“We in this country… are… the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”
So President John F. Kennedy would have said at the Dallas Trade Mart on Nov. 22, 1963, had he not been shot down that day by Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union.
In arguing for the defense of the free world, Kennedy represented a long tradition in US foreign policy. In 1917, Woodrow Wilson made the case for bringing the US into the war in Europe by insisting that “the world must be safe for democracy.” In the dark days of 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that, rather than deserting the British then bravely defending freedom’s walls, the US should become the “arsenal of democracy.”
But now, as the Ukrainian military runs low on ammunition, and the situation in that country threatens to become catastrophic, where is Joe Biden?
Russian missiles targeting Ukrainian urban infrastructure are starting to get through, and Ukrainian frontline forces have inadequate shells to respond to Russian artillery barrages.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, the situation is becoming unstable. While Ukraine could clearly win if it were supplied with airpower, it could also collapse quickly if the exhaustion of its anti-tank weaponry allows Russia to resume mobile warfare.
Resolving the deadlock
Decisive action is called for to avoid disaster. But instead, President Biden is seeking to place the blame for the lack of movement on the Putin Republicans who are stalling his request for more Ukraine arms funding. There is certainly some truth in this. Putin has declared that his invasion of Ukraine is a battle with Russia’s true enemy – the West. In helping him to prevail, the pro-Russia faction of the Republican Party (GOP) are aiding a war against the US. Their behavior is truly outrageous.
Yet the president’s job is not to complain about America’s enemies, but to defeat them. Biden has plenty of options for doing so.
First of all, the mainstream Republicans in the Senate led by Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, and Lindsay Graham, have put a deal on the table, offering approval of $60 billion worth of arms aid for Ukraine in exchange for improvements in border enforcement. Biden should have already grabbed that deal. I say that as someone who favors a more liberal immigration policy.
The border is completely out of control, and if Biden leaves it that way, he is gift-wrapping the White House for anti-immigrant demagogue Donald Trump. If there are problems with the GOP proposals, they can be sorted out later. A Ukrainian military collapse cannot.
It’s quite possible that the Trump-led Putin Republicans who have been beating the border enforcement drum as a pretext for defunding Ukraine will seek excuses to refuse to take “yes” for an answer. But that would leave them exposed as the Kremlin auxiliaries they are. This would give tremendous leverage for traditional Republicans to take back control of the party from the Trumpists. However, as shown by the support Democrats gave to sure-loser Trumpist crazies in the 2022 GOP primaries, that is an outcome that the current administration may wish to avoid.
But even if Biden doesn’t want to take the McConnell deal, he still has plenty of other cards to play.
Biden’s other options
Firstly, many US intermediate-range ATACM missiles, which would be of enormous utility to Ukraine, have reached their expiration date. As it would be cheaper to send them to Ukraine than to decommission them, sending them would be a cost-saving measure, requiring no Congressional appropriation. Yet, incredibly, Biden is refusing to take that course.
Biden could also obtain funds for arms without congressional action by expropriating frozen Russian government bank accounts. There is $300 billion in such cash available right now, which would be enough to fund the Ukrainian war effort for several years.
In 1994, Russia agreed with the US, the UK, and Ukraine, to respect Ukraine’s borders. It has broken that agreement. Furthermore, Russia’s invasion is in wild violation of international law. Consequently, it should be held liable for all damages caused by its illegal conduct and breach of promise, not only to Ukraine but to the US and UK for our costs. The administration is exploring this route, but taking its time, with “discussions” on this urgent matter unaccountably now scheduled for February.
Biden could also have sent arms to Ukraine, in virtually any amount, via the Lend Lease bill that was passed by Congress in 2022 and was in effect until December 2023. Or alternatively Biden could still send arms to Ukraine by emergency decree, as he did twice in 2022, and as he did for Israel in December 2023. Yet Biden is doing neither of those things.
Instead, in alignment with the Putin Republicans, Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan – the man most responsible for stalling and limiting all previous US arms deliveries to Ukraine – is now reportedly demanding that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky “sharpen his plans” as a condition for further US aid!
It seems hard to believe, but given his refusal to embrace any of the readily available alternatives, it appears that Biden has decided to let Putin win.
So why would he decide to do this?
