A Surprising Voice From A Conservative

Keith pointed me in the right direction on this one, telling me about Henry Olsen’s latest OpEd in The Washington Post.  I read Olsen’s work only occasionally, for I typically disagree with him on most things, but he really surprised me on this one, and in the best of ways.  What Olsen writes here is proof that there ARE moderate Republicans/conservatives who are not so deeply partisan that they cannot see the forest for the trees.

Biden deserves props for his masterful Ukraine policy

By Henry Olsen

17 November 2022

This week’s report that a Russian-made missile had fallen in Poland, a NATO ally, could have increased tensions with Russia and even led to direct conflict between the belligerent nation and the Western alliance. The fact that it didn’t casts a light on one of the year’s underreported stories: how masterfully the Biden administration has handled the Ukraine crisis.

Some of my fellow conservatives will strenuously disagree with this assessment. In their telling, the United States has no essential national security interest in a free and democratic Ukraine. President Biden’s decision to send massive amounts of military aid to the nation unnecessarily risked war with nuclear-armed Russia. And his decision to join our European allies in imposing severe economic sanctions on Russia is harming our economy, too.

But that ignores the key fact: America’s primary national security interest is to keep our potential enemies far away from our shores, and the least costly and most effective way of doing that is to assemble a network of allies across the globe. We take interest in their security objectives; they, in turn, assist us in obtaining ours.

Biden understood from the start of the conflict in Ukraine that our European allies in NATO viewed Russian designs very differently. Our allies in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, feared they would be next if NATO allowed Ukraine to be conquered. Our allies in Western Europe, such as Germany and France, also feared an aggressive Russia but thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be bought off with his country’s extensive economic ties with their countries. Balancing those views was the most important principle animating U.S. policy in the run-up to the invasion.

Thus came Biden’s elegant two-step: First, he warned the world that the invasion was coming and that there would be serious consequences if Russia went through with it. Second, he let Germany and France take the diplomatic lead, giving them the opportunity to prove that their assessments of Putin were correct. Biden also chose not to rush massive amounts of arms to Ukraine, an act that would have given Putin a pretext for the invasion he had already decided to launch. Being too quick to provide weapons also would have harmed Biden’s ability to rally recalcitrant allies in an anti-Russian cordon.

This dance worked perfectly. The Eastern allies knew we shared their fears, and the Western allies were shocked into action after their views about Putin proved dangerously naive. This gave Biden massive credibility to shape the alliance’s actions regarding Russia.

As a result, the economic sanctions the U.S.-led grouping levied were far more severe than almost any observer would have thought possible beforehand. And the military aid the alliance provided has been much more lethal than any that had been contemplated just a year ago. Ukraine now has the upper hand in a war against a foe three times as large. That’s all due to Biden’s superb diplomacy.

This maneuvering has also created collateral behaviors that redound to U.S. security. European powers had been leery of confronting China before Russia’s invasion, weakening the United States’ ability to contain its primary security threat. Now, with Chinese President Xi Jinping tacitly supporting Russia, Europe no longer sees China as a benign power. Even though many European elites resent America for its sometimes overbearing diplomatic manner and military swagger, they also know they share more values with the United States than they ever could with an autocratic Russo-Chinese axis. They are now likelier to back our initiatives to reduce China’s economic and diplomatic influence.

None of this was preordained. A U.S. president whose primary goal was to prevent confrontation with Russia might have been inclined to cut a deal with Putin that effectively gave him what he wanted, pushing Europe further into a strategy of appeasement. A president who intended to confront Russia might have involved the United States too deeply in Ukraine, alienating our allies and setting up the potential for a direct military clash between superpowers. Biden’s middle course avoided these missteps and set the United States up to reap massive benefits.

Biden will have to keep this balanced approach as the war continues. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would like to see the United States and NATO involve themselves more directly in his war, which is why he was quick to argue that his country was not responsible for the missile that fell in Poland. But the more territory Ukraine retakes, the closer it gets to the territory Russia seized in 2014. We now know Putin will not risk war with the West over Kherson or Zaporizhzhia. He might feel differently if a U.S.-armed Ukraine threatens to retake Crimea.

But those concerns are in the future. For now, it appears that Biden has reinvigorated NATO and brought the Europeans closer to our views on China. That’s cause for celebration across the partisan divide.

