What is the price of democracy? I assure you that it is not paying $4.99 a gallon for gas at American pumps. It is not even the billions of dollars of weapons and support we are sending to Ukraine. The true cost today is being paid by the people of Ukraine, and in many cases the price they pay is either death or exile.
But Putin’s war in Ukraine is not only about subduing Ukraine. I think his ultimate goal (in cahoots with China) is to spread authoritarian jingoism across the globe and make it the world’s dominate form of national leadership. Sadly, all you need to do is listen to the voices on FOX and to statements from the Republican congressional caucuses to understand that his goals are embraced by pockets of American opinion makers.
Ukrainians As Proxies for the Free World
The Ukrainians, in a sense, are proxies for America, NATO and the democratic way of life. They are fighting against huge odds, not just for the preservation of their country, but for the entire free world. While we are paying more for gas, they are filling glass bottles with flammable liquids to combat the sophisticated Russian war machine.
President Biden quickly saw the danger in Russia’s strategy and he moved to action. He has done a masterful job of mobilizing NATO members around a common purpose, and has at least partly repaired America’s Trump-induced breach with our allies. Following America’s leadership, Germany doubled its military budget and agreed to export weapons to Ukraine. Biden has been open and honest with us and with the world, explaining clearly the threats we face and the consequences we will pay if we do not respond.
Losing a Battle, Winning a War
The Ukrainians may eventually be defeated in their battle against superior numbers and Russia’s willingness to commit unspeakable atrocities. But I believe they will eventually win the war. Ukrainians love their country, they love their democratic freedoms, and they have unity of purpose. I suspect they will continue the fight until they prevail.
This is a great gift the people and leaders of Ukraine are giving to the world: an understanding that democracy is not free, that it is worth fighting for, and that to preserve it people must unite around a common goal and be willing to pay a high price. The Ukrainian path of unity amidst the chaos is our model.
A Tangential Thought
A dominant theme in the the high-level discussions about sanctions is European dependence on Russian oil. While the potential of losing a primary source of fuel is certainly an immediate concern, I suggest that it is not the main issue. The problem is not an overreliance on Russian oil, it is an overreliance on oil and other fossil fuels. Our dependence on fossil fuels is creating an “end-of-the-world-as- we-know-it” dilemma: a level of climate change that alters every aspect of our existence.
We need to understand that this fight against climate change is not going to be won by a single package of easy solutions. It will not be won by one nation fighting on its own. It will not be won without a willingness to make sacrifices. What is needed is not more rhetoric. It is action.
Any plan to get from where we are to where we need to be will require a period of transition, and this can be a sticking point for both the political right and the left. It will, for instance, require a complete elimination of coal as an energy source; a commitment to phasing out gasoline-powered cars; working toward a preponderance of renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydro; and a recognition that there will be a transition in which natural gas and nuclear energy will be needed to bridge the gap. If we do not take up this battle with a serious commitment to winning our freedom from fossil fuels, our grandchildren’s children and their counterparts around the world will pay a terrible price. A final but crucial point: the younger generations (under 50) will be the most affected by climate change repercussions. Their voices must be heard and heeded in the process.
Let There Be No Doubt
The fight for democracy in Ukraine is a fight that must be won or democracy will suffer a tremendous loss around the world, a loss that might not be recoverable. Likewise, the fight for a livable planet is a fight that must be won or the world will suffer a level of destruction that cannot be repaired by human efforts. Both will take focused commitments, a unity of purpose, and a willingness to pay the price at the pump.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.