This opinion has been updated.
All the while … A growing group of Longboat residents frets over the lack of pickleball courts … St. Armands Key residents worry about a carousel possibly coming to St. Armand Circle Park … Sarasotans wrestle with regulating the trees they can cut down and must plant on property they own … Florida’s LGBTQ citizens protest over proposed legislation that would require public schools to notify parents of certain behaviors … and Congress works (if you want to call it that) part time to destroy the value of your money …
Much of the United States and the world, as this was being composed, was wondering what President Joe Biden would say and do to help Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and stop Vladimir Putin.
Frankly, Americans’ expectations had to be about an inch off the ground that Biden would say or do anything that makes a difference. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote about Biden in Gates’ 2014 memoir: Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
So far, Biden has kept his Loser streak firmly intact. There was and is no reason to expect anything else.
Of course, no one knows how this attack on Ukraine and its people ultimately will turn out. With 20-20 hindsight, we all know much more could have been done to stop Putin’s invasion. To be sure, NATO countries could have been far more effective deterring Putin’s assault.
And, as always, the debates went on about whether and to what extent the United States should have been and should be involved. Ukraine, after all, is just another Eastern European throwback rife with government corruption.
But as we witness the death and destruction in Ukraine and watch how the world responds, Putin’s ruthless invasion brings into focus two concepts: the Rule of One and Ronald Reagan’s mantra of “Peace through Strength.”
The rule of one
Why should we care about Ukraine?
Does that country really matter to us in the United States?
One answer is economist Arthur Laffer’s Rule of One.
The Rule of One in Laffer economics is this: When, say, Congress, a state legislature or a city council wants to adopt legislation affecting taxation or granting an industry or a group special privileges, Laffer says the question to be asked is whether the law would be fair if you imposed it on one person – say, your nextdoor neighbor.
For instance, say your community wants to tax its citizens to build a baseball stadium for a Major League Baseball team. In the Rule of One, Laffer would put it this way: You want to build a baseball stadium for yourself, and you want to tax your nextdoor neighbor to help subsidize your dream. Would you do that? Would your neighbor go along? Most likely, emphatically no.
Now apply the Rule of One to Ukraine, albeit a bit differently.
Say a bully, unprovoked but for the sake of being a jerk, is threatening the use of force to maim your friend and damage his home. Say your friend lives two blocks away. He asks you for help. Would you do nothing?
Of course not. Even though the conflict between the mob and your friend is not your fight, most likely you would take action with your friend to thwart the thug.
We know people argue that Ukraine is not our friend. Its government is corrupt. But the vast majority of its 40 million people are innocents who don’t deserve to be harmed, die or live against their will as the slaves and sacrificial animals of a ruthless, killer dictator.
But that is what the outcome will be regardless of whether Putin takes some or all of Ukraine. He doesn’t care about people’s individual rights. You can be sure he has more conquests in his ambitions.
Will sanctions stop him?
No. They won’t hurt Putin. Biden and others say the sanctions will cripple Russia’s economy. But what they should say is the economic sanctions will hurt only the average individual Russian people the most. When they go without money and food, some will starve and some will protest. But Putin still has the guns and power. He will crush the protesters, too.
You can see where this can go: a long time with a lot of suffering throughout the world, all because of one bully’s ambitions.
Back to the Rule of One. If a bully threatens you, what do you do? You crush the bully.
Peace through strength
Now that we have seen war break out, you can see the benefits of peace through strength.
If you don’t have the strength, if you don’t have the more-powerful weaponry, and if you don’t have that power in tip-top shape, ready to be deployed, you won’t stop the bullies, tyrants and aggressors.
Surely that will be one of the messages U.S. military leaders are likely to be reminding their troops as the Ukraine invasion and its aftermath unfolds. And it’s likely the same message they will try to drive into the inferior noggins on Capitol Hill. It’s a message Congress should take to heart.
That message is frighteningly explicit and clear.
Three weeks ago, Thomas Modly, former acting secretary and undersecretary of the Navy and now a resident of Sarasota, spoke to the members of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. The content of his remarks would have left you queasily fearful and blood-thumpingly angry.
Fearful because the facts he presented painted a picture of a U.S. military that is neither the dominant military we thought we had; in fact, China easily has far more sea power than we do. Nor do we have the capability to scale up quickly in time of need; in fact, procuring parts to build and keep our military ready is increasingly difficult.
It makes you angry when you hear and read how Congress and our current president have punted the policy of Peace through Strength in favor of the bogus claim of calamitous climate change, shutting oil exploration in favor of buying oil from Russia, and transgender policies in the military.
When Modly showed his audience the grim realities, he used data from the 2018 report: “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States.”
Wow. Talk about a scary book.
This 146-page report to then-President Donald Trump spelled out major forces that are weakening the United States’ industrial base and military readiness, including lower defense appropriations from Congress; antiquated and bureaucracy-laden procurement practices that delay contracting, discourage innovation and increase costs; declines in manufacturing employment because of disappearing manufacturers and a social demographic that avoids such jobs; and the rise of China.
The report spells out explicit warnings — with the decibels of cannon fire — that China wants to make sure the United States, or anyone else, cannot stop it from whatever it wants. Consider a few excerpts about China:
- “Machine tools are power-driven machines used to shape or form parts made of metal, plastic, or composites to support both production and prototyping operations. Critical to creating modern defense and non-defense products, machine tools impact the entire supply chain and multiple sectors. The U.S. once led the world in the innovation and capacity of its high-end machine tools sector, but U.S. standing has dropped significantly since 2000.
- “In 2015, China’s global machine tool production skyrocketed to $24.7 billion, accounting for 28% of global production, while the U.S. accounted for only $4.6 billion, after China, Japan, Germany, Italy and South Korea.”
- “China’s capture of foreign technologies and intellectual property, particularly the systematic theft of U.S. weapons systems and the illicit and forced transfer of dual-use technology, has eroded the military balance between the U.S. and China. Such transfers aid China’s efforts to gain a qualitative technological advantage over the U.S. across key domains, including naval, air, space and cyber.”
Finally, take a look at the total number of ships and planes that we and China have in the Pacific — just the Pacific. When Modly was acting secretary and then former acting secretary of the Navy, he hounded the Trump Administration about its commitment to building the Navy fleet that is needed. For years, administrations and Congresses have talked about expanding the Navy’s 245-ship fleet to 355 ships and eventually to 500.
That has been nothing but talk.
Perhaps Ukraine can bring an end to the talk and real action.
Despite the alarm bells, sad to say, don’t count on it.