republished below in full unedited for informational, educational & research purposes:
Editors' note: Below is an exchange between Frontpage contributors Robert Spencer and Joseph Puder on Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- and what America and the West must do about it. We hope our readers will find this dialogue/debate between two of Frontpage's finest to be thought-provoking and enlightening.
Joseph Puder: The West Has Not Learned The Lessons of World War II.
We need a Churchill in the White House, not a feeble Chamberlain.
The scenes of the Russian invasion into Ukraine are reminiscent of 81 years ago when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in what was called “Operation Barbarossa.” Nazi troops stormed the Ukraine fields with thousands of tanks and Stuka dive bombers. Behind them was Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen, SS murderers set out to murder every Jew in the territories of Ukraine that the Nazi army occupied.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, has copied the same tactics. Claiming his armies were merely on military maneuvers and that he had no intention of invading Ukraine, on February 24, 2022, he ordered his armies with thousands of soldiers, tanks, and jets to invade Ukraine. In 1939, Adolf Hitler, who had committed Germany not to attack the Soviet Union under the Treaty of Non-Aggression known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union with massive force. And, like the murderous Nazi Einsatzgruppen, Putin sent a similar group of Chechen murderers to assassinate Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and members of his government.
Hitler, in the summer of 1941, already had Europe almost entirely under his brutal boot, but his “lebensraum” or living space concept, which he specified in his book, “Mein Kampf,” and speeches, required him, in his mind to remove the Slavic and other so-called non-Aryan peoples in Eastern Europe from their land and populate them with German people. So naturally, Hitler was not going to stop anywhere ‘while the going was good.’
Let us be clear, Putin is not Hitler, he is not the sadist and antisemitic murderer that Hitler was. Nevertheless, he too has a dream of restoring to Russia the title of the super-power that the Soviet Union became after World War II. He is a Russian nationalist whose formative years in the Soviet Union were spent absorbing Soviet propaganda and subsequently becoming a KGB officer. It made him a staunch believer in Russian power. His father fought with the Red Army in WWII, and his native Leningrad suffered enormously during World War II. He also learned from the example that Hitler had provided, that when your potential enemies are weak, it is time to strike.
Hitler had British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to deal with. An appeaser who desperately wanted to avoid war at all costs, and indeed, the costs were much higher for Britain and the world for not recognizing that evil can only be stopped by force and not by appeasement. Had the allies stopped Hitler early on in 1936 when he occupied the Rhineland, World War II would never have occurred. Even in 1938, before Hitler annexed by force the Czechoslovakian territory of the Sudetenland under the 1938 Munich Agreement, in which Chamberlain sold out the Czechs, and got in return World War II. Had the western powers used the military option, the German military High Command (the Wehrmacht) would have removed Hitler from power, as was revealed in later years.
Putin, like Hitler, views US President Joe Biden as weak and feeble, just as Hitler saw Chamberlain. A person who refuses to use the military option with the radical regime of the Ayatollahs in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and would certainly not dare to challenge Russia’s military might. Putin figures that Biden and the Western leaders would scream ‘bloody murder,’ but won’t challenge him militarily, not even using a ‘no-fly zone’ over the Ukrainian civilian population, for fear of entanglement with Russia. Putin doesn’t want a nuclear war any more than Biden, Johnson, or Macron. He knows, however, that he is dealing with Chamberlains, not with Churchills.
It is apparent to Putin that President Biden and the other major western leaders fear him enough not to challenge his actions other than with words and economic sanctions that hitherto have had little impact on Putin and his regime. He took Crimea in March 2014 from Ukraine, and the Obama administration’s reaction was so anemic that it only encouraged him to go further and initiate the separatist violent rebellion against the Ukrainian government in the Donbas region of southeastern Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts of Ukraine), less than a month later. As the case of the US imposed sanctions on Iran has proven, sanctions cannot alter the behavior of a radical authoritarian regime, and only the unpleasant choice of a credible threat of Military action will make Russia or Iran change its course.
