Wise Words

When I read on Sunday that Putin had put Russia’s nuclear forces “on alert”, I was aghast and furious.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, for Putin is a ‘man’ without a conscience, one who will do “whatever it takes” to expand his empire, even if it means the destruction of millions of lives.  The best, most realistic and logical of the many editorials I have read on this topic comes from Joel Mathis of The Week, and I would like to share it with you.

Putin just dramatically raised the stakes. What should the U.S. do?

Escalating is easy. Prudence is difficult.

Joel Mathis, February 28, 2022

Once the cycle of escalation starts, it’s hard to stop.

So it’s both alarming and unsurprising that Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Sunday put his country’s nuclear forces on alert, pushing back against the flood of sanctions and angry rhetoric from Western leaders that has followed his decision to invade Ukraine. “Top officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country,” Putin said. He might have been referring to last week’s comment from the French foreign minister that “the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance,” which itself was a response to Putin’s own nuclear-tinged warning against outside countries interfering in his war. Every tit-for-tat heating up of rhetoric just ratchets the tensions a little bit higher.

Escalating is easy. Prudence is difficult. But prudence is exactly what is needed from U.S. and European leaders in the days and weeks ahead. 

What does that mean in this case? It doesn’t mean surrendering to Putin’s aggression by giving up sanctions against Russia or the (so-far) limited efforts to aid Ukraine in its defense. But it does mean remembering — as if he’d let us forget — that Putin has command of a large arsenal of nuclear weapons, and that any direct confrontation between NATO and Russian forces might turn a regional calamity into a worldwide disaster. It means (as my colleague Damon Linker put it) being very careful that the “urge to do something” doesn’t make a bad situation much worse. 

It means being calm, even when events seem to demand otherwise.

For example: It’s easy to see how the U.S. response to Putin’s nuclear provocation could spin out of control. As The New York Times’ Max Fisher pointed out on Sunday, it’s unlikely that Putin actually wants to start a nuclear war — but it’s also possible the combination of itchy trigger fingers and simple misunderstandings could end in calamity. “Putin is not insane; he is not going to deliberately start a nuclear war,” Fisher wrote. “Rather, the main risk is a freak accident or miscalculation that sets either side hurtling toward last-ditch ‘defensive’ strikes in error — very unlikely, but not impossible.”

Which is why America’s best response to Russia’s nuclear alert is probably to do nothing for now. “Putin would like nothing better than to take everyone’s mind off Ukraine and focus us all on a game of nuclear chicken,” The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols wrote Sunday. So why give him that opportunity?

The good news is that the Biden Administration is indeed playing it cool for the moment. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called Putin’s escalation “totally unacceptable” — but there was no announcement that American forces were raising their own nuclear alert status. Prudent. 

The bad news is that President Biden will be faced with dozens more moments like Sunday’s, endless crises that will demand a fresh choice about whether or not to respond, and then how to respond effectively without being too provocative. With the stakes so high, it will be much easier to get those decisions wrong than to get them right. And those decisions — no matter how wise or unwise they end up being — will be instantly castigated by a Republican Party that has collectively decided that there will be no rallying around the flag for a Democratic president.

And if, as likely, things get worse in Ukraine in the short-term future, the voices calling for a “tougher” reaction from the United States are likely to get louder. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) is an honorable man, but his proposal of a U.S.-enforced “no-fly zone” over Ukraine would immediately, and probably violently, pit American forces against the Russian military. Similarly, glib talk of “regime change” in Russia will probably produce more problems than solutions. The hawkish impulse might be understandable in the current crisis — who doesn’t want to see a bully get a bloody nose, and get it right this instant? — but that doesn’t make it smart: If a bully has a gun, the satisfaction that comes from punching him might be short-lived. That would be … imprudent. 

As always, President Biden might get every decision right and still end up with an unsatisfactory outcome: It remains very likely that Ukraine or some significant portion of it ends up under Putin’s thumb. There may be no winning scenario for the good guys, only a series of less-bad possibilities. Anybody who says they have a secret-but-magical solution to the Russo-Ukraine war — like, say, former President Trump — is selling you something. Sometimes, there is no easy way forward.

