Our Best Stuff From a Week of War
The new Cold War, the inspiring resolve of the Ukrainian people, and more.
Hello. If you read The Morning Dispatch and Uphill (and I hope you do), you might have noticed that some days, in lieu of a clever joke or funny anecdote to kick things off, we’ll say, “Let’s get right to it.”
I look forward to writing my introductory essay each week, and I appreciate the wonderful feedback many of you provide. But the war in Ukraine has been keeping us busy, and we’re lucky to have a long list of smart pieces that are more important for you to read than any scribbles I might offer. Plus, the pile of articles I have to edit for the coming week is rivaled only by the piles of laundry that need my attention. So … let’s jump in.
Paul Miller reviews the early response to Russia’s invasion and is impressed by how Western nations came together to implement sanctions and support Ukraine diplomatically and militarily. And he suggests that it offers us a way forward not just against Russia but against that other looming threat. “No one wants general war, yet we must fight back somehow,” he writes. “Fighting back in ways that do not risk general war means fighting with every other weapon in our arsenal, including the tools of economic and diplomatic statecraft. The main questions now are: What else can we do? Where else should we do it? And when will we recognize the need to do the same to China?”
With the situation in Ukraine at the forefront of everyone’s mind, we all turned into the State of the Union on Tuesday to see how much the crisis would shape Joe Biden’s speech. As Jonah notes in the G-File, it was too little, in terms of both quantity and quality. “Sure, he paid some moving tributes to Ukrainian courage. But man, how hard is that? There was a certain parasitic quality to the rhetoric, in which America leeches off the glory and bravery of people standing up to potential annihilation.” But the bigger problem was that Biden couldn’t use the moment to break out of the “laundry list” format to which we are subjected every year. “The disconnect between the gravity of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tectonic changes it has elicited made the laundry list portion of the speech seem rather pathetic, solipsistic, and even more otherworldly than it would have been if there was no war.”
It’s not surprising that Russia is exploiting its position on the U.N. Security Council to avoid any consequences from its invasion of Ukraine. But it does show that the U.S. puts too much faith in such international organizations. Richard Goldberg and John Hardie highlight how the Biden administration has prioritized diplomacy over everything else and continue to work with bodies—like the U.N. Human Rights Council—that don’t live up to their mission. “An international system that Putin and other dictators can flout or corrupt with impunity is doomed to fail. So is an American international-organizations strategy that mistakes ‘engagement’ for results and relies on corrupted institutions to defend itself and its democratic allies.”
Just days into the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to the European Union to accept Ukraine as a member, and EU officials responded with messages of support. But EU membership is not a switch that can be flipped instantly. Andrew wrote an explainer that lays out the logistical hurdles—it took Poland 10 years to join the EU—and dove into the thorny question of mutual defense. But he also notes that Ukraine has been working on improved relations with the rest of Europe. It’s a move that won’t happen as quickly as some would like, “But we’ve seen this week that a united Europe can do plenty of damage, and offer plenty of help, even if the aid and assistance offered is economic in nature.”
Chris Stirewalt is scratching his head over a recent poll showing that most Americans are pessimistic and think the country is headed in the wrong direction. He blames our “zero-sum” politics that leave us fearful over what happens when the wrong party is in charge. He makes an eloquent case that the events in Ukraine should remind us how good we have it. “Their resolve in the face of real existential threats makes our imaginary disasters of the future look pitiful by comparison. I do not know whether America and the rest of the West can or will come to the Ukrainians’ aid in time to save their country. I pray their deliverance comes. They have already given us a great gift in their display of calm courage, and in the philosophy of their leader.”
In other news …
As much as the war in Ukraine can be all-consuming, it’s not the only thing going on in the world. While we sanction Russian oligarchs and send aid and support to the country that Putin has invaded, the U.S. is still negotiating a new nuclear deal with Iran—and relying on Russia to help make it happen. If that sounds like a terrible idea, well … it is. But that’s not even the worst of it. We’ve published more pieces than I can count warning that a new Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will give away too much to Iran without doing much to slow their path to a nuclear bomb, and at this point it’s safe to say those are not getting a wide audience in the White House. Danielle Pletka makes one more attempt. “While Team Biden has not yet admitted that ‘longer and stronger’ will not happen, that will be manifest when it becomes clear that Biden’s main negotiator, Rob Malley, has traded away not some but almost all of Washington’s leverage against the Tehran regime merely to reinstate the expiring JCPOA.”
Going into the 2022 midterms, Republicans have not only history on their side—it’s common for the party out of power to make significant gains in Congress—but also Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. As such, many in the GOP are happy to sit back and let Democrats try to defend Biden’s weak list of accomplishments rather than put forth their own ambitious agenda. Not Rick Scott. The Florida senator recently put out an 11-point plan he says should guide Republicans moving forward. Many of his colleagues, though—including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—are not having it. Audrey spoke to some of them last week. Two sticking points are that Scott wants to ensure that all Americans pay some kind of income tax, and his plan would sunset all federal legislation after five years. From Audrey: “‘Let me tell you what would not be part of our agenda,’ McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. ‘We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people, and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.’”
I’ve kind of broken away from my normal format, but I don’t want to leave out the podcasts: On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about Ukraine and how implementing a no-fly zone is tantamount to a declaration of war. If you’re feeling glum (and it’s hard not to these days), check out Jonah’s conversation with Arthur Brooks on The Remnant. They discuss the mistakes people make on the path to happiness and fulfillment, and how to solve our loneliness problem. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss whether a court filing regarding John Eastman’s claim of attorney-client privilege indicates that Donald Trump committed a crime. And on Good Faith, David and his co-host Curtis Chang talk about the “spiritual power of leadership” and why some leaders inspire us. (Okay, spoiler alert: They are talking about Volodymyr Zelensky.)