My television gear wasn’t working last night. I couldn’t get Netflix, and other aspects of my remote were balky. It was a challenge. I could only go from channel to channel one by one.
As I plodded by CNN, I decided to check it out, just out of curiosity. I don’t think I’ve deliberately watched CNN since the United States invaded Iraq. The image on the screen was of a man standing on a hotel roof with a panorama of a large city behind him. This is crazy, I thought, because the last time I watched CNN, there was a guy standing on a hotel roof in Baghdad with the horizon glowing with the after effects of American cruise missiles.
Astoundingly, right on cue, the reporter turned with a surprised look on his face, sort of a “what the hell was that?” reaction. There had been a loud explosion in the distance. In the next few minutes, I watched as the reporter put on a flak jacket and a helmet.
This wasn’t Baghdad, of course, it was Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. And it wasn’t the United States attacking, it was Russia. Just like the onset of the Iraq war, the Russians were aiming their missiles at command and control centers and airfields in preparation for an invasion.Military intelligence, the most famous oxymoron of them all, had warned this invasion was coming, but I think most of the world didn’t think the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, would really have the will to pull it off. Most of the world continues to be a cockeyed optimist.
As I tuned back into CNN later (but still early) in the morning, the news was grim. The American stock market was down 800 points. The Russians were now moving tanks and troops into Ukraine from four directions. The news agency Reuters called the invasion Europe’s darkest hour since World War II.
I have two initial thoughts about the invasion. The first is my attempt to understand why Putin would do it. I think it has a lot to do with the malaise that has dogged Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia is an amazing country, full of chess champions and figure skaters and some of the world’s greatest writers. It is huge and populous nation, one that probably had more to do with the outcome of World War II than any other nation, including the United States.
Putin sees his job as restoring Russia’s self-esteem, making Russians proud of their nation again, and reasserting Russia’s prominent place in the world. He has been aggressive, almost maniacal in his efforts to revive the wounded bear. Ukraine is the next domino in that march toward respect.
My second thought is that as we react to this chilling territorial grab, we are standing on pretty shaky moral ground. Just 19 years ago, the missiles rained down on Iraq and some cheered as they watched CNN and saw whole buildings disappear in a cloud of dust. Why did we invade that sovereign nation? Part of it was revenge over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, part of it was simply to stabilize a region that is a primary source of oil to the world, part of it was a need to do something dramatic after the devastation of 9-11, and part of it was a huge hoax about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Turns out they didn’t have any.So as we contemplate this latest example of how the world is still dominated by playground bullies, we should be keenly aware that the American invasion of Iraq is the template that Putin is using for the invasion of Ukraine.
A commentator on CNN was asked about the severe and crippling sanctions the U.S. and other nations will impose on Russia. He laughed and said it would be two years before the average Russian citizen would notice them.No, our response has to be more than tit for tat, eye for eye. Somebody, not me, has to be smart enough to figure out what to do about a situation in which a foreign tyrant in trying to restore the pride of his nation has sent the world into a tizzy – and he’s using our blueprint to do it. It might sound like Pollyanna, but we really need to figure out a world where tanks and missiles are not going to be the solution to our problems. Good luck with that one.
Al Zdon is a retired newspaper editor.