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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

The eyes of the world are upon Ukraine

By Paul Krugman

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

World War II was a long time ago, but it still lives on in America’s memory. And the anniversary of D-Day, on Tuesday, seems especially evocative this year, as we await the moral equivalent of D-Day, coming any day now when Ukraine begins its long-awaited counterattack against Russian invaders (which may have already started).

I use the term “moral equivalent” advisedly. World War II was one of the few wars that was clearly a fight of good against evil.

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

But if the great democracies all too often failed to live up to their ideals, they nonetheless had the right ideals; they stood, however imperfectly, for 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 nation’s darker side. Before the war, Ukraine ranked high on measures of perceived corruption — better than Russia, but that’s not saying much. Victory won’t make the corruption go away.

And Ukraine does have a far-right movement, including paramilitary groups that have played a part in its war. The country suffered terribly under Stalin, with millions dying in a deliberately engineered famine; as a result, 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 widespread.

Yet like the flaws of the Allies in World War II, these shadows don’t create any equivalence between the two sides in this war. Ukraine is an imperfect but real democracy, hoping to join the larger democratic community. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a malevolent actor, and friends of freedom everywhere have to hope that it will be thoroughly defeated.

I wish I could say that the citizens of Western democracies, America in particular, were fully committed to Ukrainian victory and Russian defeat. In reality, while most Americans support aid to Ukraine, only a minority are willing to sustain that aid for as long as it takes. For what it’s worth, U.S. public opinion on aid to Ukraine right now looks remarkably similar to polls from early 1941 (that is, well before Pearl Harbor) on the lend-lease program of military aid to Britain.

What about those who oppose helping Ukraine at all?

Some of those who oppose Western aid just don’t see the moral equivalence with World War II. On the left, in particular, there are some people for whom it’s always 2003. They remember how America was taken to war on false pretenses — which, for the record, I realized was happening and vociferously opposed at the time — and can’t see that this situation is different.

On the right, by contrast, many of those who oppose helping Ukraine — call it the Tucker Carlson faction — do understand what this war is about. And they’re on the side of the bad guys. The “Putin wing” of the GOP has long admired Russia’s authoritarian regime and its intolerance. Before the war, Republicans such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz contrasted what they perceived as Russian toughness with the “woke, emasculated” U.S. military; Russia’s military failures threaten such people’s whole worldview, and they would be humiliated by a Ukrainian victory.

The point is that the stakes in Ukraine right now are very high. If Ukraine’s counteroffensive succeeds, the forces of democracy will be strengthened around the world, not least in America. If it fails, it will be a disaster not just for Ukraine but for the world. Western aid to Ukraine may dry up, Putin may finally achieve the victory most people expected him to win in the war’s first few days, and democracy will be weakened everywhere.

What’s going to happen? Even military experts don’t know, and I have no delusions of being such an expert myself. For what it’s worth, Western officials are sounding increasingly positive about Ukraine’s chances. And military affairs aren’t like economics, where, say, the Federal Reserve basically works off the same information available to anyone who knows their way around the St. Louis Fed’s economic research website. Defense officials have access to intelligence the public doesn’t, and they don’t want to end up looking foolish, so their optimism probably isn’t empty bravado.

Still, you don’t have to be a military expert to know that attacking fortified defenses — which is what Ukraine must do — is very difficult.

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

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