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The Atlantic’s George Packer praises Biden’s Ukraine response

I think President Joe Biden has played the U.S. cards reasonably well so far, but Packer offers a more comprehensive analysis.

The area near a regional administration building, which city officials said was hit by a missile attack, in central Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
The area near a regional administration building which city officials said was hit by a missile attack, in central Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

Obviously, the story of the moment is despicable Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, and Ukraine’s heroic, inspiring, so-far-successful resistance, led by its amazingly brave, not-very-tall president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose prior experience included playing the not-very-tall president of Ukraine in a sitcom. You can’t make this stuff up.

Despite being a descendant of Ukrainian Jews myself, I have no brilliant insights. I certainly know which side I favor in the conflict. I think President Joe Biden has played the U.S. cards reasonably well so far, although sometimes I wish he would do more to help Ukraine, but I’m not sure what.

But while I may not have any advice to offer Biden or anyone else on the matter, I did want to just pass along a taste of an analysis by the always perspicacious Atlantic magazine writer George Packer, and provide a link to his full piece (I’m not sure if it’s subscriber only).

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Wrote Packer:

In giving the order to invade Ukraine, Putin made nonsense of a raft of apologists who had, until the last hour, continued to believe that Russia could be satisfied with concessions, that it was acting out of “legitimate security concerns.”

Putin didn’t start this war because of NATO expansion, or American imperialism, or Western weakness, or the defense of Christian civilization, or any other cause that directs blame away from the perpetrator.

In 2014, Ukrainians staged what they called a “Revolution of Dignity” in Kyiv, and they’ve been struggling ever since to create a decent country, ruled by laws and not by thieves, free of Russia’s grip. That country was so intolerable to Putin that he decided to destroy it…

(Me, interjecting: That’s a pretty great summary of how we got to where we are. Skipping several developments, with which you are familiar, he later summarizes …)

… Since last Thursday, Ukrainian resistance to invasion has shamed and inspired much of the world. Protests that were absent during the Russian buildup throughout February now fill the streets in cities from Sydney and Tokyo to Berlin and Bern — even in St. Petersburg and Minsk. Over the weekend the European Union imposed devastating banking sanctions on Russia. Most remarkably, Germany ended its decades of nonintervention and declared that it will send military equipment to Ukraine. Even perpetually neutral Sweden is arming the Ukrainians. This sudden, energetic unity of the democracies shows the reserves of power that can be brought to bear against the autocracies without going to war…

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(Me again: I haven’t formed a real view of how I think Biden has handled the situation so far, but Packer gets around to what the Biden Administration has done so far and resumes, thus …)

While Joe Biden’s domestic political opponents look for any reason to criticize him, the president is handling the crisis with skill and imagination. Unlike Afghanistan, Europe and NATO have a special importance for him because of his long experience of the Cold War and its aftermath. For the first time in decades, an American president is showing that he, and only he, can lead the free world, including by allowing Europeans to be the public voice for policies that the Americans push in private.

Biden is right to rule out sending troops — after two decades of fruitless death and destruction, some lessons of restraint are well worth learning, above all in a conflict with another nuclear power. But he should make clear to the Ukrainian people, who are fighting alone, that they can count on every other form of American support — weapons, training, humanitarian aid, intelligence, and sanctions that smother the Russian economy and sever Russia’s elites from all the benefits of the rich West. Biden should tell his own people that they will have to make sacrifices, and why they are worth making.

I’m pretty sure I agree.

I don’t know if it’s subscriber-only, but the full Packer piece is here.