History serves many purposes, among them the knowledge that can be gained by studying and applying its lessons. War is one of those issues where politicians often ignore history, choosing instead to indulge in psychoanalytic historiography. The world’s democratic leaders, starting with President Joe Biden, are crafting national security decisions based on studying the pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behavior of the enemies of freedom. Fearing to go to war may precisely end up provoking a new one.
John F. Kennedy changed, at the last moment, the most seminal component of the structured plan of more than a year for an expedition of Cuban exiles to initiate a belligerent liberation campaign. This was to be carried out in coordination with an already active opposition force fighting on various fronts on the island. The Massachusetts Democrat, a darling of the U.S. soft left, dismissed the vital air support on which the plan was based, among other strategic elements. Kennedy’s fear of appearing “imperialist” and thus provoking a possible Soviet reaction, not only consolidated Castro’s communist dictatorship but also emboldened the USSR.
In less than four months, Nikita Khrushchev surrounded the free part of Berlin with a wall. The intention was to isolate West Berlin and force its capitulation. Within a year and three months, the dictators of Cuba and the Soviet Union signed a secret agreement to install offensive nuclear missiles aimed at U.S. cities ninety miles from their shores. Latin America has been the theater of a never-ending Cold War with socialism since the Prince of Camelot betrayed the Cubans in 1961 having the idea in mind of avoiding war.
The Bolshevik coup d’état of 1917 dislodged the short-lived Russian democracy. When the Russians went to war to fight the Bolsheviks who had seized power, a brutal civil war ensued between the “Whites” (anti-Communists) and the “Reds” (Communists) from 1917 to 1922. The free world, at first, took part to help the Russians fight communism. However, Western support was lukewarm, lackluster—ultimately, they abandoned the White Army allies who challenged the Leninist regime. Woodrow Wilson, the American president of the day, opposed a relevant military campaign to combat communism, naively claiming that doing so would “add to the present sad turmoil in Russia rather than cure it.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s benign opinion of Joseph Stalin, which led him to allow socialism to swallow Central and Eastern Europe, is another example of presidential myopia that has left brutal scars on humanity. Wilsonian logic, like that of Kennedy and Roosevelt, will remain a stain on American leadership. Over one hundred million deaths are, credibly, attributable to communism. Neville Chamberlain’s underlying thesis of “peace” at all costs and his false reading of Adolf Hitler followed a familiar pattern of weakness that blatant dictators and their regimes exploit.
These are just a few poignant examples, in which the common denominator is that all were based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the enemies of freedom and an underlying fear of war or its escalation. These gross misinterpretations and their subsequent failed policies not only failed to prevent severe human pain and suffering but encouraged a bold attitude on the part of despots who were willing to test the resolve of their perceived weak democratic counterparts. War flared up.
Ukraine, a sovereign and free state, was attacked by a foreign and autocratic regime. Any argument of “established spheres of influence” to explain Russian aggression rests entirely on illegitimate acts. If Vladimir Putin’s invasion were rationally justified or correct, as some realpolitik fundamentalists argue, then the independence of a sovereign nation like Ukraine is illegitimate. Since there is no moral or legal basis for this madness, then clearly Putin is a global bully who must be stopped. When you take into account the genocide that is now occurring, something the Russian dictator’s Soviet predecessors taught him all too well on how to do, it becomes imperative that the Free World acts decisively.
Kyiv is under siege. If Putin’s armed forces blockade the city and attempt to strangle it, just as Khrushchev did in 1961 with Berlin, the West will have no choice but to initiate airlift to prevent starvation and freezing of the brave citizens of the Ukrainian capital. Why continue to dodge what must be done? Immediately send President Volodymyr Zelensky the MIG-29 fighter planes, which Poland has already agreed to provide. In addition, deliver to the Ukrainian Armed Forces powerful anti-aircraft equipment. Among the most effective are the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-ballistic missile defense system, the Patriot (MIM-104) and the MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense System) air and missile defense mechanisms.
It is necessary to establish a humanitarian no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent civilian deaths. This limited option would ensure safe passage for non-combatants. Concern that the war may escalate due to the creation of a demilitarized air zone ignores the fact that Russian tactics are increasingly horrific. We are seeing a strategic replication of Syria and Chechnya.
Putin is losing this senseless war he started. According to Russian accounts, it should all be over in a few days. It hasn’t. This is because the Ukrainian people are fighting with a purpose. They are not giving up. The West has helped, reluctantly, at a snail’s pace and with a shaky hand. However, it is Putin who should be trembling. The fact that he is asking the Syrians and the Chinese for help tells us that the Russian dictator understands the limits of his resources. Biden and the free world must stop being reactive and become proactive.
Zelensky’s mentor, Winston Churchill, described it brilliantly. “You were given a choice between dishonor and war. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Hopefully, the West will wake up in time to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.