Bret Stephens | Why We Admire Zelensky – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

“Why do we admire Volodymyr Zelensky? The question almost answers itself.

We admire him because, in the face of unequal odds, Ukraine’s president stands his ground. Because he proves the truth of the adage that one man with courage makes a majority. Because he shows that honor and love of country are virtues we forsake at our peril. Because he grasps the power of personal example and physical presence. Because he knows how words can inspire deeds — give shape and purpose to them — so that the deeds may, in turn, vindicate the meaning of words.

We admire Zelensky because he reminds us of how rare these traits have become among our own politicians. Zelensky was an actor who used his celebrity to become a statesman. Western politics is overrun by people who playact as statesmen so that they may ultimately become celebrities. Zelensky has made a point of telling Ukrainians the hard truth that the war is likely to get worse — and of telling off supposed well-wishers that their words are hollow and their support wanting. Our leaders mainly specialize in telling people what they want to hear.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Excellent essay Bret Stephens, thank you. I recently reread “the Hobbit,” by JRR Tolkien, for possibly the 10th time, and it is famous for good reason. Tolkien describes the elves, dwarves and hobbits of Middle Earth with humor and wisdom, poking politely at the many strengths, weakness, and foibles of human beings.
  Dictatorships, such as that of Russia, is represented by the Necromancer, and the goblins and orcs. The Hobbit was published in 1937, after WW I. WW II was on its way.
  Reluctantly, I think that NATO should go to war with Russia, to save the Ukraine, as if it were in NATO already. I think some things are worth dying for. In the Hobbit, the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, sits out the great battle of five armies, while others fight to protect his gold and dragon treasure. He is honorless, while his kin on the field fight with honor, for their freedom and very lives.
  The NATO countries are a bit like the coward, Thorin Oakenshield, whose mind is clouded with the love of his hoard of gold, to the point where he will not risk his life for his own kin and neighbors. In Tolkien’s magnificent story, Thorin pulls himself together, and restores his honor. It is not too late for NATO to do the same.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of “the Tay Son Rebellion,” about war in18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.

Bret Stephens | What Do We Do if Putin Uses Chemical Weapons? – The New York Times

    Opinion Columnist

“There are reports that Russia may be planning to use — or, according to unverified reports from local officials in Mariupol, might have already used — chemical weapons as part of its offensive in eastern Ukraine. The Biden administration has already set up a Tiger Team of national security officials to consider options in the event this happens; now is the time for these discussions to become more public.

We’ve traveled this road before, badly. In August 2012, Barack Obama publicly warned the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria against employing chemical weapons. “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he said. “That would change my calculus.”

It didn’t.  . . . “

Bret Stephens | Biden Is Still Right. Putin Has to Go. – The New York Times

     Opinion Columnist

“Horrific scenes of mass murder on the outskirts of Kyiv should appall everybody and surprise nobody.

The brutalization of civilians has been the Putin regime’s calling card since its inception — from the Moscow apartment bombings of 1999, where the weight of circumstantial evidence points the finger at Vladimir Putin and his security service henchmen, to the murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemtsov to Russia’s atrocities in Grozny, eastern Ukraine, Aleppo and now Bucha.

Mostly, the world has found it easier to make excuses to get along with Putin than to work against him. One example: In 2015, Germany got about 35 percent of its natural gas from Russia. In 2021, the figure had jumped to 55 percent. Berlin is now a major diplomatic obstacle to imposing stiffer sanctions on Russia, and Germany continues to buy Russian gas, oil and coal, to the tune of $2 billion a month.