There was a time when the US did just that, using the military option. President John F. Kennedy did it during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis; he took military action after diplomacy failed. True, the Soviet missiles in Cuba posed an existential threat to the US… And yet, President Lyndon Johnson did it in the Middle East, when the Soviet Union threatened to send its troops to aid Syria against Israel during the Six-Day War of June 1967.
Uri Bar-Noi, in a report for the Wilson Center dealing with the Soviet Union and the Six-Day War, had written his article based on revelations from the Polish government archives, “The Soviet Union military took practical steps to assist Syria in stopping the advance of Israeli troops into Syrian territory toward the end of the war. These steps included a naval landing, airborne reinforcement, and air support for ground operations. Military operations were, however, eventually aborted for fear of American retaliation.” President Johnson responded by putting American forces on standby, ready to respond to the Soviet’s moves.
In today’s climate of near pacifism in the US and the western world, there are no Churchills to be found. There is however one inspiring Churchill-like person and that is the leader of Ukraine – President Volodymyr Zelensky. He alone has stood up to the bullying of Vladimir Putin with the determination of David facing Goliath, and that in spite of the odds facing him. He inspired his people and the world by taking on a nuclear superpower with its enormous military machine and an abundance of natural resources, particularly oil and gas. He alone put into deeds what it means to fight for freedom and human dignity.
While Biden and others filled the airwaves with platitudes, they fear facing the Russian bear. Fortunately for Winston Churchill, he was able to, after Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) enjoy the benefits of the “Arsenal of Democracy,” Zelensky and Ukraine remain alone in fighting an unrestrained aggressor. Sadly, never has America needed a Churchill more in the White House than now. Instead, we have a feeble Chamberlain.
Robert Spencer Responds: What Are the Real Lessons of World War II?
It’s true: we need a Churchill, but we don’t need a world war.
It’s interesting that Joseph Puder begins his article calling for the U.S. to stand up much more firmly to Putin than it is doing now by likening the Russian army’s actions in Ukraine to the German army’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Puder doesn’t mention the fact that many Ukrainians fought tenaciously on the side of the Nazis in that conflict; nor does he mention that fighting in Ukraine now against the Russians is the Azov Battalion, a gang of actual neo-Nazis, not the kind the establishment media sees whenever a guy goes out wearing a MAGA hat. Nor are they some outliers: in 2014, then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called them “our best warriors.”
This is not to say that Russia’s invasion is justified, or that Americans should not support Ukraine’s resistance; it’s only meant to illustrate that sometimes matters are much more complicated than meets the eye, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a quintessential example of that.
Puder is correct that Neville Chamberlain “desperately wanted to avoid war at all costs,” and appeasement failed before World War II and will fail to stop Putin. He is also correct that Putin, like everyone else on the face of the earth, sees Old Joe Biden as “weak and feeble, just as Hitler saw Chamberlain.” According to Puder, Putin “figures that Biden and the Western leaders would scream ‘bloody murder,’ but won’t challenge him militarily, not even using a ‘no-fly zone’ over the Ukrainian civilian population, for fear of entanglement with Russia.” He sees Putin’s statement that this would be considered an act of war as an empty threat: “Putin doesn’t want a nuclear war any more than Biden, Johnson, or Macron. He knows, however, that he is dealing with Chamberlains, not with Churchills.”
It is undoubtedly true that Putin sees Biden as weak. It is less certain that if the U.S. sets up a no-fly zone in Ukraine, the Russians will not see it as a casus belli and start World War III. And as odious as Putin’s actions in Ukraine are, they aren’t our fight. Volodymyr Zelensky, for all his heroism, is tied into the World Economic Forum cabal. Ukraine is a corrupt kleptocracy with still-unexplained ties to the Biden family; it was a Ukrainian energy firm that gave Hunter Biden a high-paying job for which he was completely unqualified, in an obvious case of buying influence. Except for brief periods, Ukraine was part of Russia for a thousand years, until 1991. Putin may go on from Ukraine to menace NATO states, and that could be a legitimate casus belli, but Ukraine is no hill to die on or to start a world war on. It is not actually the United States’ responsibility to solve the problems of all the people in the world, and there will always be tyrants, invasions, and occupations. We can’t fix them all, especially with our woke military spending time on gender theory that it could be spending on learning to fight.
