In a Sunday editorial, The New York Times tiptoed away from its previous position that "No matter how long it takes, Ukraine will be free."
Now the Times counsels that "Biden should also make clear to President Volodymyr Zelensky and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster."
"Confronting this reality may be painful, but it is not appeasement," the new Times editorial declares.
When someone has to insist that a policy being recommended is "not appeasement," it’s usually a good sign that it actually is.
The Times sure is sounding defensive.
As practical advice, the Times editorial is irrelevant.
As an encapsulation of the current foreign policy conventional wisdom, though, it’s useful, even illuminating. In that conventional view, the key question for American policymakers is how ardently to pursue a Ukraine free of Russian domination.
At the outer limit, you might hear officials talking about weakening Russia, or perhaps even ousting Putin. The one goal hardly anyone in Washington dares to mention is a free and democratic Russia.
What’s preventing President Biden or any other politician from declaring that as an American aim?
Such a goal would certainly be consistent with the Founding principles of America as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, which declares, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It says, "all men," not "all men, except Russians."
Some may object that Russia has no tradition of freedom or democracy. That objection is inaccurate. Russia had an elected parliament in the early 20th century known as the Duma.
And even after a 1917 coup by a gang of Bolshevik thugs set Russia on the course toward murderous totalitarianism, some of the bravest and most accomplished spokesmen for freedom against that Soviet regime — Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky, Yuri Orlov, Vladimir Slepak, Alexander Ginsburg — emerged from within the Soviet Union itself.
Another possible objection is that setting such a goal would raise the risk of a war, even a nuclear war, between the U.S. and Russia. Actually, though, what raises the risk of war is the existence of an unfree, undemocratic regime in Russia.
Such regimes are drawn to foreign adventurism as a way of distracting their populations from their own misery. A free and democratic government in Russia would reduce the risk of war.
What would an American policy aimed at achieving such a goal entail?
For starters, Biden would have to articulate it clearly and publicly.
He’d have to not be undercut by underlings such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who, when Biden suggested that Putin needed to go, promptly contradicted the president by stating that "we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else."
America would have to support civil society institutions in Russia that can serve as watchdogs and counterweights to the government. These can be political parties, labor unions, religious groups, advocacy organizations, social media channels.
America would have to reinvigorate Cold War-era institutions such as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which monitors the Helsinki Accords.
Biden, nearly a year and a half into his presidency, hasn’t even bothered to appoint the commissioners that, by law, represent the departments of state, defense, and commerce on that panel.
Missile defense to protect the American homeland and our allies from attack by a waning, unstable Russian regime is another element. With missile defense deployed, America becomes much less constrained when it comes to a strategy of openly advancing freedom and democracy in Russia.
Biden has taken a hard line against Russian "oligarchs." A more creative strategy than seizing their yachts would be to try to enlist Russian businessmen as allies advocating for secure private property rights and the rule of law. The less due process Biden provides to wealthy Russians, the less likely they are to be on America’s side.
There’s a role for Congress, too. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 stated, "it should be the policy of the United States . . . to promote the emergence of a democratic government in Iraq." What senator will champion a Russia Liberation Act of 2022?
As for those who complain that toppling Russia would be a distraction from the more important challenge of Communist China, they remind me of those who objected to the liberation of Iraq on the grounds that it was a distraction from Iran.
At the moment, Russia is an easier target than China. Freedom, though, is contagious. Nothing would make the Chinese Communist rulers more nervous than sharing a border with a newly free and democratic Russia.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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