Slow Joe, Bad Vlad

Proverbial sayings seem to have seasons just as fruits and flowers do. Here’s one misattributed to Mark Twain that’s in season now: “If you don’t read the news, you are uninformed. If you do, you are misinformed.” I don’t know how many times I have encountered that one recently. It’s probably always relevant, but it seems especially so now that “the fog of war” has rolled in everywhere following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the end of February. 

It has been amusing to see the beautiful people exchange their Black Lives Matter yard signs and lapel pins for stylized images of the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag. A couple of summers ago, I had to reach for the Dramamine when I started getting emails from various corporate concerns declaring their solidarity with George Floyd and their staunch opposition to “white supremacy” and “systemic racism.” The same emporia are now emitting bulletins announcing their brave support of Ukraine and its media-savvy president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

There have been some dissenting voices. U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), for example, just described Zelenskyy as a “thug” and the Ukrainian government as “incredibly evil.” He was harshly criticized for those comments. “Let’s be clear,” sniffed one lawmaker, “the thug is Putin.” You have probably noticed that “pro-Putin” has replaced “white supremacist” as this week’s epithet of choice. It doesn’t matter that Cawthorn also observed, “The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting. But leaders, including Zelensky [sic], should NOT push misinformation on America.”

Two points. First, it won’t matter what Cawthorn says about Putin’s invasion. He has dared to attack a sacred cow. He has arrayed himself on the side of the goats. He must be vilified. 

Second, a more general point. Two different things can be true at the same time. Vladimir Putin can be a murderous thug and Ukraine can be a corrupt country beholden to various left-wing interests. 

Some commentators who have pointed that out ask why it appears to be so difficult for people to take that observation on board. I don’t believe that the issue is one of understanding. Rather, it is an issue of politics. The Left (which includes the NeverTrump, chiffon Right) has realized that calling someone “pro-Putin” might be a useful political weapon, much as “soft on crime,” “liberal,” and “socialist” were in the dim, distant past. Expect anyone who comments on the situation in Ukraine who does not echo the press releases being issued by Kyiv to be tarred with the “pro-Putin” brush. 

In this great game of power politics what is wanted is not the truth but strict, not to say abject, ideological conformity. It is only by subscribing to that narrative that, for example, Joe Biden could hope to get away with the claim that rising energy costs are Putin’s fault. Notwithstanding Jen Psaki’s assertions to the contrary, Joe Biden shut down vast swathes of the American energy industry. The result has been sharply higher energy costs for months. Now that he has turned off the spigot of Russian oil, costs are shooting up even higher—and the worst is yet to come—but that is on Biden, not Putin. 

As many commentators (including me) have noted, Biden’s green energy policy helped pay for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. That revenue stream was just tied off, but too late. Some 190,000 Russian troops had massed on the Ukrainian border, and on February 24 they rolled on over. Putin is in the process of being starved now. But what will the issue be? Will the sanctions bring him to his knees, as the pols and pundits predict? Or will they back him into a corner? 

“With his survival now at stake,” one analyst conjectures, “this rat will strike anything in its path to get out of its corner.” That’s a possibility that those, like Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who advocate sending warplanes to Ukraine might ponder. “Enough talk,” Romney said recently. Quoth the Grecian Formula pol: “People are dying. Send them the planes that they need. They say they need MiGs . . . They want MiGs. Get them the MiGs.” And then what?

A couple of observations. First, I agree with those who have argued that, if Donald Trump had been president, it is highly unlikely that Putin would have invaded Ukraine. This offends The Narrative, I know, but look at the record. That’s one of the undigestible morsels that the anti-Trump regime apologists will just have to swallow, hoping no one will notice.

Second, it is almost impossible to sift through the haze of misinformation being issued by all sides, including, it should go without saying, the government of the United States. Some silly commentators are confident they know how the conflict will end and, moreover, what its end will portend for politicians they do not like. But they know as much as you and I do: nothing really, at least nothing upon which a confident prediction about the outcome of Putin’s latest adventure could be based. 

Go ahead and condemn Putin if it makes you feel better. He is certainly worthy of condemnation. But that does not mean Donald Trump was mistaken when he observed it would be “a good thing, not a bad thing” if the United States got on well with Russia. For one thing, it would give the United States leverage over Putin and expose areas of common interest. The alternative, on view as I write, is to drive Putin into the arms of the Chinese and the Iranians. Maybe this misbegotten invasion will wind up destroying Putin. Then again, maybe other things—more dear to us—will be destroyed, instead or alongside.

 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

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