As the Ukraine crisis continues, one question in particular poses itself: How can it be that having defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the West is now unable to get the better of the leader of the bankrupt kleptocracy that replaced communism in Russia?
At a synagogue meeting in Atlanta earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken displayed the all-too hapless posture of the West. Asked what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move might be having deployed 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, Blinken replied: “He is the only one that can give you an answer.”
Having done nothing more than advertise his own cluelessness, he then enumerated core Western principles: that a country can’t change the borders of another by force, decide another’s choices and decisions, or exert its sphere of influence to subjugate its neighbors to its will.
Fine principles indeed, but utterly meaningless unless the West is determined to uphold them. The reason that Putin has the whip hand in threatening to ride roughshod over those principles in Ukraine is that he knows that for the West, these are merely pious words.
In Afghanistan, America betrayed all those who had given their lives there to fight the enemies of the free world when it abruptly pulled out its troops and abandoned the country to the Taliban.
Faced with Iran racing towards the bomb, the Biden administration has redoubled its offers of sweeteners to the world’s most lethal terrorist regime. It dropped American objections to a $5 billion International Monetary Fund loan to Tehran.
It released Iranian oil funds in South Korea, Iraq and Oman. Last March, it halted the release of a report by the International Atomic Energy Authority detailing Iran’s non-compliance with the IAEA’s investigation into its undeclared nuclear material and activities.
Even though America’s own interests have been subjected to running attacks by Iran-backed militias, it merely responds with a feeble flick of the wrist in delivering only token military reprisals.
All this is in pursuit of the Blinken/Biden fantasy that the genocidal fanatics of the Islamic revolutionary regime are people who respond to inducements and offers of compromise because they think like Westerners.
In a similar vein, the administration’s foreign-policy team fantasizes (as others have done before it) that if Israel would only offer inducements and compromises on land to the Palestinian Arabs, the war between them would be over.
The Biden administration fails to grasp that tyrants and extremists like the Iranian ayatollahs, Putin or Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas don’t think like Westerners at all. That’s because their agenda is religious or political domination, and they regard any compromise gestures as proof of weakness and an incentive to redouble their aggression.
America’s incompetent blunderings around the world have been closely watched by Russia, China and Iran. They are calculating that they can get away with invading Ukraine or Taiwan, or building nuclear weapons because the United States hasn’t got what it takes to stop them.
The Bidenites don’t understand that international relations rest upon a paradox. This is that to keep the peace, you have to be prepared for war—and the enemy must believe you really do mean it. Without that implicit or explicit threat, war not only becomes much more likely, but it will eventually take place on the enemy’s terms.
Recently, under the pressure of an imminent energy emergency as Putin threatens to starve Europe of gas supplies, America and Britain have started to shake their fists.
The United States has put up to 8,500 troops on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the United Kingdom, which has already sent anti-tank weapons and a small number of British troops to Ukraine, is prepared to deploy troops to protect NATO allies in Europe if Russia invades.
In response, Russia has announced naval drills involving 140 ships and 10,000 troops from all of its naval fleets that will take place in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, North Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk from January until February.
Putin is thus thumbing his nose at the West because he doesn’t believe it is up for the fight. He rightly perceives it as rudderless, with America seemingly going out of its way to display weakness abroad while it tears itself apart at home.
He undoubtedly understands that the West’s appeasement mentality reflects a more profound and devastating weakness—that it is no longer prepared to defend itself because it has lost its belief that its culture is worth dying for.
In 1938, Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was cheered to the rafters when he returned from meeting Hitler in Munich waving the agreement he claimed had brought “peace for our time.”
The new movie “Munich,” based on Robert Harris’s thriller of that name, paints a revisionist picture of a heroic and clear-eyed Chamberlain having been motivated by the need to buy time for Britain to rearm.
But this is untrue. Chamberlain thought that by his agreement with Hitler, he had averted war altogether. Like many others at that time who had been deeply scarred by the terrible carnage in the trenches during World War I, Chamberlain believed that another war had to be avoided at all costs.
It’s hard to exaggerate the extent to which people are simply incapable of seeing what’s in front of their eyes if they are under powerful pressure to believe it’s not there. If they believe that the consequences of certain facts will be too awful, they deny those facts altogether. It’s this type of blindness that caused the Biden administration to think Putin was a reasonable negotiating partner over the plan for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to deliver gas from Russia to Germany.
Both the Obama and Trump administrations opposed this pipeline in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But last year, Blinken waived sanctions on Nord Stream’s chief executive, Matthias Warnig, the chairman of Nord Stream 2 and a close friend of Putin, claiming that he wanted to give time for diplomacy to work.
At a stroke, Blinken cut the ground from Ukraine since, without the pipeline, Russian gas supplies to Germany would need to pass through Ukraine, making the invasion a self-defeating project. At the same time, the pipeline gives Putin the ability to blackmail Europe over its gas supplies.
Now, America is belatedly trying to persuade Germany, which is even more wedded to appeasement, to say it will block the pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine.
Appeasement blindness is why the Biden administration thinks an agreement with the Iranian regime would be worth more than the piece of paper waved by Chamberlain on his return from Munich.
And appeasement blindness is why the West is responsible for the war by the Arab world against Israel. In the 1930s, Britain sought to buy off the Arab uprising in Palestine against the proposed Jewish homeland by offering the Arabs land promised by international agreement to the Jews.
For most of the period since the State of Israel was created, the West has continued with the fiction that the Arab war of extermination against the Jewish homeland is instead a conflict over the division of the land between two sets of people with an entitlement to that land. As a result, the Palestinian Arabs have been incentivized to continue their war of extermination, confident that the West would blame Israel for defending itself.
People often wonder why tiny, embattled Israel bucks the Western trend of fatally low birthrates, sclerotic economies and miserable populations. The basic answer is that it believes in itself and is determined to survive.
To convince Putin not to invade Ukraine, he has to believe that the West means to defend its principles. But for that to happen, the west has to start believing in itself and wanting to survive. And of that, there is no sign.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.