Three Cheers for Ukraine

World opinion seems to have turned, pretty conclusively, against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A combination of Ukraine’s army’s success in defending its sovereignty, the Russian army’s flight from regions previously occupied, and Vladimir Putin’s reluctance to attempt to mobilize his populace for outright war, have led China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi to publicly express reservations about his attempt to annex his neighbor.

Thus Moscow bureau chief Robyn Dixon, yesterday, in The Washington Post:

Putin and Xi each harbor resentments over past humiliations by the West. They dream of cutting the United States down to size, then taking what they see as their rightful places among several dominant world leaders. They are dictators, ruling “democracies” that lack any meaningful democratic features. And they both want to reshape global rules to suit themselves.

But Putin’s chaotic, tear-it-all-down approach, kicking down the territorial sovereignty of neighboring Ukraine and perpetrating the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, could not be more different from Xi’s careful, steady moves to bend global institutions to Chinese values.

The war has roiled global supply chains and set off global economic instability, impacting China, along with most of the world. It has irreparably harmed Putin’s reputation, exposed his country’s military weakness and triggered punishing sanctions, without producing a single notable benefit.

Columnist Janan Ganesh, in the Financial Times:

I don’t pretend that the average westerner has read their Hume and Spinoza. I don’t even pretend they deal in such abstractions as “the west”. But there is a way of life – to do with personal autonomy – for which people have consistently endured hardship, up to and including a blood price. Believing otherwise is not just bad analysis. It leads to more conflict than might otherwise exist.

Kremlinologists report that Vladimir Putin saw the US exit from Afghanistan last year as proof of western dilettantism. From there, it was a short step to testing the will of the west in Ukraine. You would think that US forces had rolled up to Kabul in 2001, poked around for an afternoon, deplored the lack of a Bed Bath & Beyond, and flounced off. They were there for 20 years. Whatever the mission was – technically inept, culturally uncomprehending – it wasn’t decadent.

How much carnage has this misperception of the west triggered? The [1930’s] Empire of Japan couldn’t believe the hermit republic that America then was, would send armed multitudes 5,000 miles away in response to one day of infamy. (And, remember, never leave.) The Kaiser in 1914 and Saddam Hussein in 1990 made similar assessments of the liberal temper. It is not out of vanity or machismo that the west should insist on recognition of its fighting spunk, then. It is to avert the fighting

Two cheers, then, for “the west.”  The American republic is deeply divided, England a mess, Scotland on the verge of more devolution, the old British Commonwealth of Nations coming apart, NATO reduced as a moral force. Yet Ganesh is right; the global community of western liberalism is here to stay. In its ongoing competition with Russia, China, and Iran, the free world abides.

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