There are two primary things that Russian President Vladimir Putin underestimated when he gave the order to invade Ukraine three weeks ago. The first one was the surprising strength and commitment to fight of the Ukraine army and its people. Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky has led a resistance that is truly inspirational.
This second thing almost certainly surprised Putin too. Much of the free world has been united from the beginning in its economic sanctions against Russia. The Russian market has been closed since the beginning of the war, largely because opening it will certainly lead to the nation’s official economic collapse. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was under existential pressure during the Trump years, but its membership has rallied in its commitment to one another, even attracting nation’s like Sweden, Finland and even Switzerland to play along.
President Joe Biden shouldn’t get all of the credit for that second thing, but he should get most of it. That invaluable unity would not have even been attempted under the last administration. That bunch didn’t see those alliances as invaluable, but valueless. Biden ran on a platform of “unity.” The global community expected him to lead this type of coalition strategy. Specifically, the people of other nations had “confidence” President Biden would “do the right thing on global affairs,” according to a Pew Research study released last summer. Pew has been conducting this study for more than two decades. That confidence had been obliterated under Trump. Biden’s platform reestablished our nation’s place as the leading nation of the free world.
So what? I ask that important question all of the time in the political realm, not merely because of my ongoing commitment to sarcasm, but because it actually matters. Americans have culturally become comfortable believing that whatever we think about whatever is going on in the world has outsized importance. Very few living Americans can even recall our nation’s transition into one of the two “super powers” following World War II. Even our ascension to the solo spot on top following the collapse of the Soviet Union happened more than thirty years ago. Having political leadership that takes that role seriously, means that how Americans feel about global affairs matters more than it did during the prior term.
It has made Americans’ views matter again.
The days of throwing around tariffs without understanding who pays them and extorting international investigations of political opponents in exchange for military aid are over now. While it appears some in the political space have a severe case of short term memory loss, it also appears that many in Republican leadership simply lack any background in handling serious moments like this one.
President Zelensky delivered a gripping and historically important speech to a gathering of members of both houses of Congress on Wednesday. He passionately asked for specific military aid, the creation of a “no- fly zone” over Ukraine, and made clear through words and video of the profound horrors of the Russian invasion. Immediately following the speech, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with Reps. Steve Scalise and Elise Stefanik held a news conference in which they attacked and blamed Biden for the entire ordeal.
By Thursday, the bomb throwing partisans in the Senate, led by unserious players like Senator Ted Cruz and Senator John Kennedy began following suit. In an excellently contextual piece by Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times, it remains clear that the opportunity to rally the leadership of both parties into the mode of global problem solving still eludes them.
I don’t expect the war in Ukraine to eliminate political disagreement in America. However, the debate on how to handle things is one that will lead members of both parties to have perspectives that don’t fit neatly into either party’s ideology. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham seems to believe that the top priority should be to remove President Putin from power, apparently by any means necessary, including assassination. I can’t say I disagree with him.
But the debate about how far our military goes, the delicate risk of provoking nuclear warfare, and what matters most to me at the moment, the role of China, are all serious ones. They are so serious, they cannot be reduced to sound bites and mean tweets.
It is a time for the grown ups to be grown up again. Biden’s team has successfully put America in a position to lead through this crisis. The pettiness of our recent political discourse doesn’t have a seat in this room.