Whomever President Biden nominates to the U.S. Supreme Court, apparently Ketanji Brown Jackson, if confirmed by the Senate, will serve for life. If you have read Gavel Gamut recently you may recall I have called for a ten-year term limit for all federal judges. Although our federal judges are not of the same ilk as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, his twenty-two years in office with the opportunity to run for another six-year term in 2024 might help illustrate why term limits are worth considering.
Russia’s Constitution gives Putin much more autonomous power than our President or any of our nine Supreme Court justices. However, as almost all things in life, political power is a matter of degree. The photograph that Peg took of me reading a Russian newspaper in a Moscow coffee shop in 2003 contains a headline showing, in English, that Putin was announcing his intention to run for re-election. He was first elected president in 1999.
From our cave man days we have recognized that power corrupts and that the more and the longer a person has power the more he or she is tempted to abuse it. Putin has abused his immense power by invading Ukraine. Of course, he asserts his actions are required by the allegedly genocidal Ukrainian officials who are supposedly suppressing Ukrainian citizens, many of whom are culturally connected to Russia. Stalin and Hitler would have been proud of such an analysis; their terms of office should have been limited to zero.
When the National Judicial College sent me to Russia in 2003 to teach Russian judges how we in America conduct jury trials, Peg and I spent a few days in Moscow and a little less than a week in Volgograd, the old Stalingrad. We met and enjoyed many Russian citizens and often reflected on how lucky we were to have been born in America. We saw groups of unemployed young men wandering aimlessly along Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s main thoroughfare, carrying multiple bottles of beer and wine in their arms. When we attended the seminar in Volgograd, alcohol was more prevalent than educational materials and American rock and roll music was more popular than questions about how to afford civil rights via jury trials. The Russians appeared to be eager to escape the harsh realities of the Russian economy. Perhaps that is Putin’s true motivation, to take the minds of everyday Russian citizens off their harsh existence.
How ironic it is that Russia has invaded Ukraine when the lives of the Ukrainians are as drear as those of the Russians. Peg and I have often noted that nobody who was sober did much smiling in either country. Perhaps the Russian government is wanting to reprise its former use of the fertile fields of Ukraine in the feeding of the Russian populace. Once Ukraine was Russia’s bread basket. Now it barely feeds itself. But Russia may hold out hope for greener pastures anyway.
Many pundits are opining that Putin’s real goal is to be the new tsar of a reconstituted Soviet Union. Maybe so, but if he wants to win the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian people, and perhaps those in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Moldova and even those of his own Russian citizens, he ought to refer to the Bible’s Book of Isaiah, Chapter 2, verse 4 and beat the Russian swords into plowshares. What the Ukrainians need, and the Russians too, is not more armaments but more economic development, not more soldiers but more farmers and store clerks.
That is an approach that the NATO countries should consider. For the trillions of dollars in soon to be lost military “aid” from America, Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain and others so willingly lavished upon Ukraine, we could “sanction” Putin with economic benefits to Ukraine and other at-risk countries on Russia’s borders. Yes, such an approach might make those countries more ripe for conquest but, if we use the same type of diplomacy we so successfully applied in the Marshall Plan, we might win friends instead of guaranteeing ourselves a nuclear powered enemy with terrible resolve. Perhaps we should ♫ study war no more ♫ and encourage Putin to do the same with honey, not vinegar. After all, the vast amount of vinegar we are wasting our precious assets on is just being used to make everyone involved more bitter.