IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 February 2022
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Castle NATO and Putin’s Praetorian Guards
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON — After weeks of what we assumed was a bluff, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. But bluffing requires rational thought, and he was not bluffing, making irrational actions that could turn someone like North Korea’s erratic Kim Jong-un into a statesman by contrast.
This begs two questions: What should the U.S. and our NATO allies have done to thwart this utterly irrational and unprovoked attack, and what historical analogy tells us what to expect next.
First, by turning NATO into a self-centered club unwilling to aid non-members was and remains a mistake. In the case of non-member Ukraine, this ill-advised concept gave Putin a green light to invade. If this drawbridge up, moat surrounded, castle mentality were to persist, would not non-members Finland and Sweden immediately become vulnerable? And what of Russia’s other non-NATO neighbors, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and previously invaded Georgia? And what signal does this send where NATO does not exist as in the case of the Pacific where China remains firm in its ongoing quest to take Taiwan?
No, the U.S. and NATO and other allies cannot police the entire world, but where unprovoked aggression erupts and low-risk counter measures are available, those measures should be taken. They should have been taken in Ukraine, where NATO forces could have been inserted months ago, creating a deterrence that certainly would have stopped Putin. Instead, we stood back, misjudging an irrational leader for a rational leader who would understand the cost-benefit inversion of such actions.
What does history tell us is next? Normally analogies to Hitler should be avoided as nothing can surpass the horrors of the Nazis and the Holocaust, but the historical echoes of Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland resonated with Putin’s declaration that the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine was “independent.”
“Peace for our time,” was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s characterization of the 1938 Munich Agreement to cede German-speaking Sudetenland to Germany. Putin implied the same when referencing the Russian-speaking Donbass region, praised by former President Donald Trump as “pretty smart” and “savvy.” History rightly labeled the Munich Agreement as appeasement because it was followed by the occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia and led to World War II. Likewise, Putin followed up his Donbas pronouncement with the invasion of Ukraine, leading to who knows what.
The difference between these events of 1938 and 2022 is the world’s reaction. Aside from Trump’s words of praise for a leader whose ruthlessness he admires, most of the world’s leaders condemned Putin and joined in U.S.-led sanctions against Russia.
Putin sought to weaken NATO but precipitated the opposite reaction. NATO has never been more unified, and Finland and Sweden may now join its ranks. Germany has pulled the plug on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline set to deliver natural gas from Russia. The Russian stock market dropped 33 percent on the day of the invasion, and the Russian ruble collapsed to its lowest level ever versus the dollar.
Putin sought to strengthen his standing at home, but demonstrations broke out around Russia, and the oligarchs whose money is parked in the Russian stock market and Western capitals are going to take the brunt of the sanctions. So, like the Praetorian Guards who protected and often selected the emperors of ancient Rome, these oligarchs who comprise Putin’s power base may soon look to their bank accounts and select another leader.
See Eleanor Clift’s latest book ”Selecting a President,” and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
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END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND
IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 February 2022