Monday, May 2, 2022

We got ourselves into this mess, can we get ourselves out of it?

 Meet the Press Host, Chuck Todd, says that the United States is in a ‘proxy war’ with Russia in Ukraine. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Germany last week, he wants to see Russia ‘weakened so it cannot do again’ what it is doing. President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe says he cannot ‘see’ a peace deal given than neither leader in Russia or in Ukraine is willing to give up anything. Retired military officer Stephen Witty, also on Moring Joe, says he envisions a prolonger war, similar to the eight-year on-again-off-again history in the Donbas, with first Russia taking a town and then Ukraine taking it back, and so on.

Those many ‘wind gusts’ of opinion, however, are ‘blowin’in the wind’ like so much speculation, all of which becomes merely a transcript of the daily writing/recording of history, and not the ultimate outcome. None of those voices can be considered either ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, either credible or non-credible. Varying experience and perspectives, motivations and aspirations drive such observations. Like water-cooler chatter, they are interesting and possibly even worthy of some consideration.

However, given that we are learning some other pieces of information that together do not bode well for the near-term future, it might be well to pause and consider them. Russian troops stealing wheat from the ‘foodbasket of the world’ as the World Food Program Director calls it on CNN’s GPS, yesterday, renders food another weapon in this war. The report that Poland and Slovakia are jointly considering providing MIG jets to the Ukrainians cuts through the resistance earlier put forward by the Americans. The stories of the physical and sexual abuse of Ukrainian women by the Russian soldiers, followed by predictable attempts to cover such stories in denial, along with the brazen blasts near where friendly political leaders are meeting with Ukrainian officials, add credence to the inhumanity that lies at the heart of the Russian mis-adventure.

As in the pandemic, including the public coverage of the plague, we are all living on the cusp of today’s headlines and tomorrow’s prospects/dread/fears and doing whatever we can to reconcile our fragile emotions and cognitions. This bifocal perspective, however, finds us vacillating from some flimsy sense of ‘knowing’ to an even more delicate sense of how to carry the burden of whatever knowing we seem to have, and finding both paths encumbered with history, personal angst, political gamesmanship, propaganda, contempt for the killings, the rapes the indiscriminate bombings of hospitals and innocent civilians, and the migration and/or displacement of some 12.7 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children.

According to the Director of the World Food Program, the former Governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, because of the rocket-spike of need, they are now feeding the starving while having to deprive the hungry. “Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world. They grow enough food to feed 400 million people. Well that’s gone, Beasley told 60 Minutes this week, ‘You’re already seeing fuel pricing spike, food pricing spike, cost of shipping spike. It’s already creating havoc for the poorest of the poor around the world. But this is gonna affect not just the poorest of the poor. It’s gonna affect everybody.’ ( May 1, 2022)

Different from the political, military and even hopeful musings of the talking heads, Beasley’s words have to be segregated from speculation and both interpreted and considered as urgent, perhaps even existential. Reports (see that fighting has spilled beyond Ukraine into neighbouring Russia and Moldova are also unnerving at best and frightening at worst. reports: ‘United Nations officials have been ‘blocked’ from accessing  ‘port cities like Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Kherson’- raising concerns of mass starvation in the Ukrainian cities that have been devastated by Russia’a military invasion….Russia and Ukraine supplied about 30% of the world’s wheat and barley before the war. Thirty six countries, including some of the world’s most vulnerable and impoverished, relied on them for more than half of their wheat imports (Rebecca Falconer, May 1, 2022)

Another layer of speculation now includes the prospect of NATO warships blockading the Black Sea in order to prevent Russian ships from impeding or preventing food shipments from reaching Ukrainian ports, and to enable that food to reach starving Ukrainians.

How are we in the west even to entertain a notion that holds that the war will be contained inside the borders of Ukraine, with the multiple pots that are roiling, anyone of which could spark a wider conflict. Belarus, for example, is expressing some intent to seek a wider and closer alliance with Russia, almost in an imitation of the NATO initiatives of the last two or three decades. China is reported to have publicly noted that the expansion of NATO was a serious and disturbing initiative that negatively impacted Europe, with whose members China has significant trade relations.

Still with China, Politico reports yesterday, May 1, 2022:

Taiwan’s foreign minister said Sunday that his island nation is studying carefully Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine for lessons applicable to its situation with China….There are two things, of course (Joseph) Wu said, (to Fareed Zakaria on GPS yesterday). ‘The first is asymmetric capability. Look at the /Ukrainians, they use small personal weapons to go against a large enemy. And I thing that is something we can learn from. In fact, we have been preparing for that, but we need to make more investment in this regard…The second area we can learn from Ukraine is civil defense, Look at the Ukrainian people. All of the males are having the determination to defend the country. They want to serve in the military. They want to go to war zones to fight against Russia. That kind of spirit is enviable for the Taiwanese people.

