Resolute Square

Moral Clarity In The Most Amoral Of Wars

Putin wrongly believed Trump had made America and NATO weaker and seized the moment to invade Ukraine. Dan Barkhuff writes Putin's miscalculation has united democracies around the world against Russia's criminal invasion and morally indefensible war.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Published:February 20, 2023

It’s been a year since the babushka offered a Russian soldier sunflower seeds to place in his pockets so that when he died, something beautiful would grow out of his corpse. A year of doubt, fear, hope, and promise.

A year has passed now since the Russian war of choice against a neighboring country began with 4 AM missile strikes and an air assault onto the tarmac at Antonov airport, since Zelensky survived the decapitation strike by Spetsnaz units and told the world, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” And it’s been almost a year since hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were executed in the streets of Bucha, the images seared in our brains of elderly, nail-polished fingers, bound together, cold and lifeless. It’s been a year where the Ukrainians have been up against it, sending their sons and daughters just down the road to die and be maimed, not for some abstract notion of principle, but simply because the alternative is rape and genocide.

It’s been a year of moral clarity.

Ukraine and its mortal struggle have done the opposite of what Vladimir Putin wanted and has been plotting for a decade. After years of Trump fraying America’s bonds with our European allies and his assaults on the value of NATO, it was Putin’s own actions that united the world and, for the most part, America, against him. Putin had done his homework. The key to Ukrainian annihilation was disunity in NATO, and the key to NATO has always been the United States. American public opinion, on the heels of 20 years of expeditionary warfare and a chaotic final withdrawal from Afghanistan, must have seemed ripe for the picking. He bet big that the MAGA movement, led by the orange blob of a con who lay prostrate before Putin in Helsinki and was impeached for extorting the democratically elected President of Ukraine, At that time, Volodymr Zelenskyy was not yet a worldwide household name. Putin wagered Trump’s mess in America would provide enough chaos, enough doubt, and enough “flooding the zone with shit” that it was now or never.

In the lead-up to the war, it was trendy amongst the ultra-MAGA to side with Russia. Tucker Carlson told three million domestic viewers, “Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which, by the way, I am.” Trump himself, on the day after missiles began raining into Kyiv, fanboyed at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser, “I mean, he's taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I'd say that's pretty smart, taking over a country, literally, a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in." Plenty of lesser MAGAs like JD Vance chimed in, eager to fly their flags of loyalty to Trump and, by extrapolation, Russia. But for Americans not brainwashed by talk of replacement theory and pedophile vampire ceremonies, Ukraine was the most black-and-white international event of our lifetimes.

Nuance disappears when exhuming mass graves.

The struggle feels especially poignant for many American veterans watching it play out on social media and the news. Our wars had a way of being morally muddy, especially the further out you got. Face to face with an L-shaped ambush in Ramadi, there wasn’t much time for pontification. But when the official mission changed from destroying WMDs to preventing sectarian civil war, the voices in our heads had some things to say about the wisdom of it all when we weren’t buttoned up in up-armored HMMWVs on Route Irish.

The Ukrainians don’t have the luxury of questioning their war. Their land is still occupied. Their young men and women are still being killed. Their women are also still being raped. And their identity as a people is still under direct threat by a renewed Russian springtime offensive.

But whatever the United States of America was to Ukraine before the war, we’re something different now, after a year of atrocity. Now we’re their most important ally, and as the expression goes, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” Despite the obfuscations of Tucker Carlson and FOX and the brain-damaged conman in Mar-a-Lago, we’re the good guys in this one.

Kind of makes you proud of your country.