U.S. Policy with Respect to the Ukraine War

Headline: “The U.S. is expanding its goals in Ukraine. That’s dangerous.”

I didn’t take time to read this article. I didn’t need to. I’d already read an article making the same point by the estimable Washington Post opinion writer Katrina Van den Heuvel, and I’d already formed the same opinion independently. The heroic and impressively competent Ukrainian defense against the Russian invasion has been inspiring, and the U.S. has rightly come to Ukraine’s aid, but the Biden Administration must not let Ukraine’s success and Putin’s blundering go to its head. We must not sleepwalk into appropriating this conflict as a way to win a “safe” war with Russia. This is a time for humility and for creative thinking, not a time for trying to bring Russia to its knees. We should continue to support Ukraine, but we should take the initiative in trying to end the war. We still need to give Putin an off ramp. The alternative would likely be months more of death, suffering, and destruction in Ukraine or much worse.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Khrushchev backed down because Kennedy agreed to remove guided missiles from Turkey. The missiles were obsolete, but this concession was sufficient to let Khrushchev save face and withdraw nuclear armed missiles from Cuba. Significantly, Kennedy told Khrushchev that he would have to keep it secret that he was giving up the missiles in Turkey or he would be pilloried by political opponents and by the media. In this way, Kennedy elevated the importance of his concession in Khrushchev’s mind. There are many differences between the Ukrainian War and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but there are echoes of that episode that should not be ignored. Biden must make sure that he’s thinking like Kennedy and not like Dr. Strangelove.