The opening twelve minutes of Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address were devoted to a strong expression of support for the Ukrainian people and a homage to their bravery. It was light on specifics about what the US was willing to do to assist Ukraine in repelling what is expected to be a massive attack on its civilian population. Jen Psaki more accurately represents what the United States and its NATO allies are willing to accomplish. She argues that their first aim is to prevent a direct military conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia.
The State of the Union speech and the news that NATO has suspended Poland’s pledge to send combat jets to Ukraine are eerily similar to the film “High Noon.” People are reacting to President Zelenskyy’s remark, “He didn’t need a vehicle. He needed ammo.” Like the moviegoers in High Noon, much of the public regards Western leaders as cowards rather than rational prudence.
Moreover, NATO has constantly been a day late and a dollar short in its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin perceived failure to respond forcefully in the nine months preceding the invasion as weakness. The humiliating pullout from Afghanistan validated Putin’s opinion. The 80 billion dollars in military weapons abandoned to the Taliban would have been far better used in Ukraine’s defense.
According to the reports, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory has helped prevent nuclear bombs from being used in the 80 years since their first deployment in 1945. With rare exceptions, it effectively stopped both sides of the Cold War from attempting a direct military clash. This terrible game of chicken did not result in a nuclear apocalypse because each side had to think the other side would unleash its weapons.
Therefore the United States’ strategy toward Ukraine is akin to substituting “murmur and carry a big stick” with “act weakly while carrying a largemouth.” The penalties imposed on Russia are significant and the Russians may regret the invasion. However, economic implications are unlikely to impact the military situation and only give moral support. They are stationed militarily on Ukraine’s borders, powerless while Russia slaughters the country’s brave defenders.