In this connection, it is important to recall that even as the Nazis stormed across Europe in 1939, 1940, and 1941, swiftly conquering Poland, Norway, France, and more, the United States did not enter the war. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted very much to get into the war, but he could not sell to the American people the idea that it was the responsibility of the American people to fight for Poland, Norway, or France. It was much more widely understood then than it is now that the United States of America is not the world’s policeman or repairman, and will only expend its resources fruitlessly when it tries to act as such (see, for example, Iraq and Afghanistan).
Roosevelt didn’t enter the war, in fact, until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States on December 11. It was at that point, and not before then, that World War II became our fight. Roosevelt had given all manner of aid to the British before Pearl Harbor was bombed, and Biden’s handlers, if they have any spine at all, should do the same in this case, but the idea that, as Puder says, “only the unpleasant choice of a credible threat of Military action will make Russia or Iran change its course” runs the risk of provoking a real war, one that could be far more catastrophic than any war the planet has seen up to now.
There is no doubt that Puder is right: America needs a Churchill in the White House. But when Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain, the war in Europe had already been raging for eight months. He didn’t start the war by reckless actions in a conflict that did not involve his country. We need a prudent leader of his type now, one who will know how much is enough and how much is too much in dealing with Putin. As it is, our feckless State Department and dementia-ridden president are foolishly writing checks their woke military can’t cash.
*Joseph Puder Responds: Evil, If Not Stopped, Will Swallow Us All.
If Vladimir Putin wants a global nuclear war, he could choose multiple reasons to serve as a casus belli and wage war. If pressed hard by western sanctions, including the cutting off of his oil and gas revenues, he is as likely to consider it a casus belli, and turn against the NATO allies. Putin, I have no doubt, feels just as intensely about his economic strangulation as he does about a no-fly zone in and around Lviv, to protect the fleeing Ukrainian refugees, should the US and NATO allies consider imposing it.
Robert Spencer is correct about Ukrainian collaboration with the Nazis, and I should add the rabid antisemitism on the part of many Ukrainians during WWII, and even to some extent today. Naturally, there were some Ukrainians who saved Jews as well. My own parents escaped being murdered by Ukrainians during WWII. My mother’s courage and Russian troops nearby saved them from certain death. Modern Ukraine is different, it seeks to be democratic, and share western values, and Volodymyr Zelensky is not Petro Poroshenko. In the late 1930s or 1940s, the thought of a Jewish president in Ukraine would have been impossible. Today, Ukraine looks to the west – not to the east, and it should be embraced.
Spencer isn’t exactly accurate when asserting that “Ukraine was part of Russia for 1,000 years.” In fact, Russia, as we know it today has its roots in Kiev – Ukraine’s capital. The Kievan state existed until the year 1240 when the Mongol hordes crushed it. Actually, Putin has claimed Ukraine for historical and religious (Russian Orthodoxy) reasons. He forgets however that Kiev was the cradle of what we know as Russia. Kiev originated the Cyrillic alphabet and Russian Orthodoxy.
Let’s be clear, I am not advocating a military and possibly a nuclear confrontation with Putin’s Russia; understandably, such a conflict could lead to World War III and an end to life as we know it. We must however understand that Putin is not some crazy monster who is set on incinerating the west, and his Mother Russia. He is though, succeeding in intimidating the west. When he took Crimea and effectively tore the Donbas region out of Ukraine, the Obama administration and its western allies whimpered, and condemned, but did nothing. And when Obama set up a “red line” against the Syrian dictator upon his use of chemical weapons on his people, he pathetically let it slide…President Joe Biden’s responses to foreign aggression is even more pathetic, as we have seen last year in the Afghanistan debacle.
