Remember: A lot of countries in the world are neutral in this war because, as much as they might sympathize with Ukrainians, they really don’t like to see America or NATO act like a bully — even toward Putin. If this is going to be a long war, and Ukraine is able to recover all or most of its territory, it is vital that this be perceived as Putin vs. the world, not Putin vs. America.
And let’s be careful not to raise Ukrainian expectations too high. Small countries that suddenly get the backing of big powers can get intoxicated. Many things have changed about Ukraine since the end of the Cold War — except one: its geography. It is still, and it will always be, a relatively small nation on Russia’s border. It is going to have to make some hard compromises before this conflict is over. Let’s not make it even harder for it by adding unrealistic goals.
At the same time, be careful about falling in love with a country you could not find on a map with 10 tries a year ago. Ukraine has a history of political corruption and thuggish oligarchs, but it was making progress toward democratic reforms before the Russian invasion. It has not become Denmark in the last three months, although, God bless them, a lot of young people there are really trying, and I want to support them.
But I saw a play in 1982 that I cannot get out of my head. Israelis fell in love with the Christian Phalangists in Lebanon, with whom they teamed up to drive Yasir Arafat’s P.L.O. out of Beirut. Together they were going to remake the Levant but overreached. This led to all kinds of unintended consequences — the Phalangist leader got assassinated; Israel got stuck in the mud in Lebanon; and a pro-Iranian Shiite militia emerged in south Lebanon to resist the Israelis. It was called “Hezbollah.” It now dominates Lebanese politics.
The Biden team has done so well so far with its limited goals. It should stay there.
“The war in Ukraine gave the administration an opportunity to demonstrate the U.S.’s unique assets in the world today: Its ability to forge and hold a global alliance of countries to confront an act of authoritarian aggression; and second, the capacity to wield an economic super weapon in response that only the dominance of the dollar in the global economy makes possible,” explained Nader Mousavizadeh, founder and C.E.O. of Macro Advisory Partners, a geostrategic consulting firm.
If the U.S. can continue to effectively deploy those two assets, he added, “it will vastly improve our long-term power and standing in the world and send a very powerful deterrent message to both Russia and China.”
In foreign affairs, success breeds authority and credibility, and credibility and authority breed more success. Just restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty, and frustrating Putin’s military there, would be a huge achievement with lasting dividends. Al Shaver knew what he was talking about: When you lose, say little. When you win, say less. Everyone can see the score.