By Patricia Chadwick
It’s of value to remember the quote from the great American statesman, Senator John McCain, who, in 2015 upon returning from a visit to Ukraine, said, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.”
Two years later, Forbes magazine tried to make the case otherwise, but today, with the entire world bringing sanctions against Russia, the country is surely back to gas station status. Now is the time to shut down that gas station.
Ukraine’s neighbors in Eastern Europe—Poland, Rumania, Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary—are edifying examples of caring people practicing the corporal works of mercy. With open arms and open hearts, thousands upon thousands of volunteers are feeding the hungry and thirsty, clothing the naked, harboring the homeless, visiting the sick and burying the dead.
This past Sunday, on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Scott Pelly highlighted the goodness of the people of Przemyśl, a 1200-year-old picturesque town in southeastern Poland. As many as ten trains a day, each carrying around two thousand refugees, arrive on Track 4 in Przemyśl from an array of cities in Ukraine. As the 11-hour journey comes to an end, the townspeople greet incoming refugees with water, soup and clothing. Town residents willingly open their homes to total strangers. In a touching interview, the mayor of the town, Wojciech Bakun, noted, with a smile, that Przemyśl has a population of 60,000 and has received between 70,000 and 80,000 refugees over the last couple of weeks. Two young Polish brothers related that they then stock the empty rail cars with food and medicines for the return trip into Ukraine, which also carries Ukrainian men who, despite living abroad, board the train to return to their home country to fight the Russians.
The town of Przemyśl is but one among myriad towns and cities in Poland that are setting an example of humanity at its best. Following the citizens’ brave leadership, the Government of Poland has announced that it is setting aside $1.7 billion for rebuilding Ukraine in the aftermath of the war. For a country with GDP of just $600 billion, that sum is impressive.
Here in the United States, there are more than one million inhabitants of Ukrainian origin, but few of the refugees will make the more than four-thousand-mile journey to (the eastern part of) this country. From the safety of our homes, we watch the human carnage and offer help that is painless. Our Government is sending invaluable aid in the form of military supplies. We, the common citizens, are limited in our response. Even as we send money, we continue to enjoy life with barely a whit of inconvenience. The only impact of the war on our daily existence appears to be the inconvenience of $6 or even $7 per gallon at the filling station. Those who argue that the rising price of oil will have serious negative economic repercussions should take heart from the chart below. From 2011 through 2014, the price of oil was $110/barrel, a period of time when there was economic prosperity in the country. (see attached chart).
It’s time for us Americans, as a nation, to share in the sacrifice. The announcement from President Biden of a total embargo on Russian oil exports to this country is but a first tiny step, which admittedly will not be much of a deterrent to Russia. Already over 70% of Americans support the Ukrainian people. President Biden could increase that with a strong speech in prime time to the American people bringing home the point that we, in this country, need to engage on several fronts to support, and then rebuild the country.
A truly bipartisan collaboration needs to emerge from Congress, one that commits to providing substantial capital to rebuild war-torn Ukraine. The equivalent of Poland’s $1.7 billion would be $64 billion from the United States, based upon the two countries’ GDP. With the war still raging, it’s impossible at this time to estimate what the damages might ultimately be, but they could rise to the trillion-dollar level. Poland is pressuring the European Community to create a €100 billion reconstruction fund, which would make our $64 billion contribution reasonable. Obdurate members of Congress, who claim that the United States cannot afford to support Ukraine with capital, are not only grotesquely selfish, but they risk aiding and abetting Putin’s objectives. Their rationale that for fiscal restraint is spurious and reeks of political expediency.
In addition to capital for rebuilding, the United States should initiate a program to sponsor and encourage Ukrainian refugees to come to this country, allowing them to stay for up to three or five years and be given an opportunity to get on a track for permanent residency and citizenship, following the lead of the European Union, which unanimously granted, just days ago, a right-to-work and health care privileges to Ukrainian refugees. Such a program is not new in this country. At the end of the Vietnamese War, with the fall of Saigon, President Gerald Ford and Congress allowed close to 150,000 refugees to settle in this country. Half a century later, Vietnamese names are common across the country and the children, and now grandchildren, of those immigrants, the preponderance of whom were fishermen, have benefitted economically, becoming a part of the fabric of American life. Congresswoman, Stephanie Murphy, a Florida Democrat was one such immigrant, who came to this country as an infant in 1979.
Our support needs to extend far beyond the next year or two. Over the upcoming decade, the United States must make it a priority to replace Russia as the primary supplier of gas to western Europe. With nearly five hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves under the ground in this country, and far more potentially, the United States has the opportunity to become a reliable source of energy to friendly nations. Implementing such a program will require some compromise on our use of fossil fuels and the President must understand the necessity of relaxing the most stringent regulations on oil and gas production. As the world knows, but Russia denies, the natural gas produced in our country is far cleaner that that from Russia, with the result that displacing Russia’s gas with ours will have a net beneficial impact on fossil fuel emissions.
Few will argue that, in an ideal and peaceful world, we should be aiming to reduce and ultimately eliminate the use of fossil fuels. However, when the security of democracy around the world is at stake, some priorities have to take precedence over others. Investing capital to unseat Russia as the foremost provider of energy to western Europe is a valid reason for shifting priorities. The capital investment to add LNG and port facilities will provide well-paying jobs in this country.
President Biden has the opportunity to rally Americans around a cause that is already emotionally important to them. None of the above recommendations for how to support the brave people of Ukraine will require any uncomfortable sacrifice on the part of American citizens. We did far more after World War II, when we rebuilt the countries we defeated in war. Let’s repeat that effort for a country that has been a long-term ally.