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Part of being a “superpower” means telling client states how things are going to work out.
Anwar Sadat was described as “a man in a hurry.” He had thrown out his Soviet advisors and the Soviet Union had cut off military and financial aid. Sadat believed that his gesture would be greeted by the United States positively, so he hoped that aid would come from Washington quickly. But Jimmy Carter was skeptical and was in no hurry to move towards Cairo. Desperate for aid so as not to face riots, Sadat made the audacious move to fly directly to Israel to address the Knesset. His moves to get the US to support his peace efforts and get US assistance were described as “the tail wagging the dog.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has taken a page right out of Anwar Sadat’s book. His goal is to throw the Russians fully out of Ukraine. And while this may be a noble goal, one shared by many of his countrymen, the requirements to dislodge the Russians from eastern Ukraine and Crimea may be so great that they will require either NATO intervention or years of $100 billion annual support from the US. As both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have stated clearly, Ukraine’s goals and America’s goals are not the same. One may wish to downgrade Russian military capabilities and certainly many want Putin humiliated and eventually driven from office, but the U.S. needs to keep its eye on its true geopolitical rival, and that is China. The same backwards China that Richard Nixon visited in 1972 is today an economic and military powerhouse, in large part due to the West giving China the ability to dominate global manufacturing. Go around your house and figure out which products or components of those products are produced in China. Our phones come from China, as do our medications, consumer goods, appliances and more. Trump and DeSantis get it. Joe Biden and his coterie do not.
There was a time during the Cold War when each state was aligned with one of the superpowers and also understood the relationship between big state and client. There is the famous story of John Kennedy discussing a South American dictator and stating, “He may be an S.O.B., but he is my S.O.B.” The 1973 Yom Kippur War featured the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. introducing ceasefire proposals at the U.N. depending on when their clients—Israel and Syria, respectively—were ahead on the battlefield. Henry Kissinger flew between belligerents and dictated the terms of the cessation of hostilities. One can still drive to the north of Israel and look across the no-mans-land of Kuneitra where the U.N. is stationed and see the Syrian countryside. Client states often chafed at being told what to do, but they understood that financial assistance, military aid, and possibly help in times of conflict meant that it was better to be a faithful tail to a powerful dog. The U.S. often told Israel what it could or could not do, but the upside was that it was the first country to receive F-16’s (originally designated for Iran before the revolution) and used those planes to bomb the Iraqi reactor. Being a client state came with benefits.
Now let’s look at the situation today. The comparison of Zelensky to Churchill may seem over-the-top, but in some ways it is correct. Churchill very much wanted Roosevelt to enter the war but understood that he could not get America involved. So instead, he was able to get lend-lease and a host of benefits from the American president like old destroyers in order to keep England in the war. Hitler’s declaration of war against the U.S. finally brought America into the European war, with the U.S. providing enormous military and economic muscle. Zelensky too would love to see NATO planes over his skies (as he has stated) and he would relish U.S. troops fighting side-by-side with his own. Knowing that it would not happen without Putin attacking a NATO country, he has hectored the U.S. and its allies into providing enormous amounts of advanced weaponry. When the war started, who would have thought that M1 Abrams tanks might be on their way to Ukraine? Recently, two Ukrainian pilots came to the U.S. to show their proficiency on F-16 fighters. It is Zelensky, the ostensible client, who is calling the shots, and Joe Biden and his colleagues are so infatuated with getting rid of Putin that they have forgotten the time-tested formula for big and small states. The U.S. should be providing weaponry but also dictating the goals for Ukraine’s side of the conflict. The requirements to make Ukraine whole again are so enormous that the U.S. would be best served to limit Russia’s advance and push for a peace conference. Both Trump and DeSantis understand this, and more importantly so do the American people.
When Donald Trump ran in 2016, he struck several nerves by demanding a controlled border, bringing manufacturing back to the U.S., confronting China on its unfair economic practices, and strengthening U.S. military capabilities. As president, he was a good friend to America’s allies and he showed the Iranians and Russians that he was not afraid to confront them as needed. You can ask Qasem Soleimani about that. Oh, actually you cannot. Trump and possibly DeSantis will again distinguish themselves from the crowd by supporting a position favorable with most of the voting public. People want this war to end and they want U.S. resources used elsewhere.
The U.S. has an interest in the Ukraine-Russia war, but U.S. leadership must make continued military and economic aid (why are we funding Ukrainian pensions?) dependent on U.S. goals for the conflict. President Zelensky may not like the formula, but he can learn from Israel, South Korea and other American friends who have understood that the U.S. being a superpower means two things: aid and instructions. President Biden or whoever replaces him in 2024 must firmly explain to our Ukrainian friends that the U.S. and not Zelensky will determine which weapons systems will be shipped out for use and also the date of the peace conference to determine how much of Ukraine will be left with the Russians in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. As Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter always points out, the enemy has a vote in any military conflict, so the Russians can go on with this war for years; that is definitely not in America’s interests if we still want to have ammunition for our own forces.
Successful leadership demands that the roles of leader and led be clear, whether it is superpower-client, officer-soldier, teacher-student, or parent-child. The U.S. with a smile needs to tell Mr. Zelensky that a peace conference is coming. The failure of US leadership has allowed the Chinese to broker a thaw in relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had always been a good friend of the U.S. until the Biden administration pushed them away. Now they make treaties via China. China has been making statements hoping that Ukraine will agree to a peaceful settlement. So unless the U.S. wants its clients to go over to China (as occurred in both directions during the Cold War), it is time to step up and tell the Ukrainians that we are their friends and allies and that they will not get everything they want. The U.S. supplies the weapons systems. The U.S. calls the shots.