and coverage must be morally neutral in the struggle between democracies and totalitarian states, this critique may be mystifying.)
A real question is whether the American public’s short attention span will prevent us from (1) understanding the nature and extent of the ongoing global assault on democracy; and (2) displaying the staying power that will be required to reverse decades of decisions that have undermined and weakened that democracy.
As Rubin writes,
Let’s get some perspective. Russia’s invasion was decades in the making. Under three presidents, two Republican and one Democratic, we failed to address the threat Russia posed to democracy and the international order. President George W. Bush’s response to the invasion of Georgia in 2008 was entirely insufficient; President Barack Obama’s reaction to the seizure of Crimea in 2014 was equally feckless.
Then came Putin’s dream president, who could amplify Russian propaganda, divide the Western allies, abandon democratic principles, extort Ukraine in wartime, vilify the press and interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump and Putin had a sort of call-and-response relationship, damaging democracies and bolstering autocrats.
No wonder Putin got the idea that he could erase national borders, stare down the West and reconstruct the Soviet empire. (If you think this all came about because Biden withdrew from Afghanistan, you’ve missed decades of Putin’s deep-seated paranoia and crazed ambition to reassemble the U.S.S.R.)
As I write this, the unprecedented sanctions imposed by a united West have already begun to bite.
The degree to which the global economy is interdependent means there will be negative consequences for the West, as well– we have become too dependent on Russian oil and gas– but sanctions are already having huge consequences for Russia’s economy and the fortunes of the oligarchs who surround Putin. Critics who minimize the effects of the sanctions that have been leveled simply don’t recognize the extent to which Russia’s feeble economy is dependent on continued integration with the broader world.
I have no crystal ball, and no idea how this immensely dangerous conflict will turn out. Putin’s none-too-veiled nuclear threat is unnerving–after all, here in America, we’ve seen how unpredictable an unhinged President can be, and how much damage one can inflict.
On the other hand, the bravery and determination of the Ukrainians who are faced with an unprovoked assault by a much more powerful neighbor has been heartening. The courage of Ukraine’s President, who has refused to run to safety–unlike Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his Ukrainian predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych– has been inspiring. Ukrainians fighting for genuine self-determination and political freedom are exposing the sniveling complaints of our various home-grown “freedom fighters” for the childish tantrums they are. ( Wearing a mask to protect your neighbors is not what actual tyranny looks like..)
America’s long enjoyment of relative peace and prosperity has allowed far too many of us to avoid growing up. If, as Richardson suggests, we are at a point of “paradigm shift,” I hope that shift is in the direction of maturity.
All those Putin loving “Christian warriors” need to actually read their bibles, especially 1 Corinthians 13:11. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
And for those who pray– put on a mask and pray for Ukraine and its people.