Americans hoping Ukraine can resist Vladimir Putin share a common trait with many of the most memorable characters in the Hebrew Bible. This may discomfort us.
Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, David, Solomon all exhibit real flaws. (David takes Bathsheba to wife after sending her soldier-husband, Uriah the Hittite, to death on the front lines.)
The rabbis condemn their bad actions yet still praise their greatness. Why? Imperfection marks the human condition. Understanding our innate blemishes offers Americans perspective on the difficult issues relating to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Israel. Many Americans want Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to voice outright opposition to the invasion. Bennett hasn’t done this, though he has expressed sympathy for the Ukrainian people. Israel even refused to let oligarch Roman Abramovich, also an Israeli citizen, park his jet for more than a day at Ben Gurion Airport. Said Foreign Minister Yair Lapid: “Israel will not be a route to bypass sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and other Western countries.” So why does the Jewish State hold back direct condemnation of Putin?
Look to Syria. Russia controls Bashar Assad’s air space. Putin allows Israeli jets to attack Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah, and bomb Hezbollah and Iranian missile installations and forces. Why? Most probably, Russian access to Israeli technology. Jerusalem’s stance? Ukraine constitutes a serious humanitarian concern, particularly regarding the dangers faced by Ukrainian Jews. But this remains secondary to maintaining relations with Russia as a matter of Israeli survival.
A no-fly zone and jets. Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Congress to “do more” regarding military assistance because “we need you right now.”
President Biden announced another $800 million in military aid then signed the paperwork immediately after.
But neither NATO nor the U.S. will establish a no-fly zone or, at this moment, allow Poland to send Kiev old MiG-29 fighter jets. Such moves might put the nail in the coffin of Russia’s plans for conquest. Why back off? Washington and Brussels fear a wider—perhaps nuclear—war.
Oil. The United States and Europe have hit Putin, the oligarchs and the Russian economy with numerous sanctions. Europe depends in great part on Russian energy—particularly natural gas—and faces hard choices. The U.S. halted imports of Russian oil. Admittedly, this represents a small percentage of our oil consumption.
Still, Americans must do some soul-searching. Supposedly, we’re talking with Iran and Venezuela—hostile nations—to augment our oil supplies. Our “traditional friends” in the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia chief among them, refuse to raise their output. All consider their own relationships with Russia.
Will Americans sacrifice our principles to halt high prices at the pump? Will we raise our oil production despite hazards to the environment? Drive less? Give up our trucks? And, confronted by these issues, will some Republicans put politics first and attack President Biden’s policies even if they’re right? Will some Democrats?
In the real world, realpolitik swings real weight. We often face unpalatable choices. None may guarantee success let alone reflect high moral standing.
I’ve often said that life is not lived in black and white but in the gray zone between. Let’s hope we have the courage and wisdom to navigate our way through it.
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