Before Russia invaded Ukraine, I assumed that they would support separatist forces in the east of the country, as well as employing Little Green Men, to consolidate control of at least one third of Ukraine under pro-Russian control. I assumed that Russia would do this so that it could continue to chip away at Ukraine over the next few years, and so that it could continue to show the world how weak the West is. I assumed that the West would do nothing to stop this from happening and that we would watch the Ukrainians dangle from a rope for the rest of the 2020s.
When it became clear that President Putin was going for regime change in, and total control of, Ukraine, I had two thoughts: wow, President Putin is confident, and he is absolutely convinced that the West is enfeebled and ineffective. President Putin being confident about his ability to get away with doing horrible things is not new, but being so sure that the West would be useless marks a new low for Western Liberal Democracies.
Since 9/11 too much of the West has wasted its young people’s wellbeing and lives, and its states’ treasure, on ill-defined, badly managed, and poorly executed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars achieved nothing of lasting value, and will be remembered for the rise of Islamic State and an ignominious withdrawal from Kabul.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that the West will use its power to achieve revenge/retribution and regime change only when the odds of serious consequences appear to be low. As we now know, the West is terrible at working out the odds of winning wars.
Since at least 9/11, and probably since the genocide in Rwanda, Western political leaders have not had the courage to use power when it is needed, nor the compassion to use power when inaction should be intolerable. The West has now had an entire generation of leaders who like having power, as long as they don’t have to risk using it to achieve anything worthwhile for the future of humanity.
I am ashamed of the fact that the West has leaders who like having power, but who neither have the courage nor compassion to use the power they have to do the difficult things that need to be done.
And now we have the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Forty three million Ukrainians lives will never be the same again, because the West couldn’t tell the difference between a war that matters and the supposedly low risk wars that we wasted most of the twenty-first century prosecuting. Forty-three million Ukrainians wanted a quiet life, not to lose their lives, or to have to live in a shattered nation. The Ukrainian President doesn’t have very much power, but he is willing to use what he has to encourage his people to stand up to a ruthless and sclerotic ex-super-power that only understands force and violence.
Meanwhile, Western leaders attempt to sound anguished and serious while they do too little, too late.
How President Putin sees the world is not a mystery, and how Russia understands and uses violence is not a mystery, but how Western leaders can stand up in front of the cameras and microphones and not sound ashamed is a mystery to me.
Power is a tool that should be used courageously and compassionately by Western Liberal Democracies. The West has regularly failed to use power effectively, largely because of the self-referential mediocrity of our leaders. Sadly, they are not sufficiently self-aware to sound ashamed when they talk, so I will have to feel ashamed for them.