Victor Davis Hanson
One of the oddest commentaries about the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the boilerplate reaction that “borders can’t change in modern Europe” or “this does not happen in the 21st century.”
But why in the world should the 21st century be exempt from the pathologies of the past 20 centuries? Are we smarter than the Romans? More innovative than Florentines? Do we have more savvy leaders than Lincoln or Churchill? Are they more mellifluous than Demosthenes? Does anyone now remember that some 130,000 were slaughtered just 30 years ago in the former Yugoslavia, as NATO planes bombed Belgrade and nuclear America and Russia almost squared off?
Has globalization, the “rules-based order,” the Davos reset elite, the “international community” so improved the very way humans think that they have rendered obsolete the now ossified ancient idea of deterrence? Will the Kardashians and Beyoncé tweet our pathway to global peace?
How about transnational NGOs? NATO? WHO? The UN? Are all their recent records of service proof of our more exalted modern morality? Will some new engineered Wuhan virus alter human nature, end its innate ancient pathologies, and so eliminate war as we knew it? Are we not the League of Nations because Putin is now chair of the Security Council?
In truth, anything can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time—and has and will until the end of time.
So let us walk down the crowded road to Kiev.
The Russian Agenda
Putin feels that Russia was once a great player (defined mostly as “feared”) in world affairs. But now it—i.e., he— is not. He thinks if he can grab back some of the old Soviet Union’s now lost 100 million people and 30 percent of its territory, then his Russia would again become a superpower—especially given the natural wealth of his former Soviet republics.
He knows that the longer some of these republics are Westernized and become acculturated to the passions of popular culture, the more difficult it will be to coerce them into becoming Russian subordinates. So Putin feels a sense of urgency that in the past was not always his conniving trademark—but now perhaps accentuated by his age or health. UN Security Council Chair Putin’s pique at his supposed wounds is endless given his incessant citations of NATO bombing on kindred Serbia, the 2004 orange revolution, or the 2008 Ukrainian coup.
He feels we are decadent, soft, pampered—to the point of not replying to his provocations. So, he presses. In his Stalinesque mind, we purportedly do not deserve the power and influence we supposedly inherited at his expense, while his Russia, he boasts, is tough, religious, and deserves far more from the modern age than its current diminished status. Like Stalin, he has developed a visceral dislike of sermonizing Western elites, none of whom he thinks can box, judo kick, fish, shoot, or ride bare-chested at his level.
So, to the degree Putin believes in a cost-to-benefit analysis that any envisioned invasion will prove profitable, he will invade anywhere he feels the odds favor his agenda. And when he does not—if America or NATO offers a deterrent, if oil is plentiful and cheap, and if Western leaders are sober and strong rather than loud and weak—he will not so gamble. It’s really that simple. Feed Putin a hand, and he will gobble a torso.
Will Ukraine Survive?
In theory, Ukraine should not last, given the numerical odds against it. Mysteriously it almost seems unprepared for a massive invasion. Its roads are apparently not blocked and mined. Putin has been massing troops since November, so why did not NATO flood the country with weapons in late 2021 to ensure endless supplies of anti-tank and anti-plane missiles?
Still, the Russians may, we hope, have a hard time of it in Ukraine—if for no other reason than the country is larger than Iraq in both size and population. It has lots of supply conduits across the borders with four NATO countries that can finally begin pouring in weaponry. An invader that cannot stop resupply from third-party neighbors can rarely subdue its target.
So if in a week Putin cannot shock and awe the elite or decapitate the government, he will have a hard time subduing the population. Time is not on his side. Sanctions are worthless in the short term but eventually they can bite.
His tripartite semi-circular attack on Ukraine is uncannily similar to Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland from East Prussia, Germany, and the dismembered Czechoslovakia. But even Hitler who was helped later by the invasion of the Soviet Union from the east, lost 50,000 dead and wounded from a poorly equipped Polish army.
Gas and oil, and thus who tried to curtail both, explain a lot of the current mess. The nihilist Biden decision voluntarily to cancel new pipelines, federal leases, ANWAR, and leverage loss of bank financing for fracking, and to give up well over 2 million barrels of daily production will be seen not just as an economic disaster. It was a strategic catastrophe.
