Jewish World Review
April 18, 2014 / 18 Nissan, 5774
The decline of the West (cont'd)
The latest from the White House is that it has "overwhelming evidence" that Russia is now fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine. You think? How do you suppose our super-sleuths can tell? Maybe it's the busloads of the usual bullyboys being trucked in to take control of police stations, government installations and other key points in Donetsk, Slovyansk, Kramatorsk ... and points all along the next slice of Ukraine the Russians have their eye on.
Some of these thugs are in uniform, some without, and many wear St. George ribbons, the unofficial symbol of the old Soviet Union, and they're all following the same playbook they used in Crimea with great success. There's nothing like an absence of opposition to assure a smooth military operation.
This week's headlines could be a replay of what happened in Crimea, and in Georgia before that. And next? The Russians may not stop until they're stopped. And why should they? With a weak president in the White House, a vacillating European Union, and a United Nations that is as disunited as ever, this new tsar knows an opportunity when he sees it -- and he takes it.
And so the Russian Bear, awake from his long hibernation, goes back and forth, to and fro in the land, and up and down in it, seeing what he can see and grabbing what he can grab.
This isn't just a replay of Crimea, it could be a replay of the feckless 1930s, which were followed by the cataclysmic 1940s. Appeasement, even if it has a new name (Reset), breeds war. And all our president and his ever bumbling press secretary have to say is that "we are working with our partners and assessing for ourselves what response we may choose." There, that ought to scare a not-so-ex-KGB man like Vladimir Putin.
No wonder the Kremlin sneers.
The reaction in Washington and the West in general is more a lack of one. Western leaders wring their hands, express concern, and assure the world they're assessing events. Anything and everything but actually taking any meaningful action.
On the contrary, to quote the Associated Press, "President Barack Obama has not yet concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors." You have to wonder at this point what would -- the Cossacks' descending on Kiev? Not that our fearless commander-in-chief might do anything realistic to deter Moscow even then. He seems much too busy assessing the situation to do anything about it.
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph, to quote Edmund Burke, is for good men to do nothing, and by now the Hon. Barack Obama is an expert at it.
It's not just Georgians and Ukrainians who are being repressed these days but Russians, or at least those who dare express any qualms about this resurgence of Stalinism in their country. To quote a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which can do little more than issue statements given Washington's passive stance as this latest purge unfolds:
"In the last year, the Russian government has passed laws imposing unprecedented censorship and restrictions on media and online publications. In the past few months alone it has blocked independent websites and blogs; turned the respected news wire service RIA Novosti into a propaganda service; denied visas and accreditation to foreign professional journalists; and forced leadership changes at several media outlets simply because those outlets dared to challenge the Kremlin's extremist policies." Aggression abroad has a way of going with censorship at home.
Naturally the Voice of America has been shut down, lest a dissenting view be heard in this new but all too familiar Russia. To quote Moscow's chief enforcer of its new gag rule, Dmitri Kiselyov, head of the tame Russia Today news agency, the Voice of America was just distributing spam and had "nothing original to say." Remarkably enough, for an operation that had nothing original or important to say, the Voice of America was original and important enough to be shut down. Censorship remains the sincerest compliment that a police state can pay a news source, however unwittingly.
The Cold War is definitely back on, only this time unilaterally because the West has yet to respond to this series of outrages in any meaningful way, not even with meaningful sanctions. You've got to hand it to Tsar Vlad, he knows his victims, and how easily taken they are.
Back when Détente was in bloom back in the 1970s, long before it had been renamed Reset and staged a comeback, it was not done to resist evil or even call it by its right name, lest the tyrant be offended. It would take an amateur in diplomacy, an old B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan, to call an evil empire the Evil Empire, and when he did, the usual respectables were shocked. For nothing may be so shocking as to acknowledge what is happening right in front of our noses and, even more shocking, do something about it. Which is what Ronald Reagan proceeded to do, giving American diplomacy a new beginning and a new self-respect, the end result of which was the end to the Cold War, the nuclear arms race, and, along the way, the Soviet Union itself.
There is no Ronald Reagan anywhere in sight these days, unless you count the John McCains and Lindsey Grahams and such, all of whom can be safely ignored by a White House intent on ignoring not just them but the reality staring it and the world in the face.
Leader of the Free World -- remember when that was almost a synonym for president of the United States? But that description can be applied to this president only ironically. This president, far from confronting aggression, seeks common ground with it, whether he's "resetting" relations with Moscow or his secretary of state is proceeding to aid and abet the mullahs in Iran in their long and now almost successfully completed effort to build a Bomb of their own. It takes two for appeasement to work, and the West is doing its share.
Peace Through Strength. There's another phrase that has acquired an antique sound as this administration cuts the U.S. Army's troop strength down to a size not seen since before Pearl Harbor, tells the Navy it'll have to do without sophisticated weapons like the Tomahawk missile, and generally cuts the defense budget beyond the bone.
Nothing may be so effective as facing reality, the first step in shaping it. But all of that seems to have escaped our current president and his hapless crew, who are still murmuring about assessing events, lest they have to recognize a clear and present danger and, even worse, do something about it.
As for those of us who dare take notice of this latest Decline of the West, and warn of the disaster it invites, defenders of this administration's passivity explain that Barack Obama is just leading from behind. Right. So far behind he's not even leading. All the usual apologists for appeasement can be counted on to have much the same response to the president's critics as Comrade Kiselyov had to the Voice of America. Shut up, they'll explain.
But we won't. We'll continue to speak out in the faith that one day the West will reawaken and find its old, vigilant self again. Let's hope it won't be too late.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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