The Hill


The ongoing deadlock in Washington over aid to Ukraine is the stuff of tragedy. As Ukrainians are fighting for their existence as a nation, with untold consequences for the world if Putin’s hordes overrun their country and continue into Europe, American policymakers are placing their own personal ambitions above the physical survival of 40 million people and the likelihood that Putin will start World War III.

At the very least, the narcissistic behavior of these leaders — from President Joe Biden to House Speaker Mike Johnson to the Republican eminence grise Donald Trump — is proof positive that neo-realist interpretations of foreign policy that ignore domestic factors are dead wrong. At the most, this trio is flirting dangerously with indifference to and complicity in Russia’s genocide of the Ukrainian nation.

For that is the choice before these three men: either do the right thing, help Ukraine survive and suffer some political blowback that may or may not affect their careers, or focus exclusively on their political careers, hasten Russia’s extermination of Ukrainians and go down in history as willful collaborators of Russian genocidaires.

The second choice would brand them forever as evil, and not just indifferent. Unlike British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain — who truly believed that appeasement would stop Hitler — Biden, Johnson and Trump have no such illusions about Putin. They know full well that he is evil, that he is intentionally killing Ukrainians and that all they need to do to be on the right side of morality and history is overcome their personal ambitions and help Ukraine save itself. $60 billion is all it would take to side with the angels against Satan. That’s a drop in the U.S. government budget.

The irony is that all three men claim to be Christians, with Trump even insisting that the Bible is his favorite book. Christians aren’t supposed to watch their neighbors get slaughtered. They’re supposed to love their neighbors as themselves. That principle may be hard to translate into policy all the time, but there are surely obvious cases — such as Russia’s pursuit of a genocidal war in Ukraine — where morality and self-interest coincide.

The destruction of Ukraine would destroy the European Union and NATO, force the U.S. to be even more interventionist than it is at present and unleash a flood of refugees — perhaps as many as 40 million Ukrainians — on Europe. And, irony of ironies, the vast majority would cross into Hungary and Slovakia, whose prime ministers have adopted openly anti-Ukrainian and pro-Putin stances in the hope that they can remain on the war’s sidelines.

Failure to help Ukraine in a timely fashion is also discrediting democracy. Although Winston Churchill was right to say, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise,” the inability

of democracies today to make moderately imperfect and merely wise choices understandably leads many to disregard Churchill’s next sentence — “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” — and simply conclude that democracy doesn’t work in a complex world that requires quick responses to never-ending challenges, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The West’s hemming and hawing is not just shameful. It’s criminal.

The 1956 poem “Thanksgiving” by e.e. cummings, written in the aftermath of the violent Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, gets the point across with deadly accuracy. Confronted with “a monstering horror,” “the voice-with-a-smile of democracy / announces night & day / ‘all poor little peoples that want to be free / just trust in the u s a.'”

Hungary takes these words seriously and gives “a terrible cry / ‘no slave’s unlife shall murder me / for i will freely die.'”

In response, “The UN” tells Hungary to refrain from angering “a good kind bear” while “uncle sam shrugs his / pretty pink shoulders.”

The final stanza is worth quoting in full:

so rah-rah-rah democracy

let’s all be as thankful as hell

and bury the statue of liberty

(because it begins to smell)

Fortunately, the Statue of Liberty is doing well — still. Alas, that’s more than can be said about Hungary, which has opted for a slave’s unlife, and American democracy, which is shrugging its pretty pink shoulders.


Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”