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While President Joe Biden’s leadership has thus far been largely MIA, Russia has steadily ravaged Ukraine.
Yet the Ukrainians are hanging in there, and Biden has at least more than two years left in office. That means there is still time for him to emerge from the back shadows and start delivering the solid leadership the West needs to assure a satisfactory end to the fighting, as well as post-war security and prosperity for our European allies and ourselves.
What, exactly, would that leadership entail?
UKRAINE ASKS NATO COUNTRY FOR HELP WITH REPAIRING DAMAGED MILITARY EQUIPMENT
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop an armoured fighting vehicle Tuesday as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues at an unknown location in Eastern Ukraine.
(Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS)
No one can know how the fighting will play out, but we can make an educated guess about where Vladimir Putin now hopes he can take this. The next time Moscow pauses, Putin will want to be in a position of strength.
To get there, he will continue three odious tactics. First, he will keep targeting civilians in an effort to break the will of Ukrainians, making them war-weary enough to stop fighting. Second, he will concentrate his offensive in the South and East, so that, if Russia pauses, Moscow has control of some new territory. Third, he will forcibly remove even more Ukrainians to Russia. He’s already transported hundreds of thousands, giving him a hefty, albeit wholly inhumane, bargaining chip.
If that is the state of play when major fighting ceases, it will not be the end of the story. If Putin has his way, this Ukrainian campaign will just be the down payment on his next move west.
For Ukraine to survive and thrive—and to put a lid on Putin’s expansionism—President Biden will have to exercise extraordinary leadership.
For starters, the West will have to ensure that Ukraine has a future. In the short term, that probably means making sure that Ukraine has the means necessary to defend itself against another invasion. No piece of paper signed by any power can substitute for a substantially well-armed people. The U.S. must partner in helping build a sustained Ukrainian military, a resilient logistical base and dependable domestic production capacity for the long term. Lend lease might be lending for a long time.
Ukraine is also going to have to rebuild Ukraine. Seized Russian assets can help pay for that, but Ukraine needs to rebuild its country faster than Putin rebuilds his army. To finish first, Ukraine will need the help of America and other nations.
Then there is the question of making sure Putin can’t threaten the rest of Europe. That means checkmating Putin’s two most potent weapons: a military with no compunction about taking a wrecking ball to polite societies and Moscow’s energy influence. Both tasks require a lot of Yankee can-do.
A Ukrainian tank drives next to a destroyed Russian vehicle in the Kharkiv region on April 14.
On the military front, the U.S. needs to strengthen its extended nuclear deterrence and missile defenses, while pushing NATO to field strong, forward-deployed forces that can actually defend NATO’s frontlines.
On the energy front, the U.S. needs to resume leadership in global energy production. That means not just providing for our own energy needs, but partnering with others to invest in reliable, affordable, dependable energy solutions for allies.
An armed serviceman of Donetsk People’s Republic militia walks past a building damaged during fighting in Mariupol on Wednesday.
Accomplishing these tasks would make Europe more stable Europe and make the U.S. more secure and prosperous. It would also help checkmate China, which seeks to take advantage of Putin’s disruptive actions to advance its own agenda in Europe and elsewhere.
The question is, can Biden muster the vision and focus needed to pull this off? It will, at the very least, be an uphill battle.
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At home, the president is distracted and weakened by an unpopular domestic policy agenda that seems to sink more deeply into a quagmire by the day. Will he have the time, energy, and interest in building back a better Europe?
Biden also must fight against the weight of his own policies that make the U.S. a less effective force at home and abroad. This challenge is particularly daunting when it comes to energy policy because he would have to abandon his unrealistic ambitions of reaching “Global Zero” and powering the nation solely on renewable green energy.
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Perhaps Biden will find his inner-Harry Truman and take on the tough leadership role these times demand. But a betting man would wager that, even if he decides to take on these difficult challenges, he will want to lead with the same woke polices that have thus far left him leading from way, way behind. And that’s just not enough to get the job done.
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