The eyes of the world are on Ukraine – 06/06/2023 – Paul Krugman

Seventy-nine years ago, Allied paratroopers began landing behind the beaches of Normandy.

The Second World War was a long time ago, but it still lives in the memory of the United States. And the anniversary of D-Day on Tuesday seems especially evocative this year, as we await the moral equivalent of D-Day, arriving any time Ukraine begins its long-awaited counter-attack on the Russian invaders (which may already started).

I use the term “moral equivalent” deliberately. World War II was one of the few wars that was clearly a struggle between good and evil.

However, the “good guys” were by no means all good. Americans were still denied basic rights and occasionally massacred because of the color of their skin. Britain still ruled, sometimes brutally, a vast colonial empire.

If great democracies often failed to live up to their ideals, however, they had the right ideals; defended, however imperfectly, freedom against the forces of tyranny, racial supremacy, and mass murder.

If Ukraine wins this war, some of its supporters abroad will no doubt be disillusioned to discover the country’s darker side. Before the war, Ukraine ranked high on measures of perceived corruption — better than Russia, but that’s not saying much. Victory will not end corruption.

And Ukraine has a far-right movement, including paramilitary groups that participated in its war. The country suffered terribly under Stalin, with millions dying of deliberately planned starvation; for this reason, some Ukrainians initially welcomed the Germans during World War II (until they realized that they, too, were considered subhuman), and Nazi iconography is still disturbingly pervasive.

However, much like the Allied failures in World War II, these shadows create no equivalence between the two sides in this war. Ukraine is an imperfect but real democracy that hopes to join the wider democratic community. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a malevolent actor, and friends of freedom everywhere must expect it to be utterly defeated.

I wish I could say that citizens of Western democracies, in particular the US, are fully committed to Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat. In reality, while the majority of Americans support aid to Ukraine, only a minority are willing to keep it going for as long as necessary. US public opinion on aid to Ukraine today looks remarkably similar to polls from early 1941 (that is, well before Pearl Harbor) on the loan-lease program of military aid to Britain.

What about those who are opposed to helping Ukraine?

Some of those who are against Western aid simply do not see the moral equivalence with World War II. On the left, in particular, there are people for whom it’s always 2003. They remember how the US was lured into war on false pretenses – which, for the record, I realized was happening and was vehemently opposed at the time – and not can see that this situation is different.

On the right, on the other hand, many of those opposed to helping Ukraine — a kind of Tucker Carlson faction — understand what this war is about. And they are on the side of the bad guys. The “Putin wing” of the Republican Party has long admired Russia’s authoritarian rule and intolerance. Before the war, Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz compared what they saw as Russian toughness with the “benevolent and emasculated” US military; Russia’s military failures threaten these people’s entire worldview, and they would be humiliated by a Ukrainian victory.

The point is that the stakes in Ukraine are now very high. If the Ukrainian counteroffensive succeeds, the forces of democracy will be strengthened all over the world, especially in the United States. If it fails, it will be a disaster not just for Ukraine, but for the world. Western aid to Ukraine may run out, Putin may finally achieve the victory most people expected him to have in the early days of the war, and democracy will be undermined everywhere.

What will happen? Even military experts don’t know, and I’m under no illusions that I’m an expert. In my eyes, Western officials seem increasingly positive about Ukraine’s chances. And military matters are not like economics, where, say, the Federal Reserve works with basically the same information available to anyone who knows how to use the St. Louis Fed’s economic research site. Louis. Defense officials have access to information that the public doesn’t, and they don’t want to end up looking like fools, so their optimism is probably not empty bravado.

Still, it doesn’t take a military expert to know that attacking fortified defenses – which is what Ukraine needs to do – is very difficult.

On the eve of D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower told the expeditionary force, “The eyes of the world are on you.” Now the eyes of the world are on Ukraine’s armed forces. Let’s hope they succeed.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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