Do I support U.S. military funding for Ukraine to thwart Russia’s assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty? Yes, I do, unequivocally. Do I regret that the funding of Ukraine’s defense against Putin’s aggression has become a partisan football? Yes, it’s a sad commentary of our times that every and anything that needs serious attention has become zero-sum team politics.
That’s not a Republican assertion or a Democratic assertion, but when it comes to Ukraine, its significance is based on hundreds of lessons in history. Long before World War I and World War II, there were imperialist campaigns by kings, popes, emperors, well beyond the better known campaigns of Charlemagne, Napoleon, the Tartars, and the Mongols to seize territory throughout the history of Central Europe.
It was often the case of accepting the explanation that these were just trivial “special military operations,” by petty power-hungry rulers and best to ignore these initial assaults on the tenets of sovereignty in hopes they would just fizzle out and go away. Frequently this attitude was accompanied by the false notion that if one just makes nice with the aggressor, they will eventually comply with peace and stability. But let me equate what is happening with the Russian invasion of Ukraine to Nazi Germany’s expansion into Central Europe.
Hitler’s motive was something called “Lebensraum,” a German concept of territorial expansionism under the pretext that expansionism was justified because these nations’ people were all of “one ethnic body,” a kind of romantic nationalism, excepting those who weren’t more purely of Aryan ethnicity, e.g. Jews, Gypsies.
First came the annexation of Czechoslovakia, then Poland (1939), then Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France (1940), Yugoslavia and Greece (1941). Separate from the racial motives, Hitler believed it was Germany’s “manifest destiny” to rule over all of Europe.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century. Vladimir Putin has similar delusions of expansionist grandeur, also based in part on ethnic assumptions.
Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter was signed by all members including Russia. The charter was unambiguous: “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat of the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
This was signed in 1945 at the conclusion of World War II, while the aftereffects of Nazi Germany’s and Japan’s expansionist campaigns were still fresh in the minds of the world. It was also an intentional statement to remind us collectively that when one gives an inch to power hungry despots in hopes that the inch will satisfy their appetites, that one inch always becomes a hungry mile.
Over the past two years, has our policy with respect to the war in Ukraine gone well? The answer to that in my view is yes, and no. Ukraine is part of a “Great Wall” protecting the democratic alliance of the nations of Europe that include, from north to south, Finland, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Poland and Ukraine. The economic and national security ties that bind these nations together are NATO and the European Union, with Ukraine to follow. Protecting these lifelong friends of the United States and resisting Russian aggression is absolutely in our national security and economic interest.
It is entirely plausible that were Ukraine to fall, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland could also fall. Some never thought it would happen with Nazi Germany, but it did, faster than anyone ever imagined. History will never forgive British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for his policy of appeasement towards Hitler’s rampage.
On the “no” side to our handling of support for Ukraine, let me channel President Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger. The “Weinberger Doctrine” essentially said: “The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.”
NATO’s incremental supply of weapons to Ukraine has kept Ukraine from capitulating to the Russian surge, but it has always been just too little too late to allow Ukraine to push Russia back out of Ukraine. NATO’s response needed to be the application of massive or overwhelming force to stop Russia in the first six months of the campaign.
So where are we now, policy wise, in Washington with respect to our support of this democratic nation in Europe? We are in a zero-sum partisan squabble over who can score the most political points in an election year when partisanship has clearly taken priority over global stability. Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make serious progress on a tripartite solution to our southern border, the funding of Israel and Ukraine, has so far been infected by silly, self-serving political animus.
It’s time for some of our undeveloped politicians in Washington to grow up and to work together as team USA in solving these critical domestic and international problems with a sense of statesman-like urgency.
Walking away is no different than appeasement. Refusing to effect a compromise deal that makes real headway on our southern border, tells Mr. Putin that the U.S. will always walk away from a fight, and tells Hamas and Iran that we hedge our bets in support of Israel’s right to defend itself. Refusing to stand up to these responsibilities in no uncertain terms, qualifies as tripartite appeasement. Give Putin an inch and he’ll take more of central and eastern Europe. Our southern border is complicated but the framework for taking action is at hand in the Senate.
Here’s a novel idea. Let’s celebrate a bipartisanship deal and give both parties the credit.
In this regrettable era of hyper-partisanship, is it too much to hope for some pragmatic, grown-up action in Washington, D.C.?
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.