The World‘s Police Again

The U.S. is leading the West in the conflict with Russia. Europe cannot count on that in the long-term.

At the beginning, there was doubt. As the U.S. administration warned more and more loudly of an attack by Russia against Ukraine at the beginning of the year, more than a few people in Europe were calling it “fear-mongering.” The Kremlin definitely will not attack, insisted Vladimir Putin experts like Hamburg’s former Mayor Klaus von Dohnanyi. In mid-February, the veteran of the Social Democratic Party warned, “We cannot let ourselves be thrust into a war by U.S. interests.”

Two weeks later, Russian troops marched into the neighboring country without provocation. Since then, they have been bombing cities, massacring civilians, raping women and robbing houses. Unfortunately, U.S. President Joe Biden turned out to be right in his somber predictions: Washington’s intelligence has been just as correct in the Ukraine conflict as it was incorrect during the war in Iraq. In addition, Biden has done a lot of good things in the war that has been waged in the nearly three months since. Experienced in foreign policy, he positioned himself on Ukraine’s side without hesitation, pushed through hard sanctions and released billions for weapons’ aid while others hesitated and dithered.

At the same time, he emphasized from the beginning where the boundaries of Western engagement would be; he rejected the deployment of NATO soldiers and the establishment of the no-fly zone that Kyiv demanded. He also quickly scrapped proposals for the delivery of fighter jets. According to his perspective, the Western alliance should on no account become a party to the war.

With this prudence and in constant dialogue with European partners, Biden has accomplished the feat of reviving NATO, which French President Emmanuel Macron had declared “brain-dead” in 2019.

Russian President Putin obviously had not expected that. At the same time, Washington is positioning itself as the responsible leader of the West. That is a quantum leap from the nationalist rampage of the Donald Trump years.

Admittedly, a series of oddly undisciplined communications on the other side of the Atlantic has caused some irritation recently. To begin with, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declared that the goal was not just to defend Ukraine but to military “weaken” Russian in the long-term. It sounded like a very risky humiliation of a nuclear power and a change in war aims.

Then, word emerged from U.S. intelligence services that they apparently contributed information for killing several Russian generals and sinking the Moskva warship. In both cases, the White House downplayed the news; Biden is said to have been upset by it.

Regardless, neither event is helpful in this dangerous phase of the war. It is in Europe’s fundamental interest to support Ukraine decisively in pushing back against the aggressor, but without giving the aggressor any pretext for expanding the conflict.

But it would be a prejudiced distortion of reality if right- and left-wing “friends of peace” declared that Washington, not Moscow, was the driving force behind the war. Only those who have completely ignored U.S. domestic politics for years could believe something like that.

Biden entered office with a promise to end the country’s role as the world’s police. He wanted to score points as a social reformer and compete with China economically. Nothing could be more inconvenient for him than a military conflict nearly 5,000 miles away that interests hardly anyone in Pennsylvania or Ohio but makes gas prices skyrocket at home.

In fact, the war has not improved the president’s dreadful approval ratings one bit. In theory, that should make U.S. allies uneasy. Europe is very obviously not able to hold its ground in a military conflict at its own front door without significant assistance from the U.S.

But over there, wannabe autocrat Trump could return to power in just two and a half years. One would rather not imagine what a confrontation between the “stable genius” in the White House and the uninhibited imperialist Putin would look like.

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