Talking Points

Nuclear war isn't just diplomacy continued by other means

The United States has had several wars end badly over the last two decades, with the last clear-cut success being the Persian Gulf War over 30 years ago. But the relative weakness of our adversaries and their inability to project military force against the U.S. homeland — whatever we claimed about their weapons of mass destruction prior to invading — has shaped how a lot of people who should know better think of war. Engaging militarily has become just another policy option, like raising or cutting taxes and setting the minimum wage.

Responding to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's impassioned pleas on behalf of his people, lawmakers and commentators weighed in, arguing that the only question is the speed with which these requests can be fulfilled. 

"When Ukraine asks, our response should be 'how fast can we get it there?' not 'how will the lawyers explain this?'" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. "Zelensky needs more, and America can do more."

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said of the disputed Polish warplanes, "Ukrainian people need those MiGs and need them now."

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, echoed this sentiment. "Maybe [Zelensky] knows best?" McFaul asked in a since-deleted tweet. "Who are we to tell him differently? So arrogant."

"We" are only the ones being asked to risk a nuclear war on Ukraine's behalf. Even short of that, "we" have the prerogative to assess our own national security interests, too. And "we" don't just bear moral responsibility for what happens if we don't provide certain types of assistance to Ukraine, but also what happens if we do in a way that prolongs the war and leads to more Ukrainian deaths. 

McFaul received considerable pushback, but the White House press corps is asking daily why the president is ruling out various escalatory steps. One reporter demanded to know why Russian President Vladimir Putin was "told at the outset he would never face military intervention by the United States and NATO."

While there was no shortage of heated rhetoric during the Cold War, this is the type of thinking that takes hold when avoidance of nuclear war need not be a major consideration before an intervention. But what was true of Afghanistan, however ineffectual many of our efforts there were, isn't true here.