Politics before security
One answer would be that the administration has returned to the very same appeasement policy that precipitated the invasion. In the months leading up to the February 2022 invasion, the Biden administration was fully aware that it was coming, and openly said so.
The right and necessary policy at that point was to seek to deter the invasion by sending Ukraine arms in advance. Yet the administration not only declined to do any such thing, it even invited the invasion by publicly assuring Putin that it would not intervene.
One of the architects of that policy was the Democrat Party’s Russia expert Samuel Charap, who, in January 2022 published an article in Foreign Policy magazine opposing any arms shipments to Ukraine. One would think that the resulting disaster would have made Charap persona non-grata in the administration. However, a survey of White House visitor logs has shown that Charap has been visiting frequently, including three times in the fall of 2023. Apparently, his counsel of defeat is again being well received.
But why now?
After Zelensky refused the administration’s offer to assist him in deserting his country, the embarrassed White House shifted gear to provide substantial, if still too limited, assistance to Ukraine’s defense.
What has since changed? What could be a higher priority for the administration than the defense of the Free World?
One obvious reason is defense of the administration. It appears that Biden is quite willing to incur a geostrategic catastrophe if he can blame it on the Republicans. This is an election year, after all, and the GOP has certainly laid itself open to the charge of collaborating with the enemy.
Such a plan might seem quite clever to the political hacks running administration national security policy. Yet it is pure folly. Biden is the president, and the buck stops with him. In 1940, the British had their backs to the wall. The US was their only hope, and so the Nazi sympathizers calling themselves the America First movement were doing everything they could to cut that lifeline.
Yet rather than allow the Nazis to win the war so he could blame that catastrophe on his election year political opponents, Roosevelt did whatever was necessary to outmaneuver them. Imagine the horrific consequences if he had adopted Biden’s current course of action instead.
The analogy is fully apt. Anyone who wants to see what will ensue in Ukraine following Russian victory has only to visit the mass graves in Bucha, created for the multitude murdered there during Russia’s brief occupation of that town. Should Russia take the whole country, millions would die.
But it gets worse than that.
Imagining the unimaginable
If Russia were to win, this war would not stop in Ukraine. Following such a victory, Russia would be greatly strengthened both materially and technically, and its armed forces would be advanced to the borders of NATO allies Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.
Ukraine’s army would be deleted from the West’s order of battle. Russia would then be free to send its army into the Baltic States, whose legitimacy Putin does not acknowledge. These countries are NATO members. But Russian troops cannot be repelled by an enraged populace hurling NATO membership cards at them. It takes force to repel force.
The idea that the US would go to nuclear war to defend Estonia is simply not credible, and the “practical” arguments against sending US troops into such a fight would be a thousand times stronger than those currently being advanced to help Ukraine resist using its own forces.
Think about what the consequences would be if Biden, having delivered 20 million Afghan woman and girls to slavery under the Taliban, were to now totally discredit deterrence by deserting Ukraine as well.
The entire island of Taiwan, and all approaches to it, sits within easy range of Chinese land-based missiles. Unless it is 100 percent certain of full-hearted and enduring US support in its defense, it will have no choice but to capitulate to China on demand. Those powers who do not wish to surrender, such as Japan and South Korea, will be forced to initiate crash programs to develop their own nuclear arsenals. This will turn the world into a tinder box for Armageddon.
Such a catastrophe is completely unnecessary.
While cutting off supplies of existing types of arms could lead to a Ukrainian defeat, providing Ukraine with the types of arms denied it up until now could easily lead to victory. Ukraine needs air power. Claims that Ukraine’s summer offensive “fell short of expectations” are nonsensical. Ukraine was asked to conduct a ground offensive against an entrenched opponent without air superiority – something the US Army has not done since 1898.
But if Ukraine were provided with F16s and ATACMS at scale, it could cut off Russian supply lines to its front, making its positions indefensible. The US has over 2000 F16s, which it no longer uses as combat aircraft, and thousands of ATACMS ready to be decommissioned as well. There is no legitimate reason to continue to deny Ukraine these essential tools for victory.
So, Joe, here are your alternatives: You can show some courage and save the free world. Or you can continue your present course and lead the planet into a new dark age – and lose the election too.
The choice is yours.
Robert Zubrin is an American aerospace engineer. His next book, The New World on Mars: What Can We Create on the Red Planet will be published in February 2024 by Diversion Books.
The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter