A BAD PEACE
Tacitus wrote that "a bad peace is worse than war," something that should be guiding US policy as regards the Ukrainian conflict. While I hate war as much as the next person, and understand the reason behind President Biden's limited response to the Russian aggression, that thinking is especially short sighted.
President Zelensky has not asked for boots on the ground but rather a no fly zone. While that does entail risks of enlarging the war, disregarding the Ukraine's pleas could be far worse. Consider the following five reasons.
1. Would this have happened if the Ukraine possessed nuclear weapons? I think we all know the answer to that rhetorical question. After the 1991 breakup of the USSR, a large number of nukes was under Ukrainian control, enough such that today they'd be the third largest nuclear power (yes, ahead of China). Ukraine agreed to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it destroyed its nuclear stockpile in exchange for a guaranty of its territorial integrity. Read the treaty, formally known as the Budapest Memorandum, signed in 1994. It's fairly short. Aside from Ukraine, the signatories were the Russian Federation, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the United States. So, the first reason for abiding the request for a no fly zone is that we gave our word.
2. Most people I know expect Ukraine to eventually fall, but once Putin is gone (he is 69, after all) and Ukrainians continue to resist a la Afghanistan, Ukraine will some day emerge independent. At that time, do you doubt their first priority would be to develop nuclear capability to prevent what is happening today?
3. If the superpowers today demonstrate their word is not good, and limiting nuclear possession is in the global good, can anyone be confident that other nations will agree to Non-Proliferation when the superpowers prove their word is not their bond? Consider this encompasses such relatively unstable regimes we are trying to entice to lay down nuclear arms as Korea and unstable regions where it can be further developed such as the Middle East, not to mention the Pakistanis and Taiwanese. Think our response to Ukraine will improve our leverage to entice others to abjure nuclear capabilities? How safe is a world with an expanding number of nuclear powers?
4. Putin has expanded this from a military conflict to civilian slaughter. Why did the US engage militarily in numerous instances where innocent life was at stake (e.g., Grenada, Bosnia, the first Gulf War, etc.) but now stands down? Inconsistency invites instability among nations.
5. Demonstrating pathological fear of being sucked into the war because "Putin is insane and might do anything" merely serves to embolden him to attack other areas after Ukraine. See Hitler, circa 1939.
Yes, a very moderate response limited to sanctions and weapon supplies is likely to prevent US engagement in a wider war today. Will it have the same effect tomorrow?