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Journalist Goes to Ukraine, Asks Wrong Question
Nicholas Kristof, what happened to you?
A celebrated American journalist goes to Ukraine. He finds a woman whose home has been destroyed by Russian bombs. The woman recounts that before the building collapsed, she and her 5-year-old escaped, but her grandmother did not.
The journalist has this woman’s picture taken in front of her destroyed home — in front of the wreckage and rubble piled over her dead grandmother. And he asks her a question. For The New York Times, he wants her opinion of certain Americans who have let her down.
Does he ask her about the Americans who could have prevented the entire Russian invasion in the first place?
After all, the U.S. White House had for years quietly enmeshed Ukraine’s military-security establishment with our own. For years we had also fueled the Ukrainian civil war with hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons (back when that seemed like a lot of money). We also for years insisted Ukraine would someday join NATO, even though ordinary Ukrainians had consistently expressed different desires: for peace, for military neutrality, and for economic and travel access to both Europe and Russia. Moscow had repeatedly stated it would go to war before it would allow NATO to absorb Ukraine, but we publicly dismissed that — even as privately, our top foreign policy experts inside and outside of government confirmed that, yes, indeed that’s what will eventually happen.
In the weeks before the invasion, the Kremlin repeatedly came to Washington — both privately and publicly — seeking one last time for a new understanding. Washington declined to entertain any of Moscow’s ideas. The White House would rather see Ukraine wrecked. This was so even as the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, had been elected on a peace platform, with a mandate to wind down the civil war in the Donbas. From the perspective of today, that war is forgotten, but even before the invasion it had lasted eight years and killed more than 13,000 people, and Ukrainians on both sides — the U.S.-backed and the Russian-backed — were tired of it. The White House could have worked with Vladimir Putin and Zelensky toward a diplomatic solution of all of this. Instead, again, we chose to see Ukraine wrecked. We then dedicated ourselves to fighting Russia down to the last Ukrainian, and congratulated ourselves on our noble spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of others.
But no. Our hero the journalist does not ask about any of this. This woman’s home is destroyed, her grandmother crushed to death, her life upended, it could have all been avoided with basic, commonsense diplomacy — but he does not mention this or ask her thoughts.
Does he ask her how she feels about Americans who actively sabotaged a tentatively-reached peace deal that could have ended the war seven months ago?
Seven months ago! Presumably her home could still be standing and her grandmother still alive if the U.S. government had not scuttled that peace process.
No. He does not ask her about this either. After all, there is a U.S. election happening back home. Control of Congress is at stake! People like “Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand Republican” are threatening to derail the Ukraine gravy train! What does this woman think of those spineless, heartless, quisling politicians? That’s the story we’re chasing here.
The journalist recounts that the woman hopes her grandmother’s body can be dug out from the rubble and given a proper burial, and then writes:
Her voice cracked with emotion, but she held together until I asked what she thought of Americans who say it’s time to move on from supporting Ukraine.
“We’re people, you understand,” she said, and she began weeping. “It doesn’t matter if we’re Ukrainian or American — such things should not happen.” And then she was crying too hard to continue.
Such things should not happen.
We’re people, you understand.
It’s a universal and emotionally moving statement. And it’s such an interesting answer to his question — in part because it’s an answer that actually speaks more to the questions he didn’t ask.
If “such things should not happen”, then why did our government embrace yet another avoidable war? Why did it seven months ago sabotage peace?
“Buck Up America!”, Caws the Crow
I’ve long been a mild fan of this journalist, Nicholas Kristof. He has made a career out of defending human rights. He’s a thoughtful and kind-seeming person. He can be a powerful writer and the Ukrainians he profiles in this article are indeed inspiring and admirable.
Yet I’m so disappointed at the cartoonish conclusions drawn.
Apparently if you oppose allocating billions of dollars more in weapons for Ukraine then you a) don’t care about human suffering, and b) are a weak and silly person, and c) are probably Republican.
We are not offered any alternative to pouring more weapons into this conflict.
For example, we are not offered the alternative of a massive international humanitarian aide package — and how striking to see this omission by Kristof, a self-identified progressive, and a journalist whose focus on humanitarian needs has, per The Washington Post, “reshaped the field of opinion journalism.”
Nor are we offered any information about, or advocacy for, peace.
This is in fact one of the most pro-war opinion columns I’ve seen in awhile. It’s mesmerizing, and manipulative. It demonizes Russia and Russians repeatedly with the sort of luridly detailed reporting that could have been aimed at an emotional appeal for peace — but instead is a masterfully choreographed emotional appeal for more war, up to and including the photo of an attractive young Ukrainian woman, a television personality-turned soldier who, Kristof tells us, wants to fight the Russians because they “killed the man I love,” and who
“projected strength, wearing body armor and walking carefully to avoid land mines. ‘Follow in my footsteps,’ she advised.”
