Boot began by affirming his fundamental views on the war’s significance and actors. “I really think that the war in Ukraine is the most important issue in the world right now,” he said, “and I think this will determine the fate of the world going forward.” If Putin achieves his objectives, Boot continued, it may “be a green light for predatory regimes, saying that the West is toothless, and we will not stand up for the values we believe in.” He then added that as far as wars go, “I cannot imagine a more pure distillation of good versus evil.”
Aside from commenting on the stakes of the war and reiterating his stance on the import of the Ukrainian cause, Boot described his personal political development, which he chronicled in his 2018 book The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right. Imperative to this process was the fallout from American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts whose ultimate “chastening power” Boot likened to the effects of Vietnam. While he now embraces a more moderate position on foreign interventions, Boot did frame the war in Ukraine as an example of positive American action. “This is a country that is wholeheartedly opposing foreign invasion, and I think they could not be successful without American support,” he said.
In discussing foreign affairs, Boot soon arrived at the policy of isolationism — particularly relevant now, he warned, with the midterm elections only two weeks away. While isolation is a minority preference among Americans at large, it is not so within the Republican Party; if the House flips to red, Boot noted, this view could potentially sponsor the restriction of American aid to Ukraine. Boot then extended this conversation to a brief commentary on the Republican Party, whose increasingly rightward inclinations, he said, constitute a pressing threat to American democracy in general.
On the appearance of a more moderate American foreign intervention, Boot emphasized the importance of protecting allies from “regional bullies” — China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea chiefly among them. Soberingly, he also acknowledged the realities posed by the ever-present specter of nuclear war. In the case of South Korea, for example, he wondered whether it might be prudent for them to develop nuclear weapons of their own; given the stakes of any such conflict, Boot pointed out that the U.S. can hardly promise to, say, “sacrifice Boston for Busan” if things were to escalate sufficiently.
Earlier in the day, Boot joined Isserman’s Recent American History class for a small-group dialogue about the Vietnam War. The pairing of small- and large-group sessions, and the different conversations these settings foster, are hallmarks of the Common Ground series, which seeks to meaningfully relate curricula to important contemporary issues.
Learning takes place when students encounter new ideas, are exposed to new experiences and opportunities, and interact with people who have different perspectives.