Thursday, March 24, 2022

Relearning "Warm" War

I was born in the early years of the Cold War, when a world devastated by a recent red-hot world war, found itself divided into two hostile camps, the Western "Free World" vs. the Soviet "Evil Empire." Now, 74 years later, a West, devastated in different ways by prosperity and self-inflicted moral and cultural decadence, is once again responding to Russia's aggressive aspirations to regain its "Evil Empire." The year I was born, the West, under U.S. leadership, boldly responded to Soviet aggression, navigating the narrow space between the scylla of "hot" war and the charybdis of appeasement, by means of the Berlin Airlift.  Such is the sort of "warm" war response, which the U.S. and its NATO allies are struggling to craft in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Mesmerized by the historical lesson of the failure of appeasement in the 1930s, the Cold War at times led to tragic overreach, most notably in Vietnam, an experience which has undermined American self-confidence for generations. On the other side, the Soviets' own overreach in Afghanistan actually helped to undermine the Soviet Union itself and exposed its inherent fragility to all to see. After our own post-Cold War overreach in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S., under President Biden's moderate, steady leadership, formed from the lessons of the Cold War rather than delusions about the either an "end of history" or some mythical "arc of history," seems to have recalibrated and relearned the art of "warm" war.

Unlike South Vietnam, a client state with an ambiguous national identity and limited commitment to defeat the enemy, Ukraine has revealed itself to be (notwithstanding Putin's claims to the contrary) a real country with an authentic national identity and a broadly shared societal commitment defeat its enemy. American assistance actually might make a difference, not just in prolonging some sort of stalemate (as in other recent American interventions) but in actually helping Ukraine to save its sovereignty and achieve the victory it deserves and needs and the defeat that Russia deserves and needs.

The neo-isolationists (a perennial plague in American politics) correctly sense that any alternative to appeasement involves risk (as if appeasement didn't entail risks of its own). But, as The Gilded Age's Berha Russell would say, "whoever achieved great things without taking a chance?" Let us hope that President Biden and his fellow NATO leaders, meeting today in Brussels, will combine courage and prudence in assessing opportunity and minimizing risk and re-learn the Cold War art of "warm" war to save Ukraine's national sovereignty and forge a more promising future for Europe and the world outside of Russia's "Evil Empire."

Слава Україні!

(Glory to Ukraine!)

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