37 thoughts on “Wise Words

  1. “There will one day spring from the brain of science a machine or force so fearful in its potentialities, so absolutely terrifying that even man the fighter, who will dare torture and death to inflict torture and death, will be appalled, and so will abandon war altogether. What man’s mind can create, man’s character can control.” – Thomas Alva Edison. I first came across this quote in a 1988 book which in November of 2001 was published as a revised fourth printing : “Facing Evil : Confronting the Dreadful Power Behind Genocide, Terrorism, and Cruelty” edited by Paul Woodruff and Harry A. Wilmer. Upon reading Putin’s statement about nuclear weapons the memory of a version of these words from Edison’s brilliant mind popped into my significantly smaller one and admittedly I had to check the entire wording. Ukraine is a victim and a witness to the fact that man has not abandoned war altogether or even in part. WHAK!! Thank-you!

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    • Edison was certainly prescient in that quote! I have long said that we should NEVER have invented the atomic bomb, but noooooooo … humans have to do these things just to prove they can, and then future generations are left to deal with the fallout … literally. I used to think that someday wars would become a thing of the past, but humans cannot seem to figure out how to get along, and rather than walk away from an enemy, some feel they must ‘prove’ that they are the ‘best’ or ‘strongest’ or some such drivel. Love you, Miss Ellen! WHAK!!!


  2. Pingback: WISE WORDS. |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  3. Jill, there are 2 sides to every story… not saying Russian are telling the truth, but we must consider both side’s claims:

    Russian officials appeared to dispute being behind at least some of the strikes.

    “The Russian army does not occupy the Ukrainian territory; it takes all measures to preserve the lives and safety of civilians. I would like to stress that strikes are carried out only on military targets and uses exclusively precision weapons,” Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, told a briefing in Moscow.

    “Russian forces, during special operations, do not conduct any strikes against civilian infrastructure or any residential areas; this is out of the question. We are talking only about the demilitarization of Ukraine and about military structures. We must not forget that in most cases that you bring up, that is the firing by these nationalistic groups,” added Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Putin.

    The International Criminal Court is seeking approval to investigate alleged war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.

    Russian officials alleged that the Ukrainian side is using civilians as human shields and have placed weapons, including mortars, in courtyards of residential buildings and near schools.


    • If your child is playing peacefully in his own yard, minding his own business not bothering anyone, and my child comes along, beats your child to a pulp and steals his toys, are you going to tell me there are two sides to every story? No, I didn’t think so. This is a power grab on Putin’s part … Ukraine posed no threat to him. Even the Russian people aren’t happy about what he’s doing. Whatever Ukraine is doing to fight back … well, Putin asked for it.



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    • No, they don’t, do they? Last I heard, nearly 3,000 Russians had been arrested for protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Even mothers with babies were in the streets holding signs and then being arrested. And yes, most people in Russia have family and friends in Ukraine and I suspect the Russians are sick and tired of the dictator who calls himself ‘president’. Now if only the military would rise up against him and refuse to kill their Ukrainian cousins …

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  5. Jill, thanks. Putin is known for his bullying, disinformation and malevolence. Trump could not spell truth if you spotted him that three of the letters are in his name. The alleged “perfect call” with Ukraine where Trump tried to extort help was where the then president withheld military help. Taking Trump at his word is a fool’s errand. Taking Putin at his is simply dangerous and reckless. Keith

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    • I fully agree with all you say, my friend. Trump and Putin share one thing in common — neither has a conscience, neither care on whit about other people. Each in his own realm poses an extremely dangerous threat to the people of not only their own countries, but of the entire globe. I hope Putin will get his comeuppance soon and also hope that Trump will be ineligible to run for office by 2024, for between voter restrictions and the number of fools who worship Trump, he could win if he runs, and that would be a tragedy.


  6. I would suggest, is that those Americans who are horrified by what is taking place and the loss of civilian life, should continue to call out those on the American Right who make excuses for Putin, place up images of them counterpointed with suffering civilians and send them images of the said suffering demanding to know if they support ‘this’
    Cleanse them out.

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    • Yes, it seems to be the best way to prevent a major world-wide catastrophe, for Putin cannot be trusted not to indulge his temper in a way that would kill millions. Sigh. I don’t hold much hope for the peace negotiations, for I think that Putin is only going to be satisfied when he has destroyed Ukraine and its people. xx


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