Our president gave away the store last week. He just came right out and stated, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power." He was, of course, referring to President Vladimir Putin. He has called Putin a "war criminal" and "butcher," but he's escalated by urging regime change, just as other U.S. presidents urged -- and achieved -- regime change in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011.
A White House official quickly explained that Biden was "not discussing Putin's power in Russia or regime change." That's like pointing to black and insisting it's white. It was left to Russia's Dmitry Peskov to tell reporters "it's not up to the U.S. president and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia."
What explains this war? If America's only answers are "Putin" or "Russia," then we're doomed to face more wars. Putin's irrational, immoral and destructive attack was the immediate cause, but we must understand that Ukraine's tragedy had its roots in historical Russian fears of the West, in Western fears of Russia, and in the world's short-sighted handling of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Unable to put ourselves in the shoes of our presumed enemies, the world remained separated into West and East. George Kennan, an architect of U.S. Cold War strategy, called NATO's eastward expansion "the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold-War era." At some point, that expansion was destined to collide with Russian fears.
We properly point at Russia for targeting civilians and for about 7,000 civilian deaths during the first 35 days, according to the Urkainian government, or, to quote another source, about 1,400 civilian deaths during the first 37 days, according to the United Nations. However, it would be wise to also note that the U.S. invasion of Iraq killed 7,000 civilians during its first 35 days, and 185,000 civilians during 2003 through 2011. During the Vietnam war, America killed an estimated 5,500 South Vietnamese civilians, 30,000 North Vietnamese civilians, and 30,000 Cambodian civilians.
It was worse during World War II. U.S. firebomb raids burned down most Japanese cities, cities that were obviously filled with civilians. Incendiary bombs are ineffective against military facilities but perfect for burning down Japan's wooden houses. During one particular night, more than 100,000 civilians were killed and over a million left homeless in Tokyo. It was one of the most destructive acts of war in history, more destructive than the Western bombing of Dresden, or our atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why? To destroy the enemy nation's morale, just as Hitler tried to do during the London blitz and Putin tries to do in Mariupol.
If we cannot learn to point an accusatory finger at ourselves, humankind will never tame its urge toward militarization and mutual suicide.
Despite all the talk, the West has not ever listened to Russia's primary demand. Putin is consistent in his main concern: Russia's security. America has blown that off as a ruse to justify aggression. But Russia, surrounded by a western nuclear-armed military alliance with anti-Russian roots, has plenty of reason for this. If we desired peace, we would assuredly want to discuss our opponent's primary demand. Yet the West has repeatedly rejected any discussion of Russian security as a "non-starter." Putin is clearly concerned about NATO extending its influence to all of Russia's neighbors. Wouldn't we be alarmed if the tables were turned and a Russian-led alliance surrounded America? In fact, we nearly launched nuclear war over the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky can probably end this war by agreeing to cede Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk to Russia and, most importantly, pledging not to join NATO. This would be far preferable to continued Ukrainian suffering and the present global peril.
Every day that peaceful agreement escapes us, the world escalates toward nuclear war. "Battlefield" nuclear weapons would be used first. The B-61 is a fusion bomb (H-bomb) triggered by x-rays from a fission bomb (A-bomb) that heats hydrogen to fusion temperatures. It has a variable energy release that can be pre-set at as little as 0.3 kilotons (300 tons) of TNT-equivalent up to 340 kilotons. For comparison, the Hiroshima bomb released 15 kilotons.
Once nuclear weapons are used, all bets are off. Russia and America each have about 6,000 "strategic" nuclear weapons. U.S. weapons can be launched upon orders of one person: the president. The U.S. reserves the right to use strategic nuclear weapons first, even though the other side has not yet launched. The blast, fallout, and nuclear winter could destroy civilization. For a sobering Ted Talk, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7hOpT0lPGI.