American Leadership During the Russian Invasion of Ukraine - a Tale of Two Presidents
Updated: Aug 16, 2022
As we watch in horror at the scenes emerging out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our hearts go out to the Ukrainian people. Putin’s dream of a reunited Russia is proving to be his “white whale” blinding him to the consequences of his actions, forcing unwilling Russian military and civilians to bear the cost of a horrific hot war, tanking the Russian economy, and uniting the world against his unilateral actions.
There is a reason why the world stands united against Putin and why, despite intertwined business and financial interests, countries like Italy, Germany, the UK, and Belgium have agreed to economic sanctions that will cause distress to their companies and citizens and may prove to be politically unpopular.
President Biden’s unprecedented decision to present intel from US intelligence on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis has been successful in blunting attempts by President Putin to use false flag operations and disinformation to justify his actions towards Ukraine. President Biden’s dual efforts at diplomacy and deterrence may have failed, but that is more due to Putin’s monomania and megalomania towards erstwhile countries of the Soviet bloc than any lack of effort on the part of the US, the United Nations, and diplomatic overtures from world leaders and even the Pope.
Officials believe President Putin was surprised by the amount of intelligence and information that the U.S. had gathered about Russia's threat to Ukraine, and was not prepared for the Biden administration to make so much of that information public.
During this crisis, President Biden’s approach has met with approval across the political spectrum with staunch conservatives like Tom Nichols saying, “I’m glad I voted for this man.” Working with allies and NATO leaders, the United States, under President Biden's leadership, is providing the much-needed calm and assurance that Ukraine needs now, prompting Ukrainian President Zelensky to tweet,
“Strengthening sanctions, concrete defense assistance and an anti-war coalition have just been discussed with @POTUS. Grateful to 🇺🇸 for the strong support to 🇺🇦!”
While we wait to see how events play out the in the next few days, let’s take a moment to consider what things may have looked like had President Trump been reelected or the coup of January 6th 2021 had succeeded.
The first clue was given by the former President himself, when he said on a radio show recently that Putin was “very savvy” and that invading Ukraine was a “genius move.”
It’s no secret that Trump is a huge admirer of Vladimir Putin and sought to bring about his authoritarian style to the United States while he was President. But what has faded from our collective memory a bit are his concrete actions with respect to Ukraine, where he threatened to hold back aid to the fledgling democracy unless President Zelensky investigated his political rivals. Just months before the 2020 elections, Trump wanted the appearance of a scandal to mar Biden’s candidacy, much like the manufactured email scandal that put paid to Secretary Clinton’s presidential hopes, and he was willing to pressure the Ukrainian president to create some smoke.
Then-President Trump’s treatment of Ukraine alarmed some of his own top advisers at the time, particularly when coupled with his relatively warm praise of Putin — which continues today. At the time, Zelenskyy had desperately sought and asked Trump for a White House meeting, an effort to bolster his mandate to confront Russia. The meeting never came.
Other efforts by Trump to curry favor with Putin earned the condemnation of the American intelligentsia and the consternation of his own top advisors. In an article in the Washington Post, David Wooler, a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, compared Trump’s actions to that of Neville Chamberlain during the second World War and warned that Trump’s emboldening of Putin and other authoritarian leaders around the world would have devastating consequences for the world. Less than two years after the publication of the article, that warning is proving terribly prescient.
Today, Trump is repeating not only Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement but also the mistakes that underlay that policy. He ignores counsel from his military and diplomatic advisers and takes dictators such as Putin and Erdogan — whom he referred to as a “good friend” and “great leader” — at their word.
And finally, we may have a clue as to why Putin waited to invade Ukraine till 2022 instead of taking the opportunity to do so during Trump’s first term. A new report in the Week suggests that Putin was waiting for Trump for withdraw from NATO, a position Trump openly held, and hoped that with the fracturing of NATO in Trump’s second term, the path to annexing Ukraine would be easy.
Imagining an alternate reality in geopolitics is never easy; nations, leaders, and events shape world politics in unpredictable ways. But we have a very good idea of how the United States would have handled this assault of Ukraine during a Trump second term who would be impacted. The fact that Russia's propaganda media outlet Russia Today should put this article out points this out with devastating clarity.