To put this in simplified but accurate terms, Germany — having fiercely resisted years of international pressure to lessen its dependence on Russian gas — finds itself in the position of funding the Russian state. That is money that helps keep the ruble afloat and the Kremlin’s war machine going. Surely this can’t be the role that Berlin wishes to play.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Yes, great column Bret Stephens. Note to NATO and Biden, send in the the heavy anti-ship, anti-aircraft, and anti-missile missile defense systems– asap. Germany, and Europe, stop appeasing another ruthless dictator.
Germany, It is time to look again at the exciting new designs for nuclear energy that are cleaner and safer than the the designs from the 1950’s, from 70 years ago. Look carefully at the one by Bill Gates and associates. On paper, it can’t melt down, overheat or explode, and runs on spent nuclear fuel. It is time to build a few, and see if they work as well as designed for.
NYT: there are supposedly 20 or so new designs out for safer nuclear energy. Please start reviewing them all, one or two at a time.
David also comments at, and is the author of “Talking Climate Change Blues.”

Bret Stephens | What if Putin Didn’t Miscalculate? – The New York Times

“. . . But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the West is only playing into Putin’s hands once again?

The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.

Russia’s operating from the same playbook today. When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?

“There is a whole next stage to the Putin playbook, which is well known to the Chechens,” Gall writes. “As Russian troops gained control on the ground in Chechnya, they crushed any further dissent with arrests and filtration camps and by turning and empowering local protégés and collaborators.”

Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comment:
Bret Thank you. It surprised me to learn late in life, from writers in the New York Times, that intelligent people sometimes have to learn to understand and hold two opposing ideas in their mind at the same time, understanding that there is some truth to both. There might be some relativity to reality, especially since reality might be unknowable with certainty.
I might dare to add to your sophisticated analysis, that all the critics of Putin might be completely right, but it makes no difference. Putin doesn’t need, and possibly wasn’t after Kiev, at least, as his primary objective. For these reasons, and many others, I support NATO to enforce a no fly zone. Some things are worth dying for.
David Lindsay is a military historian, and the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion,” an historical novel about a famous 30 year civil war in Vietnam, 1770-1802, who blogs at

Bret Stephens | Russia’s War in Ukraine: This Is How World War III Begins – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“The usual date given for the start of World War II is Sept. 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But that was just one in a series of events that at the time could have seemed disconnected.

Among them: Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931. Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. The remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936 and the Spanish Civil War, which started the same year. Anschluss with Austria and the Sudeten crisis of 1938. The Soviet invasion of Poland weeks after the German one and Germany’s western invasions the following year. Operation Barbarossa and Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The point is, World War II didn’t so much begin as it gathered, like water rising until it breaches a dam. We, too, have been living through years of rising waters, though it took Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for much of the world to notice.

Before the invasion, we had the Russian invasions of Georgia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine; the Russian carpet bombing of Aleppo; the use of exotic radioactive and chemical agents against Russian dissidents on British soil; Russian interference in U.S. elections and massive hacks of our computer networks; the murder of Boris Nemtsov and the blatant poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny.”

“. . . . .  Refusing to impose a no-fly zone in Ukraine may be justified because it exceeds the risks NATO countries are prepared to tolerate. But the idea that doing so could start World War III ignores history and telegraphs weakness. Americans squared off with Soviet pilots operating under Chinese or North Korean cover in the Korean War without blowing up the world. And our vocal aversion to confrontation is an invitation, not a deterrent, to Russian escalation.

There is now a serious risk that these illusions could collapse very suddenly. There’s little evidence so far that Putin is eager to cut his losses; on the contrary, to do so now — after incurring the economic price of sanctions but without achieving a clear victory — would jeopardize his grip on power.

Bottom line: Expect him to double down. If he uses chemical weapons, as Bashar al-Assad did, or deploys a battlefield nuclear weapon, in keeping with longstanding Russian military doctrine, does he lose more than he gains? The question answers itself. He wins swiftly. He terrifies the West. He consolidates power. He suffers consequences only marginally graver than the ones already inflicted. And his fellow travelers in Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang take note.

How does the next world war begin? The same way the last one did.”  -30-

David Lindsay: Excellent points in general by Bret Stephens. The comments against him are also good.  He could acknowledge that NATO going to war with Russia could lead to a nuclear world cataclysm.  But I side with Bret on four grounds. First, some things are worth dying for, and if we are going to be the land of the free, we have to be willing to fight our enemies. Second, The US and Britain, and possible NATO, guaranteed Ukraine’s independence, if it would give up its arsenal of nuclear weapons left there when the Soviet Union collapsed.  We are obligated by our agreement to come to their rescue. Third, the Russians don’t want the end of world this year, any more than we do. Even if Putin turns suicidal, the generals around him as group probably are not.

