Joe Biden has done what great leaders do: he has clearly and precisely defined a short term and long term goal for the United States in our handling of the Ukraine crisis. Today, Steve asks: What more can we all do to achieve those objectives?
Joe Biden waited until the second-to-the-last sentence of his rousing 3,500-word speech in Warsaw on Saturday to lower the boom: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Woah, Mr. President… what exactly are you saying?
A White House spokesman hastened to Joe-splain the President’s comment. “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” The New York Times reported. The spokesman continued, “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.” Democrats from Amy Klobuchar to Ro Khanna sought to clarify that no one was suggesting that the United States actively take military steps to force regime change in Russia.
Huh? So Joe was not discussing regime change? Isn’t “this man cannot remain in power” sort of a synonym for “regime change?” Fine, Biden was not saying that the United States should be actively involved in a coup… but he sure as hell meant to say Putin must go.
Hey, Democrats, don’t back-pedal. Your boss was calling it exactly right.
An unfathomably ruthless, inhumanly cruel, genocidal thug is solely in charge of a huge portion of the world’s nuclear arsenal. That does not offer the best odds for our survival as a species. “This man cannot remain in power,” all right.
Putin has been waging a campaign of genocide in Ukraine, mindlessly bombing obvious civilian targets like hospitals, schools, shelters, and apartment buildings in an effort to crush the will of the Ukrainian people. He appears unconcerned that his own soldiers are dying in droves, as he is content with a stalemate in the ground battle while he bombs civilians from distances. It appears that he must emerge with some face-saving gain for his troubles, and he is obviously trying to strengthen his bargaining position by allowing the West to believe he is considering tactical nuclear weapons.
He clearly harbors ambition to reconquer the sovereign nations of the old Soviet Union and reclaim a sphere of influence throughout Eastern Europe. He is throttling his own people, outlawing dissent, and spewing a geyser of disinformation on his state-run media. He is living in a world of alternative facts of his own manufacture, accusing Ukraine of the very atrocities he is committing.
Biden is right: only the removal of Putin from power can restore the guardrails that governed global coexistence since World War II. To pretend that the world is safe when Vladimir Putin is in control of Russia is foolish. To cave in to his ego by making concessions in the Donbas or accepting a Korea-like division of Ukraine would be wrong. To believe that we can negotiate with him, or that he will be content with a face-saving gesture is to channel Neville Chamberlain’s naïveté.
After weeks of focusing only on the short term objectives, Biden – however inadvertently -- articulated the long term objective that Putin deserves. To spell it out: the Western powers need to continue to economically ostracize, isolate, and strangle Russia as long as it takes until the powers that be in Russia – oligarchs, the military, or the citizenry -- turn on Putin and end his reign. That is the long term objective.
This long term objective is different from the short term objective that has governed U.S. actions since the outbreak of war, which is to keep Ukraine from falling to Russia without triggering World War III. That is, the United States has been willing to support Ukraine to a point: we are supplying a vast arsenal of munitions and leading a stunning global economic boycott of Russia. But we have publicly stated that we refuse to take steps that will put our military in direct conflict with Russia, risking rapid and massive escalation.
Ironically, these short-term goals of the United States are actually being served by the current military stalemate: Putin is not succeeding in conquering Ukraine, but the United States has not needed to directly intercede and risk triggering WWIII. The United States is helping Ukraine enough so that it is avoiding being conquered by Russia, but not enough to actually drive the invaders out.
The narrow path of “full support without direct involvement” that Biden has strenuously walked is the most sensible, sober, and prudent… and yet the ironic result is that U.S. policy is now unintentionally contributing to elongating the Russian genocide.
At a certain point, we must recognize that we are asking the Ukrainian people to single-handedly beat back a man who is a clear and present danger to all humanity.
At a certain point, we must realize that standing by and allowing the genocide to continue is morally wrong.
The question of the day is simple: What more could we being doing to achieve both our short and long term objectives? What more could we be doing to end the genocide without triggering World War III? And what more can we do to hasten the end of Putin’s rule?
Four suggestions follow.1. Stop telling Russia what we will not do.
Joe Biden has publicly stated that the United States will not be in “direct conflict” with Russia, which, by Biden’s definition means that there will be no ground troops and no American jets in Ukraine. In essence, Biden has drawn his own red lines, unilaterally taking potential actions off the table, limiting his options. This decision may have been intended to mollify a domestic audience, but what it is accomplishing now is giving Vladimir Putin a clear understanding that he can bomb Ukraine to kingdom come without triggering the United States to intervene.
What makes this particularly flawed as a strategy is that the war itself is changing, but the actions of the United States are restricted to positions we articulated at the very outset of the war… before the Russian targeting of civilians became apparent, and before the genocide began.
