Our Best Stuff From a Week on the Brink
Will Russia invade Ukraine?
Happy Sunday. What should I discuss this week? Here in Cincinnati, it’s hard to think about anything besides the Super Bowl. About 30,000 fans showed up at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday for a send-off rally for the Bengals. (Meanwhile, the Rams had a few thousand people gather at a local high school for a similar shindig.) The only thing that seems to put anyone in a bad mood are the shortages—specifically, shortages of Joe Burrow jerseys and cream cheese. How can you serve Skyline dip at your Super Bowl party without cream cheese?
If only that were the case in the rest of the world. Canadian truckers protesting the country’s vaccine mandate blocked perhaps the most important bridge in North America, over which about a third of U.S. and Canadian trade occurs. (The Morning Dispatch had a great explanation of what’s going on Wednesday.) The Olympics are shaping up to be a major face plant, as ratings are down, athletes are going hungry, and there are concerns that the fake snow is contributing to injuries. I try not to repeat myself, but as I wrote last week: “The International Olympic Committee should take the very simple step of not awarding its global showcase to brutal dictatorships.”
All of that pales, though, in comparison to the situation in Ukraine. After months of “will he or won’t he?” speculation, it looks as though Vladimir Putin is poised to launch an invasion. As the Washington Post reports:
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned Friday that there is a “very distinct possibility” that Russia will invade Ukraine in a “reasonably swift time frame” and urged all U.S. citizens there to leave immediately.
We’ve had more than a handful of stories on this crisis since December. Giselle Donnelly recently assessed the strength of both countries’ military. Charlotte Lawson has reported on preparations by the U.S., its allies, and Ukraine itself, and this week she wrote about how Ukrainian civilians are preparing to defend themselves and their nation (summarized below).
We’ve published articles on different aspects of the conflict and our contributors have had different views. But one clear throughline is that any invasion could lead to a stunning number of deaths. As much as it feels like the news hasn’t slowed down in, well, years–Donald Trump, the pandemic, Supreme Court nomination battles, impeachment, the 2020 election, that other impeachment, Afghanistan–this feels like an especially dangerous moment.
We’ll continue to provide thoughtful and informative analysis and reporting on this story. We are lucky to have a lengthy roster of foreign policy experts to supplement our own reporting from Charlotte and The Morning Dispatch team.
And in fact, I’m going to cut off my little essay here so I can spend some time hunting down a few good pieces for the coming weeks. It’s okay, though: There are plenty of other things for you to read below.
One important note before I go: You’ve heard the hard sales pitch before, so I’m not going to rehash it. (I already repeated myself once this week.) We’ve got some big plans to bring you more features, events, and even a members-only book club. We think it’s a great time to join The Dispatch if you haven’t, so we’re offering a one month free trial. Check us out for 30 days, and if it’s not to your liking, you can cancel at any time. But we hope you won’t.
This piece by Andrew, which we just published yesterday, represents the essence of what we’re trying to do here at The Dispatch, which is to cut through the noise, take a critical look at events, and provide clarity amid confusion. On Monday, the Washington Free Beacon published an article about a federal grant program that would, among other things, provide funding for harm reduction efforts for drug addicts. The Free Beacon story included some good reporting but it was a little sensational, and it contained one error: It said that the Department Health and Human Services confirmed that crack pipes would be included in “safe smoking kits.” However, the HHS spokesman who spoke to the Free Beacon never said that precisely–it was an inference. The story went viral, and on Wednesday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra issued a statement saying there would be no funding for pipes. Andrew noticed something a little funny about the reasoning. An HHS spokesperson told The Daily Beast that including pipes would run afoul “federal, state, and local laws” regarding drug paraphernalia. One problem with that excuse: The grant program had specific carve-out for other types of paraphernalia, including syringes. And how do you define “paraphernalia”? (As with spelling it, defining It is more complicated than you think.) Andrew provides a comprehensive breakdown of the viral outrage, the media coverage, and the inadequate response from the Biden administration.
A number of Republican representatives in the House, facing primary challenges from Trumpist candidates or looking at redistricting maps with a sigh, have opted not to run in the 2022 midterms. Across the aisle, a similar scene is unfolding as Democrats take a look at “high inflation, President Joe Biden’s lagging approval numbers, and the White House’s failure to follow through on its legislative promises.” There are more Democrats not seeking reelection (29) than Republicans (14) but in both parties, it’s the centrists who are quitting. Audrey and Harvest analyze what that means for Congress. And it’s not good. “The number of centrist members from both sides of the aisle is dwindling at a rapid pace, which increases polarization and decreases the likelihood of compromise on bipartisan issues.”
As the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looms, it’s feeling a lot like 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and invaded parts of eastern Ukraine. But it’s not 2014, Charlotte notes in a well-reported piece on Ukraine’s expanded military power. Ukraine now has more troops and better weaponry, but that’s not all. Civilians are committed to defending their homeland. About 130,000 Ukrainians have joined civilian defense forces. “After enduring eight years of psychological and hybrid warfare, Ukrainians are exhausted but resolute. ‘We want to live in a peaceful country. We want to go to work. We want to go to the park with our kids,’” one source told Charlotte.
It’s time to start looking on the bright side, Jonah says in his Wednesday G-File. He’s noticed that many, many people think that things are worse than they are on important issues like race relations and climate change. Why can’t people acknowledge important gains? It’s because we’re hooked on despair. He has a suggestion: “So here’s a little free advice. Before you get furious at the next thing the conflict merchants want you to get furious about, remind yourself of the simple fact that this is a fundamentally good and decent country, in which all manner of good things have happened and are continuing to happen even though no one wants to tell you about them.”
And now the best of the rest:
In The Sweep (🔐), Sarah makes the case that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform that passed in 2001 has effectively ruined our politics.
In Uphill (🔐), Haley checks in on efforts to pass legislation that would forbid members of Congress from trading individual stocks. Things aren’t moving quite as quickly as advocates had hoped.
Inflation, a drug crisis, rising crime, and Russia: David has noticed that it’s feeling a lot like the ‘80s these days. What we need right now is a Reagan-esque figure who can help us turn things around.
Every so often, pundits ask whether libertarianism is “having a moment.” In this week’s Capitolism (🔐), it’s Scott Lincicome’s turn. He says the answer is “yes,” and he’s hopeful that it will be lasting.
As inflation hits Americans where it hurts–the pocketbook–some on the left have blamed corporate greed and called for price controls. Economics professors Alex Horenstein and Noah Williams point to Venezuela and Argentina to show how poorly such controls work.
And the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the frontrunners for the Supreme Court nomination to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. On The Remnant, Lyman Stone joins Jonah to make the case for having more babies. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang discusses the RNC’s censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.