Feb. 25—The scenes of war are difficult to stomach: Backyard iPhone video clips of cruise missiles flying over the heartland of Ukraine to points unknown. Convoys of tanks and missile launchers crossing the border unimpeded, carrying their lethal cargo. Families with small children and pets cowering in underground subway stations in Ukrainian cities.
It's a bleak, horrible picture being painted on social media and 24-hour news stations. If Russian President Vladimir Putin's goal was to terrorize Ukraine and its allies, he has succeeded.
Putin is clearly unhinged. Invading Ukraine is going to be costly to him and his country, as well as to the people of Ukraine.
Unfortunately, the invasion is likely to bring the rest of the world down as well.
In the United States, for example, gasoline and heating oil prices are already high, and they are only going to go higher. Natural gas prices are high, and will likely go higher. Inflation is at 40-year highs, and is likely to go higher. The stock market's freefall — down more than 400 points midday Thursday — will likely continue, at least until things in Eastern Europe have stabilized.
All of this will happen regardless of Putin's next steps — whether he stops in Ukraine or continues his invasion into other former Soviet states such as Poland and Romania.
Sanctions on Russia are necessary, but many experts believe they could blow back into the global economy, further increasing inflation here and elsewhere.
In short, Americans are being asked to sacrifice for the recklessness of the Russian leader. Many in this country don't feel the United States should get involved. Many feel that what happens in Ukraine is none of our business.
The former president says Putin is a "genius" and that none of this would have happened under his watch. Fox News broadcasters say the whole mess is Biden's fault.
Many others see it differently — that Trump set the table for Putin's invasion, doting on him while turning a blind eye to his true intentions. Clearly, the country remains divided along the lines of the last election.
That kind of political calculation by President Biden was clear in his remarks Thursday, when he said he was going to do whatever he could to lower gas prices. He mentioned tapping into the country's petroleum reserves to increase the supply of fuel and presumably tamp down the price of gas at the pump.
He also cautioned oil producers not to take advantage of the situation by hiking prices even further than they already are — around $3.50 a gallon. (Filling a 15-gallon tank of gas now costs about $50 — a significant chunk of most families' weekly budgets.)
Biden is well aware that he needs all Americans to support his efforts to punish and contain Putin's expansionist ways.
If he can rein in inflation and gas prices while also crippling Putin and his cronies, he will have succeeded. If he succeeds at one but not the other, there will be hell to pay for Democrats at the voting booth this November and in 2024.
While political calculations such as this may seem cynical and heartless while Ukrainian civilians and soldiers are killed or wounded because of the actions of a madman, they are also necessary.
Biden is fighting a war on multiple fronts. He's fighting a political war at home against Trumpist conservatives, he's fighting an economic war against inflation, and he's up against Putin in Ukraine.
He's also fighting with his own allies, some of whom are pushing back on the toughest sanctions available, which would be to use SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, to further block Russia's involvement in the global marketplace.
Also, as was noted at the end of his remarks, Biden hasn't gotten complete buy-in from India, one of the largest economies in the world. He said he was "working on" getting India on board with sanctions against Russia. Not a good sign. He wouldn't even comment when asked about China, which has come out recently as one of Russia's allies.
If those two countries alone continue trading with Russia, sanctions from the West and other democracies around the world may not be enough to curb Putin's ambitions. And that would be bad for everyone.
In short, Biden has to hope that sanctions bring Putin to his knees. If not, the president and his allies better have something else up his sleeve.
(c)2022 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.)
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