U.S. Correct To Supply Abrams Tanks To Ukraine, Putin Needs Reality Check

The United States’ policy to supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine is the proper course of action to take.  The fact we are months late in taking such a course of action is the concerning part.  We can be proud of the commitment our country and other Western democracies have shown in the face of Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.  At the same time, we must be mindful of the mushy ground that those like Congressman Mark Pocan planted their feet when dealing with this war, a move in 2022 that still deeply offends.

In 2022 Progressive House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden asking that he pair the military and financial support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push” that involves direct talks with Russia. It remains one of the most serious mistakes that the group made by playing into the efforts of Russian President Putin to lure some members from the Western alliance to make concessions. Since no one should make concessions to a nation that has committed war crimes goes without saying. But what was equally damaging was promoting a course of action that only would result in prolonging the war.

It was most troubling that Progressive Democrats signed the letter, with seemingly no awareness, that Putin has every intention to change the historical narrative of the last hundred years, not just the years following the end of the Cold War. He wants to make Ukraine, Europe, and indeed the whole world conform to his own twisted version of history. There can not be an inch of wiggle room when it comes to what Putin gains from this act of aggression. The letter was a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance. But, hey, there was probably a quick and fleeting political upside that more concerned the signators.

I like peace, compromise, and diplomacy, but first, the aggressors that blasted homes, schools, and hospitals must be removed from Ukraine. No one starts negotiating the wishes of the madman when he still holds a dagger to the throat of the victim.  Therefore, the news that we will supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks, the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion, is a solid move and worthy of praise.  But the reluctance for months to make the move is concerning and warrants attention.  While it seems Germany may have been the force to push the Biden White House to make the shift in policy, it must not be seen as the last move our nation will be required to take with heavy armaments as this war progresses. The process of consideration and study within the White House requires some modification so as to meet the real-time needs of the Ukrainian soldiers who are doing the work on the battlefield.

Not only are the tanks a solid and lethal way to address Putin’s military, but it sends a clear and unmistakable statement the West will not relent or bend the way of Congressman Pocan. Talking can only occur with a real reduction in attacks by Russia and a removal of their troops from the soil of Ukraine.  

Putin has been delusional in his views about a reconstructed Soviet type-era of countries for a long time.  He has often talked of Russia having been “robbed” of territory going back to the 1920s when the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established.  In his mind, one that is consumed with paranoia and visions of grandeur, Ukraine can only be sovereign in partnership with the homeland, Russia. To that fallacy, the West says, NO. The M1 Abrams tanks will go far in alerting the autocrat to the limits of his delusions.

Congressman Mark Pocan Signs Letter Giving Russian President Putin Voice In Progressive House Caucus

Congressman Mark Pocan

It was not what I expected as the first news story to read when I turned on my computer today. In fact, I looked to see if the story was the daily offering from Andy Borowitz. The news article, however, was from NBC News, and then I noted in my listings every major news operation was reporting on the undermining of Ukraine and its people by Progressive House Democrats. A letter from the caucus was sent to the White House on Monday (yesterday) but retracted only hours later. The damage, however, was done. Without one iota of foresight, the caucus had already allowed Russian President Putin a victory off the battlefield.

Progressive House Democrats sent that letter to President Biden asking that he pair the military and financial support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push” that involves direct talks with Russia.  To say that letter with its weak-kneed overture to Putin was a stab in the back to worldwide efforts, that have proven to be forceful and meaningful, would be a vast understatement.  Of course, Russia would much enjoy seeing a split in the majority party of the world superpower at a critical juncture in both the military moves in Ukraine and the political timing approaching the midterm elections.  Having gained a voice in the Progressive Caucus Putin must be pleased that the united message against Russia’s war of aggression has a crack that can now be used to further his aims against a sovereign nation.

If I could talk with Mark over a cup of coffee I would encourage him to realize that stopping Putin is in America’s best interests for security reasons, and standing with our NATO alliance is essential. Putin invaded Ukraine not because he felt threatened by NATO expansion or by Western so-called pressures. He ordered his military to move because he believes that it is Russia’s divine right to rule Ukraine, to wipe out the country’s national identity, and to integrate its people into a ‘Greater Russia’. We all have had some Russian history and can recall that since the mid-1920s there was a running argument that ‘Russia was robbed’ of core territory when the Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union and established a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. What these Progressive Democrats, who signed the letter, are just not grasping is that Putin is trying to change the historical narrative of the last hundred years, not just the years following the end of the Cold War. He wants to make Ukraine, Europe, and indeed the whole world conform to his own twisted version of history. There can not be an inch of wiggle room when it comes to what Putin gains from this act of aggression. To consider any talks with Putin at this time would be a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance.

