The treaty was signed as part of a successful effort to persuade Ukraine to relinquish its nuclear stockpile, armaments stationed there when the Soviet Union broke up. In return for the joint guarantee, Ukraine promised to give up its nuclear weapons.
It's there in black and white: an American commitment we must honor.
With the photographs that clearly identify the "civilian pro-Russian demonstrators" occupying Ukrainian buildings as Russian soldiers and security agents, the fact of a Russian invasion is not hypothetical. It is real.
When I asked President Clinton why he was so anxious to bring Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, he spoke of the importance of maintaining freedom in those countries, but also said that we needed "a land bridge" to Ukraine. "Ukraine," he said, "is key. We have to make sure they can stay independent."
(At the time, there was real fear of a communist comeback in Russia and Clinton was heavily influenced by former President Nixon's advice to be sure he wouldn't be the president to "lose" Russia as Truman had "lost" China.)
If the U.S. led it, NATO would surely be willing to follow and deploy at least a token force from every European nation.
There is no way Russia would attack Ukraine if it meant war with the United States. Just as the tripwire defense we maintained in Germany throughout the Cold War did not cost us a single U.S. life and not one shot was fired in anger, so a robust show of support for Ukraine would not lead to war. It would avert one.
If we do not stop Russia in Ukraine, Putin will attack Azerbaijan, Moldova and the Baltic States. If we do not stop him there, Poland and Eastern Europe could well be next.
We all know the story of how Allied refusal to intervene catalyzed Hitler's push for European domination. We all realize now that a show of force when Hitler marched into the Rhineland or into Austria would have averted World War II.
Our successful deployment in Germany throughout the Cold War gives us ample evidence that you can face down the Russians without loss of life. Putin will take what we give him as long as its free, but not at the price of war. His own people would not tolerate Russia getting into a war. My work in Russian politics (for Yeltsin in the '90s) left me with a strong impression that the fear of war with the U.S. is uppermost in Russian minds and the memories of World War II have not receded.
And, we gave our word to Ukraine. What is that worth?
(Dick Morris, former advisor to the Clinton administration, is a commentator and writer. He is also a columnist for the New York Post and The Hill. His wife, Eileen McGann is an attorney and consultant.)