When Europe, or indeed the West, is dependent on Russian goodwill to drive and keep warm, it can never be free. Ending American energy independence is not just an AOC obsession. Russian hackers in January targeted our Colonial pipeline, shutting down in a day over 1 million barrels of transported oil. The more we discount the strategic consequences of having or lacking oil, the more our enemies fixate on it.
A couple of questions for Joe Biden: Before he took office, was the United States begging Russia to sell it more oil? After he took office, why was it?
Why did Biden blow-up energy dependence? Could not tomorrow Biden reverse course, greenlight the Keystone pipeline, reverse his mindless opposition to the EastMed pipeline that would help allies Cyprus, Greece, and Israel to help other allies in southern Europe, and throw open new federal leasing to supply exports of liquid natural gas to Europe?
What is moral, and what amoral: alienating Bernie Sanders and the squad or keeping our allies and ourselves safe from foreign attack? What is so ethical about following the green advice of billionaires like global jet-setter John Kerry at the expense of the middling classes who cannot afford to drive their cars or warm their living rooms?
A Deterrent Military?
Factor in the Afghanistan humiliation, the walk away from $80 billion in arms and equipment, a $1 billion Kabul embassy, a multimillion-dollar refit of Bagram Airbase, the woke politicization of the Pentagon, the McCarthyite hunt inside the ranks for white rage/supremacy, the inane rantings of retired admirals and generals, the revolving door of four-stars to defense contractor boards—and in just three years, the military lost a half-century of American public support.
All this and more have eroded the global fear of the U.S. military. We have all but destroyed American trust in our own armed forces (only 45 percent of the Americans poll great confidence in the military). The woke threat is in addition to spiraling pensions and social justice overhead that make the defense budget lean on actual defense readiness. Enemies did not erode our military’s once feared deterrence, our own top military and civilian leadership did. Time is short, enemies numerous. Can we find any brave soul who will restore the military?
America may be woke. It may feel it has transcended dirty fossil fuels and can thrive on wind, solar, and batteries. It may assume it is morally superior, and like 19th-century pith-helmeted British foreign officers, can sermonize to the world, from pride flags and George Floyd murals in Kabul to no need for security in Benghazi.
But we also are mired in $30 trillion in debt. We print $2 trillion a year in mockery of inflation. Our major cities are crime-ridden and the streets medieval with the homeless and sidewalk sewers. Race relations are the worst in memory.
We have no southern border. Nearly 50 million residents were not born in our country—and this challenge at a time when we have given up on assimilation and integration. The woke virus has warped racial and ethnic relations and is destroying the idea of meritocracy. We are in the hold of a Jacobin madness, in a top-down elite race to perdition. To praise America’s past is a thought crime. The ignorant, who have no idea of the date when the Civil War began, nonetheless lecture to the nodding that 1619 not 1776 was America’s real foundational date.
In short, the America of even 1990 no longer exists. To retain our deterrence abroad, we must tighten our belts at home, pump oil and gas, start to balance our budget, junk wokeism as a nihilist indulgence, and recalibrate our military.
NATO is now a mere construct. It was birthed and exists to do three things in Europe: keep America in, Germany down, and Russia out. Now Germany is up. America is out. And Russia is in.
The vast majority of the alliance’s members followed Germany’s anti-American prompt to renege on promises to spend a mere 2 percent of their budgets on military readiness. How strange that only thousands of deaths in Ukraine can soon persuade the arrogant German leadership that their own performance-art pacifism kills.
NATO’s richest and second largest member, Germany, polls a desire to become closer to Russia than to the United States. Does that mean they favor Putin’s invasion rather than NATO’s resistance? Sixty percent of Germans poll no desire to honor NATO’s Article Five clause of mutual assistance, and thus would not wish to aid a fellow member in extremis.
Germany, on its way to green Lalaland, ignored all warnings about conducting a $1-billion-dollar per-day natural gas purchase from Putin. Think of the following absurdities: Germans no longer like Americans all that much. But they do expect them to subsidize their defense and to protect them from Russians, with whom in turn they are cementing lucrative energy deals. The latter will eventually make them dependent on Putin for 50 percent of their energy needs.
