In recent days, experts have begun laying out the potential hardships the Russian invasion of Ukraine might inflict here in the United States, thousands and thousands of miles from the battle zone. As former White House national security official Richard Clarke bluntly put it, “Russia will bring the war to our homeland.” He pointed to potential damage in two particular realms, possible Russian cyberattacks and disinformation meant to unsettle our domestic politics. Similarly, economists and financial firms are predicting what an ongoing war in Ukraine could mean in terms of rising prices for wheat, vegetable oil, and oil and gas, among other commodities.
How different this sense of potential damage is than that expressed when, in the wake of 9/11, America went to war globally with its invasion of Afghanistan and its war on terror. As the president of that moment, George W. Bush, insisted so confidently in 2001, Americans should simply “go shopping” and not be distracted by the country’s distant battles. As he later put it, “We will fight them over there so we do not have to face them in the United States of America.”
At the heart of those claims was the thought that foreign wars could be fought by a great power without damage at home — or put another way, that the theaters of conflict for the Global War on Terror were somehow eternally separable from the daily lives of Americans. But tell that to the country that elected Donald Trump as president 15 years later and has been coming apart at the seams ever since.
With the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a possible Potemkin superpower, it already seems clear that Bush’s notion no longer holds (if it ever did) when it comes to war on this planet, no matter where it takes place or which power initiates it. Even though the current conflict isn’t directly our war, one thing is guaranteed: its outcome will be of major significance to the well-being of this country and the international order, thanks to an all-too-basic reality — that the global and the local in today’s world are now virtually indistinguishable. This will, in fact, be the key lesson the ongoing war in Ukraine holds for us as a nation.
From the American perspective, the inseparable and dangerous nature of the relationship between the U.S. and the world has been creeping up on us ever since this century began. The post-9/11 installation of airport screenings, perpetually reminding us of the threat of the global war on terror, was one early sign. Since then, the number of life-threatening dangers has swelled immeasurably.
After all, our children, like those the world over, have been going to school for nearly two years now wearing masks. While the discomfort and distancing those face shields represented may have been burdensome, the underlying reality was the fear of becoming infected with Covid-19, given the six million deaths it has caused worldwide. And among other dangers in our American world, even the wave of shootings at our schools and other public places in these years has had a global dimension, linked as some of them were to white extremist attacks abroad. Notably, in April 2019, the synagogue shooter in California praised an avowed white supremacist who had murdered Muslims in Christ Church, New Zealand, earlier that year (as did the gunman in the 2019 Walmart shootings in El Paso, Texas). And since then, the global ties among white supremacists bent on anti-immigrant violence have only escalated.
Within such a context of war, disease, and fear in which the local and the global continue to merge, there are now some simmering realities the Russian war in Ukraine has exposed in new and powerful ways.