Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Seeking prophetic voices of courage in Brussels

 Will there be a prophetic voice at the EU and NATO meetings to discuss the slaughter in Ukraine?

It is almost impossible to use the word “prophetic” without referring to the prophets in the Old Testament, many of whom uttered deep and profound criticisms of their people and the manner in which they were living, ascribing their criticism to a breaking of the covenant with God. It was that covenant that offered the beacon of how to live, not only from an individual perspective but also from a collective perspective. Out of that well of Jewish tradition, Christian writers and thinkers were to come to ascribe those ‘visions’ both of criticism and of a new way of being to the holy spirit, since, to both author their words and then to have to bear the scorn and contempt of their communities was unbearable. Something else, something outside the empirical, the literal and the sensate had to be operating in order for them to utter their harsh words.

Today, however, rather than the holy spirit, at least in many quarters, we talk about something called “intuition” as a possible link to things that are not easily or even possibly ever amenable to empirical measurement. Let’s not get trapped into a kind of thinking or ‘visioning’ or ‘intuiting’ that completely detaches what we know about the facts on the ground from a perception of how those facts might hold a key to their requisite resolution, in this case, the Ukraine-Russia war.

This moment is not merely an inflection point about the relative power of democracy or autocracy, or between east and west, or between free markets and socialism. This is a moment in history in which how we proceed, in the vortex of several colliding crises, will set patterns and paths forward as to our continual co-habitation on the planet. While the world scurries about in flotillas of rescue operations, both humanitarian and military, as well as diplomatic and information (propaganda) the crisis in Ukraine offers many urgencies that refuse to be ignored.

All sides agree that a human tragedy is unfolding right before our eyes. All sides agree that the images of this conflict are searing deeply into both the consciences and the ‘guts’ of everyone alive. And the scars, the wounds, the helplessness and the urgency to ‘engage’ somehow in acts to attempt to bring about a silencing of the bombs and the missiles and the assault rifles and the carnage are ubiquitous. In real time, with digital images flying from satellites to screens in every corner of the globe, we are all part of this horror. And, consequently, we are also not able to ‘free’ ourselves from its exigency.

Without being ‘experts’ in military strategy and tactics and history and tradition, and without being experts in the deployment of economic sanctions, and without being schooled in the nuances of foreign policy and geopolitical negotiations, none of us ordinary people warrant a seat at those tables where serious and dangerous decisions have to be taken. We are not charged with the responsibility that weighs on the shoulders of those men and women who hold offices and mandates that carry both the responsibility and the authority to bring about policy and acts that will extend, curtail, terminate or resolve this human tragedy.

Those who consider war a necessary evil, as has the church for centuries, (and as the Russian Orthodox has even endorsed this specific conflict) will, of course, refer to and rely on history, replete as it is with blood, carnage, weapons and conquest. War colleges, military academies, and platoons of military personnel comprise a kind of global network charged with the responsibility for their respective nations to protect and defend, using all of the instruments of war at their disposal. Arguments for the generation and maintenance of those instruments rely primarily on words like “defense” and “security” and “protection” and “safety” and “liberal values,” and “freedom” and “privacy” and “human rights” and “equality” at least in the more recent past. And while there are various other agencies, and authorities charged with many of those same “words” and “concepts,” only the military is burdened with the responsibility for the deployment/or not of such lethal weapons as nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons, and cyber security.

In most democratic countries, there is a civilian authority and responsibility for the oversight of the military arm of a nation. It is that civilian layer who will be charged with making decisions in Brussels later this week. Conversely, in Russia, it would appear that putin himself, without the real constrictions of either advisors or elected representatives, can and has and will continue to make decisions for his nation regarding all military and foreign policy issues.

 Most of the debates around these crucial issues, as the world faces in Ukraine, take the form of hourly intelligence gathering and briefings, offered to both military and civilian authorities for analysis, interpretation and then decision-making. So far, so good!

However, U.S. President Biden and his administration have taken the position that no American “boots” will enter Ukraine in combat against Russian forces, and no military “boots” will operate fighter jets over Ukrainian skies, in order to effectuate a “no-fly zone”. Calling such a move “World War III,” Biden strikes fear in anyone who might be listening. However, the world has watched with increasing apprehension the Russian over slaughter of men and women, mere protesters, on the streets of Ukrainian cities; we have watched the demolition by bombs and missiles of maternity hospitals, schools, mothers and children and the elderly, many of whom are heard crying, “Why?” “What is the purpose of this madness?”

And the world is tongue-out longing for an answer to their prophetic cry.