Fourth, we are probably all going to die anyway from climate change and the sixth extinction, so one should do an analysis as to whether stopping the destruction of the Ukraine will help or hurt the war on climate change causing green house gas pollution.

I’m not sure this last point is decisive, but it would be sad indeed, if we sacrificed the Ukraine and its brave people to ambition of the Putin regime, only to all go up an Armageddon of climate disasters. Which brings me back to the the first point. Some things, for people who believe in law and order and democracy, are worth dying for.

Bret Stephens | Ukraine and a Post-Pax Americana World – The New York Times

“Who knows, at this writing, what Vladimir Putin will decide to do with the forces he’s massed along Ukraine’s borders?

If Putin backs down, maybe thanks to some face-saving diplomatic formula, the Biden administration will deserve full credit for masterly crisis management: whipping into line our European allies, particularly Germany; thwarting Russian covert operations by leaking details to the media; expanding America’s military presence in frontline NATO states; working on ways to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas; refusing to negotiate at Ukraine’s expense; threatening sanctions against Moscow that, for once, have real teeth.”

From the NYT comments, I addressed the following.
Times Pick

Stop trying to treat our military presence and our social welfare as mutually exclusive. Tax the rich, and let them pay for our Pax Americana. Their taxes have been cut in half or more in the last half-century. Every time we went to war in history, taxes rose to fund it. Bush Jr. created the exception, and we have never recovered. By all means, let us police the world. But first, let’s police the rich.

45 Replies552 Recommend

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment
You wrote: “Every time we went to war in history, taxes rose to fund it. Bush Jr. created the exception, and we have never recovered. ” Sounds good, but not true. LBJ and then Nixon put the humongously expensive Vietnam war on the US credit card, which contributed to inflation going up to 13 percent and higher. WW II I believe I learned in college, was funded on credit. Presidents after FDR, especially Eisenhower, raised taxes, till they reached over 91% for the highest bracket.
David blogs at, and is the author of The Tay Son Rebellion.

Bret Stephens | The Lessons of Brooklyn Tech – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“For many years I lived across the street from Stuyvesant High School, Manhattan’s elite public school, and I would sometimes get a ride from a father of one of the students. He was a cabdriver from Pakistan, a man who liked to strike up conversations with his passengers. Usually we talked about two things: his pride in his academically gifted kids (another child was already at Cornell) and his dismay at the state of affairs in Pakistan.

Eventually, the child at Stuyvesant went on to another elite university, and I saw less of my friendly driver, and then I moved out of the city. But I’ve been thinking about him again in connection to the two best things I’ve read about immigrants in recent months — and what both say about our never-ending debates over “American values.”

The first was Michael Powell’s luminous report “How It Feels to Be an Asian Student in an Elite Public School” in The Times last week. The second is Roya Hakakian’s book “A Beginner’s Guide to America,” a Tocquevillian gem of sociological and psychological analysis that explains, to a mainly American readership, just how strange this country can be to a newcomer, even — or especially — in what seem like the most banal aspects of life.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT |NYT comment:
Bravo Bret Stephens. An excellent piece, and good comments in support of more academically challenging curriculum. I lost my eldest son to a heroin cut with too much fentanyl overdose in 2011. He was a month short of 21, and an extremely bright candle, majoring in economics at Uconn. When Austin took his SAT’s, he scored an 800 on the verbal.
We have thought deeply about all the reasons he became a drug dealer while in high school, and became reckless about his safety regarding party drugs. Clearly, we made mistakes. One of the many contributors we identified, was the lack of academic challenge in the Hamden CT public school system, especially in the pre high school grades, where all homework was finished in school, and the absence of non varsity, after school sports and enrichment programs.