The spectre of a China invasion, or some form of take-over of Taiwan cannot be considered mere speculation, given that China considers Taiwan to be an integral component of mainland China. Whether the United States, Japan, South Korea and their allies would/will provide a similar level of commitment, support and hardware to Taiwan as NATO and the U.S. is providing Ukraine in the event of a Chinese invasion, however, remains a mystery at this point, irrespective of American rhetoric of support for Taiwan.

Separating the starving from the hungry, a highly delicate and necessary critical judgement on the part of the officials of the World Food Program, is as difficult and heart-wrenching as sorting out the ‘ethics’ morals and legalities of providing MIG jets to Ukraine, as is the reading of daily human stories of lives destroyed, separated, and left to die while facing the announced prospect of a nuclear or a chemical deployment in this conflict.

While we are being fed a surfeit of daily news stories, that are both magnetic and enervating at the same time, we are also having to do our own curating, digesting, connecting the dots and trying to make sense of both too much information and not enough wisdom. And we are not only starved of wisdom, we are, in effect, starving for a level of common sense, honesty, integrity, courage and global strategic planning and collaboration not only in the face of the Russia-Ukraine war, but also in the face of the impending starvation crisis, the impending displacement crisis, the already extant income chasm and the global crisis of climate change and global warming.

Without either life-saving training or even life-saving coaches and mentors, we are left seemingly afloat on a tiny boat, with millions of others equally desperate to make sense of our shared and impending confluence of crises, wondering how to impact the increasing political myopia, supplemented by the media and even worse, the social media, in their concentration, if not fixation on the micro-analysis, the micro-incident, the micro-conflict, fire, shooting, and even pandemic cases and their widely divergent approaches to ameliorating that historic plague. We have to focus on the big picture, especially at a time when we are inundated with storm surges of serious and threatening date, for which it seems no political institution or organization either has the power, or can summon the will to address adequately.

It is not as if no one is doing anything. Thousands of individuals in all parts of the world are going their ‘bit’ to help save the planet, and to help put people to work with dignity and to mediate peer conflicts and to urge their families and friends to ‘mask up’ and to get vaccinated and to keep social distance, and to try to stay abreast of the various public issues we all face. And yet….

When we look “up” to the “powers-that-be” for both inspiration and for substantial policies and leadership, across provincial and national boundaries, into networks of like-minded, courageous, creative and committed leaders, at both the thought and the pragmatic levels, we face a white board scribbled in shapes, sizes, colours and curves that are not only random but hardly indicative of belonging to the same ‘canvas’….

The Secretary General of the United Nations emphatically underscored, in a public interview while in Ukraine that there is much more to the UN than the Security  Council, which, until now, has failed to take action even on the crimes against humanity that were committed in Syria, according to Amal Clooney, again representing the interests of the global citizens before that august body, to ask for concerted, urgent and immediate action on the crimes against humanity, war  ini crimes and mass murder of innocent men, women and children in Ukraine, by Russian invading forces. The International Criminal Court, while honourable and ethical, does not have the signatures of either China or the United States on its Charter. Hence, collaborative action in the short term, and potentially even in the longer term, is less than likely, to prosecute Russian soldiers, generals and Putin himself.

And while regime change in not only not on the lips of any western official, given that no nation is prepared to ‘take him out’, nor should they, the world is left hanging in desperate impatience in a vain hope that Putin will remove himself from the Kremlin, or be ushered out by his more sane cronies. Certainly, he should neither be invited nor permitted to attend the G20 meeting in Indonesia, in spite of the invitation having been issued by the president of that country. And tennis stars like Nadal and Djokovic who are protesting the barring of Russian tennis players from Wimbledon need to examine both their motivating and their role in the world’s serious drama(s) in which we are all enmeshed.

Neither the president of Indonesia, nor Nadal and Djovokic, will be exempt in the long run, from the highly predictable and multiple-layered impacts of the violence that Putin has inflicted on the world. And their advisers and their respective countrymen and women would be wise and helpful in counselling them to change their views. Public figures, including even those like Ji JinPing in China, have a significant role to play in seeding and nurturing a point of view that rises above self-interest, and even national interest and reaches into the global interest…Putin does not “get it”, and will only march further down the rabbit hole of this conflict, perhaps even into the sovereign territory of other nations, if he is not stopped.

Ordinary people, by the millions, “get it” and we all need some serious and substantive indication from those who have the levers of power in their respective hands that they, on our behalf, are prepared to lead, to provide workable options that can and will lead us all out of this extremely dark basement of our collective conscious, not to mention our collective unconscious.

We are all hoping, praying, begging, pleading and aspiring for leadership toward a shared, sustainable and equitable existence…not so much for ourselves, but for our grandchildren, as former Secretary of State, Madelaine Albright reminded us over and over again. We mourn her passing, but humbly acknowledge her gift of leadership, mentorship, courage, conviction and commitment to the cause of freedom, democracy and liberty.

After being exiled by both the Fascists and the Communists, separately and at different times in her life, her voice will ring through the centuries, regardless of how long tyrants like Putin, Hitler and Stalin attempt to hold sway.


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