Laten we goede buren zijn

5 januari 2024

You have a good neighbor.  He does a lot for you.  He keeps the street clean around your house.  He mows your lawn when you are away.  He signs for your packages and brings them to you later.  Your kids go and play with his kids in the backyard.  He has an alarm on his house with a camera, which you don’t, and he once ran burglars away from your house.  He’s done a thing or two for you that you haven’t noticed.  Like the time he stopped a crew from mistakenly taking down a tree in your front yard.  And the time he found your cat outside, on the street, and gave it to your kid.

And now your neighbor’s house has caught fire.  The flames are just now visible.  There’s plenty of time to react.  In fact, you happen to be standing nearby, at exactly the right place, watering your garden, with a hose in your hand.  The flames are in easy reach.  Your neighbor runs to you and asks you to just turn the water in the direction of the flame.

You refuse.  You turn off the water and walk away.  And then you hurry down to your basement and shut off the valve, just to make sure your neighbor can’t be helped.

All you had do was flick your wrist, turn the hose in the right direction.  But you didn’t.  It wouldn’t have cost you anything.  A nickel on your water bill that you wouldn’t notice.

And if you had helped, you’d have been a hero.  Your neighbor would remember you, as would the press, as would your kids, as would everyone.  But you chose not to help.  Your neighbor’s house burns down.

And then yours does, too.

This is, currently, our Ukraine policy. We are choosing to let a good neighbor burn.  Ukraine does things for us that we need, and often that we neglect to do ourselves, or cannot do ourselves.  It does things for us that we do not notice.

These are not the small things. By resisting Russia, Ukraine shows the world that there are people who care about democracy enough to take risks for it.  It reduces the risk of nuclear proliferation and nuclear war by showing that nuclear blackmail does not work.  It maintains the international legal order.  It fulfills the NATO mission by absorbing and reversing a Russian attack, making war elsewhere in Europe very unlikely.  It deters China from risky action in the Pacific by showing how difficult offensive operations are.

These are all hugely important American interests, most of which we cannot fulfill ourselves.  Ukraine can fulfill them, if we help, just a little, in ways we would not even notice.

Ukraine is on fire.  In the past few days, Russia has launched something like five hundred rockets and drones at Ukrainian civilians, including nearly a hundred drones on New Year’s Eve.  Russia continues to undertake offensive operations in Ukraine.  Russian propagandists and Russian leaders continue to announce the same genocidal war aims now as at the beginning of the war: the end of the Ukrainian state and the end of the Ukrainian nation.  Ukrainian citizens under Russian occupation continue to be tortured and deported.

brass-colored faucet

Ukraine resists, very effectively, with the weapons it has.  It has opened the Black Sea to trade, something that no one expected.  It is holding back the Russian advance, inflicting huge casualties.  It is shooting down missiles and drones.  (If you want to help detect the drones, which is a matter of urgency, please make a contribution to my safe skies campaign here).

So we are standing here with easy access to water.  It would be so easy to help.  And yet we are turning away from our neighbor in need.  Ukraine needs our support, and some of our Congressional representatives are blocking it.

The amount in question is not meaningful, given what we spend on national security.  It is about a nickel on the defense budget dollar.

And that nickel is extremely well spent!  The defense department budget, after all, is meant to keep us safe.  That nickel on the dollar brings us security in the Atlantic and the Pacific, it brings us a reduced risk of nuclear war and a greatest international respect for law, it brings us the sense that we have friends who take risks for good things.  There is no other nickel on the defense department dollar that is nearly so important as this one.

And, in fact, we don’t even really spend that nickel on Ukraine.  Most of the defense money we nominally spend on Ukraine actually stays in the United States.  The arms Ukraine needs are in large measure weapons that your tax dollars would otherwise be spent to decommission — to destroy and throw away.  For example, we have about a thousand long-range missiles that we will soon pay tax money to take apart and drop in landfills.  Those missles , given instead to Ukraine, would seriously hinder Russian attacks, and put Ukraine in a position to win the war.

We are turning off the water.  Running down to then basement, caught in some strange self-destructive fit of self-absorption, we are putting our own house at risk.  Ignoring our neighbor is the worst thing we can do, even if all we care about is ourselves.

Everything that the Ukrainians are doing for us can be undone this year.  Russia can win, and be encouraged to start other wars, where our participation is likely to be much more direct.  China can be encouraged, and we can find ourselves in a cataclysm over Taiwan.  International order can break down, and we can confront confusing, difficult, and painful conflicts all over the world.  Russia can halt food deliveries to Asia and Africa, leading to starvation and further war.  Everyone can be demoralized by the realization that those who risked their lives for democracy were sold out, just because Americans lacked the wherewithal to what is obviously the right thing.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s easy to help a good neighbor.  This is a conflagration that we can stop with a flick of the wrist.  A bit of legislation to support Ukraine, and we all have a safer year, and safer lives.




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