It was most disconcerting that over a week ago House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a GOP majority would not give a “blank check” to Ukraine, indicating it would instead focus on relieving economic pain at home.  Standing on the foundations the Republican Party had firmly owned during the Ronald Reagan years, such as being tough on Russia, and aligning with core values about democracy has become ancient history for some in the GOP. But McCarthy now has a number of progressive allies in his plans for future congressional action–or not–regarding Ukraine.

Let me weigh in as a liberal Democrat. I am not pleased to see so many of those in Congress who are often right on a whole array of economic and social issues flounder so completely when it comes to an absolute need to stand firm against Putin. Sadly, and not for the first time when it comes to foreign policy issues, Pocan comes from a partisan position.

He lacked the will to offer his backing in Congress for a needed military strike against Syria in 2013 after that rouge regime used chemical weapons on its people. Now with this Russian aggression, he believes that his district, which includes liberal Dane County, must be catered to with squishy words about our continued needed resolve and support for heightened military measures, so to push Russian forces out of a sovereign nation it invaded. Too often that sentiment seems the default position of progressive Democrats. I understand politically why Pocan wishes to keep his bona fides with the Progressive Caucus but it should be of higher importance that he not turn off common sense and the moral calling that history demands of him.

We do not have the luxury simply due to our living in the 2nd Congressional District to throw our hands up to the horrible crap that happens to so many around the globe.  When Putin invaded Ukraine there was only one response the world community could give; a complete and absolute rejection of such brazen hostility. I am truly concerned that Congressman Pocan and his fellow Progressives have divorced themselves from reality about Putin and his agenda. Timid and reticent politicians are only remembered for being wrong.

Standing Up To Russia Too Big A Task For Modern Republican Party

The United States must continue to lead as a superpower.

History shows that weakness and cowardly behavior are not as wise a path in international affairs as resolve and firmness.  It is a lesson that should not need to be pondered long or tested periodically.  But, alas, here we go again, thanks to some of the ‘leaders’ in the Republican Party.

Playing to the foolish inward-looking elements of his party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a loud and dangerous signal to the nation that should the GOP win the majority status, he and his fellow party colleagues will likely oppose more aid to stop Russian aggression against the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  This move would be a dreadful stain on our country and a damaging blow to international alliances such as NATO. It would also run counter to the moral high ground and bipartisan regard Congress proved with their unity in authorizing billions of dollars in both U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine and stop Russian President Putin.

It was simply bewildering to witness some of the comments made by very conservative members of the Republican Party regarding the fate of Ukraine as the tensions mounted in Eastern Europe.  The flippant and woefully short-sighted comments from the likes of Tucker Carlson on FOX News show what the Trump base was watching and listening to well before Russian troops amassed in huge numbers to charge into Ukraine.  

“I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

It was downright pathetic when those comments continued after Russia invaded its neighbor. We sadly need to recall the type of comments that found their way to headlines from the likes of former Republican Congressman Madison Hawthorn.

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Perhaps most shocking of all, as it underscores how unprepared and uninformed one of the GOP senate nominees is about international policy comes this stunning statement from J. D. Vance.

“I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”

Siding with Putin and against Ukraine was always disgusting and will find scorn from those who write history and analyze what character lapses led to such outrageous positions to be held and articulated. It is not uncommon, sadly, for some of the modern elements of the GOP, and especially within the Trump base, to lean into and at times openly embrace authoritarianism while kicking at democracy.   

From a purely political aspect, it is most telling how removed the current GOP is from that place it once called a home base.  Ronald Reagan and those in his administration who knew the power of democracy along with the stench of communism would hurl upon those in the Republican Party who now are weak-kneed at stopping Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.

Reagan knew that power plays among nations do not come cheaply.  His massive arms buildup and military stands did cause, in part, the demise of the Soviet Union as their economy could not truly respond in kind.  I am certain as an American, and not a politico as I write this post, that Reagan would have championed and strongly advocated the authorization, thus far, of upward of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine from our nation.

