Monday, May 29, 2023|
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy used timeless values and modern media in his virtual speech to Congress last Wednesday. Both were effective. But the most compelling component of his presentation was the president himself — a true wartime leader who is willing to marshal, and possibly die for, his country.
Zelenskyy knows not only Ukraine’s history but America’s as well. Evoking Pearl Harbor and 9/11 — “our country experiences the same things every day right now” — he appealed to America’s identity as an indispensable nation. And just in case anyone, including President Joe Biden, needed a reminder, Zelenskyy spoke directly to the U.S. president when he said, “I see you as the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”
In this case, peace doesn’t mean pacifism. It means self-defense, and Biden and Congress deserve and received credit from Zelenskyy for the military and diplomatic support Biden has been instrumental in generating from European and Pacific allies.
The severe sanctions have real teeth, and Zelenskyy asked for the bite to go deeper, including sanctioning Russian politicians and asking U.S. companies to immediately leave a Russian market that is “flooded with our blood.”
But Ukraine needs even more, Zelenskyy said, making his case by showing a visceral video depicting scenes of pre-invasion Ukraine dissolving into raw images of the effects of Russia’s invasion. The video included unflinching footage of blown-up buildings, mass graves, bloody casualties and, most emotively, children — dead, wounded or inconsolable as their families split up and their fathers went to war.
To stop the senseless carnage, Zelenskyy asked for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Biden and other NATO leaders have wisely held back, not wanting to put U.S. and allied forces in direct conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia, potentially leading to a global catastrophe.
Reflecting that reaction, Zelenskyy said: “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative.” He proceeded to prod the U.S. to provide a specific surface-to-air missile system, as well as aircraft Ukrainians can use to “protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe. And you know they exist, and you have them, but they are here on earth, not in Ukraine — in the Ukrainian sky. They do not defend our people.”
Since a NATO-enforced no-fly zone is deemed too risky, providing aircraft is a reasonable request, and it’s likely that on a bipartisan basis Congress will push for it. Despite Biden’s continuing to provide military assistance to Ukraine — including the additional $800 million he signed off on just hours after Zelenskyy’s speech — he will face congressional pressure to do more.
“Right now, the destiny of our country is being decided, the destiny of our people, whether Ukrainians will be free, whether they will be able to preserve their democracy,” Zelenskyy said to rapt Republicans and Democrats alike.
The passionate address, including the conclusion in English, met the moment.
Now America must do the same.
— Star Tribune
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