Glad I’m Not Joe

During my lifetime and with the exception of four years (the Trump administration) the de facto leader of the free world has been the American president. Currently that is Joe Biden and I don’t envy his position especially vis-a-vis Ukraine.

Biden has a difficult balancing act which to date he has handled masterfully. He has had to build consensus among all the NATO and EU countries while courting support from countries outside those alliances like Japan. That is neither a politically nor an economically homogeneous group.

To date the actions have consisted primarily of economic sanctions. Sanctions 101 teaches us that unilateral sanctions are close to useless. In fact, often they penalize the issuer of the sanctions more than the target. For example, if country A prohibits business with Country B it hurts Country A’s vendors while Country B’s customers can simply use another supplier. Now if all or most suppliers cut off Country B, they then are faced with either not being about to obtain that good or service or putting themselves at the mercy of a minor supplier who now becomes the only, or the only viable, source. To a large degree Biden has been able to make sanctions a united front; the challenge will be to make that last.

To date direct military confrontation with Russia has been the “line in the sand” of America and it’s allies. It is the often-expressed fear of World War III. That is certainly a valid concern! That brings me to the philosophical question at the heart of today’s article: Will we avoid World War III (or postpone its commencement) at the cost of democracy? I am among the many who see parallels between today and the appeasement of Hitler almost a century ago.

The current situation is unsustainable! Look at the refugee situation alone. As of Friday, about 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine. Over 1 million to Poland alone. Of them, 250,000+ are in Warsaw with more on the way. What country or what city can absorb that many people in a matter of weeks? Remember these are people who come with a plethora of needs and few if any resources. Long term they may very well make their new homes stronger (especially the children) but in the immediate future and short term they are a strain on the existing infrastructure and social safety net.

All the attention in the West is on Ukraine and understandably so. I’d like to focus on Russia for a few sentences. My biggest concern is that the Iron Curtain is descending again. I liken the don’t say “war” legislation in Russia to Florida’s don’t say gay bill. Denying reality doesn’t change it or make it go away.

Younger Russian have grown up in the post-Soviet era and are used to some small taste of freedom and certainly little isolation. Can you take away social media, advanced technology (i.e. Apple Pay and American Express) and global resources (i.e. the internet, Starbucks and McDonald’s) and expect them to just fall in line?

I don’t want World War III and if Biden can bring this situation to a satisfactory resolution while avoiding it I think he will hands down win the Nobel Peace Prize (which I’m certain is the last thing on his mind at the moment). I don’t know how this situation will be resolved; but what I do know is that I’m glad I’m not Joe.

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