The international consequences of Russia prevailing in this war of aggression must not be in any way marginalized.  The barbaric actions of Russian troops clearly demonstrate that there is no international agreement that Putin can be counted on to respect. That conduct must not be allowed to stand, be accepted, or be normalized.  China is watching.  Putin has made clear that destroying Ukraine is, for him, as has been widely reported for months an existential, goal.  Again, China is watching.

History proves unless force is met with equal determination a soulless tyrant will not cease pushing forward.  We need only note that Putin’s war and success in Crimea did not quell the appetite within the Kremlin.

I cannot understand how some people in the nation might see inflation and high energy prices in the offing as a reason to withdraw from our obligations as a superpower.  If left up to Fox News viewers much of the federal government would wither on the vine.  But we know from reading history that when lethargy is allowed to take hold, and isolationist policies are pursued there is never an ending that brings anyone pleasure.  Other than for the aggressor.

Joseph Lindsley Is Modern-Day Edward R. Murrow, Listen To Ukraine Reporting From”Edge Of The Free World”

“Not even for a second could I imagine abandoning the country in that moment, especially as a journalist,” Joe Lindsley said.

If you know of my deep respect for the wartime reporting of Edward R. Murrow on the radio it will be clear that I do not place the headline on this post lightly. Having first listened to the recordings as a teenager of Murrow painting epic-sized images over the airwaves of the carnage and fear from WWII, and then over the past decades as I studied various aspects of history allows me to properly conclude that Joseph Lindsley now walks in Murrow’s shoes.  If you know of and listen to the Ukraine-based reporter you already likely agree with my assessment.  If you are not aware of Lindsley’s work, please continue reading.

The reason I write today is due to Lindsley’s latest on-air coverage provided this morning on WGN radio’s Bob Sirott morning show. Listen to it here. The obvious nerves and stress and fast pacing of his words and details are a stark reminder of the work that today placed him in the heart of the battle.  The bombed and shelled buildings which are rubble around him and the warnings that are given about when to stay indoors are underscored by his descriptions from “the edge of the free world”.  Safety in Ukraine is termed by this reporter as “Russian roulette, if it hits your building it hits your building”.

Like most people who were born after WWII, it is hard to truly understand the fear and uncertainty that was engendered from that international calamity, or the way radio news announcers like Charles Collingwood, Bill Shirer, and of course, Edward Murrow reported the grit and hardness of scenes in Europe as Germany destroyed the social fabric. Many of us likely recall the scenes from the television show The Waltons, sitting around the living room radio hearing about Hitler’s military might and the rise of Nazism. Their dread and powerlessness were best registered on the face of Grandma. But that same sense of over-powering emotions has come through the radio over the past six months as Lindsley gives his accounts of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Listening to Edward Murrow’s recordings at least 25 years after they were reported from Europe while enjoying my larger bedroom back home after my brother left home, further confirmed why radio enthralled me. Now many a weekday morning as I listen to Lindsley from Ukraine on WGN I find that same intimacy with the medium to be again as strong as I know it was for the listeners around the world who heard Murrow from London.

Journalists and reporters are the reason our democracy thrives.  That has long been a point made on this blog. But their professional role in providing a world with news and facts on a daily basis, as Lindsley does, requires we honor and salute their intrepid efforts.

World Must Not Cede Russia ‘Sphere Of Interest’

I have long self-described as an internationalist when it comes to my views about the role the United States needs to undertake around the globe in conjunction with other nations. I strongly view the footprint of the United States as a needed tool to further not only our interests but equally important the needs and desires of other people.

One of the deeper reasons for my rejection of Donald Trump was the result of his not being aware of, or showing any interest in our legitimate and needed role on the world stage. Not having been in any way engaged with international affairs as it relates to governing left him prattling nationalistic rhetoric and doing substantial damage to our national image and policy aims.

That came to mind, again, when reading the latest from Robert Kagan, someone I try to follow when new columns are published. He is an American neoconservative scholar and a leading advocate of liberal interventionism. His The Price of Hegemony in Foreign Affairs was illuminating and thought-provoking. These lines below summed up my views from 2017-until Jan 20th, 2021, relating as it did to what Trump did not know, or care to learn.

