You Can’t Win If You Play Afraid To Lose

The biggest political story of the week just passed was, no surprise, the war in Ukraine. The Biden-led West finds itself confronted with a delicate juggling act. I don’t totally believe the official reports coming out of either Russia or Ukraine but I think there is a new twist to consider and I’d like to explore that today.

It appears that as of this writing -and the situation is dynamic to say the least – that either the war is at a stalemate or perhaps the tide has turned just slightly in the favor of the Ukrainians. Assuming (and these are very bold assumptions) that Putin does not escalate the conflict with the use of chemical and/or nuclear weapons, and Ukraine continues to get escalating help from the West, Ukraine could just possibly win this thing. I would not have said that even ten days ago. Keep in mind, those are several huge ifs!

If Ukraine does achieve sustained momentum on the ground, it is imperative that it does not make a land advance beyond its borders. If it does it will no longer be perceived as the underdog being invaded and Russia would look like the one deserving the world’s sympathy. The free world will stand behind Ukraine as long as it is effectively fighting a proxy war to defend democracy; if it is perceived as the aggressor the game is changed dramatically. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the war has evolved into a proxy war except that Russia is a direct participant.

The biggest question – and I’m certain cause of insomnia for many Western officials is: What will Putin do if the situation gets to the point that it looks like his forces are about to suffer a loss? Running parallel to that is the increasing realization that Putin cannot be allowed to win. If he does this is just another step in a journey that will inevitably lead to a much greater and more expansive and expensive conflict. A Putin victory in Ukraine will eventually turn into the World War III we are trying to avoid.

I think President Biden is doing a great job to date. We have to move slowly, cautiously and in lockstep with our allies but the acceleration of aid to Ukraine and increased (albeit risky) involvement of the West is inevitable if we want to preserve democracy. Whatever happened to give me liberty or give me death and I’d rather be dead than red?

By the end of today the Final Four will be determined. In geo-politics just as in basketball, you can’t win if you play not to lose.

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