Whenever the question arises as to whether the United States should intervene abroad, I ask myself, “What if the victims were Jews?” We’ve been told for days that Russia has deployed thousands of troops in preparation for a likely invasion of Ukraine, and I can’t help but think about Germany’s preparations to invade its neighbors. After talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden has not declared that peace is at hand à la Neville Chamberlain, but his bluster does not conceal his appeasement.
At least 43,000 Jews live in Ukraine (some news reports suggest the number is as high as 100,000). They are in danger, but unlike the 1930s, it’s not because they are Jews. Putin is not interested in extermination; he wants to reconstitute parts of the Soviet Union and, in his mind, restore Russia’s greatness.
Still, the Jews are at risk of being collateral damage in a war. The Jewish president of Ukraine is in more imminent danger—again, not because he is a Jew but because he has the courage to stand up to Putin.
Meanwhile, Israel has mobilized to airlift Jews out of Ukraine if necessary.
When former President Barack Obama did nothing when Russia overran Crimea, Putin saw that the West was no more interested in acting against him than it was against Hitler when he seized the Sudetenland. He and Trump imposed sanctions, and Biden has threatened more, but they have done no more to deter Putin than the “maximum pressure” campaign has done to prevent Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The military aid provided to Ukraine is little more than symbolic given that no one believes any amount of weaponry would allow the country to defend itself against an invasion. Even more pathetic is Biden’s movement of 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe (Russia has as many as 100,000 massed on Ukraine’s border) following his earlier statement that the military option was “not on the table,” and the repeated statements by the president and others that NATO will do nothing to defend Ukraine.
What if it were not Putin but Hitler invading Ukraine, and he did have the intention of genocide? Would the world behave any differently than it is now and, if not, isn’t the mantra “Never Again” nothing but a meaningless slogan?
Americans have no interest in war for just about any reason short of an attack on the homeland; even then, the left and isolationists would advocate diplomacy and appeasement. Citizens of NATO countries are no different, though you would think those closer to Russia would be more concerned about Putin’s future moves.
One of the principal arguments for not going to war over Ukraine—besides we don’t really care about Ukrainians, as Obama and Trump proved following Putin’s annexation of Crimea—is that we are not willing to risk a nuclear war. The assumption is that if NATO countries were to respond to Russian aggression, an apocalyptic war would be unavoidable. But is that true? Wouldn’t the threat of mass assured destruction deter Putin from escalation?
No one in power appears prepared to gamble that Putin would not respond with nukes if he felt threatened. He, on the other hand, is apparently confident that his enemies will not go nuclear.
If you believe in the inevitability of the worst-case scenario, however, isn’t NATO useless? If instead of—or in addition to—Ukraine, Russia decided to invade France, Germany or any of our allies, wouldn’t we be equally afraid of a nuclear conflagration, and sit back and allow them to fight for their lives alone as we did before entering World War II (which we still might not have done if not for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)? We definitely didn’t enter the war to save European Jewry.
If Germany had succeeded in its effort to get the bomb, especially if it had done so before we built ours, would the United States have allowed Hitler to conquer Europe and complete the “final solution” out of fear that mushroom clouds would have formed over Washington, D.C., and New York City?
If Putin were interested in exterminating the Jews, it’s clear that no country, including the United States, would lift a finger to stop him. Should we be counting our blessings that it is only Ukrainians who will die rather than Ukrainian Jews?
Also consider that, despite his denials, Biden appears willing to allow Iran—the greatest threat to the Jewish people—to obtain nuclear weapons. In the best-case scenario presented by administration officials, returning to the old flawed nuclear deal would allow Iran to be less than a year away from the ability to produce the necessary enriched uranium for a bomb. Remember also that even Obama admitted that within 15 years of signing the deal, i.e., by 2030, Iran’s breakout time would shrink to almost zero.
And whose help does Biden need to achieve his goal of returning to the nuclear deal? Russia (and China). What are the chances that the Russians will cooperate on Iran while Biden is threatening Putin over Ukraine? Ironically, Biden’s latest concession to Iran, made during the Ukrainian crisis, was to restore waivers exempting Russian (and Chinese and European) companies that work on civilian projects at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station, its Arak heavy water plant and the Tehran Research Reactor from American penalties.
Also, in contrast to Biden’s effort to use a stick against Russia over Ukraine, he is handing out carrots to the Iranians who have faced no consequences for flouting the terms of the nuclear deal and continuing to advance towards a bomb under the administration’s nose.
An America that projects weakness is dangerous for the Jews. The threat extends beyond Russian aggression to the prospect of future belligerence by other autocrats driven by anti-Semitism.
Does this mean the United States should go to war with Russia over Ukraine? Not necessarily. But it should make us think more carefully about the consequences when we decide not to fight for our principles.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”