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Sunday, April 10, 2022

Will we soon forget about Ukraine? We must NOT.

George Packer certainly echoes my concerns.

In this country, Ukraine has done what nothing else—no election or insurrection, no pandemic, no environmental catastrophe—could do: shown the difference between right and wrong, heroism and barbarism, truth and lies, with such clarity that most Americans are in agreement…

Yet I worry that we’ll soon forget about Ukraine. It’s far away, and Americans have famously short attention spans.

In the days after Zelensky’s speech to Congress, you could sense American life returning to its natural state. Republican senators accused Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of being soft on pedophilia, then checked their phones for their mentions. Meta Platforms announced that CEO Mark Zuckerberg will spend more time working remotely from his 1,500-acre Hawaiian estate and other homes. Kylie Jenner told her 325 million Instagram followers that her newborn son will no longer go by the name of Wolf. An online horde of journalists attacked The New York Times for publishing an editorial in defense of free speech. For 72 hours, Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars was bigger than the war in Ukraine. The endless self-regard, triviality, and cynicism of American culture in the age of digital polarization seeped back, amid images of Ukrainians filling sandbags on the Odesa beaches or risking Russian shelling to bring shelter dogs to safety.

Even when the cause is just, people inevitably lose interest in far-off calamities that happen to people they don’t know. Against the will, a numb indifference sets in, and life goes relentlessly on…

Can the war change anything in this country? Ukrainians, in their struggle to build a democracy out of an autocratic past, have looked to the American example. What will it take for us to be worthy of them?

The questions aren’t idle. Ukraine’s survival requires the sustained support of its most important ally, the United States. Time will not be on Ukraine’s side. If the war drags on for months, it will grow murkier to Americans watching at a distance; its moral clarity will start to blur. Ukrainians’ justifiable rage at all things Russian will produce images that foreigners will find less easy to love than the picture of a string quintet performing in the ruins of a Kharkiv metro station. We’ll see more reports of Ukrainian atrocities that are not the inventions of the Kremlin, Fox News, or Glenn Greenwald. Some Americans will conclude that distinguishing propaganda from truth isn’t worth the effort, that it’s all the same (which is the goal of Russian propaganda). They’ll start to wonder why they have to pay $5 or $6 a gallon for gas with no relief in sight. Going into the midterms, Republicans will be happy to highlight these troubles and hang them around the neck of the party in power.

So the fate of Ukrainian democracy depends in part on American staying power. And in turn, the health of American democracy depends in part on Ukraine. If Vladimir Putin succeeds in demolishing Ukraine, converting its fragments into the vassal states of a new Russian empire, then strongmen and wannabes around the world will be emboldened. Putin will have won his bet that what matters in global affairs is raw power, that oil and gas are more important to Europe than freedom and justice, that the West is too tired and comfortable to sacrifice for its supposed values—that, as he said last summer, “the liberal idea has become obsolete.”

If, on the other hand, Putin’s regime of militarized kleptocracy—fascism without the inspiration—suffers an unmistakable defeat, it will diminish American authoritarians of all types. Ukraine’s win might start to clear out some of the reflexive cynicism that corrodes our politics. The current position of most Republicans—denouncing Russia and criticizing Biden for not doing more to help Ukraine, yet saying nothing when Trump calls Putin a “genius” or openly asks him for political favors while Russia commits war crimes—will become less tenable. Russian aggression will be harder to explain away than American insurrection, and Putin will be harder to defend than Trump. Republican anti-Trump voices will gain numbers and strength. The party will have to decide whether it wants to enter the 2024 elections still infected with the homegrown strain of an utterly discredited Putinism. That can’t be opposed abroad while it’s being stoked at home.

To win, Ukraine needs the stakes of the war to be clear to Americans. If the conflict comes to be seen as an impenetrable European mess, a war over spheres of influence and natural gas, or proof of the West’s hypocrisy, the American public will stop caring…

…Americans cannot afford to forget about Ukraine. When Zelenskyy says that Ukraine is fighting for us and our values too, we had better believe him. Liberal values don’t revive spontaneously or vicariously. They have to be defended, practiced, empowered, and criticized. The weeks since February 24 recall the period after September 11—the sense of crisis and unity at a historic turning point—but there’s this difference: Two decades ago, at the height of the unipolar era, America was blind with hubris. The sense of unity soon took the form of a fearful triumphalism. The Bush administration’s National Security Strategy of 2002 declared: “The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise.” America, the paragon of this model, would lead the world—with us or against us—in a new struggle for liberty.

Twenty years later, with the failures of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Terror, with the rise of new powers abroad, with rampant economic inequality and entrenched political hatred at home, the 9/11 fever is gone. We suffer from its opposite: exhaustion, disbelief. Ukrainians are right to worry that we’ll soon lose interest and lapse back into our solipsistic dysfunction…

I have to agree. Read all of it at The Atlantic.

Unless democracies defend themselves, the forces of autocracy will destroy them.

By Anne Applebaum

There is no natural liberal world order, and there are no rules without someone to enforce them. unless democracies defend themselves together, the forces of autocracy will destroy them. i am using the word forces, in the plural, deliberately. many american politicians would understandably prefer to focus on the long-term competition with china. but as long as russia is ruled by putin, then russia is at war with us too. so are belarus, north korea, venezuela, iran, nicaragua, hungary, and potentially many others. we might not want to compete with them, or even care very much about them. but they care about us. they understand that the language of democracy, anti-corruption, and justice is dangerous to their form of autocratic power—and they know that that language originates in the democratic world, our world.

this fight is not theoretical. it requires armies, strategies, weapons, and long-term plans. it requires much closer allied cooperation, not only in europe but in the pacific, africa, and latin america. NATO can no longer operate as if it might someday be required to defend itself; it needs to start operating as it did during the cold war, on the assumption that an invasion could happen at any time. Germany’s decision to raise defense spending by 100 billion euros is a good start; so is Denmark’s declaration that it too will boost defense spending. but deeper military and intelligence coordination might require new institutions—perhaps a voluntary European legion, connected to the European union, or a Baltic alliance that includes Sweden and Finland—and different thinking about where and how we invest in European and Pacific defense.

if we don’t have any means to deliver our messages to the autocratic world, then no one will hear them. much as we assembled the department of homeland security out of disparate agencies after 9/11, we now need to pull together the disparate parts of the u.s. government that think about communication, not to do propaganda but to reach more people around the world with better information and to stop autocracies from distorting that knowledge. why haven’t we built a russian-language television station to compete with putin’s propaganda? why can’t we produce more programming in Mandarin—or Uyghur? our foreign-language broadcasters—radio free europe/radio liberty, radio free Asia, radio martí in Cuba—need not only money for programming but a major investment in research. we know very little about Russian audiences—what they read, what they might be eager to learn… 
As soon as the CBS 60 Minutes interview with President Zelenskyy is posted to YouTube, I will put it up. I have it on TV right now. I couldn't give a flying flip about who won the NCAA hoops final or the Master's Golf Tournament in the face of all this misery.
Been stewing over the "Crisis of Democracy" for quite a while now. 

Corruption, kleptocracy are significant factors.


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