Cancelling Russia

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Dr Ann Jones

One of my favourite radio shows is called “What the Duck?”. The host is Ann Jones, a naturalist, and every week she addresses odd, extreme and downright quirky things in the natural world. In her most recent show she investigated whether any of Aesop’s Fables were scientifically as well as morally sound. Could, for example, a tortoise really win a race with a hare?

This moved me to pull down my copy of the book and browse at random. I came across the fable of The Wolf and the Lamb, which I offer below in condensed form. The moral is “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.” How apt at this moment!

The good guys (to lump a multitude of countries into one geopolitical category) have not reacted to Putin’s invasion very cleverly or courageously. The Ukrainian people’s own ferocious defence of  their national sovereignty stands in stark contrast, as does President Zelenskiy’s leadership.

Aesop’s Fables: The Wolf and the Lamb

But I am appalled by recent reports of Western institutions’ “cancelling” Russian books, music and art.  Putin and his coterie are our enemy, not the Russian people and certainly not Russia’s rich contribution to the cultural life of the world.  

Putin has lied to his people and to his own army.  True, he is mining a rich vein of nationalism and fear born of past invasions from the west, but few Russians would have supported the brutal assault on peaceable fellow-Slavs if they had known the truth.

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THE WOLF AND THE LAMB (CONDENSED)

A wolf is drinking at a brook and sees a lamb paddling a little way off. Wanting a reason to eat the lamb the wolf says, “How dare you stir up the mud while I’m drinking?!”

The lamb replies, “But I’m downstream of you.”

“Huh,” said the wolf, “I bet it was you saying bad things behind my back a year ago.”

“A year ago I was not born,” said the lamb.

“Then it must have been your father, which comes to the same thing!”

And the wolf leapt on the lamb, killed it and ate it.

History Repeats Itself

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Mark Twain is reputed to have said, “History doesn’t repeat Itself, but it often rhymes.”  Seeing and hearing President Zelenskiy addressing the world, pleading for meaningful help to resist Putin’s vicious assault on his country, I realised that this was a repeat performance of Emperor Haile Selassie’s plea to the League of Nations to save Ethiopia from MussoliniClick here to read a full transcipt.

That was in June 1936.  The League of Nations did nothing.  Mussolini created his colony of Italian East Africa.  Fast-forward to April 1945: Mussolini’s corpse was hung upside-down in a public square in Milan, and three days later Hitler shot himself.  But during those nine years unimaginable crimes against humanity were committed; millions died; and much of Europe and Japan lay in ruins.

This is more than a rhyme.

Tragedy of Ukraine

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The day after 9/11 I emailed George W Bush urging a moderate response. I was expressing the consensus view of my Saturday morning English conversation class in Bishkek. President Bush ignored that advice.

Yesterday I emailed Joe Biden with very different advice – too late for it to influence his State if the Union Address. Here’s what I wrote:

Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address

I am an Australia/British citizen with many friends in Ukraine and no rancour towards the Russian people.  I understand the strategy of putting economic pressure on Russia’s businesses and population in the hope that Putin will be disempowered from within.  But as we learned in WW2 the Russian people have the ability to withstand great hardship – as do the Ukrainians – and Putin has successfully mined a deep deposit of nationalism and perceived historical grievance.

Therefore I do not believe that sanctions alone will be enough to save Ukraine, the Baltic states (notwithstanding NATO Article 5) and perhaps other former members of Russia’s sphere of influence. 

Like Hitler, Putin has made his wider intentions clear.  If we choose to believe that he’s bluffing, or will be brought to his senses by non-military means, we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.  Eventually we will have to fight him, just as we had to fight Hitler.  Now is the best time to do it, while a significant part of his military machine is engaged in Ukraine.

I spoke to a German colleague yesterday, who said that any military intervention to save Ukraine could precipitate WW3.  I replied that it’s already started.  Putin fired the starting gun.  If we (the ‘good guys’) dawdle he will only get stronger, and Xi Jinping will feel increasingly comfortable supporting him and fulfilling his promise to subjugate Taiwan.

My German colleague also pointed out the vulnerability of Europe to a nuclear attack.  The logic of that argument is that we should allow Putin to do whatever he wants, because he’s the only leader mad and bad enough to make a first strike.  That would mean that the MAD strategy has failed and we are living in a new world order in which freedom, democracy and the rule of law have no place.

Brexit

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So Brexit has happened: the folk
Of Britain are free of the yoke
Of the Brussels Beast.
Meanwhile to the east
Mr Putin’s enjoying the joke.

Judo and the KGB

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When President Putin is mentioned in the Western press the phrase ‘former KGB officer’ is often thrown in, presumably to remind readers that this man is smart, wily and not to be trusted. Such a reminder is probably unnecessary. It might be more useful to insert the reminder that he’s a black belt in judo. I Googled ‘principles of judo strategy’ and came up with the following:

Principle #3 Exploit leverage that uses the weight and strategy of opponents against them. Movement and flexibility are prerequisites for judo strategy. They’re crucial to keeping the competition off balance, and they prevent large competitors from dominating smaller, more vulnerable opponents.

This is the principle at the core of President Putin’s success. He looks at the Western allies, which are collectively many times more powerful than the Russian Federation, both economically and militarily. But he sees their weaknesses and understands how to exploit them to his own advantage.

Chief among these weaknesses are democracy, respect for the rule of law, short-termism and a love of comfort. We will make any compromise, betray any promise and scuff out any ‘line in the sand’ to avoid unfavourable poll numbers, shortages, unemployment, encroachment on citizens’ freedoms, accusations of political incorrectness, or armed conflict that might result in a lot of body bags – body bags containing the bodies of our own people, that is.

One could add another to that list: rejection of the nation state as a political ideal. But that’s a big topic that calls for a separate post.

Disclosure: I am working in Ukraine at the moment, and I have every sympathy for Ukraine’s position over Crimea and its eastern parts that are effectively occupied by the Russian Federation. So Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is not my friend.

Trump’s 100 Days

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I’ve commented on ‘roundism’ before – our tendency to assign special importance to round numbers. Why is a 40th birthday such a big deal? Why do we delight in seeing a car’s odometer click over to 100,000? Why do we bring out the brass bands and bunting for centenaries?

Well, the first 100 days of a political leader’s being in power holds the same magic for us. Donald Trump has just attained this milestone, which he himself declared would mark a period of tremendous achievement.

It’s certainly been a period of tremendous excitement – a roller-coaster ride for the President’s friends and foes alike, and especially for people like President Putin who started as a friend and has now been re-categorised.

I don’t intend to add to the great wave of commentary triggered by the 100-day milestone, but I’d like to relay a pithy comment from my old friend Ron Allan when the Trump presidency was a mere 74 days old:

“I’m pondering what will happen when his frustration level builds. He has his list of things to do. So far the record is this:    

  • What he has authority to do on his own, the supreme court is blocking.
  • What he has to do through the legislature, the legislature is blocking (in spite of both houses and the presidency being of the same stripe).

“If this keeps going, he could resign in frustration. “America does not deserve to have me. I’m not wasting my time any more. etc etc.”

“It is hard to see him lasting. He got the job with the megalomaniac notion that only he can (and will) drain the swamp. If he fails he will not stay. So it’s a race. Which comes first, Resignation or Impeachment? I think the risk of Assassination is receding.”