I sometimes get accused of failing to understand the moral and practical importance of the American role in the world because I oppose the president’s decision to spend tens of billions of dollars more in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on the defense budget in general.

To the contrary, I believe there are two areas in the past year where we have done too little to exercise a positive global influence in the world: Ukraine and Thailand.

In Ukraine, the Obama administration deserves a great deal of credit for taking the lead in adopting sanctions that have had a serious negative effect on Russia and in pressing Europeans to join this. It unfortunately has not had a sufficient deterrent effect on Russian aggression in Ukraine, but this is not an argument that the sanctions have no value – especially if we lead a united effort to tighten them significantly.

Forcing President Vladimir Putin to back away from an ongoing aggression has proven very hard given his brutality and his ability to ignore the hardships his policies are inflicting on the population he rules. But on the assumption that he has not reached a level of total indifference to the suffering of his people and the political problems this can cause over time, knowing that serious economic pain will be the consequence of an assault on another neighboring state will be a constraining factor even Putin must consider.

That will be even more likely if we take the further steps called for by this situation.

My reasons for opposing the effort by Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham to have us send ground troops back into the conflicts in the Middle East lead me to support their recent rebuttal of the arguments of German Chancellor Angela Merkel against the West sending Ukraine the weapons it needs to defend itself. Her point that this is not an issue that should be settled by arms would be valid if Putin had not invaded. One-sided pacifism has never been a good strategy. And the criticism of McCain for challenging Merkel in her own country is baseless. If she did not wish to hear disagreement, she should not have hosted a conference on a contrasted subject.

Sending sophisticated weapons to Ukraine makes sense because they will be used well, unlike in the Middle East, where the weapons we sent were frequently either sold to the opposing forces or captured by them from the incompetent troops that we were supplying. The action on the part of the Ukrainian people in rejecting a pro-Russian prime minister who wanted to retard the obvious desire of the great majority of the people of Ukraine to align with the west, and to follow western democratic values, deserves our full support. It is clear that absent Russian military intervention – which Putin simultaneously consistently lies about and steps up – the people of Ukraine would be able to maintain control of their country. Moreover, it is both practically and morally important for us not simply to send the Ukrainians the weapons they need. We should be working with our European allies to provide a substantial amount of economic assistance to them. Clearly fighting off Russian oppression is very expensive, and it would be a great tragedy if a democratic Ukrainian society to Russian aggression was to falter because the West did not help them pay for it. The $20 billion they need is very large from one standpoint; but this is where the president’s proposal for tens of billions more for the Pentagon budget is relevant.

For much less money than we will be spending for no clear gain in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly Syria, we can help the Ukrainians resist Putin’s aggression. Along with our European allies, whom we should pressing to help, we can contribute to building a flourishing democratic Ukraine that might even serve as an attractive example to the Russian people of what their lives could be like under a decent government.

There is a second nation where we are doing far too little to support the ideals we say we are trying to vindicate in the Middle East. There is no clearer example in recent times of a democratic population expressing its will through an open and free set of elections and having it disregarded by brutal force than in Thailand.

Thaksin Shinwatra, who was freely elected by the majority of Thais, adopted economic policies that favored the poor in that country. Many establishment types and other economists thought these policies unwise. In particular, The Economist magazine was until recently disappointingly tolerant of a military/aristocracy overthrow of the elected government because it strongly disapproved of the agricultural subsidy policies of the elected administration.

After Shinwatra was forced out by a highly questionable judicial decision that made the election of George Bush over Al Gore by five Republican justices look like a model of neutrality, his sister was elected in a similar process. She also followed these policies which The Economist and other mainstream economists thought unwise. Tragically, they allowed their view of the unwisdom of these economic choices to become a de facto justification, first for a series of violent disruptive demonstrations by the wealthier elements of the country and then for the overthrow by the military of Yingluck Shinwatra. Thailand today is a terrible example of democracy thwarted explicitly by wealthy people who have been open in denigrating the ability of poorer people to make decision about how their country should be run.

This is not a case for American military intervention. But it is one in which we should be articulating a much stronger response in criticism of this twice repeated violent frustration of the democratic process.

I regret the witch’s brew of religious prejudice, tribal rivalries, corruption and simple hatreds that plague Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, but not even our military – the best in the history of the world – can sort it out. Nor is this chaos a threat to our national security interest. I do not like President Bashir Assad of Syria, but it is hard for me to see how his having been in power for years before this turmoil caused us any harm. And I am unconvinced that the population of Iraq is significantly better off because of the death of Saddam Hussein.

In direct contrast both in Ukraine and in Thailand, the majority has shown an ability to use democracy for their legitimate interest. Putin’s aggression threatens Ukraine. In Thailand, internal reactionary forces repudiated both democracy and the notion of economic fairness. Checking Putin’s aggression and restoring a respect for democracy in Thailand are two good examples of should be using our power to vindicate our values in places where that we can do some genuine good.

Barney Frank is a retired congressman and the author of landmark legislation. He divides his time between Maine and Massachusetts.

Twitter: BarneyFrank