Ukraine: The Real Hunger Games
Trapped people. 2.5 million refugees. Mass graves. THIS IS 2022. This is human atrocity. And, the US watches Ukraine resist while straddling a line between humanitarian support and proxy engagement. Is this sustainable? And, how long will Ukraine exist?
Tonight, Ukrainians batten down the hatches in Kiev as the clock ticks for the impending strike by Russia. And, the world watches like a scene out of the Hunger Games. They’ve asked for air defense and weapons to do their fighting. Instead, the US affirms humanitarian support stopping short of fulfilling the request for military aide in the form of Migs and a no fly zone. Thousands of Stingers and Javelins are already there. “The transfer of combat aircraft could be mistaken for an escalatory step,” states John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Each day that passes weakens the possibility of de-escalation, and the US has no easy way out as it leads from behind fearful of indirect engagement and sparking a WWIII that may happen anyway. What’s the difference between Stinger missiles and adding some planes? And, with the Russian pledge to target supply lines, this is a problem. But, this is war.
After WW2 the USA created an international order built on the values of peace and prosperity. A great challenge to this emerged in the wake of the War on Terror, the economic collapse of 2008 and the outsourcing of national needs to globalization and internationalism. Author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson said, “The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” Well, the US is watching the extermination of a nation and must take steps to preserve life as casualties mount in Ukraine. The images of dead children and mass graves should mobilize leadership to focus on the most pressing global crisis in the modern age instead of #putinsgashike, fortification of the climate needs and questionable diplomacy. Does climate change matter if Putin uses a nuclear attack? Remember Red Dawn? Chernobyl? And, historic inflation was well underway long before Putin’s attack, so no matter the political stripe, this is brutality.
History will remember the US acted too little too late against what Zelensky, Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova and numerous European leaders call a terrorist. Putin is a terrorist, a danger to Europe and the world. Especially now that he has control of all the nuclear facilities in Ukraine. But for some, terrorism is a term that is selectively applied.
George Orwell said, “The English language becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
Language is political. Words, despite the simplicity of the letters that construct them, “carry oceans on their small backs” and change in meaning over time. Terrorism is one of these words universally understood but defined in varied and often ambiguous ways. Yet, over the past two decades the UN has failed to establish a common definition of terrorism, and as such, allows UN states the latitude to determine what the term means and to whom it is assigned. Legal scholar Ben Saul argues, “The failure to define terrorism… continues to seriously impede the effectiveness of counterterrorism, its consistency with human rights law and international humanitarian law, and the legitimacy and legality of the Council’s exercise of its international security powers under the United Nations Charter.” Terrorism is center stage as Americans watch 24/7 the destruction, death and horror that is the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A narrow definition of terrorism is distilled from elements of the 2004 UN Resolution 1566: “(a) an intention to cause death or serious bodily injury or hostage taking, (b) an offense under one of the 19 existing “counterterrorism” conventions, and (c) a purpose to provoke a state of terror in the public or a group of persons, or to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.” Russia fits the definition in every way, and the UN is the only body that could technically implement a no fly zone without peril. This will not happen.
Orwell also said, “What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about.” Never has this been more obvious. When Putin is labelled a terrorist, it resonates with the West after decades of the War on Terror waged against an idea in the aftermath of 9/11. Americans disagree on who it is assigned to. Remember, the US is still negotiating with Iran for oil. Terrorism has morphed in the past two years to define actions and groups far removed from its primary designation of Middle Eastern groups like Hamas, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. Despite this, Americans know what Markarova means when she calls Putin a terrorist, but without the experience of invasion, hunger, displacement and death, it’s wordplay to those standing around the water cooler aghast at the images on media.
The world looks to the US for leadership and security, and when it does not show leadership, things sour. While the US leaves everything up to others, there’s talk that the Chinese will play the peacemaker when the smoke settles. The US has let the initiative to lead a response slip away. It will be interesting to see where China aligns and if it emerges the peace broker in the aftermath. Tomorrow’s meeting between the US and China will be interesting, especially as China claims neutrality.
The US needs to lead with strength, and what this looks like may end up not being a choice. Today, a missile hit an installation a few miles from the Polish border. Triggering Article 5 is a real possibility as this escalates. Right now, the US has the power of choice, but will it choose to be forced to engage as it continues a policy of deterrence? Meanwhile, it negotiates buying oil from Iranians with Russia at the table. And Ukraine suffers.
“You can’t ride two horses with one ass sugarbean”