20 thoughts on “A Surprising Voice From A Conservative

  1. Ya’ know … I appreciate Biden’s approach (especially as outlined in this piece), but I often wonder how many realize/recognize the individuals “behind-the-scenes” that counsel the POTUS on this and other major decisions. The U.S. has a whole battalion of advisers that are most certainly called into action on matters that majorly affect this country. Of course, when all is said and done, the guy (gal?) sitting in the Oval Office is the one that will either get the credit OR the blame.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes. And the converse is rue when everyone in the country has an agenda they think the President can just snap his fingers and make happen. When he doesn’t they think he is inept. So many armchair Presidents out there. .

      Liked by 4 people

    • Rarely, unless they do something that draws attention (controversy) are those people recognized, and that’s for the best. Their relative anonymity allows them to go about the work at hand without having to fend off reporters, hate mail, etc. And you are right … the guy at the top will always be blamed or credited, depending on which way it goes. A perfect example is blame for gasoline prices being heaped upon Biden when it was largely Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that cause the supply chain and fuel cost issues. People don’t even try to understand, just start pointing the fingers.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks Jill for the shout out, plus posting Olsen’s piece. What I like about this is it moves away from the “must denigrate the opposition” schtick that too many do these days. When leaders do well, we need to tell them. I just sent a note to Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, for his heavy role in pushing the act to protect same sex marriage. I often disagree with Tillis, but he did good on this. Keith

    Liked by 5 people

    • Exactly, Keith. I am old enough to remember the days when whoever won the presidency was looked to from both sides expectantly. To those who promoted the winning candidate, it was a time to keep promises and shore up that party’s confidence in their choice. For the opposing party it was a time to watch and wait, hopeful that they wouldn’t be sorely disappointed. This article puts into perfect words what I have been telling many people about Biden across the board. He is very patient and calculating in his policies and processes, something that all but disappeared during the Bush administration and was literally scoffed at by the Orange Menace. The coalition of nations is the only way to maintain equilibrium in the world. The histories that matter are systematically being filtered out of schools so that the new extreme right regime can control what young people think is important. Such deception can only lead to disaster. Thanks for sharing this.
      There is a quote from the 60’s that states, “War is not good for children or other living things,” The only ones it benefits are those seeking wealth and power. Is this the message we now want to send to our own children?

      Liked by 5 people

      • Dweezer, your quote reminds me of the gist of the Pentagon Papers. Four presidents knew we were fighting an unwinnable war in Vietnam, yet chose to fight to save face rather than fess up to Americans and get out. In fact, Nixon was recorded on tape a week before the 1968 presidential election with the South Vietnam leader to NOT sign a peace deal being negotiated, as he would broker a better deal which took four more years. What Nixon did was traiterous, but LBJ did not make a stink at the time even though a GOP Senate leader agreed with him. How many Americans died as a result of these actions? Keith

        PS – we knew of the Nixon call as the South Vietnamese leader was being recorded.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Indeed, it does move away from the petty finger-pointing just because, which reminds me of two ‘gangs’ of teens fighting while not knowing what they’re even fighting about. Yes, Tillis and a few other stepped outside the box to protect a human right … I imagine they’re taking some flak from their fellow Republicans, too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Biden truly is a skilled diplomat but I would like to mention to readers that the Ukraine is not just US armed, and mention some of the many countries such as the UK Australia, Canada and New Zealand that have contributed to Ukraine in a big way, the UK has the second largest contribution to Ukraine and has been threatened with a nuclear strike from Putin’s chief propagandist and not surprising since these countries have hated each more than any other other during the cold war and they have claimed the British Navy destroyed the Nord Stream gas pipelines. Australia has sent 90 Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to Ukraine that their forces say are perfect for the job, Canada has sent armoured combat vehicles, ammunition and relief items and 600 million dollars, with New Zealand sending humanitarian aid and both NZ and Australia sending troops to join the UK troops in training Ukraine soldiers. All these countries are punching way above their weight to bring this war to an end as they all view it as a threat of nuclear war to the world. There is no higher stake than this war, even climate change must take second fiddle to this.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It’s too bad certain U.S. politicians don’t take note of all that you wrote. In their minds, the U.S. is the Big Bad Guy that should get out and mind our own business. The short-sightedness of some is mind-boggling.

      Liked by 1 person

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