History may never repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
That wisdom from Mark Twain is more true today than ever before.
As President Biden contemplates his next move against Russian aggression in Ukraine, he would do well to draw upon the lessons of an analogous war fought almost 50 years ago in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula.
In October of 1973, the United States was embroiled in the deepening political scandal of Watergate, the sting of which was made harsher by the onset of an economic recession.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War (temporarily concluded in January of 1973, by the Paris Peace accords) the American people were divided and, to the rest of the globe, tired of war.
Leonid Breshnev, the Russian leader at the time, saw an opportunity to strengthen the Soviet hand in the Mideast and further weaken a seemingly enfeebled enemy, the United States.
With Soviet support in the form of advisers, military equipment and supplies, the Arab States of Egypt and Syria commenced an attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur holiday in early October.
Out gunned and out supplied, then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the Iron Lady of Israeli politics, pleaded with the world for assistance without which Israel risked annihilation.
Many western leaders hesitated, fearing that any help given to Israel would lead Arab nations to cut off vital energy supplies. In President Richard Nixon’s Cabinet, the predominant opinion of his advisers was that resupplying Israel could trigger World War III due to an aggressive and unpredictable aging Soviet Leader.
But Nixon knew better.
He knew from decades of experience as a senator, vice-president, and president that Russians only respond to strength. He was determined to resupply Israel immediately with whatever was required for its defense. As his State Department and Pentagon chiefs dragged their feet in an act of bureaucratic sabotage, President Nixon repeatedly asked his military planners to speed up their preparations for an airlift.
Finally, during the afternoon of Oct. 12, six days into the war, he told his Defense Secretary, James R. Schlesinger, to "send everything that can fly" with materiel to support Israel. This time, the bureaucracy got the message and one of the largest airlifts in history began in earnest.
The supplies of fuel and military weapons sent by the United States turned the tide of war and by the end of October, Israel was on the offensive in the Sinai having driven the Egyptians out of Israeli territory.
Decisive American intervention resulted in an unmitigated victory for the West. Israel was saved. U.S. engagement did not precipitate a war with the Soviet Union.
Five years later, Egypt signed the historic Camp David Accords establishing permanent peace with Israel. For his role in the 1973 war, Golda Meir lauded Richard Nixon as the greatest friend Israel ever had.
Today, President Biden is faced with a similar decision.
An emboldened Russia has taken advantage of a weakened West, divided by domestic squabbles over COVID-19 and global weakness over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to launch an attack on an independent nation, Ukraine.
Not only is the sovereignty of Ukraine at stake, but a protracted war will lead to a humanitarian crisis resulting in the starvation and displacement of millions of Ukrainians.
The 1973 Yom Kippur War is one example of several in modern Russian history that demonstrates Russia is a bully and will back down when punched.
Half measures of economic sanctions will not be enough to deter Putin. He has witnessed how the Iranian regime has survived sanctions for years and believes he can survive as well.
Instead, President Biden must go further. And the time to go further is now.
He should not wait for congressional authorization, but should follow President Nixon’s example and immediately and continuously resupply Ukraine with whatever weapons and support is needed to confront Russian aggression.
While some may argue that this increases the likelihood of war with Russia, Putin is smarter than that. He knows a conflict with the U.S. in Ukraine is not one Russia can win.
Putin's disorganized and inept attack on Ukraine would turn into a devastating defeat if he escalates the conflict with the United States and its NATO allies.
His grip on power, possibly tenuous at the moment, would completely vanish. For someone afraid of catching COVID-19, personal extinction is not something that Putin will risk.
President Biden, call Putin’s Bluff. Now is not the time for caution, but for strong leadership. Now is the time to demonstrate the strength of our pluralistic, democratic societies and to lead the western world in response to Putin’s unjustified attack on Ukraine.
Send everything that flies to resupply the heroic Ukrainians defending their freedom.
Not only is the free world on your side, so is history.
Christopher Nixon Cox is the grandson of Richard Nixon. He is the CEO of Lightswitch Capital, a member of the Board of Directors of the Nixon Foundation and a Trustee of the American University of Afghanistan.
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