So what is NATO? In truth, 25 or so of the 30 nation members are defenseless. They rely on the United States to protect them from enemies in their own backyard. Only the NATO nuclear monopolies of Britain and France offer a deterrent umbrella over both NATO and the EU—on the quiet assurance that a far bigger nuclear American umbrella covers all of them.
We should simply ask those who will meet their promised military commitments to stay, and the others to go quietly in peace and follow the Swiss model. Why are there any U.S. combat troops in Germany? Are they there to protect the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russian attack? To reward Germany for spending less than two percent on defense?
For five years Americans were obsessed not just with Putin, but the left-wing myth that Russians were under all our beds—the tattooed, gap-toothed cruddy villains of Hollywood movies, the supposed Satanic colluders of the Steele dossier, the nefarious bankers who stealthily communicated at night with the White House. So we voluntarily gave up the old Russian triangulation card when we once played dictatorial China off against dictatorial Russia. The Kissingerian principle dictated that neither of the two should ever become closer to one another than either is to us. We gave all that up and instead hung on every word for two years of Bob Mueller, James Comey, and the lunatics at CNN.
Meanwhile, China birthed, and hid the origins of, a virus that destroyed the U.S. economy and undermined our entire culture. Thousands of Chinese are here mostly to aid in expropriating U.S. technical expertise. Add in the Uighurs and the now vanquished Tibet, and China outdoes even Putin in its human rights atrocities. If Ukraine falls, Taiwan will be the third nation that the West “lost” during the Biden Administration.
On cue, an embarrassed Left now offers some surreal takes on why Putin went into Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014 and again into all of Ukraine in 2022—while mysteriously bookending the four invasion-free Trump years. We are told that hiatus was because Putin got all he wanted from Trump and rewarded him by not invading any of his neighbors.
Were Vladimir Putin and his advisors more or less delighted that their poodle Trump thankfully flooded the world with price-crashing oil? They were thankful Trump at least had killed Russian mercenaries in Syria?
Putin himself was content that the United States got out of his own advantageous missile deal? Was he thrilled that Trump sold once taboo U.S. offensive weapons to Ukraine? Did the Kremlin grow ecstatic when Trump upped the U.S. defense budget? And was Russia especially thankful that Trump jawboned NATO into spending another $100 billion on defense? Did Putin clap when Trump killed Soleimani and Baghdadi, and bombed ISIS out of existence?
We are left being lectured to now by the ubiquitous retired Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, the political operative remonstrating America on its anemic response to saving his native Ukraine. All this from one of the key operatives of impeaching the one president who, unlike his progressive presidential predecessor, along with the Biden Burisma consortia, really did arm Ukraine and send it offensive weapons embargoed by the Left.
The useful Vindman may have been offered to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. But he never grasped that any country naïve enough to believe the Left’s empty promises about autonomy and freedom reified by mere liberal fiat will be sorely left all alone by its utopian patrons—once a nearby powerful thug invades.
Now we hear that midterm Biden has played the crisis wonderfully. The surreal progressive take on this crisis is that Winston Biden has corn-popped the “killer” Putin, metaphorically taken “the bully” behind the proverbial gym and given him a whomping, slammed his head on the global lunch counter, and in Biden’s deterrent fashion, called him a chump, one of the dregs, a junkie, fat, and a lying dog-faced pony soldier—and capped it all off with “You ain’t white!”
Joe threatened the toughest sanctions in history that on Wednesday would deter an invasion and by Saturday were never meant to at all. But Biden promises someday a “conversation” to decide whether at some time he still will issue the toughest sanctions in history. Until then, he invites Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy safe passage out of Kyiv—the quickest way to destroy the dogged Ukrainian resistance.
Left unsaid are the years of rapacious Biden family profiteering in Ukraine, a decade of leftist passive-aggressive love and hate of Russia, from obsequious reset to greedy Uranium One to pathetic “tell Vladimir . . .” to unhinged vetoing of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
What a crowded road to Kyiv.