Thomas L. Friedman

Take this surprising fact: at a time when Americans can’t agree on virtually anything, there has been a consistent majority in favor of giving Ukraine generous economic and military aid in the fight against Vladimir Putin’s attempt to wipe it off the map.

It’s doubly surprising when you consider that most Americans couldn’t find Ukraine on the map a few months ago, as it’s a country we’ve never had a special relationship with.

Sustaining that support, however, will be doubly important as the Ukrainian War settles into something of a “sumo” phase – two giant wrestlers, each trying to throw the other out of the ring, but neither willing to give up or able to to win. While I expect some wear and tear as people realize how much this war is pushing up global food and energy prices, I still have hope that most Americans will hold out until Ukraine can militarily regain its sovereignty or strike a peace deal. decent with Putin.

My short-term optimism comes not from polling, but from reading history — in particular, Michael Mandelbaum’s new book, “The Four Ages of American Foreign Policy: Weak Power, Great Power, Superpower, Hyperpower.” Mandelbaum, professor emeritus of US foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University (we co-wrote a book in 2011), argues that while American attitudes toward Ukraine may seem totally unexpected and new, they are not.

Throughout U.S. history, our nation has swung between two broad approaches to foreign policy, Mandelbaum explained in an interview, echoing a key theme in his book: “One emphasizes power, national interest and security and is associated with Theodore Roosevelt. The other emphasizes the promotion of American values ​​and is identified with Woodrow Wilson.”

While these two worldviews were often in competition, this was not always the case. And when a foreign policy challenge arose in harmony with our interests and values, it hit the sweet spot and managed to garner broad, deep, and enduring public support. “It happened in World War II and the Cold War,” Mandelbaum noted, “and it seems to be happening with Ukraine.”

But the big question is: for how long? Nobody knows, because wars follow predictable and unpredictable paths. The predictable thing about Ukraine is that as costs rise, there will be growing dissent – ​​whether in the US or among our European allies – arguing that our interests and values ​​have become unbalanced.

They will argue that we cannot support Ukraine economically to the point of total victory – that is, drive Putin’s army from every inch of Ukraine – nor strategically afford to seek total victory, because in the face of total defeat Putin could unleash a nuclear weapon.

Which brings us to the unpredictable: after more than a hundred days of fighting, no one can say how this war will end. It started in Putin’s head and will probably only end when Putin says he wants it to end. Putin probably feels that he is giving all the orders and that time is on his side, because he can take more suffering than Western democracies. But great wars are strange. No matter how they start, they can end in totally unpredictable ways.

Let me give you an example, with one of Mandelbaum’s favorite quotes. It is from Winston Churchill’s biography of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, published in the 1930s: “Great battles, won or lost, change the whole course of events, create new standards of values, new moods, new climates. , in the armies and in the nations, to which all must conform”.

“The battle between Russia and Ukraine for control of the area in eastern Ukraine known as the Donbass has the potential to be such a battle,” says Mandelbaum. In more ways than one. The 27 nations of the European Union, our main ally, are actually the biggest trading bloc in the world. They have already acted decisively to reduce trade and investment in Russia.

On May 31, the EU agreed to cut 90% of Russia’s oil imports by the end of 2022. This will not only harm Moscow, but also cause real suffering for EU consumers and industrialists, who are already paying astronomical prices for gasoline. and by natural gas. All of this is happening, however, at a time when renewable energies such as solar and wind have become price competitive with fossil fuels, and when the global auto industry is significantly increasing production of electric vehicles and new batteries. .

In the short term, none of this can make up for the drop in Russian supplies. But if we have a year or two of astronomical gasoline and heating oil prices due to the Ukrainian War, “you will see a massive shift in mutual fund and industry investment in electric vehicles, grid upgrades, transmission lines and storage.” that could shift the entire market away from dependence on fossil fuels for renewables,” said Tom Burke, director of climate research group E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism. “The war in Ukraine is already forcing all countries and companies to dramatically advance their decarbonization plans.”

Indeed, a report published by the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research and the UK-based global energy think tank Ember found that 19 of the 27 EU states “have significantly increased their ambition in terms of using renewable energy.” since 2019, while reducing fossil fuel generation plans to 2030 to protect against geopolitical threats”.

Go understand: if this war doesn’t inadvertently blow up the planet, it may inadvertently help sustain it. And, over time, shrink Putin’s main source of money and power. Wouldn’t it be ironic?

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves


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