My German son, David Meyer-Lindenberg, told me that one of his best friends, Misha, needed body armor. Misha is Ukrainian, and like so many others, he has taken up arms to defend his nation against Russia. To do so, they need to be able to fight, which means everything from ammunition to helmets, food to medical supplies.
So far, the battle has gone better than expected, which creates a bizarre mix of idealistic expectations and naivete. Young women proclaim they have a “crush” on Zelensky, as if that’s what matters to him at the moment. Protesters have taken to the street in Washington against the war, as if that might change Putin’s mind. The Empire State Building is lit at night in the gold and blue of Ukraine to show support, which is nice but puts no bullets in empty chambers.
Assuming Putin anticipated the invasion to be swift and easy, he’s come to the realization that it won’t. He’s now made himself and his country an international pariah, which backs him into a corner. To back away now would be the ultimate humiliation for Putin, and since he’s already despised, better to be a despised winner than loser. There is nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal.
Problems on the Russian side are mounting. Supply lines are stretched thin. Sanctions are wreaking havoc on Russian markets and its public. Its advance on the capitol of Ukraine, Kyiv, had bogged down. There is now a huge Russian convoy moving toward Kyiv which may well bring far greater violence and the fall of Kyiv. The US and NATO could act to stop this convoy, but it would likely start World War III, which would take this from bad to worse. But then, if it isn’t stopped, will Zelensky still be sexy to young American women when he’s dead? Will David’s pal Misha get to grow up and become what he should have been?
Can we sit by and watch the next phase of this invasion kill civilians, destroy a nation, and do nothing? That’s unfair, of course. Sanctions are being imposed by many countries. Monetary and military support is being provided, although it’s unclear how this is actually happening since they need ammo now, not a week or month from now. Since we can’t airdrop supplies without risking running into Russian airplanes over Ukraine, how they get to where they’re needed is unclear. And then there’s that damn convoy coming to destroy Kyiv.
NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, presented the dilemma.
Perhaps the biggest risk-calculation/moral dilemma of the war so far. A massive Russian convoy is abt 30 miles from Kyiv. The US/NATO could likely destroy it. But that would be direct involvement against Russia and risk, everything. Does the West watch in silence as it rolls?
We could stop it, but we can’t stop it. Whether we could “likely destroy” the convoy or find some lesser action that would save Kyiv isn’t the point. Once the US or NATO engages directly with the Russians, the likelihood of this invasion expanding into a world war is very real. The likelihood of Putin wiping out Kyiv if we do not take action of some sort against this convoy is also very real. Sending “thoughts and prayers” won’t save any Ukrainian life.
For raising this question, Engel became the target of ridicule, snark and memes by the unduly passionate. How dare he even suggest (did he?) that we start World War III? How disingenuous of him to say we’re watching in silence, when they’re twitting up a storm in support of the brave and sexy Ukrainians? Even the Statue of Liberty was draped in the Ukrainian colors. What more can we do?
Tom Nichols, late of the War College, offered the unpleasant adult view of the situation.
Way too many of you have lived in a world of peace and security for so long that you cannot even imagine the cataclysmic risks you’re advocating. This is not a game and it’s not a social media campaign. Sober up.
To act is to risk likely world war. To not act is to condemn Zelensky, Misha and million of Ukrainians who asked nothing of Putin but to be left alone to likely death and destruction. And the best the idiocracy can muster is to ignore this untenable reality by hiding behind their screams of bravado and snark, issued from their smartphones in the safety of their warm homes.
As Nichols notes, if NATO intervenes in the Ukraine, it will ultimately prevail over Russia, but at massive cost. While Russians on the street may not support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, they will support Putin’s defense of the Motherland from NATO. To pretend that NATO can swoop in and save the day with barely a scratch is insanely naive. If there are millions to die in Ukraine now, there will be multiple millions to die should this become World War III. And they will still be dead after we win and hold a parade to our glorious victory.
But in the meantime, we need to hear about, see, think about the flip side of reality, that our “doing nothing” beyond what we’re already doing won’t stop that convoy from reaching Kyiv. Zelensky doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want his people to die or his nation destroyed or subjugated. But he needs a lot more than thoughts and prayers from the brilliant little shits who ridicule Engel for putting the harsh and awful reality in front of their very delicate eyes, that there are choices to make that will end up badly no matter what.
To the extent we’ve become a nation of over-educated snark warriors, they will go to battle armed with memes and empathy, lest anyone harsh their bravery with a mean dose of death no matter how sick their burns. They don’t even risk a paper cut for their fierceness. As for me, I don’t want Misha to go without body armor, or ammunition, or food, or breathing. I don’t want any Misha to die. And no one will be saved by the snark of children on twitter who refuse to suffer the terrible choices with which we’re faced.