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What's at stake in Ukraine and why the US must care

What’s at stake in Ukraine and why the US must care

The United States must remain steadfast in support of Ukraine despite the isolationist elements that are now making themselves heard among Republicans. Russian president Vladimir Putin is attempting to make war among nations in Europe the norm, as it was in the twentieth century — and that poses a threat to America that must not be allowed to take root.
Ever since their invasion began in February 2022, Russian forces have murdered civilians, kidnapped Ukrainian children and deported them to Russia, and committed other atrocities. Sooner or later there must be a day of judgment for these war criminals.

In May 2021, I led a delegation to Ukraine sponsored by the American Foreign Policy Council. We met with many of Ukraine’s cabinet ministers. We traveled to Mariupol, which Russia would seize after it invaded. We visited the line of contact facing the Russian armed proxies in east Ukraine. Every Ukrainian soldier, official, and citizen I met expressed a determination to fight for their country if Russia attacked. When Russia attacked Ukraine in February 2022, we witnessed that resolve.

Americans today face enormous problems at home. Inflation, racial divisions, the national debt, and the southern-border crisis are understandably the main focus of our day-to-day attention. Many Americans are also discouraged by the previous overseas adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, disappointments that have been easily exploited by neo-isolationists, some in the Republican Party and some on Fox News, who assert that “not another dime” should be sent to support Ukraine’s self-defense.

Every week in Vienna as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), I delivered a message of American resolve and leadership in the OSCE Permanent Council. The Helsinki Accords of 1976 and their “Final Act” are the foundation of the OSCE. The Accords stand for the inviolability of borders, for the sovereignty of all nations, and for every country’s right to choose its own path and alliances. The “Final Act” stands for open access to information, for human rights and democratic values.

Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression, with its many criminal atrocities, flies in the face of the Helsinki Accords. Putin believes it is his destiny to reassemble the Soviet-Russian empire. Ukraine is the essential first step towards that goal, but not the last. If he prevails, further aggression on European soil is certain.

Putin’s launch of his invasion of Ukraine presented a “zero-sum game” for the West. Once it was launched, any middle ground for resolution of the long-standing conflict disappeared. Even the possibility of negotiations is foreclosed, because any negotiation that rewards Russia in any way will send the message that aggression pays off. Putin is forcing the West to either deny Russia its victory or quit and abandon Ukraine.

In my view, quitting has never been an option. If the United States and the Western allies choose to quit supporting Ukraine, Putin will prevail. Using force to achieve geostrategic aims will then become the new norm in Europe and world-wide. Putin will be on the way to his dream of a new Russian empire, a reality not lost on the Baltic States, Poland, eastern Europe, and our Western allies. If Putin’s aggression succeeds, Russia will have proven that it can attack its neighbors with impunity whenever it wants. Europe will have no choice but to accommodate him, and our alliances will weaken. America must not let that happen.

The outcome of the Ukraine war also has a direct bearing on the decisions of Chairman Xi Jinping in China. Xi has left no doubt as to his goal of subjugating Taiwan. China has no moral or historic right to subject any free people to its totalitarian rule. But the odds of a Chinese attack would only increase if America abandoned Ukraine to Putin and allowed conquest-by-force to become the new normal.
In truth, Putin, and Chairman Xi are counting on Americans to lose interest in Ukraine, and to demand that the U.S. cease its support for the Ukrainians. If America waivers, our NATO allies will follow suit. America is still the leader of the Western world. And no matter what story the mainstream media tells, our allies still wish for decisive American leadership.

America has never allowed either Europe or the western Pacific to be dominated by a hostile power, and it has certainly never allowed both to be dominated by a hostile power at the same time. Any such domination would be an existential threat to the United States. A world controlled by the Putin and Xi regimes would be a world of tyranny, violence, and the destruction of human rights — a world the United States could never abide. Sooner or later, we would be forced to stand up, and we’d have to fight the new world war that neo-isolationists warn about with fewer allies at our side. Saving Ukraine is our last best chance to save ourselves from an expenditure in treasure and blood that will make our present support for the Ukrainians seem trivial.

It is time for a political reckoning in America with those who undermine our commitment to Ukraine. The new isolationism leads America down a path toward the destruction of our way of life, if not of our nation itself. The new isolationists must not be allowed to succeed in turning the frustrations and resentments of the American people against the interests of the nation.
American resolve starts with presidential and congressional leadership. Our leaders must be clear that they will reject the siren song of surrender when the moment calls for courage. Our very lives may depend on the outcome of this crisis. We must do everything in our power to ensure that Ukraine succeeds.

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