By Alan Resnick / Detroit
Back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, there was a television show called Who Do You Trust? The emcee asked married pairs of contestants to answer questions, and the husband would decide for the couple whether he or his spouse would respond. Let’s update that game show with the following question: “Who do you trust to handle the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Joe Biden or Donald Trump?”
On February 28, CNN reported the results from a survey taken from Feb. 25-26. A random sample of 1,100 Americans were asked their opinions regarding the Ukrainian situation and Biden’s response to it thus far. Of the respondents, 83 percent favored increased sanctions of Russia and 58 percent opposed the United States taking military action. These results were consistent across party affiliation.
At the same time, though, 58 percent of those surveyed answered “not much” or “not at all” when asked how much they trusted Biden to make the right decision about Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, political affiliation was a huge differentiator regarding trust in the President: 84 percent of Democrats trusted Biden to make the right choices, while only 9 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents were of a similar mindset.
The lack of trust in Biden with regard to his handling of the Ukraine conflict is generally consistent with his overall approval ratings, so I suppose that they are not all that surprising. But I sure do wish that the survey had also asked, “How much would you trust Donald Trump to make the right decision about Ukraine?”
To my way of thinking, there seem to be three options for dealing with the Russian invasion. First, take military action, either by sending troops into Ukraine to fight and/or by attacking Russia directly. On a purely visceral level, this would be my first choice. Watching the evening news and seeing the terror and despair on the faces of women trying to flee to safety with their young children, and the heroic bravery of the Ukrainian men and women picking up arms to fight for their homeland, brings tears to my eyes and the desire to make this more of a fair fight.
But there seems to be one teeny, tiny problem with the United States or other countries sending boots on the ground into this battle: It likely would mean the beginning of World War III and the probable end of the world, particularly since so many countries now have nuclear arsenals. So logic needs to prevail over raw emotion. President Biden has repeatedly stated that our troops will not be sent into Ukraine, although some have been sent to NATO allies bordering Ukraine for their protection.
The second option, imposing the strictest economic sanctions possible, is the one that Biden has chosen and is playing out now. Most would agree that the President and his team have done a spectacular job of getting NATO and the broader Western world to act in unison against Russia. For goodness sake, even Switzerland has gotten off the fence and announced that it will freeze Russian assets.
The ruble has dropped 90% since the beginning of 2022. Most of the drop came after the move to block Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system. Many of the economic sanctions have been geared toward hitting Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs where it hurts them the most: in their wallets, by freezing their assets.
Unfortunately, these actions have also made the Russian citizenry collateral damage. There has been news footage of lines at ATMs that snaked down sidewalks and around buildings in Moscow, and at Russian banks in Europe as customers rushed to withdraw cash. Vox describes the current situation as, “The worst economic crisis that many of them have seen. . . The person on the street has already been suffering and doesn’t have much in savings, if anything. But at the moment, they risk not even receiving their pension payments.”
While tragic for the average Russian citizen, this may very well have been by design, a strategy to have the general population rise up, take to the streets, and voice their displeasure and disgust at what Putin has wrought. He’s now feeling the heat from both his oligarchs and the Russian people.
At the same time, the United States and other countries are supporting Ukraine by providing weapons and supplies. It’s too early to know if this option will bring Putin to the negotiating table or antagonize him into expanding the conflict. His pronouncements and threats sound increasingly incoherent and unhinged, quite similar to those of our former President when he talked about North Korea. Hopefully, Putin’s announcement that he has put his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness” is nothing more than sabre rattling, but one never knows.
The third option in this situation would simply be to do nothing and stay out of the fray. In effect, say to the Ukrainians: “We have our own problems. Best of luck to you.” Isolationism appears to be increasingly popular among some segments of the population, and it has been a recurrent theme throughout our nation’s history. It was at its zenith after World War I and the Great Depression, when foreign affairs took a back seat to America’s economic survival. But this position ended after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
It’s difficult to envision President Biden even considering this position, given that Ukraine has been an ally of the United States for years. It just seems distinctly un-American to tell approximately 44 million people to “pound sand” when we have recognized their independence since 1991.
Now for that second question about trusting Trump to handle the situation in Ukraine. Here’s my answer: “Hell no.”
It’s difficult to see Trump choosing anything other than option number three. On Feb. 23, Trump described Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “genius” and “savvy.” This is of course consistent with Trump’s suck-uppery to Putin during Trump’s term in office. He even went so far as to take Putin’s word over his own intelligence agency with regard to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Given his affinity for tyrants and dictators, he certainly would not choose to send troops into Ukraine to fight the Russians or threaten any sort of military action against Putin.
It’s equally problematic to envision Trump choosing to apply catastrophic economic sanctions to Russia, even though he was a very big proponent of tariffs. Remember, Trump was impeached over his attempt to shake down Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for disinformation against Joe Biden and his son Hunter in return for weaponry to be used to defend against Russia. And once again, there’s Trump’s affinity with authoritarian figures, even though many feel that Putin considers Trump to be nothing more than a “useful idiot.”
It’s literally impossible to imagine Trump taking the leadership role in getting NATO together in opposition to Putin. In 2019, some of Trump’s senior administration officials told the New York Times that, “several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization … Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.” Whether the former president thought it a poor return on investment or a desire to please Vladimir Putin is debatable, but clearly Trump was not a NATO guy.
Then there’s the Feb. 28 Newsmax interview with John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor. Bolton sat back and listened as the host, Rob Schmitt, rattled off Trump accomplishments Schmitt felt hindered Russia from attacking Ukraine.
The highlights of Bolton’s response: “He barely knew where Ukraine was … He once asked John Kelly if Finland was a part of Russia. It’s just not accurate to say that Trump’s behavior somehow deterred the Russians.”
Interestingly enough, Bolton did admit that there were some sanctions imposed against Russian oligarchs while he worked for Trump. But he also said, “In almost every case, the sanctions were imposed with Trump complaining about it, saying we were being too hard.”
So the only option for Trump would be to tell Zelenskyy and his people to fend for themselves, even though Ukraine is an ally. It’s certainly the choice that Putin prefers. And in some ways, it is the safest choice for America, at least in the short term. It does keep our country out of a potential nuclear conflict, albeit leaving us with a tremendous amount of blood and carnage on our hands.
But it’s truly frightening to think about the longer-term consequences of the “do-nothing” alternative. Russia shares borders with other NATO members such as Poland and the Baltics. And God help us all if Trump gets re-elected and Putin decides it’s time for another power grab.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.