Prophetic cries do not have to have an immediately perceivable apocalyptic and epic dimension. They are often embedded in the most intimate, often even the most barely audible, or visible expressions. That paradox, however, is often overlooked in our skimming over the surfaces of many of the issues that make their way into the public debate. Like wisdom, it is often unable to be constrained by hyperbolic theories, or epic discoveries, or historic victories.

Who might represent what we might call a prophetic voice, at a time when prophetic voices may not seek or be elected to public office. Volodymyr Zelensky(y)’s path to the presidency of his nation, from mediocre student, to theatre troupe to a television series depicting a fictional president of his homeland, in which he played the lead, to a vision of actually holding that office, has proven both ironic and prophetic. Who would have thought that such a path, even including a law degree, would give birth to a reiteration of the Churchillian rhetoric in the middle of military conflict in Europe, for the first time in over half a century?

If Zelensky is prophetic, both in his capacity to inspire and to motivate and to advocate for the urgent needs and aspirations of Ukrainians, even to the point where we all know that his life is in constant danger, and his surrender to the Russians is improbable, if not out of  the question,  then who else can we hear or read who might also have the clarity and the depth and the insight and the prophetic vision to bring the Ukrainian survival and regeneration about?

From our perspective there are three voices being heard in the western media who might offer insight, clarity and a prophetic vision to those leaders of NATO when the meet in Brussels.

The first is Ian Brezinski, of the Atlantic Councel, son of former  National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brezinski. Appearing several times recently on Morning Joe, on MSNBC, the younger Brezinski advocates for a more assertive posture, not merely defensive posture from both NATO and Ukraine, as the only kind of language Putin understands. His argument, if I heard him fully and correctly, is that Putin is inured to words, that we have done that to him by our shared acquiescence in previous instances where he has used military power to subdue with impunity. Brezinski believes, after years of both study and experience, that Putin is less likely to deploy both nuclear and chemical weapons if and when the west openly, and assertively pushes back against this invasion. He served as “deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO policy from 2001 to 2005 under George W. Bush. He is a member of the Strategic Advisors Group at the Atlantic Council.  In 2010, he was named Senior Fellow in the Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. We can only hope that his council, even vicariously, will be listened to in Brussels.

Another prophetic voice, Fiona Hill, has stated publicly, that we are already in World War III. In an AP Interview, February 17, 2022, with Tracy Brown, we read this:

“Just in the thinking of the Kremlin and Putin in particular, Ukraine belongs to Russia,’ Hill said. ‘So, by any kind of means—Russia intends to make sure that Ukraine is completely and utterly surrounded and constricted in every possible way. (This was before the invasion which began on February 24, 2022)). She said Bien was right to repeat his warnings about potential Russian aggression….If he doesn’t repeat them they will all think that everything is fine because everyone is looking for a way out. We’re all looking for a solution. There’s not going to be one. Putin has declared war on us.”

A third voice who warrants careful attention, in this dangerous time, not only for Ukraine and Ukrainians, but for the way we are attempting to operate governance, including human rights, and the opportunities for all citizens to achieve their full potential in a safe and secure society and culture. That voice is from former Chess Master Garry Kasparov. In today’s The Scotsman, under the titles: Ukraine-Russia War: Garry Kasparov’s take on Vladimir Putin is worth listening to –Scotsman Comment:

Now, Kasparov, who is  chairman of the Human Rights Foundation and once attempted to stand against Putin in Russia’s presidential elections, has warned that the West’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is only making Putin  stronger and more dangerous. ‘I was called a warmonger in 2014 when I said Putin would not stop with Crimea and East Ukraine. Now everyone admits that I was right, but wants to repeat the same mistake now. Letting Putin destroy Ukraine increases the threat of a greater conflict, including nuclear,’ he said. ‘The West loves to lose slowly, to pass the hard choices to the next administration, shift the consequences to buffer states.’ (The piece continues)..Kasparov’s prescience about Putin’s intentions does not mean he is necessarily right about this, but it does mean he is worth listening to. If the West refuses to get involved more directly in the defence of Ukraine—for fear of sparking a nuclear war- then its alternative must be up to the task of ensuring that Putin’s regime does not emerge stronger but instead is fatally undermined.

These three observers are not engaged in this debate for their own personal sake, for their career’s aggrandizement, nor for some political party’s electoral success. They have the best interests of the world at heart. They also have the courage of their difficult decision to come to their conclusion and to have the courage also to put those conclusions our on the world’s menu of options for a full discussion.

We owe them a debt of gratitude, not merely in honouring their insights, but in putting those insights into practice. President Zelensky, it would seem, would also echo their perspective.

Do we have their courage?


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