Opinions – In the 1942 Hollywood classic Casablanca, Ingrid Bergman famously plays the character of Elsa Lund, “Play it, Sam.” Less than a year later, the Casablanca Conference was held at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca. Many Allied leaders were present, including US President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
The purpose of the conference was to discuss the strategy of Allied warfare, but it is most famously remembered for its declaration of “unconditional surrender”, a doctrine that reflects the unity, will, confidence and determination of the Allies. The battle was not certain to be won by the Allies. The Battle of Stalingrad was as tumultuous as the Battle of the Pacific Ocean. The war in the Atlantic was not over, and much of Europe was still occupied by Nazi Germany.
Yet the Casablanca conference was a bold meeting with a declaration that reflected the understanding of those leaders that the world was at the point of a historic change and that an unequivocal message needed to be sent to the Axis powers.
We are at a similar turning point in history, but there is still no world at war.
On March 24, leaders of NATO member states will meet in Brussels to discuss Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Biden is then scheduled to attend a European Union summit to discuss further sanctions against Russia and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. This is admirable, but misses the opportunity to send a decisive message like the one sent to Casablanca in 1943.
Putin has launched a victory war against a small neutral neighbor. Images of that attack terrified the civilized world, such as the refugee and displaced person crisis. About three million Ukrainians have fled the country and perhaps a large number have been internally displaced.
Putin’s collaborator, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – often referred to as Europe’s last dictator – has allowed Belarus to be used as a platform from which Putin launched the offensive and continues to be a primary support base for the invading forces.
The war is not going well.
Many observers believe that an effective stalemate has been reached where Putin no longer has the military to win Ukraine or achieve his pre-war goals. Conservative estimates of Russian casualties suggest more US casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and more casualties than Soviet losses in the 10 years since their invasion of Afghanistan. The Ukrainians fought with skill and determination, but the terrible math of war was against them.
This conflict will not be resolved through any negotiations. Negotiations are the preferred solution in the West, but the reality of Putin’s misfortune precludes a negotiated solution to Putin’s unconditional surrender. Several attempts to negotiate a limited ceasefire to allow the evacuation of civilians from the city have failed. The recent vote in Ukraine shows incredible determination to support their president and commander-in-chief (91%), who they believe can defeat the Russians (70%) and who do not support recognizing the separatist Donbass region or Crimea. In Russia (79%).
Perhaps the West will continue to provide Ukraine with effective anti-armor and anti-aircraft systems that will, of course, thwart future Russian efforts to increase its regional gains. The effectiveness of these weapons and the efficiency of the Ukrainian guards forced them to dig in the ground to stop the Russian advance on Kiev and to protect their armored forces.
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So where does the military stalemate leave us? Apparently Putin has the conviction to evaluate Russia’s victory and the shamelessness of the West, the answer to the question may be the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical weapons, which Putin acknowledged for use by his surrogate in Syria, Bashir al-Assad.
Chemical weapons are particularly effective in urban warfare, as Russian forces now face various cities in Ukraine. As the President of Ukraine Zelensky said, if you want to know what the Russians want to do, look at what they are accusing others of.
The Russians are blaming the United States and Ukraine for developing and preparing chemical and biological weapons. Given the accuracy of U.S. intelligence, both before and during this nearly month-long conflict, it may be significant that a growing number of U.S. officials – who have access to this intelligence – are warning about Russia’s plans to use chemical weapons. In a world where the risk of this conflict is increasing it should be a warning sign of a flashing red light.
Any use of WMD in Ukraine should be the basis for a broad international coalition intervention; NATO, Japan, Australia, New Zealand come to mind immediately and much more from the international community.
Immediately a “no-fly zone” and a safe haven in western Ukraine should be declared. As well as the declaration of unconditional surrender of the twenty-first century. Cable of Vladimir Putin and the Russian leaders who waged this war are war criminals and need to face their trial. All that is lacking is deceit and contentment.
Thursday’s NATO meeting should be an opportunity to mark a Casablanca summit that sends a message to Putin and all his men around the world, hiding under their rocks. They should say that the free world will no longer ignore, rationalize or please them. Leaders from North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and even China will hear the message the West sends to Putin.
An awakened and determined free world like Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito is a powerful force in the twentieth century. For the past twenty or more years, Putin has been relentlessly rebuilding Stalinism in Russia. Let us give him a chance to witness the fall of that system for the second time in his life. A Casablanca moment in the West and the need to express determination, desire and confidence. Run again, Uncle Sam.
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