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A peaceful end
On negotiations, the role of rules, and why it's just as inappropriate to tell others when to stop fighting as it is to coerce them into joining a fight
When some members of Congress issued, then retracted, a letter calling for "a negotiated settlement and ceasefire" to end Russia's war against Ukraine, it was a terrible unforced error. Nothing about Russia's aggression against Ukraine calls out for "settlement".
■ Freezing the outcome where the battle lines stand today would reward Russia with a non-trivial claim to territory. And the very notion of negotiation was vaporized when the war started, because initiating the invasion violated a negotiated agreement to which Russia had been a signatory for more than a quarter of a century.
■ Ultimately, the path to long-term peace can't be rushed on any timeline set by outsiders. It's important for Ukraine to win -- not to reach a draw, but to achieve victory -- and they need sustained support to do it. They're up against an invader with a much larger military and a lot more resources. This is no time for Ukraine's allies to go wobbly.
■ There's a difference between picking a side and picking an outcome. A powerful country should be able to pick a side. A great hegemonic power like the United States should not just be able to pick a side, but also to behave in such a way that it predictably picks its sides.
■ Picking an outcome is different. America can have a vision for what outcome would be in our preferred interests, but ultimately the conflict must be resolved in the way the people of Ukraine conclude suits their interests. Respect for self-determination is a principle that matters more for a great power than for a lesser one.
■ America should aspire to have a stabilizing power in the world -- one that, in any conflict we touch, tips the scales in favor of human liberty, of self-determination, of established rules, and of respect for human life.
■ Bossing the world around isn't the goal to which we should aspire. But upholding a world order vested in rules and human well-being is quite possibly the best gift we can give.
■ It's not for us to tell others when to fight, nor when to give up. But it is for us to reduce the uncertainty, insofar as we can, about whose side we will take in case of conflict -- and what principles will decide which side that will be, and how far they can expect that support to follow them.