Vladimir Putin has two things on his side: sheer numbers and, potentially, isolationists in the West (America and its Allies).
As I write, Putin seems to be in “command and control” in Russia. Plus, Russia’s sheer numbers and armaments, along with a nuclear backdrop, are feared by politicians in some Western capitals. Of course, most Western leaders thought Russia would walk over Ukraine months ago. They should scrub their intelligence agencies while rebooting their mind.
Ukraine, the Nation, was transformed by Vladimir Putin. His “command and control” didn’t work out as he expected. Ukraine fought as a Nation; Russia showed up as an army and not a very good one. Three months later Ukraine has endured while Russia’s military assets have been exposed and depleted. Its victories achieved by long range artillery aimed at annihilation.
Importantly, Ukraine courage and endurance has transformed the West. The leaders of the free world were initially outraged by Putin’s mendacity, while skeptically monitoring Ukraine’s capacity and resolve. So, transformation is not too big a word. We know, for example, how divided we are in the United States, yet in recent weeks the two most powerful Congressional leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell have led delegations to Kyiv to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky and pledge their support.
We also know that the Western Alliance, following the Afghanistan withdrawal, looked weak. President Xi of China was certainly paying attention and is presumably collecting valuable pricing information from the Ukraine war. How much might he be ready to spend on Taiwan?
But, on the eve of the fourth month of the Ukraine war a figurehead of a bent conservatism has become a symbol of fecklessness. Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, is once again attaching himself to a parade of fools.
Hawley, last week, objected to the legislative package for Ukraine just approved by Congress. Hawley might want to recall the lyrics of a tune popularized by Kenny Rogers and that C&W fans and beyond know as “The Gambler.”
Rogers sang of “a train bound for nowhere” on a dark summer evening. Boredom overtook the gambler as he turned to his companion singing: “ Son I’ve made a life of reading faces, Knowing what the cards were by the way they held their eyes; So if you don’t mind my sayin I can see you are out of aces.” The Gambler willing to trade advice for whiskey and a cigarette continued: “If you’re gonna play the game, boy you gotta learn to play it right, You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold’em, Know when to walk away And know when to run.”
Are America and its allies on a “train to nowhere”? The Ukrainians have made their bet with their lives—the ultimate sacrifice. Their resolve has been inspiring and Russia is learning a crucial lesson—in war fight an army, not a nation and certainly not on their soil.
If anybody is on a train to nowhere, it is Putin and sadly Hawley and the isolationists. Putin’s story about going to Ukraine to fight Nazis is eroding, even in Russia, as the real story unfolds on electronic networks that can’t be controlled.
It is also hard to lead effectively if your mind is blurred by self-intoxication surrounded by a team soaked in paranoia. Paranoia is depleting as the circle of trust gets progressively smaller and talented people either exit or take matters into their own hands.
So, Senator Hawley how are you as a betting man? As you raised your fist to show solidarity with the January 6th insurrectionists you revealed opportunism, the mendacious variety.
And this time, as former President Ronald Reagan said to his critics, “there you go again.” But this time the goal is worthy and the war is real. This time it is principled. Perhaps you should listen, really listen, to “the Gambler” and your leader, Senator McConnell.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.