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No Solutions This Week, Only Questions

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Commentary:

Can the United States avoid war with Russia?

Should we avoid war with Russia? Does a nation that spends so much on weaponry that it has built the strongest military force in the history of mankind have a moral obligation to act when lesser armies are slaughtering innocent people in another nation?

Why are the innocent people in Ukraine more worthy than the innocent people in Chechnya? It’s estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians were killed in a sloppy, brutish, relentless Russian attack there that included torture, rape and looting.

Why are innocents in Ukraine more worthy than those in Syria, where poorly trained Russian troops worked with the Assad regime to slaughter residents of Allepo and Idlip? In both cases air strikes were directly targeted at civilians and multiple war crimes were committed.

Why are innocents in Ukraine more worthy than those in Afghanistan, where our hasty withdrawl has allowed for the return of a thuggish, repressive Taliban government? Wasn’t our quick retreat, following 20 years of interminable war, proof again that we can’t solve all of the world’s problems with military might?

If Russia is eventually successful in taking Ukraine, will it stop there? President Vladimir Putin has said repeatedly that he sees the fall of the Berlin Wall and the crumbling of the Soviet empire in 1989 as the greatest tragedy of the 20th Century. His life’s mission has been to restore that empire.

If Putin’s expansionist ambitions eventually lead him into the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia, the United States will be obligated to jump into the war. Those are all NATO members, and under its charter, an attack on one is an attack on all. Does that make sense? Is Latvia really that much more critical to our interests than Ukraine?

Does the potential of war between Russia and NATO, and the history of two world wars that both started in Europe, justify our greater concern for the slaughter of Ukranians, who are predominantly white and Christian, than the slaughter of brown-skinned Muslims in Syria and Chechnya?

Can the United States and Russia engage in direct combat without it ultimately resulting in nuclear annihilation? Why would either country allow itself to lose that war without using its most powerful weapon?

We’ve been living under the theory of mutually-assured destruction for so long that we’ve grown over-confident in its supposed protection. We’ve come to see the United States and Russia as the adults in the nuclear world, and we see nations like North Korea and Iran as far too immature to be trusted with these weapons. Nevermind that the U.S. and Russia have almost stumbled into nuclear war by mistake twice - first during the Cuban Missile Crisis and then again at the height of the Cold War in 1983 when a NATO exercise in Europe was seen by Russia as an actual nuclear attack.

Putin has announced to the world that he has placed his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness.” If he decides to use nuclear weapons, is there anybody in Russia who can stop him? 

Most weeks, I use this column to offer my suggestions for some of the issues facing our community. There is, admittedly, a degree of arrogance required to engage in such activity. But this week I have no suggestions, only questions; and no arrogance, only humility.

I don’t know how or when this ends. And, I don’t know what we can or should do to try to shape that ending.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com