"This is where I'm going with the argument. It's one thing to say "we cannot take any direct action now"."
THAT actually sounds very weak to me. The implication I would take is that you feel you should be taking action, but you've been deterred (for now.)
My position is really much stronger. If there were a good reason to be involved then fine, WWIII, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, I am down. I am one crazy mofo and I cannot be deterred when I choose to act.
But this? We have no vital interest to defend here, the only thing on the line for us is the prestige of the STUPID SOBs that started and continued the deliberate policy of antagonizing and encircling Russia.
Their personal prestige is on the line and deserves to take the hit. But that is not the same as our national prestige and we should be clarifying that line right now instead of trying to blur it.
But we are not doing that. Our government by its actions is making clear that it values these officials personal prestige more than it values many other things one might think would take precedence - including the well-being of our troops in Afghanistan. As I am sure you are aware, they have a bit of a supply chain problem, and Russia is being enormously helpful in regards to that. So far they have not withdrawn that help, but how much longer? What happens to our troops when both the southern and the northern route is cut? Is it not completely irresponsible to go around bear-baiting without at the very least getting our men out of Afghanistan first?
"As an example, we have NATO allies in the Baltics. Have we signaled anything to them other than "You are effed"?"
I think it's important to question WHY we've been violating our agreement with Russia and expanding NATO east before addressing that directly. This is a history of provocation that is part of the context here, and while it would be wonderful to have a time machine and just go back and avoid that error, the fact that we cannot do that should not be allowed to become an excuse to perpetuate the errors - to double down on bad bets. That's a road to ruin.
Now, we are here now, and yes we have NATO allies in the Baltics. And we have been sending both ships and planes into the area in the reports I have seen. Sounds like just enough to start a war but nowhere near enough to win one. And I think that's silly. I would advise taking a step back and asking whether or not there is any need to be worried about them, and I would have to say no. Russia has not threatened them, and seems highly unlikely to do so.
But then again bears ARE dangerous. Keep poking it and sooner or later you might well cause what you want to avoid.