Now that the Biden White House has publicly declared the Russia has committed war crimes, the administration has every right to announce that it is reconsidering every aspect of its policy concerning the Ukraine war. It would be wise to simply announce that all prior statements that were intended to define and limit the scope of the United States’ role in this conflict are no longer binding, because Russia has changed the nature of their invasion.
Please, Mr. President, stop announcing what we will not do. Ironically, the Biden White House used the withholding of consequences very effectively in regard to the sanctions. Biden never spelled out what the sanctions would be, and Putin was clearly stunned by the extent and severity of the financial punishment. Putin was thrown off guard on the economic front. There is no reason why we should not take the same approach to military conflict.
To be clear: No one is advocating sending troops into Ukraine. But announcing that we will never do so emboldens Putin to pummel the Ukrainian people with little regard for consequence. Joe Biden should announce that all previous limitations we placed on our role in this conflict are no longer binding.2. Re-state our Ukraine aid policy so that fighter jets are correctly viewed as no different from any other form of military equipment.
One maddening aspect about U.S. communications is that we are consistently articulating an inconsistent policy. We are supplying a vast arsenal of weaponry to Ukraine, but we have refused to provide jet fighters, or even provide jets to Poland so that Poland can give Ukraine the MIG jets that the Ukrainians know how to fly.
What, exactly, is the difference between a powerful anti-aircraft missile, an anti-tank weapon, and an airplane? No one is saying that we should be supplying pilots to fly the jets. But a weapon is a weapon.
Once again, we are needlessly drawing our own red line… and it is only helping Putin.
Putting more aircraft in the hands of Ukraine could have a significant impact on this confrontation. To date, the stymied and slowed Russian convoys have appeared to be sitting ducks for an effective air assault.3. Stop implying that we cannot put troops into Ukraine because it is not a member of NATO.
In Biden’s impassioned speech on Saturday, he said that “American forces are in Europe not to engage in conflict with Russian forces. American forces are here to defend NATO allies.”
The fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO is somehow considered an explanation for why the United States and NATO refuses to send ground troops into Ukraine. This is strange logic. NATO is a defensive alliance, requiring all member nations to respond if any individual member is attacked.
It is not a pact that precludes a NATO nation from entering a conflict in a non-NATO nation.
In the first Gulf War, the United States led a coalition of nations to halt Iraq’s attack on Kuwait, and then initiated Operation Desert Storm in order to drive Saddam Hussein’s army out. The fact that we did not have a pre-existing mutual defense pact with Kuwait did not stop the United States from military involvement in defending a sovereign nation under threat of military conquest from a hostile authoritarian regime.
Putin felt perfectly free to send his military into the sovereign state of Ukraine for the purpose of conquest. NATO nations have every right to do so for the purpose of aid and defense. We should not be giving Putin a reason why we are not directly involved… we should take the position that the United States of America always has the right to act to stop genocide.
4. Most important: Initiate a vast and aggressive communications campaign to educate the Russian people about the truth of their government’s war in Ukraine.
There are only three paths that lead to Putin falling from power in Russia: (1) the military decides that Putin’s war is wrong for any number of strategic, executional, or humanitarian reasons and overthrows him, (2) the oligarchs conspire to have him removed, or (3) the people rise by the millions to change their government. The simple truth is this: neither of the first two are going to happen. Putin puts only people who are loyal to him personally in charge of the military. And the oligarchs appear utterly beholden to Putin, and are likely terrified that Putin’s intelligence operation could sniff out any coup.
Which leaves us with option three: a popular uprising in Russia against the war, and against the economic carnage that the war is bringing.
Right now, the odds of that happening are extremely small. Vladimir Putin is justifying his brutal war in Ukraine through an equally savage assault on any remnants of free and independent press in Russia. All that the Russia people hear is that the Ukrainian government is “Nazi,” that the Ukrainians are contemplating use of chemical weapons, and that the Russian army is only attacking military targets. Indeed, the Russian people are being told that the entire action is not a “war,” but a “special military operation.”
And, now, Putin has put an “electronic iron curtain” in place over Russia, threatening journalists with prison terms for reporting the facts of Russia’s genocide in Ukraine, and throttling the ability of major social media vehicles to virally disseminate truth within the Russian borders.
Sure, you have the very rare and gutsy Russian journalist like Marina Ovsyannikova, who held a protest sign on Russian state-run television labeling the very broadcast she appeared on to be just so much dishonest propaganda. But such outbursts are rare indeed in a communications infrastructure that is wholly beholden to Putin.
