I don’t know what’s going to happen to Ukraine.
But here’s what I know.
To this point, the Biden administration has handled the crisis as badly as all the others. Which should surprise no one. War is the continuation of politics by other means, as a dead German once said, and Uncle Joe turns out to be phenomenally bad at politics.
Vladimir Putin doesn’t care what the bluechecks think of him. He doesn’t care if Anderson Cooper thinks he’s a mean mean meanie. If anything the anger of Western elites serves his purposes. He is cynical and brutal and he has seen an opening and he’s taking it.
At the most basic level, this crisis - like most international crises - is about leverage, and more specifically our lack of it.
We aren’t going to war for Ukraine. That leaves sanctions. Unfortunately the Russians could not care less about our sanctions. And thanks in part to the fact that an autistic teenage girl now sets global energy policy, oil is almost $100 a barrel and the Kremlin has money (and natural gas) to burn.
They know it and we know it. Plus, thanks in part to the fact that our President’s crackhead son became the wholly owned subsidiary* of a Ukrainian energy company - he was a board member, though his hydrocarbon experience is more or less limited to lighting up the ol’ pipe - we can’t even claim to be honest brokers.
*(Not wholly owned, the Chinese had a piece too.)
International order is about setting red lines that the other side KNOWS are red lines, and putting enough skin in the game to make clear the seriousness of our intentions. Like Poland, okay? Poland is a NATO member, and the Russians need to understand that an attack on Poland would be World War III, just like an attack on West Germany would have been back when there was a West Germany (it’s true, kids, there used to be a big wall that ran down the middle of Germany and if you tried to cross it the guards on the east side shot you. People aren’t always so nice.)
But Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, and we care so much about Ukraine that we just pulled our soldiers and diplomats out so that the Russians won’t accidentally kill them and make us fight for it. And the Ukrainians are well aware what this White House’s promises are worth. They just have to look about 2500 miles southeast to Kabul to know.
So as Tony Blinken and the gang talk about how terrible a Russian invasion of Ukraine is going to be, they might want to consider that all they’re doing is making us look even MORE impotent if and when Vlad the Impaler sends his tanks in.
And maybe I’ll be proved wrong. Maybe all our talk about how terrible a Russian invasion will be for the good citizens of Kyiv will convince the Russians to behave. Because they care so much about Ukrainian life!
But I’m guessing not. I’m guessing at this point we’d better start thinking about Poland. And maybe putting a division right close to the border, the kind of armor you can’t evacuate when the going gets tough, so both the Poles and the Russians know we’re serious.
Or we could just keep talking. That’s worked great so far.