Lost in History

In the jungle of current events, reports that ‘pro-Russian’ armed men have taken over a Crimean airport are the latest thump from drums beating behind a line of trees.  The weary pilgrims of history don’t know entirely what it signifies, except that it is probably nothing good. None of that would be too worrisome to those huddled on the trail, peering nervously into the dark through their makeshift perimeter of bales, if they only had a little more confidence in their guide.


Their guide however, seemed wholly unperturbed at the rhythmic beat, as he stood legs wide apart, surveying the inscrutable darkness with enviable serenity. The world’s guide of course, is president Obama, who just a week ago attempted to slow the crisis in the Ukraine by drawing one of his patented Red Lines. Matt Spetalnick discoursed in Reuters about those do-not-cross boundaries:

U.S. President Barack Obama’s stern warning this week to Ukrainian officials was the closest thing to a “red line” moment he has had since his threat in 2012 to act against the Syrian government if it used chemical weapons.

But Obama’s admonition on Wednesday to not “step over the line” in cracking down on mass protests rocking the Ukraine raised questions on whether he would be any more effective at matching words with deeds than he has been in Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

His decision to lay down another rhetorical “line” in a geopolitical crisis left many foreign policy experts puzzled, especially given the limited options he has at his disposal for dealing with the Ukraine’s spiraling conflict.

“Hasn’t he learned his redline lesson?” tweeted Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Nor was he alone in his use of this comparison. James Carden, writing in the National Journal, noted that he should have drawn a Red Line to restrain the overly enthusiastic protesters also.


Yet another Red Line, Mr. President? … In the space of two sentences the president—give him credit for parsimony—made a few things, as he never seems to tire of saying, “very clear.” The first thing he made clear was that he and his administration are willfully misrepresenting what is actually happening in Kiev. His call for the Ukrainian government to ‘show restraint’ in the face of what is now a spectacularly violent far-Right putsch is a rhetorical fantasy dressed up as a warning.

The second thing he made clear was that he is exceedingly comfortable employing double standards when it suits him. Anticipating the president’s remarks, Vice President Biden called Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on Monday and made clear that Ukraine’s government has a “special responsibility to de-escalate the situation” which continues to spiral out of control in Maidan Square. Mr. Obama, not 24 hours later, warned that there would be “consequences if people step over the line”

Presumably the “people” Mr. Obama is speaking about doesn’t include members of the hardline Svoboda Party, whose members are rampaging through the streets of Kiev setting fires and hurling bricks, Molotov cocktails, and all manner of refuse at the police, who Obama and Biden seem to expect to behave in a manner befitting a Park Service Ranger. The protesters themselves, all presumably quite peaceful (at least at heart), have no ‘special responsibility’ not to ‘step over the line.’


Carden needn’t have worried about the effect of Obama’s one-sided Red Lines since both Yanukovych and his opponents ignored them as if they weren’t there. That realization of impotence, rather than the lack of even-handedness of the edicts, are what principally concerned the jungle travelers, who were beginning to suspect their imposing guide was both lost nor knew what the throbbing drums in the near distance signified.

Some members of the traveling party however, retained their confidence.  One of them, a journalist from the New York Times recalled that president Obama was about to unleash his prestige to solve the Palestinian-Israeli impasse.

WASHINGTON — President Obama, after avoiding a hands-on role in Middle East peacemaking since the setbacks of his first term, plans to plunge back into the effort, his advisers said this week, starting with an urgent appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel….

It is far from clear, however, that Mr. Obama can pull off what has so far eluded his secretary of state — not to mention several of his Oval Office predecessors.  … It is difficult to know the exact status of the talks because the participants have largely kept a promise not to air the details publicly.

Skeptics say Mr. Kerry’s decision to opt for a framework is itself a sort of concession — or at best, a way to buy time. Some worry that if Mr. Obama puts his prestige on the line to coax approval for an interim step, he will have less leverage to push through a final deal.


What a lot his name must have stood for! That prestige — and little else — was what stood between the party and whatever lurked in that forest.

“They’ll listen to him, you’ll see,” one of the party said, wiping the sweat from his brow as he peered into the darkness.

“Are you sure? Those drums sound very menacing to me. And frankly, I don’t think your guide cuts much ice in this part of the woods.”

“He came highly recommended in Washing Town. Had a letter from Lord Ayers himself.”

“All the same,” the skeptic said, “I’ll feel better when those infernal drums stop.”

Suddenly the throbbing ceased but after a pregnant silence a loud boom seemed to rend the very air, as if some monstrous symphony had finished one movement only to begin the next.  AFP reports that “Ukraine’s interior minister on Friday accused Russian forces of staging an “armed invasion” in Crimea, claiming they had blocked one air base and entered another airport overnight on the Black Sea peninsula.”

“What was that?” expostulated one man, sitting up straight of a sudden, half tripping over his Martini-Henry. “What was that loud beat?”

“Steady old fruit,” his companions urged. “Probably just the crescendo of that beastly exhibition.”


“Look! There’s someone coming out of the trees,” another cried as a solitary figure came running out of the gloom. He handed a message to the imposing guide and waited. “What does it say?” the travelers asked. The guide showed them the note.

Source AAP. Ukraine’s parliament has called on the United States and Britain to uphold a pact signed with Russia to guarantee its sovereignty as tensions spiralled over the Crimea region.

Interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov also told MPs that he was summoning the country’s security and defence chiefs over the crisis.

Legislators voted to demand guarantees of a 1994 memorandum that Ukraine signed with the Britain, Russia and the United States in Budapest safeguarding its borders and independence in return for giving up any nuclear arsenals left in the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine’s interior minister on Friday accused Russian forces of staging an “armed invasion” in Crimea, claiming they had blocked one air base and entered another airport overnight on the Black Sea peninsula.

“There’s nothing to be worried about,” said the guide. “They send these appeals for help all the time.”

“It looks ominous to me,” the oldest traveler said. “Rather like the letters Gordon sent to England some years back. Said ‘e was surrounded. The messenger died delivering it to Whitehall, worn out from all the crawling in the desert.”


The guide turned and dazzled the travelers with his smile.  “It’s not serious,” he said. “I’ll just tell them I’ve drawn another Red Line.”

The men returned slowly to their little circle of bales. Suddenly one of the travelers jumped up and cried, “by Jove I know where I’ve heard that drumbeat before!” He produced an Android tablet from his pocket and played a clip from YouTube.

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