Seven consecutive years in Iraq and Afghanistan showed me how hard wars are to end once they start. Miscalculation and escalation are a deadly mix. Nations’ weapons industries are designed to profit from the carnage. The proxy wars along NATO boundaries have just begun, as CIA operatives well-schooled in the dark side of our world are certainly at work armed with bundles of Ben Franklins.
This is Vladimir Putin’s war. This is Ukrainian dead on our TV screens. This is a conflict that endangers all of us.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently talked of his country’s “nuclear doctrine” – which includes the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons. Lavrov was the Russian ambassador to the United Nations when I worked for the U.S. Mission to the UN almost two decades ago. He was famous for sketching in pencil elaborate Cyrillic script on UN-provided stationary, which he would leave behind for others to try to decipher their layered meanings.
Doing diplomacy on behalf of the U.S. to help prevent war and reduce the human pain associated with warfare are what I am schooled in after barely surviving war-torn areas like Fallujah, Iraq, and Helmand, Afghanistan.
In my former decade-long career in the U.S. State Department, I helped develop U.S. government policies regarding international sanctions. For two years, I represented our country on the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee. I worked hard to get unanimous agreement among 15 Security Council members to sanction terrorists and Taliban leaders.
In that role, I argued that targeted sanctions should be used to “name and shame” other dangerous individuals. Henchmen around the world who like to live and shop in London and Dubai and send their children to exclusive schools – but who also put international peace and security at risk while making mountains of money. It is good to see Russian oligarchs’ yachts are now impounded and many of their assets seized.
But what more can be done? Which policies might help reduce Ukrainian suffering and lessen the chance of wider war?
First, high gas prices are a luxury when warfare remains distant. Our current shift to more green energy need not be pushed aside for drilling. It should be expedited. More solar farms, wind farms and geothermal exploration are Utah’s future – already evident in Milford Valley and outside Richfield.
Past efforts by short-sighted politicians to undermine NATO must also be recognized for the dangerous game they played while on our payroll. Sen. Mike Lee, for example, never once visited our troops or diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan but he did travel to Moscow. Humanitarian aid budgets should be passed quickly in Congress and be bipartisan. This includes fast-tracking refugee resettlement funds as Ukrainian numbers surpass two million.
We should also consider this election year which candidates for federal office are best suited to help keep our country safe – and help children worldwide avoid living in more unnecessary wars. I am biased. I write as a U.S. Senate candidate whose deep war biography has prepared me in a way that, I believe, is greatly needed now.
Let’s also recall that Utah remains a state where the U.S. government not only filled our skies overhead with radiation from the testing of nukes in Nevada, but also once planned to place the mobile MX (“Peacekeeper missile”) system on Utah rail lines. War’s human costs were never as far away from our Beehive State as we might want to believe.
Let’s pressure Sens. Lee and Mitt Romney to help pass the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which expires in July. Utah’s downwind families deserve a lot more than senatorial nonchalance on the subject.
In my Utah elementary school, built of brick in the 1950s, we kids used to spend our Cold War-era recess time on a jungle gym located below a 30-foot rusted iron siren, which was painted red. Teachers educated us about the yellow arrows on a concrete floor that would lead us children not yet 10 years old toward a bunker under the cafeteria – just in case.
Despite much talk across the 1980s of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD logic indeed), the siren never sounded. We were lucky. Ukrainian children are not. Their empty playground sirens blare.
Let’s not look away.
Kael Weston is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senate in Utah. In 2020, he was the Democratic candidate in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District.