For the 70-plus years since World War II, the United States has actively worked to keep revisionists at bay. But many Americans hoped that with the end of the Cold War, this task would be finished and that their country could become a “normal” nation with normal—which was to say, limited—global interests. But the global hegemon cannot tiptoe off the stage, as much as it might wish to. It especially cannot retreat when there are still major powers that, because of their history and sense of self, cannot give up old geopolitical ambitions—unless Americans are prepared to live in a world shaped and defined by those ambitions, as it was in the 1930s.

One of the complaints I have with those who shy away from grasping the role the U.S. must continue to play around the world, is the way they lament how ‘rough’ the West was on the defeated remnant of the old U.S.S.R. The facts prove, of course, that the West did not bluster or threaten, provoke or prod Russia. Instead, the various peoples of the former Soviet Union, when given a chance to make their own way in the world, looked West.

Kagan demolishes the idea that Russia should be allowed to think they have been granted a sphere of interest, based on history. A flawed notion President Putin tries to stand upon.

The problem for Putin—and for those in the West who want to cede to both China and Russia their traditional spheres of interest—is that such spheres are not granted to one great power by other great powers; they are not inherited, nor are they created by geography or history or “tradition.” They are acquired by economic, political, and military power. They come and go as the distribution of power in the international system fluctuates. The United Kingdom’s sphere of interest once covered much of the globe, and France once enjoyed spheres of interest in Southeast Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East. Both lost them, partly due to an unfavorable shift of power at the beginning of the twentieth century, partly because their imperial subjects rebelled, and partly because they willingly traded in their spheres of interest for a stable and prosperous U.S.-dominated peace. Germany’s sphere of interest once extended far to the east. Before World War I, some Germans envisioned a vast economic Mitteleuropa, where the people of central and eastern Europe would provide the labor, resources, and markets for German industry. But this German sphere of interest overlapped with Russia’s sphere of interest in southeastern Europe, where Slavic populations looked to Moscow for protection against Teutonic expansion. These contested spheres helped produce both world wars, just as the contested spheres in East Asia had helped bring Japan and Russia to blows in 1904. 

Russians may believe they have a natural, geographic, and historical claim to a sphere of interest in eastern Europe because they had it throughout much of the past four centuries. And many Chinese feel the same way about East Asia, which they once dominated. But even the Americans learned that claiming a sphere of interest is different from having one. For the first century of the United States’ existence, the Monroe Doctrine was a mere assertion—as hollow as it was brazen. It was only toward the end of the nineteenth century, when the country was able to enforce its claim, that the other great powers were grudgingly forced to accept it. After the Cold War, Putin and other Russians may have wanted the West to grant Moscow a sphere of interest in Europe, but such a sphere simply did not reflect the true balance of power after the Soviet Union fell. China may claim the “nine-dash line”—enclosing most of the South China Sea—as marking its sphere of interest, but until Beijing can enforce it, other powers are unlikely to acquiesce. 

A most worthy article that deserves to be read in full.

NATO Proves Why Intelligent Leadership In White House Matters

One of the driving reasons for my support of Joe Biden for president in 2020 was the requirement of our nation to again lead the world community. I was alarmed at the willful undermining of international alliances during the Donald Trump administration. Decades of work and cooperation that buttressed America’s needs and created working relationships for international order were at stake.

It has almost been a whiplash period between the narcissistic threat from Trump in 2018 about the United States withdrawing from NATO to the recent barbaric atrocities being committed by Russian President Putin in Ukraine. From Trump telling his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, to the news this past week that Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, is “highly likely” to join NATO.

Clearly, even Trump can now see the value and purpose of the military alliance. Even if it is being used with a high degree of success against the one person he can never say a cross word about.

It is hard not to smile about Russia’s disdain for having NATO members on its borders. If they thought they were being hemmed in prior to the genocide in Ukraine, they will really feel the squeeze should Finland and Sweden pursue the option of membership in the alliance.

Given the rash actions from Russia, and utter disregard for international law and norms there is every reason to consider that Sweden’s famous political neutrality could end up being, well, not so neutral. Today, neither Finland nor Sweden is considered to be in immediate military danger. But one does not make alliances for the present conditions, but rather bonds together and looks ahead to the potential dangers of the future.

