By: Kevin D. Williamson – nationalreview.com –
About the war in Ukraine: Is the United States a belligerent?
The Russians think so. Kremlin spokesreptile Dmitry Peskov says that the United States “definitely has declared economic war against Russia” and promises that the Russian response will be . . . something.
We should assume that in this if nothing else the Kremlin is telling the truth, and we should prepare ourselves for what that response might be.
What the Russians currently are perpetrating in Ukraine is less a war than a mass murder, with Putin’s forces targeting residential buildings and a maternity hospital, among other civilian sites. The world has recoiled in disgust and contempt from Russia — from the Putin regime and the people who enable it — and though the Biden administration has not exactly exercised inspiring leadership in this, the actions of the country with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military inevitably stand out.
In practical terms, the U.S. (and U.K.) prohibition of Russian oil imports probably will not have much of an economic effect — certainly not in comparison to the other measures that have been taken — but even largely symbolic gestures can have a powerful effect, and the Kremlin seems to be very much agitated by the boycott.
The Biden administration’s bumbling on the matter of sending MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine is the result of both nations’ fears that the action would drag them directly into the war in Ukraine. Poland wanted to send the jets to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and Washington shied away from the prospect of having fighter jets fly out of a U.S. base in a NATO country into the war zone in Ukraine. The thinking was that this would look too much like the United States and NATO carrying out a military operation against Russian forces in Ukraine.
In truth, the United States is a belligerent if Vladimir Putin says the United States is a belligerent. He is perfectly capable of making up a pretext, however absurd, to justify whatever action he wants to take — that is why Russians are in Ukraine in the first place. His subjects in Russia are largely pliant and inclined to accept the propaganda they are fed, and those who aren’t can be jailed, terrorized into silence, or murdered. Putin can do what he chooses — it is not like he is worried about an upcoming election.
The MiG fiasco underlined the Biden administration’s predictable fecklessness and disorganization — America needed a Keystone pipeline but we got the Keystone Cops — and if there is any serious thinking going on in the White House about what Putin’s response to our “declaration of economic war” is likely to be, there isn’t any obvious evidence of it. The posture of the Biden administration by all appearances is one of wishful thinking: that while the United States and the world have rightly taken a side in this conflict, the fighting is going to stay in Ukraine.
What if it doesn’t?
A direct military attack by Russian forces on the United States is, of course, unlikely. But a Russian attack on Moldova is far from unthinkable. It is entirely possible that Putin will attack a NATO member such as Lithuania, Latvia, or even Poland, whose people have gone to such extraordinary lengths to assist the Ukrainians. There are already Americans fighting in Ukraine, as private volunteers rather than as part of our armed forces. If Putin is looking for a pretext, he will have no trouble finding one.
The United States is keenly interested in keeping the fighting in Ukraine. But the fighting will stay in Ukraine for only as long as Putin believes it is in his interest to keep it there. That may not be much longer. Putin already has failed to achieve his main political objective in Ukraine and will not achieve it no matter how long the conflict drags on; what was intended as a show of awesome military might has instead been a display of weakness and incompetence. A wider war — a glorious crusade — might soon suit Putin’s purposes better than does a quagmire in Ukraine, where the Russian army has been reduced to trying to substitute atrocities for victories.
President Joe Biden has said that U.S. forces will defend “every inch” of NATO territory. But Biden was there when the Obama administration offered a lot of big talk about “red lines” in Syria and then did nothing. Biden’s people right now are engaging in counterproductive (to say the least) negotiations with Tehran that serve no obvious U.S. interest, and going through Moscow to do so. Vladimir Putin calculates and, as he has just demonstrated, he sometimes miscalculates. Putin might be inclined to take an inch and put Biden to the test.
President Biden has promised in very direct language: “I will not send American servicemen to fight in Ukraine.” But whether the United States finds itself at war with Russia is not Biden’s decision — it is Putin’s decision. Washington’s part is to be ready for whatever he decides, and to not be caught by surprise.
If by “every inch” President Biden means “every inch,” then we had better be prepared to do what it takes to make good on that. It will involve more than high gas prices.
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