GELFAND’S WORLD - While we've been squabbling over who is to blame for inflation and gas prices, the Ukraine War has mostly been ignored on the nightly news and in American politics. This is a mistake.
It's not just that the Russian Federation ignited and continues to carry on an aggressive, imperialist war in the attempt to extend its empire. It has extended and supported its aggression by waving the threat of using nuclear weapons. This cannot be allowed to stand.
For half a century, the east and the west coexisted by taking advantage of an uncomfortable system we called Mutual Assured Destruction. If you blow me up, I will blow you up too. Nuclear weapons became limited to defending oneself against someone else's nuclear weapons.
The rare exception was defense against annihilation by an overwhelming attack by Soviet armed forces (NATO) or the existential threat of being overwhelmed by Arab armies (Israel). There was nothing in the political order that allowed for or excused the threat of nuclear weapons as part of an unprovoked war of aggression.
The western alliance has been put in a miserable position, in that we watched the people of Ukraine be murdered and tortured while we dared not use our own armies. But we could support Ukraine with aid and arms, and we have done so extremely well.
But now, on the eve of the national elections, the Republicans in congress are playing with the threat of cutting aid to the Ukrainians. In so doing, they are weakening the western alliance and, in the process, weakening our national security.
Remember how the Republicans used to throw around the phrase "soft on communism" to slander their political opponents? The Russian Federation is no longer an official communist state, but under Putin it is the same imperialist danger that Stalin used to represent. And the congressional Republicans are threatening the success of the western alliance by playing these petty political games.
Since the end of WWII, there has been a natural alliance between western Europe and the United States based on our mutual need to withstand Russian policy aims. We have spent more money in recent decades, but western Europe has been what Belgium used to be -- the obvious target of invasion. Finland and other small countries have been looking over their shoulders at Russia all these years, waiting and wondering whether there would be a return to Soviet aggressiveness, and with that prospect, something like what has been happening to Ukraine.
But in recent months, the west has engaged in a campaign that might even be called noble, supporting the Ukraine defense, accepting economic losses in order to enforce the sanctions against Russia, and in so doing, beginning the process of communicating to the Russian empire that it will suffer and decline if it continues down its present path.
It is wrong and evil for Americans to undercut this program in order to play political games. But that's exactly what the Republican party has been doing of late.
It is a curious thing that Republicans, who used to make a living off of calling everyone else weak on communism, are now the party of weakness towards Vladimir Putin. It's a little late to point out that Republicans had a moral obligation to hold back Donald Trump's worst excesses and refused to do so.
Alternative voices on Putin and nuclear threats
Cheryl Rofer, in Lawyers Guns & Money, reports on "Putin’s nuclear threats in his own words."
In a later consideration, she suggests that perhaps the threats aren't so real after all, in the sense that Putin and his lackeys say one thing but often enough don't follow up. For example, one Putin statement that was widely reported in the west about putting the Russian armed forces on a higher alert level was not followed up in reality, as best the western intelligence sources could tell.
I would like to suggest that this point may be accurate, but is irrelevant, in the sense that the mere threat of using nuclear weapons in a war of aggression cannot be allowed to stand if we hope to live in a more civilized world in this 21st century.
Finally, historian Timothy Snyder takes a sober view towards how the Ukraine war will end, going on the assumption that the western powers will continue to supply Ukraine with armaments. Snyder points out that Putin and the Russian propaganda machine continually try to sell an incorrect version of history in which Russia has always been preeminent and that Ukraine has barely existed apart from Russia (and which Snyder refutes). Snyder suggests that this war -- a conventional war -- will end the way conventional wars end, which is to say when Russia feels that the costs of carrying on the war are too high, and the gains no longer exist. He suggests that this is a hopeful scenario, pointing out that in its past, Ukraine faced imperialism from several other countries, a situation which the world has grown out of.
A return to red baiting in American politics
There is a particularly odious television ad currently being run by congressional representative Michelle Steele, who is making a case that she (and we) must fight off the Red Chinese, and to do so we must vote against her challenger. It is a particularly repulsive approach that has been rejected by other Asians. It might as well have been taken from the archives of Richard Nixon back when he was running for the Senate. What is Steele opposed to? Apparently it is the teaching of Chinese in our public schools to students who would like to study it. The idea is ridiculous. Having native born Americans who understand Chinese would be, at a minimum, useful for our commerce, and potentially useful in a coming era of national tensions which threatens to become worse than it is now.
In her ads, Steele says that for her, the fight against China is personal. Voters should take her at her word that this is the case, and consider what our economic and security interests demand of us. We might remind Steele and her supporters that the American military spends a great deal of time and money teaching languages to our diplomats and servicemen and spies, because it is necessary.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics. He can be reached at [email protected])