While President Joe Biden’s leadership has so far been largely the MIA, Russia continues to ravage Ukraine.
However, the Ukrainians are hanging there, and Biden has at least more than two years of office. This means there is still time for him to emerge from the shadows and begin to provide the solid leadership the West needs to ensure a satisfactory end to the fighting as well as post-war security and prosperity for our European allies and ourselves.
What exactly would this leadership be?
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Ukrainian troops are riding on top of an armored fighting vehicle on Tuesday as a Russian attack on Ukraine continues in an unknown location in eastern Ukraine. (Press service of the Ukrainian Land Forces / Handout via REUTERS)
No one can know how the fights will go, but we can guess where Vladimir Putin now hopes he can take it. The next time Moscow breaks, Putin will want a strong position.
To get there, he will continue three disgusting tactics. First, it will continue to attack civilians to break the will of the Ukrainians, making them war-tired enough to stop fighting. Second, it will concentrate its offensive to the south and east so that, if Russia is stopped, Moscow will take control of some new territory. Third, even more Ukrainians will be deported to Russia by force. He has already transported hundreds of thousands, which gives him a strong, if completely inhuman bargaining chip.
If this is the state of the game when the main fights stop, that won’t be the end of the story. If Putin gets his way, this Ukrainian campaign will be just an advance on his next move to the west.
For Ukraine to survive and prosper – and end Putin’s expansionism – President Biden will have to exercise extraordinary leadership.
To begin with, the West will have to provide Ukraine with a future. In the short term, this probably means providing Ukraine with the resources it needs to defend itself against another invasion. No piece of paper signed by any authority can replace, in principle, well-armed people. The United States must work together to build a sustainable Ukrainian military, a resilient logistics base, and reliable domestic production capabilities over the long term. Loan leasing can be borrowing for a long time.
Ukraine will also have to rebuild Ukraine. Seized Russian assets may help with this, but Ukraine needs to rebuild its country faster than Putin rebuilds his army. To finish first, Ukraine will need the help of America and other nations.
Then comes the question of making sure Putin cannot threaten the rest of Europe. This means the check-mating of two of Putin’s most powerful weapons: an army that unscrupulously hits polite societies and Moscow’s energy influence. Both tasks require a lot of Yankee’s skill.
A Ukrainian tank passes a destroyed Russian vehicle in the Kharkiv area on April 14 (REUTERS / Alkis Konstantinidis)
On the military front, the United States must strengthen its enhanced nuclear deterrence and missile defense, while forcing NATO to deploy a strong, forward force that can actually defend NATO’s front line.
On the energy front, the United States must regain leadership in global energy production. This means not only meeting your own energy needs, but also working with others to invest in reliable, affordable, and dependable energy solutions for your Allies.
An armed militia soldier of the Donetsk People’s Republic walks past a building damaged during the fighting in Mariupol on Wednesday. (AP / Alexey Aleksandrov)
The fulfillment of these tasks would make Europe a more stable Europe and the USA safer and richer. It would also help tarnish China as it seeks to use Putin’s destructive actions to pursue its own agenda in Europe and beyond.
The question is, can Biden gather the vision and concentrate on getting there? It will be a tough battle, to say the least.
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At home, the president is distracted and weakened by an unpopular agenda of domestic politics that seems to sink deeper into the quagmire day by day. Will he have the time, energy and interest to rebuild a better Europe?
Biden also has to fight the weight of its own policies that make the United States a less effective force at home and abroad. This challenge is particularly daunting in terms of energy policy, as it would have to abandon its unrealistic ambitions to achieve a “Global Zero” and to supply the nation with exclusively renewable green energy.
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Perhaps Biden will find Harry Truman within himself and assume the difficult leadership role these times require. But a bettor would bet that even if he chooses to take on these tough challenges, he will want to lead with the same agitated politicians who have left him in the lead so far, far behind. And that’s just not enough to get the job done.
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