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A Tale of Two Invasions

Thirty-three years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the world united to expel Saddam Hussein’s army. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has elicited far less global unity, a result of the return of great-power rivalry and declining US prestige.

NEW YORK – The leader of an authoritarian country with enormous energy reserves builds up his armed forces along the border of a weaker neighbor, one he claims has no right to exist as an independent country. He then proceeds to launch an invasion, with the goal of swallowing his neighbor and erasing it from the map. The world is faced with the immediate but difficult question of what to do in response.

This is what happened in the summer of 1990, when Saddam Hussein marshaled his military forces on Iraq’s border with Kuwait and, to the surprise of many, launched an all-out invasion. Within days, Iraqi forces took control of the entire country, which Saddam maintained was a province of Iraq.

Now substitute Russian President Vladimir Putin for Saddam, Russia for Iraq, and Ukraine for Kuwait. Everything written above would approximate what took place in February 2022, when Putin gathered Russia’s military along its border with Ukraine, a country whose independence he had rejected in an essay published the previous July, in which he wrote, “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”