Friday, February 25, 2022

Ukraine, Israel, and the nuclear bomb

Virtually every democratic leader has declared Putin's invasion of Ukraine an unadulterated, unjustified attack of a tyrant against a free and independent country.  They have declared that such aggression cannot stand, that might does not make right.

President Biden stated that "America stands up to bullies.  America stands up for freedom."

Retired General Petreaus has called Putin's actions "An assault on democracy."

What is the response of the free democratic world to this naked aggression?  To this violation of sacred sovereignty?  How does America and its allies stand up to bullies?  How do they stand up for freedom?

Apparently, by imposing some financial penalties.  But not by meeting military aggression with military might.

The minute the Biden Administration and NATO made it clear that NATO would not use military means to defend Ukraine, they assured that Putin would move against Ukraine and, if not stopped, ultimately against other nations.  His history bears this out.  The history of dictatorial tyrants bears it out.

Why have America and its allies not stood up militarily for Ukraine.  I have heard two reasons: 1) Americans and Europeans are tired of endless wars.  2) Ukraine is not part of NATO.

The answers: 1) Anyone who thinks allowing this invasion to proceed without a military counter by democracies will prevent future fighting that will involve the U.S. and NATO  is living in a fantasy land.  They obviously do not read history.

2)  So what?  If a country is not part of NATO, it therefore is fair game for crushing, for the subjugation of its people?  The power that runs over it will respect niceties like NATO membership and agreements and not engage in further aggression in the future?

Contrast the current situation to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Thirty-seven countries led by the U.S. engaged in the Gulf War to defend Kuwait against Saddam Hussein's aggression.  Why then and not now?  Some possible reasons and other thoughts:

--Kuwait has oil. Ukraine has wheat.

--Kuwait is a dictatorship.  Ukraine is a democracy.  Hmmm. . .that seems backwards.

--The Berlin Wall had just fallen.  The U.S. was the undisputed and sole world power.  Democracy seemed to be on the rise.  President George H.W. Bush declared that there was a "new world order."  Today American democracy has been attacked and questioned by a prior President.  Many Americans have lost faith in democracy, and about 25% believe that violence against their own government is justified in some circumstances.

Iran, Russia, China, and other dictatorships and would-be dictators have made gains.  As a recent essay by Anne Applebaum was entitled, The Bad Guys are Winning.  

--President George H.W. Bush was a WWII veteran whose bomber was shot down.  He parachuted into the Pacific and was rescued, while his fellow fighters were killed.  He personally experienced the cost of not standing up to the world's foremost bully. President Biden and most of today's leaders, as well as most of their constituents, have not had a similar experience with personally confronting evil left unchecked.

--The first Iraq War was before the Second Iraq War and the U.S. war in Afghanistan.  Both were long, murky, costly encounters without clear victories.  Americans are understandably tired of wars.

--Some Americans as well as many of the "experts" believe Russia will face a demoralizing, costly quagmire in Ukraine, similar to its occupation of Afghanistan.  Don't count on it.  Ukraine is not Iraq or Afghanistan, and the Ukraine-Russian relationship is much different than the Iraq and Afghanistan relationships with the U.S. or the Russian relationship with Afghanistan.

-- Iraq was a third-rate power.  Russia is thought to be a much greater power.  And it is when it comes to its military capabilities.  It has nuclear weapons.  But it is not the power it is often made out to be, and it should not be given the respect or deference that it is often given.

More than 20% of Russians do not have indoor plumbing.  Russia's per capita GDP is about $11,000, 68th in the world.  Its economy is about the same size as Italy's, with a population of 145 million versus 60 million Italians.  It's economy is basically oil and military arms.  Its standard of living is lower than those of Greece, Poland, and Hungry.

This is the country we are allowing to roll over a democracy?  This is how America and its NATO allies "stand up for freedom?"  By penalizing banks?

The lesson for Israel and other countries:  Obviously, don't count on the "free" world.  It may be free, and it may impose sanctions on a bully for a while, but it certainly will not risk blood for you.

Israel has always said that it will have the capability to defend itself.  But, clearly, against the overwhelming force of an overwhelming military power, conventional capabilities will not do the job.  Without the threat of the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb, small countries, including Israel, are vulnerable.

North Korea, Korea and other bad guys know it.  Qaddaffi, another bad guy, learned it the hard way.  Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nukes it inherited from the former Soviet Union in exchange for security guarantees from Russia and the U.S.  A very hard lesson learned in a very hard way.

Every leader of every small country in the world must today be exploring the possibility for developing or acquiring nuclear weapons.  If they are not, they are not doing their jobs.

David Ben-Gurion, like all great leaders, was not a man without flaws, sometimes big ones.  But he was a visionary.  He not only was key to the re-establishment of the Jewish people's nation, at times he seemed to will it into existence.

Shimon Peres, now often viewed as a visionary seeker of peace and a beloved elder statesman, was anything but for most of his political career.  He was not beloved by many Israelis.  He was viewed by many as a notorious infighter, a master manipulator clawing his way to power.

Both men were realists when it came to the use of military power.  They knew when it was necessary to employ it, and they did not hesitate to use it.

And they were visionaries and realists when it came to the development of Israel's nuclear weaponry.  Ben-Gurion knew that Israel was becoming a small pawn in the large chessboard of the Cold War powers.  He recognized that only a nuclear weapon would guarantee Israel's survival.

Peres had the personal relations, the persuasive skills, and the manipulative ability to get the French government to provide the machinery and materials necessary so that Israeli scientists and engineers could develop a bomb.

And Ben-Gurion and his successor, Levi Eshkol, had the gumption and the gall to avoid and evade President Kennedy's inquiries and admonitions about Israel's development of a nuke.

Given the current demonstration of the free world's unwillingness to defend a small, democratic country against unjustified, brutal aggression, Israelis, Jews, and anyone else who cares about the survival of Israel should take a moment to thank these gutsy, visionary leaders.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)




  1. I think the opposite argument is more correct. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of state in Eastern Europe the "West" has made significant inroads into what was the former sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. NATO has taken in Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the Baltic States and Russia has stood by without interfering. This to me was a "miracle". But Ukraine was clearly a different matter. Russia could allow the Ukraine to be a democratic state but could not tolerate it if she decides to be a member of NATO. The NATO folks took no notice of this issue. They should have said unequivocally years ago that Ukraine would never be part of NATO or the European Union. Russia's hand was forced and the inevitable invasion process started with Crimea and has now extended to all of the Ukraine. The U.S. could not countenance Soviet missiles in Cuba in the 1960's and Russia cannot countenance NATO missiles in the Ukraine today. Putin is clearly a "bad guy", but his behavior is not irrational.

  2. This is a tough one. George H.W. Bush, whom I admired for his personal bravery and compassion, would never have intervened in Kuwait but for the oil. There was really no other good reason to send in the American army and that reason, based on economics, was not great. In this case, I think there is a very good moral reason to intervene, but I doubt that the feckless Europeans would have come along and that would have created an interesting and difficult spectacle- the American military vs the Russians on neutral soil. I ask you, honestly, do you think that the Congress would have backed this move? Today's Democratic party? Even Kennedy or Johnson's Democrats would have had some serious misgivings. Recall the Hungarian revolution of 1956- no one suggested that the U.S. rush in to help. This is different, I know, but when I think about how much power the U.S. would have had to project to stop the Russians in Ukraine from so far away, it is hard to conceive. Make no mistake, I am disgusted with what has happened and if the left fails to recognize what Ronald Reagan referred to as the Evil Empire for what it is after this, then the left is as morally bankrupt as I feared.