Biden Must Educate The American People on Why Ukraine Matters To America

As Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues with cluster bomb attacks on civilian targets and preparations to bombard Kyiv, U.S. President Joe Biden faces ever lower job approval ratings with a majority of Americans saying his first year in office has been a failure, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Voters commonly cite disapproval of Mr. Biden’s handling of inflation, crime, the pandemic and his leadership on the world stage, with a 47% plurality disapproving of his handling of the Ukraine crisis.

Alarmingly, the February 14-27 Real Clear Politics Average indicates that 29% of Americans think the United States is heading in the right direction and a whopping 69% believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Yet, amid Americans’ dissatisfaction with President Biden’s performance, they are showing support for helping Ukraine. A new CNN poll shows that 83% of Americans favor increased economic sanctions against Russia with 62% of respondents saying that the U.S. should do more to respond to Russian aggression.

Although Americans’ support for Ukraine during this early stage of the crisis is strong, it is likely to fade over time. Mr. Biden needs to educate the American people on the ramifications of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, how it affects the U.S. and why a rebooting of America’s security policy to counter autocratic aggression is urgently needed.

Beyond his March 1 State of the Union speech, President Biden must begin promoting strong American leadership to address the threats to human liberty posed by authoritarian imperialism and explain why this matters to the security and economy of the United States.

Part of President Biden’s task will need to involve countering the arguments of isolationists. Isolationism in the U.S. is hardly new and has been a current of American thought going back to the Founding era. In his 1796 farewell address, George Washington urged his country to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”

Recent years have seen isolationist sentiment expressed in opposition to the different theaters of the War on Terror, and the latest iteration of American isolationism involves an aversion to confronting Putin.

While isolationists’ concerns over foreign conflicts are understandable and even noble – – after all, the U.S. is a war weary country after two decades of bloody fighting overseas- – the human and financial costs of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq must not preclude the U.S. and its allies from meeting the threats posed today by the Russia-China-Iran axis.

The answer to isolationism is not to stumble into war with Putin, Xi and Khamenei. Rather, firm, resolute measures are needed to assist allies on the front lines facing naked aggression; to invest in deterrence to lower the likelihood of future wars; and to argue for protecting freedom from those who seek to take what they want by force.

For perspective on Putin’s motives, it is important to remember that he entered Ukraine on February 24 on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians in east Ukraine’s Donbas region from “genocide” being perpetrated by “Nazis”. Yet, to date his military actions span the entirety of Ukraine.

The West must not suffer from a lack of imagination. Putin’s operations throughout Ukraine should be viewed as a microcosm of his plans to turn back the clock of history and change by force of arms the map of Europe to reflect the territorial scope of his aims whether that be that of the former Soviet Union or something more expansive.

Putin’s actions should also be viewed in the context of imperialist Russian behavior which, in recent times, invaded Poland in 1939, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979.

Additionally, Putin oversaw invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 while also fostering an eight-year rebellion in eastern Ukraine that killed over 14,000 Ukrainians.

Given the new era we are in, President Biden will need to conduct a public education campaign explaining that Putin’s attack on Ukraine is an assault on American interests, i.e., democracy, freedom and the values that the U.S. has protected throughout its history.

Over a sustained period, the Biden administration must spell out to American voters that giving Putin a free pass on Ukraine will damage the ability of all countries to protect themselves while providing a green light to other bad actors to trample over weaker states at will.

Additionally, it is important that Mr. Biden describe why Washington must confront the menace of Putin by arming the Ukrainians and sending NATO forces to protect eastern Europe.

Needed measures at this stage involve moving to allow Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance, developing a NATO naval strategy for sending U.S. Navy destroyers to the Black Sea, and revising the Biden administration’s flawed targeted sanctions strategy to a more thorough regimen that does not spare Russia’s energy sector.

President Biden will need to take a hit with his environmental supporters and increase substantially oil and gas drilling on federal lands. The U.S. energy sector needs to become a much larger provider of Europe’s oil and gas to free the continent from Russia’s energy stranglehold and deny Putin the proceeds for funding his war crimes in Ukraine.

Arguments against supporting Ukraine will come at President Biden from all directions of the American political spectrum – – left, right and everywhere in between. President Biden will need to channel his foreign policy experience and, as leader of the free world, make the case for protecting America’s overseas interests and standing up for its principles.

Many recoil at the thought of additional international commitments after the difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others believe that the U.S. should focus solely on the threats posed by China. While addressing the China challenge and taking these concerns into account, Mr. Biden needs to convey in clear terms why America cannot discard Putin’s efforts to overturn the rules and norms that the U.S. fought to establish in World War II and uphold during the Cold War.

The world is watching at this critical moment. America’s partners and enemies alike need to hear consistently from Mr. Biden that Washington’s commitments to fellow democracies and allies in Eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific are ironclad.

Over 100 million people died at the hands of the Soviet Union. It required a 70-year bipartisan effort by Democrat and Republican Presidents and Congresses to defeat the “Evil Empire” and improve the lives of so many. As someone who was present in Washington during this historical moral accomplishment (Mr. Biden served as U.S. Senator from Delaware from 1973-2009), President Biden has a duty to reinvigorate America’s security policy to counter this latest chapter of Russian aggression and bring the American people along with him in the process.

Ted Gover, Ph.D. (@tedgover) is Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University.

About the Author
Ted Gover, Ph.D. (Twitter: @TedGover) is Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University, a program focusing on Tribal law, management, economic development and intergovernmental relations. Over the years Ted has taught courses on politics for Central Texas College US Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and has served as an advisor to the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its world-renowned Museum of Tolerance, helping to coordinate and support their initiatives in Asia. Additionally, Ted has worked on behalf of a number of Native American Tribes on issues ranging from Tribal sovereignty, economic diversification, healthcare and education, and he writes occasionally on American politics and foreign policy. Ted is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, Claremont Graduate University and Soka University in Tokyo.