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The war in Ukraine still holds surprises. The biggest may be for Putin.

LONDON — Here’s a startling fact: At a time when Americans can’t agree on virtually anything, there has been a consistent majority in favor of providing generous economic and military aid Ukraine in its fight against the effort to Vladimir Putin for erasing it from the map.

It’s doubly surprising when you consider that most Americans couldn’t find Ukraine on a map just a few months ago, since it’s a country with which we’ve never had a special relationship.

However, maintaining that support through this summer will be doubly important as the Ukraine war settles into something of a “sumo” phase: two giant fighters, each trying to push the other out of the ring, but neither willing to give up. or able to gain victory.

French President Emmanuel Macron. AP Photo/Francois Mori.

While I expect some erosion as people realize how much this war is increasing the world energy prices y the foodI’m still hopeful that most Americans will hang on until Ukraine can reclaim its sovereignty militarily or strike a decent peace deal with Putin.

My short-term optimism stems not from reading polls, but from reading history, in particular Michael Mandelbaum’s new book, “The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: weak power, great power, super power, hyper power.

Mandelbaum, professor emeritus of US foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (we co-wrote a book in 2011), argues that while US attitudes toward Ukraine may seem completely unexpected and novel , they are not.

Seen through the scope of US foreign policy, which his book convincingly chronicles through the lens of the four different power relationships the United States has had with the world, they are actually quite familiar and predictable. .

In fact, so much so that both Putin and the president of China, Xi Jinpingwould benefit from reading this book.

Throughout US history, our nation has oscillated between two broad approaches to foreign policy, Mandelbaum explained in an interview, echoing a key theme in his book:

“One emphasizes the power, national interest and security and is associated with Theodore Roosevelt. The other emphasizes the promotion of American values ​​and identifies with Woodrow Wilson”.

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While these two worldviews often competed, this was not always the case.

And when a foreign policy challenge was presented that was in harmony with our interests and our values, he hit the nail on the head and was able to get a broad, deep and lasting public support.

“This happened in World War II and the Cold War,” Mandelbaum noted, “and it seems to be happening again with Ukraine.”

But the big, big question is: For how long?

No one knows, because wars follow both predictable and unpredictable paths.

The predictable thing with regard to Ukraine is that as costs rise, dissent will grow, whether in the United States or among our European allies, arguing that our interests and values ​​have become unbalanced in Ukraine.

They will argue that economically we cannot afford us the luxury support Ukraine to the point of total victory, that is, dislodge Putin’s army from every inch of Ukraine, nor strategically allow ourselves to go for total victory, because in the face of total defeat, Putin could unleash a nuclear weapon. .

One can already see signs of this in the president’s statement Emmanuel Macron from France on Saturday that the Western alliance “must not humiliate Russia,” a statement that drew howls of protest from Ukraine.

“Every war in American history has sparked dissent, including the Revolutionary War, when those who opposed it moved to Canada,” Mandelbaum explained.

“What our three greatest commanders in chief, Washington, Lincoln and FDR, had in common as wartime presidents was their ability to keep the country committed to winning the war, despite dissent.”

That will also be President Joe Biden’s challenge, especially when there is no consensus among allies or with Ukraine on what “winning” looks like there:

Is it the achievement of kyiv’s currently stated goal of taking back every inch of its Russian-occupied territory?

Is he allowing Ukraine, with the help of NATO, to deal such a blow to the Russian military that it forces Putin into a compromise deal that still leaves him in possession of some territory?

What if Putin decides he wants no compromise and instead wants Ukraine to die a slow and painful death?

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In two of the most important wars in our history, the Civil War and World War II, Mandelbaum said, “our goal was total victory over the enemy.

The problem for Biden and our allies is that we cannot aim for a total victory over Putin’s Russia, because that could trigger a nuclear war; however, something like total victory may be the only way to prevent Putin from bleeding Ukraine dry forever.”

Which brings us to the unpredictable: after more than 100 days of fighting, no one can tell you How does this war end?

It started in Putin’s head and will probably end only when Putin says he wants it to end.

Putin probably feels that he is in charge and that time is on his side, because he can take more pain than Western democracies.

But great wars are strange things, regardless of how they start, they can end totally unexpected.

Let me offer an example through one of Mandelbaum’s favorite quotes.

It’s from the biography of Winston Churchill of his great ancestor the Duke of Marlborough, published in the 1930s:

“Great battles, won or lost, change the whole course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, new atmospheres, in armies and in nations, to which all must conform.”

Churchill’s point, Mandelbaum has argued, was that “wars can change the course of history and Great battles often decide wars.

The battle between Russia and Ukraine for control of the area in eastern Ukraine known as Donbas has the potential to be such a battle”.

In more ways than one.

The 27 nations of the European Union, our key ally, are actually the largest trading bloc in the world.

They have already moved decisively to cut trade and investment in Russia.

On May 31, the EU agreed to cut off 90% of crude oil imports from Russia by the end of 2022.

This will not only hurt Russia, but will also cause real pain to EU consumers and manufacturers, who already pay astronomical prices for fuel and natural gas.

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However, all of this is happening at a time when renewable energies, such as solar and wind, have become price competitive with fossil fuels, and when the automotive industry around the world is significantly increasing vehicle production. electrical and new batteries.

In the short term, none of these can make up for falling Russian supplies.

But if we get a year or two of skyrocketing gasoline and heating oil prices due to the Ukraine war, “we’re going to see a massive shift in mutual fund and industry investment toward electric vehicles, grid improvements long-duration vehicles, transmission lines and storage that could shift the entire market away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward renewables,” said Tom Burke, director of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, the climate research group.

“The war in Ukraine is already forcing all countries and companies to drastically advance in its decarbonization plans”.

In fact, a report published last week by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air and Ember, a British-based global energy think tank, found that 19 of the 27 EU states “have significantly increased their ambition in terms of renewable energy”. power deployment from 2019, while lowering planned fossil fuel generation to 2030 to ward off geopolitical threats.”

A recent article in McKinsey Quarterly noted:

“The naval wars of the 19th century accelerated the change from wind-powered vessels to coal. World War I caused a shift from coal to oil. World War II introduced nuclear energy as one of the main sources of energy. In each of these cases, the wartime innovations they flowed directly into the civilian economy and ushered in a new era. The war in Ukraine is different in that it is not driving energy innovation per se, but rather clearer your need. Still, the potential impact could be just as transformative.”

Imagine: if this war doesn’t blow up the planet, you might inadvertently help keep it going. And, over time, it will reduce Putin’s main source of money and power.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic?

c.2022 The New York Times Company

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