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There is a lot going on in the country, in the world. And when there’s a lot going on, it’s the perfect time to think and analyze and ask questions starting with ourselves. The answers, I think, will eventually come — or partial answers will eventually come — if we do spend enough time reflecting and analyzing and posing the right questions to those in positions of power and also to ourselves.
So, we’ll start with what’s been on my mind, which is that Russia invaded a sovereign neighboring country, and civilians are being killed. Russian and Ukrainian civilians are bearing the cost of wars waged by a Russian despot, which should lead us to wonder why there has been any equivocation by some in this country on the nature and intentions of Vladimir Putin.
Some in the media and in positions of power seem frankly enamored with Putin. Looking at the images of dead Ukrainian children should settle the question of who Putin is once and for all. It’s not something I’ve wondered about, but it is apparently something that others have wondered about. And it does beg the question of what some people are drawn to.
Some people seem drawn to wealth; some people seem drawn to power. Some people seem drawn to influence. But I think there are more people who are drawn to justice and fairness, and I think that’s why you see such widespread condemnation for what Russia is doing. Countries not always known for their toughness are sending weapons to Ukraine. Countries in the past known for their neutrality are abandoning their neutrality. There are countries imposing serious and meaningful sanctions on Russia. The world finally seems to have found something that it can unite in condemnation of, and that is the reckless use of power for the sake of aggression.
The U.S. is still, for now, the most powerful country on Earth, and there is still a broad streak of justice that runs through this country. So when a nation is powerful and it is just, it should lead. I don’t know the full panoply of sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Russia. I wouldn’t know; I couldn’t know. But it’s fair to ask were they tough enough and were they timely enough and were they intended to deter or punish. And is there a meaningful distinction between deterrence and punishment?
We hear people talk about deterrence and punishment as if they’re apples and airplanes, like they’re two entirely different things, and I think they’re more closely aligned. The purpose is to correct behavior, either beforehand, during, or afterward. And between the three, we should want to correct the bad behavior as soon as possible, like before the children are killed before the country is ruined by an invading force. We would want to get tougher sooner. Right?
Looking at the images of dead Ukrainian children should settle the question of who Putin is once and for a
And when you see the tanks massing at the border, when you see war games in a neighboring country like Belarus, why not start the process of punishment then? One of the limitations of our own criminal justice system is that it is necessarily reactive. Someone does something wrong, and we react — we investigate, we arrest. We indict, we prosecute. We sentence. But if you ask most of us, we would like to have avoided the crime altogether.
So how do we act in time before the wrong has been committed? Punishment does not just belong to government — we can do it, too. So, for those in the media and in government who complimented Putin, who wondered why we would side with a democracy like Ukraine rather than a despot who poisons and kills his political opponents, what will be the consequences? What will be our form of punishment for those who provided verbal air cover for a man who waged war on a weaker neighbor while some in this country talked about oil and gas and a desire to be friends with an immoral bully?
So while we’re reflecting this week, you know, could the war in Ukraine have been avoided? How, when, and by whom? What lessons have we learned — or learned again — to deter, prevent and punish those who want to wage the next war on a weaker nation simply because they can? I mean, I heard Republican senators who aspire to the presidency wonder why we just don’t agree to keep NATO where it is — appease Putin, placate Putin, reassure Putin.
All of those things you maybe can do with reasonable, practical, cogent, clear-minded people, maybe. But it’s hard to appease those who sanction the killing of children simply to satisfy their own ego. We don’t call those people geniuses. We call those people madmen.
This article is adapted from Trey Gowdy’s commentary on the March 1, 2022, edition of “The Trey Gowdy Podcast.”