Putin believes that Russia has some justified reasons to fear the expansion of NATO eastward, and at the same time, he seeks to recreate the former Soviet Union. A child of Soviet propaganda, Putin envisions a superpower Russia with all the natural resources of its former republics such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, etc. In a 2014 interview with the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, he (Gorbachev) stated that he thought that the NATO enlargement and incorporation of former Warsaw Pact countries was a “big mistake,” and a “violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made in 1990.”
All of the above notwithstanding, Ukraine held democratic elections, and elected Volodymyr Zelensky as president. The Ukrainian people, moreover, have the right to determine their future, a right Putin does not have. And, if the people of Ukraine choose to join NATO, or the EU, as a sovereign state they have the right to do so.
The real question is where will Putin stop? Will he be satisfied with subjugating Ukraine against the will of most of its people? Poland, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary, all of them border Ukraine; will he push further into these states to punish them for supporting Ukraine? Putin is obviously not deterred by the likes of Joe Biden, Boris Johnson, Emanuel Macron, or Olaf Scholz. He recognizes the near pacifism in the western world, and he is not frightened by western economic sanctions, since they have not hitherto impacted him personally, or for that matter, Russia.
Spencer is correct about FDR wanting to fight Nazi Germany but he could not sell the American people on entering the war to save Poland, France, or other conquered nations. There is a difference however this time around. Article 5 of the NATO charter specifies that the US is committed to fight against any aggression committed against a fellow NATO member. True, Ukraine is not yet a NATO member, and therefore the US has no legal obligation to protect it. But the American people today are far less isolationist than in the 1930s or the period just before Pearl Harbor. Most Americans see it as a moral obligation to defend innocent civilians, and they are aghast by Russia’s naked aggression. I agree with Spencer that “America is not the world’s policeman,” but we must also realize that evil, if not stopped will swallow us all.
While acknowledging Joe Biden's desire for world peace and avoidance of war is understandable, warning Putin with a credible military option against further Russian expansion is essential. At some point, a no-fly zone will become imperative. Sadly, America needs a Churchill in the White House right now. Instead, it seems, we have a Chamberlain.
*Robert Spencer Responds: There's a Fine Line Between Strength and Provocation.
Joseph Puder is certainly correct that if Vladimir Putin wants war with the United States, he could start it now, trumpeting any number of actions by the U.S. and its allies, from expanding NATO ever eastward to arming Ukraine and more, as the reasons why he had no choice but to declare war. It is clear by now that he doesn’t want a world war, which would almost certainly be a nuclear war of unimaginable devastation, any more than Joe Biden and his handlers do. But Puder believes, not without reason, that Biden’s handlers can and should present a much stronger front to Putin, and that doing so would deter the Russian from continuing to pursue his expansionist goals. While strength is always to be preferred to appeasement of a tyrant, however, the current regime of socialist internationalists and spineless dreamers cannot be trusted to know what constitutes a reasonable show of strength and what constitutes an unwarranted provocation.
Take, for example, the expansion of NATO. In his February 24 speech announcing the invasion of Ukraine, Putin said: “In December 2021 we once again made an attempt to agree with the United States and its allies on the principles of ensuring security in Europe and on the non-expansion of NATO. Everything was in vain. The US position did not change. They did not consider it necessary to negotiate with Russia on this important issue for us, continuing to pursue their own goals and disregarding our interests.”
