This month marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For one year I have been wondering why the rest of the world is allowing the fighting to continue to not evicting Russia from Ukraine, by force if necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reluctance to initiate another war—whether it be hot or cold. My son is nearing the age when he will have to register with Selective Service; the last thing I want is another world war and the possibility of a draft in the U.S. At the same time, the fear of hardship—even violence and war—should not be a deterrent to doing what is right.
C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” That’s a familiar quote because it’s true. But if it is true that integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching then it certainly follows that integrity includes doing the right thing when everyone is watching. And the world is watching Ukraine.
Last September, when the war was but seven months old, the Pew Research Center reported that Americans were less concerned about the war spreading into other countries than they had been, with just over a quarter of U.S. adults saying that they were not too concerned or were not concerned at all about Russia defeating Ukraine. At the same time, 57% of Americans said that the U.S. was providing the right amount or too much support to Ukraine.
Well, let’s be honest—if the U.S. were supplying adequate support to Ukraine, the war would be over and Russia would have lost.
In December, Steven Pifer wrote, for The Brookings Institution, that the war has “proven a disaster for Russia — militarily, economically, and geopolitically. The war has badly damaged Russia’s military and tarnished its reputation, disrupted the economy, and profoundly altered the geopolitical picture facing Moscow in Europe.” That may be true, but wrote that two months ago today and Russia does not seem inclined to give up.
A year ago Paul Kolbe, the director of the Intelligence Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a 25-year veteran of the CIA, said this about U.S. involvement in Ukraine:
From a principled standpoint, if the United States stands for democracy, if it stands for freedom of nations and peoples to choose their paths, if it stands opposed to aggression and efforts to change borders by force, then this is the ideal example of exactly where we should be walking the walk and not just talking the talk.
Kolbe was right then and his comments are still right today. Back in November, when Russia withdrew from Kherson, General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “When peace can be achieved, seize it.” Maybe. But there’s a reason why Neville Chamberlain is best remembered for the utter foolishness of his claim of having achieved “peace for our time.” Appeasing Hitler proved to be naïve but shortsighted; before long, Hitler was doing exactly what he promised he wouldn’t do. And who can blame him, given that the rest of the world’s leading countries had demonstrated a reluctance to do what was necessary to make him stop? In case anyone has forgotten, the appeasement approach was already tried with Putin, too. (Remember Crimea?)
In late December Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was interested in negotiating an end to the war. Specifically, he said,
All armed conflicts end one way or another with some kind of negotiations on the diplomatic track. Sooner or later, any parties in a state of conflict sit down and make an agreement. The sooner this realization comes to those who oppose us, the better. We have never given up on this.
In other words, Putin is ready for a diplomatic agreement that gives him what he wants. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Giving Russia even one square inch of Ukrainian soil would serve to embolden Putin further but would also embolden Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un and others.
Paul Kolbe said that the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “are complex and multifaceted and include history and psychology, longstanding grievances and grudges, and a bitter resentment of NATO.” All true—and none of them justify the invasion or giving Russia anything. Near the end of the American Civil War, the South made some overtures about a negotiated end to the war. The war had been going on for years and hundreds of thousands had died; no one in their right mind would have refused to listen to their offer. But Abraham Lincoln made one thing clear—there would be no end to the war without an end to slavery.
In the same way, the U.S., NATO and other Ukrainian allies would do well to listen to Putin about a diplomatic agreement, but only one that includes a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian soil. That cannot be negotiated.
Last month, the George W. Bush Presidential Center released a report explaining why it is vital to U.S. national interest to support Ukraine. The report said, in part,
[I]t’s vital that the United States show total, bipartisan solidarity with Ukraine and any other country that might be threatened by thuggish, authoritarian regimes. The United States must lead, together with our allies, and that leadership starts with a united front between the executive and legislative branches on such a vital national security matter.
I agree with that assertion. But I agree even more strongly with this statement from earlier in the report:
There also must be accountability for Russian war crimes and genocidal acts committed against Ukrainians. Led by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainians reject the notion of negotiations involving territorial concessions in exchange for a ceasefire.
The U.S. must stand by Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. Maybe, like a district attorney negotiating an agreement with a murderer and taking the death penalty off the table in exchange for a confession, war crimes are taken off the table in exchange for an end to the fighting and a removal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. Short of that, though, there can be no deal.
John Adams once said, “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” That’s easier said than done most of the time. But in this instance, it’s actually quite clear. We know what the good thing is to do. Are we willing to do it?