When America Retreats, Evil Advances | EDITORIAL

Barack Obama once said of his former vice president, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to (mess up) things. The Americans, the brave people of Ukraine and our allies are learning this the hard way.

On Thursday local time, Russia invaded Ukraine on several fronts. Russian forces came by air, land and sea. There were explosions of missile strikes. On the first day of the fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at least 137 Ukrainians had died. He declared martial law. His government distributed weapons to those who wanted and could use them.

Without outside help, Russian forces are likely to overwhelm the country despite determined resistance. Russia seems determined to seize Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It is likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to install a puppet government that would be loyal to him. The wild card is the will of the civilian population to continue to fight the invaders. As the United States learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, urban warfare against an entrenched and determined enemy is slow and dangerous.

It is the biggest conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War. The ramifications are likely to be long-lasting. It’s unclear how far Mr Putin’s ambitions stretch – or, more importantly, how serious NATO members are in stopping him. The United States sends 7,000 additional troops to Europe. A more permanent military presence in Poland, Romania or the Balkans could also emerge.

The moral responsibility for this atrocity rests with Mr. Putin. He is the aggressor, the invader, the man determined to restore the Soviet Union. Evil is a constant throughout recorded history, and he is an example of it.

But we must also take into account the reluctance and inability of the West to stop it. As President of the United States, Joe Biden bears most of this responsibility.

America is the great anomaly in the history of the world. We are the empire that could have taken over the world – and didn’t. Our military might has enabled our leaders to promote human rights, freedom and free trade around the world. Americans may not like to be the policeman of the world, but projecting overwhelming force, along with our allies, has made power-hungry dictators think twice about their plans for expansion.

Under Mr. Biden, however, America has slipped away from the world stage. He abandoned Afghanistan and the government we once supported. When it became clear that the Taliban would quickly overrun the country, he cut the bait. Mr. Biden left behind thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families. Even a deadly suicide bombing did not change his will to surrender.

Russia noticed it. China too.

America has the strongest military in the world. But that simple fact won’t command respect – let alone deter our enemies – if the Commander-in-Chief makes it clear that he can be pushed around.

Mr. Biden’s sanctions are an example of this. On Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris said, “The purpose of sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence.

On Thursday – after the sanctions clearly didn’t work – Mr Biden claimed they weren’t supposed to. “Nobody expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening,” he said.

Mr. Biden and US officials have spent weeks correctly warning of a Russian invasion. Now he’s telling the country and the world that his “plan” was to set up something he didn’t expect to work. To call it incompetence would be a compliment.

The severity of these penalties is unclear. Initial measures excludes energy-related banking. Nor did they cut Russian banks’ access to the SWIFT system, which the banks use to communicate. Maybe that’s changing. But even harsh sanctions would be historically unlikely to deter a power-seeking dictator.

“In a competition between democracy and autocracy,” Biden said on Thursday, “freedom will prevail.”

So be it, but it is not inevitable. And under Mr. Biden’s watch, the opposite is happening. If only Mr. Biden’s leadership and determination matched the bravery of Ukrainians defending their homeland.

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