Bret Stephens | Repeal the Second Amendment – The New York Times

“I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment.

From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder. “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” noted one exhaustive 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

From a personal-safety standpoint, more guns means less safety. The F.B.I. counted a total of 268 “justifiable homicides” by private citizens involving firearms in 2015; that is, felons killed in the course of committing a felony. Yet that same year, there were 489 “unintentional firearms deaths” in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 77 and 141 of those killed were children.

From a national-security standpoint, the Amendment’s suggestion that a “well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass.”

Bret Stephens | Biden Can Still Rescue His Presidency – The New York Times

“The view that the Biden presidency is flailing — and failing — has now moved from the opinion pages to the news pages, from right-wing criticism to Beltway conventional wisdom.

“With the White House legislative agenda in shambles less than a year before the midterm elections,” my colleagues Lisa Lerer and Emily Cochrane reported last week, “Democrats are sounding alarms that their party could face even deeper losses than anticipated without a major shift in strategy led by the president.”

Some of us have been sounding that alarm for months. What to do? Herewith, some suggestions for change:

1. The president needs a new team, starting with a new chief of staff.

The most surprising fact about the administration’s first year in office has been its political incompetence.

Why did the infrastructure bill languish for months in an intramural Democratic Party squabble? How did President Biden give his fire-breathing speech on voting rights in Georgia without first checking whether Kyrsten Sinema was going to cut him off at the knees? Why couldn’t the administration work out a deal with Joe Manchin on Build Back Better — and where was the political wisdom in having White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki publicly accuse him of breaking his word? Why has the president spent the year making overconfident predictions on everything from Afghanistan to migration to inflation? How was the coronavirus home test fiasco allowed to happen?

Bret Stephens | What Putin Really Wants From the Ukraine Crisis – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Grave may have been the mistakes of Donald Rumsfeld, but George W. Bush’s first defense secretary did have a gift for memorable phrases. One of them — “weakness is provocative” — explains the predicament we again find ourselves in with Russia’s belligerence against Ukraine and NATO.

Let’s recap how we got here.

■ In August 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and took control of two of its provinces. The Bush administration protested but did almost nothing. After Barack Obama won the White House that fall, he pursued a “reset” with Russia. In 2012, he cut U.S. force levels in Europe to their lowest levels in postwar history and mocked Mitt Romney for calling Russia our principal geopolitical threat.

■ In September 2013, Obama famously retreated from his red line against Bashar al-Assad’s use of nerve gas in Syria, accepting instead a Russian offer of mediation that was supposed to have eliminated al-Assad’s chemical arsenal. That arsenal was never fully destroyed, but Vladimir Putin took note of Obama’s palpable reluctance to get involved.

■ In February 2014, Russia used “little green men” to seize and then annex Crimea. The Obama administration protested but did almost nothing. Russia then took advantage of unrest in eastern Ukraine to shear off two Ukrainian provinces while sparking a war that has lasted seven years and cost more than 13,000 lives. Obama responded with weak sanctions on Russia and a persistent refusal to arm Ukraine.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
First I liked Bret’s arguments, but then Frank chimed in with a longer more sophisticated view. “Play the long game because that is how you will win. Move the economies of the world to renewables and watch them fall. If Putin choses to invade make sure he and his oligarch’s can’t shop in Milan ,Rome, Paris etc. Watch them squirm.”
It is awful, but both are right. And so is the commenter who pointed out, this is Europe’s neighbor, not really our problem. I would like to see Germany take the lead, by reversing its decision to get rid of all nuclear power, and follow the French, into the new, modern, and safer than before, nuclear energy era, to really tie Putin and his shaky economy into knots. In the short run, the new nuclear energy plant designs are the safest way for Europe to lose its dependency on Russian oil and gas. Without the sale of such products, the birds are singing, Putin has a problem. Apparently his GNP is now estimated at about $1.5 trillion, larger than that of Florida, $1.2 trillion, but smaller than that of New York, $1.9 trillion.
David Lindsay is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion,” a novel about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.