If this is true, it is not hard to imagine Antony Blinken and his team too concerned with making sure the State Department had the right number of racial minorities and proper instruction in Critical Race Theory to concern themselves with Putin’s overtures. They could have and should have known that Russia considers the expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics to be an unacceptable attempt to encircle Russia, as Putin explained in his speech: “I am referring to the expansion of the NATO to the east, moving its military infrastructure closer to Russian borders. It is well known that for 30 years we have persistently and patiently tried to reach an agreement with the leading NATO countries on the principles of equal and inviolable security in Europe. In response to our proposals, we constantly faced either cynical deception and lies or attempts to pressure and blackmail, while NATO, despite all our protests and concerns, continued to steadily expand. The war machine is moving and, I repeat, it is coming close to our borders.”
One doesn’t have to accept Putin’s argument or consider his invasion of Ukraine justified to see that his characterization of Biden’s imperious, elitist State Department is entirely plausible. It is important to point this out now, after the invasion, because the same ham-handed, blinkered, pseudo-intellectual Leftists whose short-sightedness and wrongheadedness let the invasion happen in the first place are still in charge. If a show of strength to Putin can be bungled, they can be counted upon to bungle it.
As for Puder’s claim that it is not accurate to say that “Ukraine was part of Russia for 1,000 years,” he actually demonstrates that it is accurate by noting that “Russia, as we know it today has its roots in Kiev – Ukraine’s capital.” One may quibble over whether Kievan Rus was Russian or Ukrainian, but the telling fact is that it was both and that throughout history the two have been more one people than two. The fact that, as Puder claims I forgot but which was actually the basis of my argument, it is true that “Kiev was the cradle of what we know as Russia,” and that is precisely why Putin believes he has a claim to it. This is not to say that Ukraine should not be independent unless one wishes also to argue that Austria and Germany should be one state, a proposition I am not at all disposed to favor.
Puder says that he is “not advocating a military and possibly a nuclear confrontation with Putin’s Russia,” but the weak and feckless socialist policy wonks who inhabit Biden’s State Department and entire administration have never demonstrated anything comparable to the judiciousness and wisdom of Churchill or anyone else who ever brought a major war to a successful conclusion. Puder is in effect asking that Biden’s gang of arrogant, miseducated children, with no understanding of history, culture, religion, or economics stand up to a canny, unscrupulous, utterly ruthless authoritarian. The consequences of their miscalculation and the hopeless Blinken is certain to miscalculate, would be, as Puder says “World War III and an end to life as we know it.” Putin may not be, as Puder says, “some crazy monster who is set on incinerating the west,” but the foreign policy establishment is a bunch of self-infatuated grad students with no understanding of how the world works; he can and would take advantage of their attempts to draw some “red line” that both he and they would know from the outset was spurious.
Ukraine, meanwhile, is a corrupt kleptocracy that gave Hunter Biden a high-paying job in a field in which he had no experience, in an obvious attempt to curry favor with Joe Biden. It was a phone call with Zelensky that got Trump impeached, in an obvious partisan witch-hunt, the first time. This is not to say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was justified, or that Putin is not a scoundrel, or that the Ukrainians are not noble in resistance, or that Zelensky is not courageous. But once again, this is not our fight, and making it our fight could so easily spiral out of control that it is imperative that we keep a cool head amid all the prevailing war fever. Haven’t we learned the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan yet?
Puder admits that Ukraine is not in NATO and so we have no obligation to defend it, but thinks that we should anyway, for “we must also realize that evil, if not stopped will swallow us all.” Well, yes. But that’s why NATO has members and non-members. We are bound, for better or worse, to defend NATO’s members. If this means that we have an obligation to fight evil anywhere else in the world that it may appear, we might as well bring every country in the world into NATO, so that it is clear that we are obligated to fight for them all and to combat evil wherever and whenever it may break out.
That may be a wonderful sentiment, but it is utterly impracticable. Our resources are not infinite, and our self-serving, corrupt leaders are already pouring out our substance for all manner of boondoggles that benefit the American people not a whit. At some point, the gravy train is going to run out. What we really need is a strong America-First president, who would have made clear to Putin from the outset that his adventurism would have terrible consequences, and who would have always acted in the best interests of the American people. If only there were someone on the scene like that.