In the United States’ perennial quest for allies who share goals and contribute their fair share toward security, Ukraine is an exceptional bargain. This was perhaps the most important message that President Volodymir Zelenskiy carried with him to Washington last week in his face-to-face meeting with President Biden. Time will tell whether his message sinks in.
The United States has not had the best of experiences with choosing allies over the years. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America, Washington often has thrown in its lot with unsavory partners. In recent weeks, as Afghan forces collapsed despite the billions of dollars spent to train and equip them, it again became clear that lavish military aid buys neither friendly, stable governments nor territorial integrity. And within NATO, partner nations seem to want the American security blanket without always paying their dues or developing serious military forces of their own.
Zelenskiy, therefore, should have earned a warm reception from the Biden administration at the long-awaited Washington summit. Instead, he was received as a supplicant from a country characterized as paralyzed by corruption. The forty-three-year-old former TV actor, in his third year of office and first Washington visit, had come to America to counter Ukraine’s more-than-half-empty image in Washington.