Flashback to 1962, but Vladimir Putin is no Nikita Khrushchev, Joe Biden is no John F. Kennedy | Opinion

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Carl von Clausewitz, the XIX Century Prussian military strategist, wrote that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is predicated on raw power and blackmail - and if needed murders and kidnappings both inside and outside Russia.

His massive military buildup on Ukraine’s border and his threat to deploy troops “and infrastructure” in Cuba and Venezuela are aimed to force the Biden Administration and America’s allies to submit to his will.

Comparisons with the 1962 October Missile Crisis that brought humanity to the brink of nuclear war are deceiving. Putin is no Nikita Khrushchev and Joe Biden is no John Kennedy.

Two months after the Bay of Pigs debacle, in the June 1961 Vienna Summit, the Soviet dictator demanded the United States leave West Berlin, having concluded that the inexperienced recently elected American President could be intimidated. President Kennedy was unprepared, and the Soviet leader dominated the meeting and strengthened his view that his adversary was also immature. This assessment of the Vienna Summit resulted in Khrushchev erecting the Berlin Wall two months after the meeting.

President Kennedy learned from this disastrous meeting, its catastrophic consequences for East Berliners, and during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, he adroitly marshaled American friends around the world, imposed a naval blockade, and successfully pressed Khrushchev’s withdrawal of Soviet nuclear missiles, despite Fidel Castro’s public tantrums.

Today, the context is different. The Russian dictator is not a Party apparatchik but a seasoned KGB officer, who, despite earlier international assurances about Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in exchange for Kiev’s giving up its nuclear arsenal, annexed Crimea and keeps military forces engaged in a secessionist war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.

The United States has an obligation with regard to Ukraine. When negotiations between Ukraine and Russia broke down on removing nuclear weapons from Ukraine in September 1993, Washington engaged in a trilateral process with Ukraine and Russia. This resulted in the January 1994 Trilateral Statement. Ukraine agreed to transfer its nuclear warheads to Russia. Ukraine received security assurances from the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Abandoning Ukraine in the short term may appear to guarantee peace, but the words of Winston Churchill in another crisis in 1938 should give today’s policymakers pause; “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”

Despite serious efforts in the Administration to help the President revisit and learn from foreign policy setbacks, Putin and other foes are not discouraged by what they see.

Instead, they work on the assumption that Washington’s disarray, finger-pointing and accountability provide them with a unique opportunity to strike at American interests.

Consider the following:

The Trump Administration backed tough sanctions on Russia and did all it could to kill the $11 billion Nord Stream 2, that would pump gas to Germany increasing Russian leverage over Europe, but the Biden Administration, believing there was hardly anything worth saving from the previous Administration’s policies, waived the harshest sanctions without obtaining any concession from Russia, and eventually replaced them with weaker measures as the situation in Ukraine worsened.

Washington’s messy withdrawal from Afghanistan sent a message of weakness to America’s enemies that animated both Russia and China into a more aggressive posture in Ukraine, and Taiwan respectively.

In June 2021, the Biden administration lifted sanctions on three former Iranian officials and energy companies in an effort to get Iran to change course on its nuclear program in exchange for loosened sanctions. Iran did not respond as expected, and the White House reintroduced sanctions in October 2021 on two senior Iranian officials and two companies supplying weapons to groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

Twice in 2021, Biden said that the United States would defend Taiwan if attacked by Mainland China, but the Administration walked back the statements citing a policy of “strategic ambiguity.”

China’s warplanes are flying over the Taiwan Straits into Taipei’s defense zone in multiple provocations. Not holding China responsible for millions of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s growing presence in the developing world must be part of Putin’s appraisal.

Be that as it may, what is to be done now?

1. The American people and the world need to be reminded that NATO is a defensive alliance, which presents no danger to Russia unless Moscow attacks one of its members.

2. The best way to promote peace and lower tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border is for Nord Stream 2 to be shut down until Russian troops leave Crimea, reminding Moscow of their commitments to the territorial integrity of Ukraine and pursuing comprehensive and multilateral sanctions.

3. The Biden Administration should be prepared to provide military supplies and intelligence assistance to Ukraine if requested.

4. Congress should introduce emergency military appropriations, setting aside assistance to NATO members under Russian threat who request help.

5. America’s European allies, Japan, Australia, and others should be encouraged to join a broad diplomatic response to Putin’s aggressive designs that includes multilateral sanctions.

A weak America makes for a more dangerous and uncertain world because it encourages international aggression. Americans will support these and similar efforts that should not be a partisan issue.

Frank Calzón was among the founders of the Center for a Free Cuba, and John Suarez is its executive director.