Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress last week may not have been the Churchillian moment people had hoped for, but it got the job done. He asked for what his country needed, plainly, simply, and without folding into a grand discourse on the responsibilities of the world’s democracies to keep it safe from fascism as the late, great British leader might have.
Zelenskyy’s remarks showed him to be a most practical man, leading a country under siege. He should get all he asked for, all of it and more. He won’t, because the Biden administration fails to accept that his fight is our fight, whether we like it or not.
Some in Congress insist on shying away from that reality as well, going so far as to shamefully vote against suspending normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus as one more punishment for the aggressive war of national interest being waged against Ukraine.
Zelenskyy can see what far too many policymakers and influencers in the United States cannot. As he explained to Congress, the Russian attack on Ukraine “is a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams, just like the same dreams you have, you Americans, just like anyone else in the United States.”
America has been called to the fight and must answer in the affirmative. Thus far, the Biden administration has been leading from the back, reluctant to place the United States in the center of the global stage where it belongs. To Zelenskyy’s requests, it responded with a firm, unforgivable “no.”
The sanctions were slow in coming and have not, contrary to what White House spokesman Jen Psaki’s boast crushed the Russian economy. The military aid most needed is blocked, by design and by bureaucratic inertia. Most importantly, because the national security establishment is more worried about what might come next if Putin were ousted, his country still has avenues available to trade with the rest of the world.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t all that long ago when Democrats like Biden led a global effort to isolate a sovereign state over a domestic matter the rest of the civilized world considered an offense against God and man. How does the invasion of Ukraine not call for a boycott of Russia and its Balearian ally led by the United States any less vigorous than what America and the other freedom-loving peoples of the world did to bring the Republic of South Africa’s apartheid government to its knees? The time to wreck the Russian economy, to give an incentive for the Russian people to throw off their masters in pursuit of a genuine democratic system is at hand.
George Washington wisely warned against any involvement in messy foreign entanglements when America was a new nation needing time to find its feet. Wise advice at the time, it became increasingly dangerous as the nation grew in economic might and military power until isolationism proved very, very costly to overcome.
From Teddy Roosevelt to today, the United States has strutted boldly across the world stage, stealing the scene from every pretender to global leadership from the Kaiser to Stalin to Saddam Hussein.
We have expended American lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to defend the right of people to live free. This time that is not being asked of us. Zelenskyy and his people have shown they can and will fight. Some even say they are winning. Fear of what Putin might do if he’s backed into a corner cannot be allowed to be the determinant of U.S. policy. Fight now or fight later. That’s the choice.
We found that out in 1917. And in 1941.
And in 1950. And at other times when the fascists on the left and right threatened freedom. Today is not much different except Zelenskyy is asking only for the tools needed, as Churchill famously said so many years ago “So we may finish the job.”
It’s up to America to make sure he gets them.