Russia has a history of addiction to conquest and savagery. The Ukraine invasion, however, has proved thus far, the limits concerning the whims of an autocrat. Putin has made a colossal mistake. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin has actually strengthened his foe.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. Those matters are not relics. The fact that only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder is proof why having a delusional and populist-nationalist in the White House is not only bad for America, but also the world.

And so it goes.

How To Excite Students About History

Some years ago, I tutored a high school student in history for one semester. We were starting with the Articles of Confederation and the War for Independence on this side of the pond. He truly was not interested in ‘those dead men’ and looking at his textbook I could not argue that the writing was tortured and not aimed to excite a young mind.

Enter my favorite Founding Father.

I brought some copied pages from a book that told the story of the morning Alexander Hamilton and Arron Burr met for a duel that killed one and ravaged the reputation of another. I added the slice of trivia about how Dolly Madison and Hamilton’s widow, Elizabeth Hamilton, waved from carriages at the celebration when the cornerstone of the Washington Monument was put in place.

Bit by bit over the weeks I supplemented the staid textbook with the richer and more colorful aspects of the lives of the ones he was to learn about for classroom discussion. While I am sure the student did not become a history major, I know he passed that class.

Using outside sources to aid in teaching history would seem to be essential for teachers, as I can not imagine the school textbooks have improved to the point where they are engaging for students. Recently that thought came to mind when reading Russian history. (If you think teaching American history is tough—ponder Russian history from the early 1700s!)

Over the decades the caliber of historical writing has grown along with easier ways to research the past. Using the outcomes of such advancements in the classroom (even with the restriction on copyrights) can go a long way in creating the context for students to ‘see the past’, and better understand why it matters.

From The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

President Biden Said What World Knows To Be True: Democracy Matters

President Biden addressed the 800-pond gorilla sitting in the international living room this weekend. While he was talking about Russian aggression against Ukraine, and spoke most candidly (and correctly) about the future of President Putin, it was his clarion call for democracy that rightly stirred people worldwide.

The last point is one I have persistently addressed over the years. The United States must reassert itself not only with our military and economic might, but also with our ideals.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

We sometimes take for granted the role of a president, regardless of which party holds the office. It seems old-fashioned, perhaps, for younger generations to see our leader stand on the world stage and preach the values of democracy. But this weekend, on every television screen around the globe our President was seen speaking about the serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

(Somewhere Allen Drury is surely smiling.)

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden traveled to Europe and proved the value of again having a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy speaking for the global community. It does feel good, even in these truly horrible weeks as Ukraine has been invaded, to see our nation in a leadership role.

Biden made the point learned from history.

….Ten years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and Poland and Central and Eastern Europe would soon be free. Nothing about that battle for freedom was simple or easy. It was a long, painful slog. Fought over not days and months but years and decades. But we emerged anew in the great battle for freedom. A battle between democracy and autocracy. Between liberty and repression. Between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force. In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves of a long fight ahead.

Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. So those matters are not relics, to be left gathering dust? Was it not only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder?

The world looks at the bottom line and knows the value of free markets where the United States and Europe, combined, have $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP. The data shows the power of working democracies.

When watching Biden on Saturday, I will readily admit, to some goosebumps as his words struck historic themes and also again demonstrated the role I have so long wanted my country to take. I firmly believe in an internationalist mindset where we connect with other countries to foster united solutions. The firming up of our international institutions is imperative. And our resolve to demonstrate an ability to be the leader of the world is without question the first priority.

I have continually stated our nation can meet the test of democracy around the world if we meet the challenges with leadership and intellect.  We did that very thing this weekend.

In my own country, a former president named Abraham Lincoln voiced the opposing spirit to save our union in the midst of the Civil War. He said let us have faith that right makes might. Right makes might. Today, let us have that faith again. [Applause] Let us resolve to put the strength of democracies into action to thwart the designs of autocracy.

And finally, most urgently, we maintain absolute unity, we must, among the world’s democracies. It’s not enough to speak with rhetorical flourish of ennobling words of democracy, of freedom, of quality, and liberty. All of us, including here in Poland, must do the hard work of democracy each and every day — my country as well. That’s why [applause], that’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO, for the G7, for the European Union, for all freedom-loving nations — we must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after. And for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy. There will be costs. But it is a price we have to pay because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.

And so it goes.