Belmont Club

The Trail of Lies

Imagine a ceasefire in First Indochinese War where the battle of Dien Bien Phu was allowed to continue.  Could it still be called a ceasefire? Could you call the suspension of hostilities between Ukraine and Russian a truce except for the continued reduction of the Debaltseve pocket? The New York Times’ Andrew Kramer reports that a force of 8,000 Ukrainian troops, three fourths as large as the doomed French garrison, is surrounded and being ground down.  He speaks of the last road into the garrison.

The status of this stretch of potholed asphalt has become a sticking point in the cease-fire and threatens to unravel the deal. The separatists say their control of the road means they have the Ukrainians surrounded. President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine has denied their claim, because conceding the point would force him either to negotiate for the release of the trapped soldiers or resume fighting to extricate them.

A dozen or so soldiers escaped on Sunday, and on Friday a small group reportedly managed to walk out through the fields. Otherwise, nobody has left the town since Thursday. …

Ilkka Kanerva, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued a statement welcoming the general success of the cease-fire but deploring “the illegal separatists’ false and counterproductive insistence that the deal does not apply to Debaltseve, a government-held town.”

Still it’s a “ceasefire”. Words don’t change facts, except in politics. The facts are that Putin is winning the round and not about to stop punching simply because the Europeans have rung the bell. The physical reality is that he’s going for a knockout, stomping on his foe lying on the canvas.  The political problem for the West is how to keep calling it a truce.

Having apparently lost on the battlefield, Ukraine now will appeal for diplomatic pressure on Russia to prevail upon the separatists to open the road. But European leaders and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia were unable to solve the Debaltseve riddle during intense negotiations in Minsk last week, and it remains an open question whether they can now.

The Europeans have protested the military operations but the Russian forces have been unyielding. According to Reuters the “rebels” have turned back European monitors trying to reach the pocket. Why are the Europeans desperately clinging to an empty phrase? Because words are important and nowhere more than in politics. Charles Krauthammer observed that the Obama administration was similarly performing rhetorical somersaults in an effort to avoid describing ISIS as an ideologically — or if you prefer, religiously — motivated group.  Call them just folks; call them random guys.  Call them anything but who they are.

“The ideology of ISIS is clearly supremacist,” said Krauthammer on Monday’s Special Report, “in the sense that anybody who is not Islamic in their understanding is to be either enslaved or eradicated. This is a genocidal movement. You kill Christians, you kill Jews, you kill Yazidis (but you may in certain circumstances enslave them). That’s what we’re up against, and we have an administration that will not even admit that there’s a religious basis underlying what’s going on.”

That refusal is alarming, said Krauthammer: “Churchill saved England and civilization because in 1940 he was able to enlist the English language, and he put it to work on behalf of civilization. What this administration is doing is precisely the opposite. It’s sort of deconstructing any resistance with its refusal to acknowledge the obvious.”

But in fairness to both the Obama administration and the Franco-Germans, their spokesmen are torturing the language for a reason.  They are doing it to maintain a facade as long as they are able; to avoid the use of certain terms, which once uttered, would imply the need for action. Words like “war” or “invasion” for instance, must be eschewed at all costs.  For these dread phrases, once officially spoken, would make even the dumbest voter sit up and realize that something was wrong. Using the right words would force the politicians to admit to the actual situation and compel them to act — which is precisely what they don’t to do.

Both Obama and Merkel are in the position of a cuckolded husband who pauses at a bedroom door, knowing what he will find on the other side and yet reluctant to cross the threshold for fear of having to do something once the situation becomes undeniable. To avoid conflict he pauses at the doorway to give himself the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately the sounds emanating from within grow ever more unmistakable and the only question is not if, but when the truth must be faced.

Both the Obama administration and the Franco-Germans are as trapped as the Ukrainians in Debaltseve.  The Ukrainian troops are surrounded by the Russian troops, while the Western leaders are imprisoned by their own lies.  The soldiers are invested by encroaching lines.  The statesmen are trapped in a high wall of political bricks comprised of their own falsehoods. Having led their nations forward with false assurances of safety, both the EU leaders and the Obama administration are struggling to find an escape without admitting error.

They will not find it easy.  Both cornered groups are hoping the cavalry will arrive before the last cup of water runs out.  The soldiers are hoping for the European monitors to ride to the rescue, while  Merkel and Hollande for their part must also be looking for a miracle.  Maybe Putin will relent.  As for Obama, he must be praying as he has never prayed before that ISIS will have a change of heart.

The former head of Britain’s MI6 Sir John Sawers has publicly warned that the West is in proximate danger of sliding into conflict with Russia.  It’s an astonishing situation to be in only a comparatively short time since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and only a few years since Obama was actually trying to “reset” with the Kremlin.

“Sanctions on Russia are imposing costs. But the Ukraine crisis is no longer just about Ukraine. It’s now a much bigger, more dangerous crisis, between Russia and Western countries, about values and order in Europe,” he said.

Western countries could “take on Moscow” by providing weapons to Ukraine so it can defend itself and introducing more stringent sanctions, he said.

But Sir John warned Russian President Vladimir Putin was likely to respond.

“As long as Mr Putin sees the issue in terms of Russia’s own security he will be prepared to go further than us. So he would respond with further escalation on the ground. Perhaps cyber attacks against us.

“We have thousands of deaths in Ukraine. We could start to get tens of thousands, then what?”

Eight thousand surrendered troops is a long way toward that “then what?” Well since Charles Krauthammer brought Winston Churchill up, we might as well quote him on the point. For he too wondered how the statesmen of his day could have turned an unbeatable hand into a loss. Well might we also ask ourselves that identical question. What we did do with the legacy of Ronald Reagan?

For five years I have talked to the House on these matters, not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the. carpet ends. A little further on there are. only flagstones, and a little further on still these break beneath your feet. Look back over the last five years. It is true that great mistakes were made in the years immediately after the War. At Locarno we laid the foundation from which a great forward movement could have been made. Look back upon the last five years, since, that is to say, Germany began to rearm in earnest and openly to seek revenge. If we study the history of Rome and Carthage, we can understand what happened and why. It is not difficult to understand and form an intelligent view about the three Punic Wars; but if mortal catastrophe should overtake the British nation and the British Empire, historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory — ” gone with the wind.”

Simple. Our genius leaders judged it as tainted and threw it away.


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