Weakness and capitulation

To the editor:

There’s been a lot of nonsense lately about “weakness” — such as from our Congresswoman, Elise Stefanik — over whom is to blame for Vladimir Putin thinking he was at liberty to invade Ukraine. As though the most expansionist authoritarian tyrant in the world would have been kept in line by some big tough guy acting tough.

Russia did not invade another country under Trump. Or so goes the observation masquerading as an argument.

Of course, if Romney had won in 2012, Obama could say the same. Russia invaded Georgia during the Bush administration, which was partly rebuking NATO regarding Georgia and Ukraine. Ukraine was not interested. When Ukraine became interested, Russia annexed Crimea. Invasions wait not for Presidents, but for the Olympics. Apparently.

Putin views the historical Russian empire with what Americans call “manifest destiny.” He wants to end the “rules-based international order” disallowing Russian irredentism. He undoubtedly gets perverse satisfaction from using American ideas to justify this imperialism. Unilateral preventive warfare, national self-determination. (But not, of course, for separatists within Russia itself.) While I do think he waited until after our election to mass troops along Ukraine — which began a year ago, by the way — there is no reality in believing that depended on who won. Nor was it our chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. It would hardly matter if the Afghan government waited a few weeks to collapse.

For Putin, what looked “weak” was pulling out, period. The policy of both Biden and Trump. Withdrawing American hard power from central Asia. Ironically making mobilization to Europe easier, but likely misinterpreted as a lack of will.

There was also the insurrection and quasi-legal coup attempts. Or how the Russia hawk party has split, with an isolationist branch opposing “the deep state,” our own national security establishment. Insisting our elections are stolen, even though they gained seats in Congress, on the same ballots. America First. These are all great for Putin.

Trump recently said he believes Putin “[didn’t want] to do this initially. I think he wanted to do something and negotiate.” He’s right.

The trouble is the Kremlin’s terms included numerous conditions NATO would never ordinarily accept. Nor would Ukrainian neutrality ever be sufficient. Trump as President may well have wanted to “negotiate,” allowing Russia to reassert hegemony in eastern Europe. Maybe they would divide western Ukraine between Poland and Hungary. “Strength” sounds remarkably like “appeasement.”

Where Trump is wrong is calling this “genius” or “savvy.” For international purposes, the ruble is no longer money. Germany is rebuilding its military. Sweden and Switzerland ended neutrality. Most Putin admirers are distancing themselves. More countries will flock to NATO, which is now openly arming Ukraine to kill Russian soldiers. Russia’s geopolitical standing has collapsed.

But this notion war could have been prevented, or even stopped now, by more aggressive posturing is ridiculous. Putin wants land and spent years insulating Russia from sanctions. If we really don’t want to look “weak,” it’s time we stop making ourselves into “useful idiots” with partisan mind rot.

Robert Schnibbe

Saranac Lake


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