(Ben Green) #1

26 Time December 2–9, 2019

It’s in understanding the gravity of the
harm that Americans can begin to answer the
question, “Why now?” Even if Trump did do
something wrong, why impeach him during
an election year? Why seek to remove him
the very year when voters can render their
own judgment on his candidacy?
The answer is short—because Trump’s
corruption could have had profound strate-
gic consequences—but the explanation is a
bit longer, and it requires the assistance of a
timely report on Russian military capabilities
from the RAND Corporation.
The report is clear. Many Americans are
aware of Russia’s capabilities in cyberwarfare
and disinformation operations, but they’re
largely unaware of advances in its conven-
tional military capabilities. Russia has ac-
complished two things of real importance
in the past decade or so of military modern-
ization. First, it
has substantially
modernized and
its force. Second,
it has optimized
it for operations
that are designed
to place NATO,
our most vital in-
ternational alli-
ance, in perhaps
an impossible mili-
tary, strategic and
political bind.
Russia’s military
progress has been on public display in two
vital world regions: the Middle East (where
it has proved remarkably effective at defeat-
ing the Syrian regime’s internal enemies) and,
crucially, in Ukraine. In the RAND report’s
words, when Russian forces invaded Crimea
in 2014, “few were surprised by the annexa-
tion,” but “many were surprised by the per-
formance of the Russian armed forces.”
Indeed, they’ve also “made Western mili-
taries pay increasing attention to the threat
that the Russian military would pose in
any future conflict in Eastern Europe.” The
RAND report assesses that “Russian ground
forces have local dominance along its Euro-
pean and Central Asian borders.” In many
ways, Ukraine is a testing ground for the kind
of fight that could ultimately break NATO.
Brian Nichiporuk, one of the report’s co-
authors, raised the specter of what he called
a “smash and grab” operation—where Rus-
sia launches a rapid invasion of, say, Estonia,

immediately incorporates the invaded nation
into its formidable defense perimeter, and
presents the invasion to the world as a virtual
“fait accompli.”
Would the U.S. commit its forces to a
brutal, bloody battle to liberate its NATO
ally? Or would the likelihood of serious
casualties—combined with the difficulty of
the operation—cause the public to demand
that America abandon Estonia to its fate?
If so, could the NATO alliance survive
intact after Russia demonstrated that the
combination of its might and will could make
a superpower yield?

These sound like esoTeric, theoretical
questions—far removed from the daily lives of
the American public. But these are exactly the
kinds of strategic questions that Presidents
and their advisers should ponder. Here’s one
way to phrase those
interests — an ef-
fective Ukrainian
defense against
Russian aggression
raises the cost of
that aggression and
(crucially) raises
the perceived
cost of future
Ukraine needed
lethal military aid,
and Congress ap-
propriated money
to fund that aid.
Now we know that there was a dissenter—
the President of the United States. And he
dissented not because he’d made a careful
(though contentious) assessment of America’s
best strategic interests, but rather because he
was nursing various domestic American po-
litical grudges against the Bidens driven by
unfounded conspiracy theories.
We need Commanders in Chief who are
strategic in their thinking and motivated by
the American national interest.
Trump, by contrast, is ignorant, impulsive,
vulnerable to conspiracy theories, and
motivated by his own personal grievances
and grudges.
Eight months ago, I argued that an elec-
tion, not an impeachment, was the way to
hold President Trump accountable for his
misdeeds. The Ukraine scandal changes the
calculus. It demonstrates that the President
will inject his vices even into the most conse-
quential decisions. •

Armed men believed to be Russian military during the
annexation of Crimea in 2014

TheView Opener



▶ Highlights
from stories on

Scourge of

Former NFL defensive
tackle Brandon Noble
kept playing for years
despite injuries,
including one that
should have ended his
career. “What finally
took me down?”
he writes in a call
for more- powerful
antibiotics. “A tiny
bug I had never heard
of and couldn’t see.”

State of

Though Michael Frank,
author of What Is
Missing, had heard
stories from others
who had struggled with
infertility, he wasn’t
prepared for the agony
he and his wife would
go through. “It’s not
just your body you
hand over to complete
strangers but your
mind too,” he writes.


Abraham Lincoln spoke
of “four score and
seven years ago” in the
Gettysburg Address, a
reference to the date
of the Declaration
of Independence’s
signing. But he
honored ideals much
older than that, writes
Richard Brookhiser,
author of Give Me
Liberty: A History of
America’s Exceptional
Idea. “Americans
began striving for
liberty before the
United States was
a country.”


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