Year Two of the Ukraine War Is Going to Get Scary

NYT OPINION: Year Two of the Ukraine War Is Going to Get Scary
By Thomas L. Friedman
Section: Opinion
Source: New York Times
Published Date: February 5, 2023 at 02:00AM

In the war’s first year, America and its allies have had it relatively easy. Will the West bear any burden to uphold a liberal world order?

As we approach the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine — and the ferocious Ukrainian response backed by a U.S.-led Western coalition — the following question urgently needs answering: How is it that on Feb. 23, 2022, virtually no one in America was arguing that it was in our core national interest to enter into an indirect war with Russia to stop it from overrunning Ukraine, a country most Americans couldn’t find on a map in 10 tries? And yet now, nearly a year later, polls show solid (though slightly shrinking) American majorities for backing Ukraine with arms and aid, even though this risks a direct conflict with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
That’s a head-snapping shift in U.S. public opinion. Surely it’s partly explicable by the fact that no U.S. combat forces are in Ukraine, so it feels as if all that we’re risking, for now, is arms and treasure — while the full brunt of the war is borne by Ukrainians.
But there is another explanation, even if it’s one that most Americans might not be able to articulate and many might only reluctantly agree with.
They know at some deep level that the world we live in today is tilted the way it is because of American power. That doesn’t mean we have always used our power wisely, nor could we have succeeded without allies. But to the extent that we have used our power wisely and in concert with our allies, we have built and protected a liberal world order since 1945, which has been hugely in our interest — economically and geopolitically.
This is an order in which autocratic great powers like Nazi Germany, imperial Japan or modern Russia and China are not free to simply devour their neighbors. And this is an order where more democracies than ever have been able to flourish, and where free markets and open trade have lifted more people out of poverty than at any time in the history of the world. It’s not always perfect — but in a world where perfect is never on the menu, this order has produced almost 80 years without a Great Power war, the kind of war that can destabilize the whole world.
Upholding this liberal order is the underlying logic that brought the United States and its NATO allies to help Kyiv reverse Putin’s “marry me or I’ll kill you” invasion of Ukraine — the first such onslaught by one country in Europe against another since the end of World War II.
Now the bad news. For the first year of this war, America and its allies have had it relatively easy. We could send arms, aid and intelligence — as well as impose sanctions on Moscow — and the Ukrainians would do the rest, ravaging Putin’s army and pushing his forces back into Eastern Ukraine.

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