Sorry, America, the War in Ukraine Is Our Fight | Opinion

It's the bloodiest war Europe has seen in nearly 80 years. No one is sure how many people have been killed—more than 100,000, probably not 300,000 (yet). It's a huge number for a world that has been relatively peaceful for three-quarters of a century. Russia's war in Ukraine accounts for the most war deaths in any single year since 1972. Russian President Vladimir Putin is turning back the tide of history.

People in the United States ask why the war in Ukraine is such a big deal, why America needs to involve itself. Why is the country sending billions of dollars in weapons and cash to help people so far away? Isn't it dangerous to keep supplying more and more weapons, poking a Russian bear that has nuclear missiles for claws?

Yes, it's dangerous, but it is also necessary.

Why? Because helping a fellow democracy in trouble at the hands of an evil authoritarian is the right thing to do. Helping your fellow man is the right thing to do. And if that's not incentive enough, consider that it's in our national interest.

After all, NATO was created not just to help Europe, but to provide security to the United States as well. In addition to adding the forces of Western Europe to the massive U.S. military, the plan has always been for Europe to supply the battlefield for the war itself. That's instead of Russia coming to the U.S. homeland directly.

A Path of Destruction
This aerial photograph shows a damaged church, which was used by Russian troops as a makeshift hospital, in the village of Mala Komyshuvakha, Kharkiv region, on Feb. 22. IHOR TKACHOV/AFP via Getty Images

Allow Russia free rein in Europe and that buffer—and all our allies—are gone.

Remember also that trade is global, and wars disrupt trade. Trade of all kinds keeps us afloat and even makes us rich. At a bare minimum, unless the West wanted to help Russia actively against Ukraine, one of the world's key sources of food products was going to experience one massive hiccup and food prices were going to rise for everyone.

Put simply, Vladimir Putin is challenging both our security and our livelihoods.

And, despite a counter-narrative popular among the far left and far right, the West didn't start this war: Putin did. Maybe it was out of fear of a growing NATO, but more likely it was to serve his sense of history, Russian destiny, and ego. And the Russian president has said Ukraine is not the end of his ambition. That's a direct threat to U.S. allies—allies we are bound by treaty to protect—and the invasion of Ukraine is proof that his ambitions are more than empty words.

The thing is, once you're in, you're in. The path of escalation the war has taken is logical, if scary. First, a show of diplomatic support for a fellow democracy menaced by a rival (at best, an enemy at worst); then defensive military aid; then sanctions; then offensive military aid (offense has a defensive value all its own); followed by more sanctions, more aid, even main battle tanks.

To walk away, to fail to take any of the steps down this path is to show Putin that he can have the world and to put the U.S. and U.S. interests in danger.

The U.S. is still a naïve place. We tend to believe the world is filled with nice guys and rational actors, that peace has unlimited appeal and trade can make anyone fat and happy. That's why we believed history ended with the Cold War. Surely, we told ourselves, everyone wants to be like us.

They didn't and they still don't. There are people and whole nations that want what we have and they aren't looking to pay a fair price. There are people like Putin and China's Xi Jinping who see U.S. hegemony—which brings many benefits to us here at home, whether we're willing to admit it or not—and want to replace it with their own.

They won't just leave us alone and will take advantage of any weakness because they can—because of their own fear and greed.

When Russia threatened Ukraine, the United States was put to the test. Not just whether we are willing to fight for our friends, but whether we are willing to fight to protect our own self-interests.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is asking for fighter jets, and we should provide them. He's gotten pretty much everything else he's asked for, but with delays that have cost thousands of additional lives.

And that's the way that it must be. We could have done nothing when Russia menaced our interests and maybe stayed out of the first round of this war, but the bill would still come due.

Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.