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On Ukraine, Biden Shows Resolve but also Restraint

Steve Chapman on

Restraint is a useful but often unsatisfying virtue, and in the case of Ukraine, there are plenty of people who think that it's not a virtue at all. Fortunately, American policy is being set by Joe Biden, who has a sober understanding of the perils of overreach.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine spurred all sorts of extravagant demands for U.S. action. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., urged the president "to send not just arms but troops to the aid in defense of Ukraine." Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., was one of several GOP members of Congress to say the U.S. should establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine -- which could mean shooting down Russian warplanes.

Biden dismissed these options, even as he extended economic aid, weapons and moral support to the besieged Ukrainian government. But prudence invites charges of weakness. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., says Biden is "scared of Putin."

On Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., took to Twitter to accuse Biden of "a betrayal of #Ukraine? and democracy itself." His offense? Declining to provide Ukraine with missiles that can hit targets as far as 185 miles away.

"We're not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that strike into Russia," Biden said flatly. The obvious reason is that such missile attacks would drastically raise the stakes for Vladimir Putin -- who, let us not forget, has the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. Biden is not about to outsource our fate to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Another idea is to deploy U.S. Navy ships to break the Russian blockade of Odessa, which has deprived the world of Ukrainian grain. But Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed out that this option could lead to direct combat with Russia.

 

"Right now, the sea lanes are blocked by mines and the Russian navy," he said Tuesday. "It would be a high-risk military operation that would require significant levels of effort."

But the concept of "high risk" doesn't register with inveterate hawks who think every problem can be solved by the application of America's armed might -- a theory decisively refuted in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.

Such disasters instilled in Biden a healthy skepticism about military intervention. But that skepticism has also moved him to look for alternatives in dealing with foreign crises.

As it has from the start, his administration is trying to ensure that Ukraine can stave off the Russian invasion -- without provoking Putin to escalate and without embroiling the U.S. in the war.

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