In short, the Russian people appear to be generally buying into Putin’s version of Ukraine. A March 8 poll (reported by the Washington Post) revealed that 58% of the Russian population supports the war.
We need to change that number.
In 2016, Vladimir Putin waged a campaign of cyberwarfare in the United States, which exacerbated political polarization and likely influenced the election of a United States president, changing the direction of our government.
It is time we return the favor.
The United States must supply weapons to Ukraine, but we must supply the truth to Russia.
We are not doing enough to make Russian civilians know exactly what their army is doing in Ukraine. We are not doing enough to explain the economic sanctions are in place because of their government’s lawless aggression against a free and sovereign people.
We are not doing enough to make the Russian people understand that Putin’s butchery is the reason that Russia is being ostracized from the world.
We need to wage a massive communications initiative to flood Russia with accurate information about what Putin is doing in Ukraine.
We must launch a comprehensive effort – “Radio Free Russia” – to find every possible way to get the real story of what is happening in Ukraine into cities, villages, and homes in Russia.
We must make sure that the Russian people see the corpses of civilians on the streets, the bleeding pregnant mothers on stretchers, the mortally wounded children, and, yes, the dead babies. They must see the shells exploding into apartment buildings, hospitals, and schools. They must see the refugee mothers and children arriving in shock in welcoming western nations, and understand that these wives and children may never see their husbands and fathers again.
Indeed, the Russians should see and understand that their own soldiers – their own sons, daughters, and neighbors – are being sent to war, poorly prepared, undersupplied, demoralized, and sacrificed needlessly.
They must understand that when Putin says the government of Ukraine is comprised of Nazis, he is lying. That when Putin says the Russians are not targeting civilians, he is lying. That when Putin opens his mouth, he is lying.
We must make the Russian people understand that their economy is in free fall because the civilized world abhors the barbarian cruelty of their government.
Arnold Schwarzenegger just showed us.
In a simple video, looking straight into camera, Schwarzenegger told the Russian people the truth… calmly, confidently, and – most important – respectfully. He did not demonize the Russian people. Quite the opposite: he conveyed that he knows that the Russian people deserve far better than Vladimir Putin. He told the Russian people what was really happening in Ukraine. The video has had 35 million views, and the BBC reports that it is “trending” in Russia.
What is most interesting about Schwarzenegger’s video is that he did not present himself as a representative of the United States government. He was appealing to the Russia people, individual to individual, citizen to citizen.
That is what we need to do.
This campaign of truth should not be the product of the United States government.
It should be by, for, and from the people of one nation to the people of another.
It should begin with millions of individuals acting on their own, doing what they can. Start by asking every American who knows someone in Russia – everyone who knows someone with a working email address inside Russia – to forward real news, real videos, and the truth about the unconscionable carnage the Russian government is unleashing on a peaceful neighbor.
It could actually be quite an opportunity for our private sector to step up. Frankly, in our highly polarized politics, this represents a rare moment for a corporation to make a statement that would be unifying and energizing within our country, and every bit as healthy for their brand as it would be for peace in the world.
Hey, marketing director of American Express, Verizon, Apple, or Google: announce that your company is redirecting $100,000,000 of your advertising budget to a communications program to get the truth into Russia.
Underwrite videos that enlist the biggest names in entertainment – sports, music, film stars, journalists, cultural icons. Ask Paul McCartney to tape a video explaining to the Russian people that their government is not telling about the truth in Ukraine. Taylor Swift. AOC. Zendaya. Reese Witherspoon. Rafael Nadal. Serena Williams. Heck, Will Smith and Chris Rock.
And, yeah, sure, Barack Obama, George Dubya Bush, Mitt Romney, and Bill Clinton.
Hire out best technologists to figure out how to penetrate the electronic iron curtain. Hey, Facebook, want to enhance that tarnished reputation by doing something great for the world?
The message is simple: these videos must explain to the Russian people that the world will ostracize their nation economically, culturally, and politically until there is radical change in their country’s rogue, terrorist behavior.
Explain to the Russian people that when they have a government dedicated to peaceful co-existence and respect for sovereign rights of independent nations, they will be welcomed back.
Joe Biden is right.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Right now, the only way that can happen – and, indeed, the way it should happen -- is if the Russian people rise up and protest in numbers too big for Putin to imprison, brutalize, or kill.
And the only way that is going to happen is if they learn the truth.
For the sake of the people in Ukraine, for all the people threatened by Putin, made refugees by Putin, for all the men, women, children, and babies slaughtered by Putin, we must do all we can to achieve Joe Biden’s short term and long term objectives.
Fine, Joe. We should not create a direct military confrontation with Russia.
No. Instead, let’s go to battle using the most devastating weapon known to man – the truth.
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