Follow in my footsteps, says a woman bent on revenge. She’s earned her right to walk that path. But are we going to scorch every hectare of Ukraine and wreck millions of lives more following her down it? By “we” I mean the American Crows and Russian Seagulls who have collaborated to murder the peace of Ukraine.
It’s not until the 32nd paragraph of his article that Kristof notes that “a prolonged war will claim lives of children starving in Somalia and elsewhere because of higher food prices” — this echo of the old Kristof is bittersweet for being so pathetic, a day late and one hundred billion dollars short. Weirdly, Kristof never mentions the suffering of Ukrainian children now as a reason to seek peace, but he is apparently moved by the thought of Somalian children suffering later, and so he continues: “It may be that at some point outsiders should encourage Zelensky to make concessions (as he offered early in the conflict).”
“It may be that at some point” might kick off the mealiest-mouthed passage in the history of writing.
“At some point?” Such as when? After the mid-terms? They’re over. Can we get on with it now? (Apparently not. First we need to vote another $37.7 billion through a lame-duck Congress. And then? Well, I guess then we’ll see how much money is left, and which way the winds are blowing.)
Also: What “concessions” are you talking about that we maybe, might, at some point, want to encourage Zelensky to make? So, you’ve skipped the entire peace process — skipped all negotiation and gone straight to the surrender? How about just encouraging a cease fire and peace talks?
Also: “Outsiders” might someday get involved? Meaning us, the people orchestrating the war from Day 2, and fueling it gleefully to a massive new scale that is truly demolishing Ukraine?
This part — the suggestion that some unspecified day soon, American “outsiders” oughta get involved, if only for the children of Somalia — this part might be the most mendacious moment in the entire unpleasant exercise. Here Kristof reinforces the White House fiction that we’re taking our lead from Zelenksy — when it’s well-documented that Zelensky is almost as helpless a bystander as you or I. He was elected on a peace platform; sought peace in the civil war but was stymied by (CIA-backed) Ukrainian nationalists; sought peace with Putin after the invasion but was stymied by Washington and London; and only gets traction with the rest of the world when he sues for weapons and not for peace.
So Zelensky has been just as managed and manipulated as has any reader of this Kristof article. The New York Times, our masterful paper of record, has never really delved into any of this.
Instead, we are offered a binary choice: Either escalate the conflict with more weapons, or “abandon” the Ukrainians entirely.
“While President Vladimir Putin of Russia seems unable to break the spirit of Ukrainians, he is already shattering the will of some Americans and Europeans. … Buck up, America and Europe!” Kristof exhorts us. “And take some inspiration from Ukrainians themselves. … Ukrainians aren’t wavering the way some Americans, French and Germans are.”
Buck up, America?
Don’t “waver”, like a bunch of French or German sissies?
Keep fueling this terrible conflict with enormous amounts of weapons — and then keep complaining when the Russian response is proportionally (or disproportionally!) enormous?
Then, go document the horrific results of that enormously destructive Russian response, snap some pics of the victims — and use their stories to advocate for enormous amounts of additional weapons?
That’s the message from one of our more notable humanitarian writers?
Yes. Well, that plus some of the kookiest, most wooly-headed foreign policy thoughts imaginable. Kristof states that in addition to the moral reasons for shipping weapons to Ukraine, “there’s also a practical reason to do so,” because Ukrainians “are offering themselves as a human shield in ways that benefit the West.” He then cites how much better protected Estonia is from hypothetical future Russian aggression, now that Russia has worn itself out.
Again, how incredibly jarring to hear a person steeped in human rights lingo speak so approvingly about people serving as human shields. (Did the grandmother crushed in her apartment building “offer herself” for that?) International human rights law condemns people being used as human shields; the very term itself calls to mind a cowardly or immoral behavior in which combatants hide behind civilians, including the elderly and children. Yet here, Kristof applauds the use of the entire Ukrainian people, including the elderly and children, who supposedly “are offering themselves” as a “human shield” for the convenience of entire other, distant nations, like Estonia and America.
“Ukraine’s resistance may also increase the possibility that Putin himself will be toppled. That might lead to the rise of aggressive militarists who would be more likely to use nuclear weapons, but it could also moderate Russia and lead to a safer world …
“The most important way in which Ukraine is arguably making the world safer is farther to the east. If Russia is defeated in Ukraine, China could take that as a warning and be less likely to move on Taiwan, reducing the risk of a cataclysmic war between the United States and China.”
That’s a lot of woulda-coulda mumbo jumbo. If we keep the pressure on, Putin might be toppled, which might lead to a nuclear war, or it might not, but if we ease up the pressure, China might be emboldened, which might lead to a cataclysmic war, or it might not.
So the only solution is: More war, which might or might not lead to more war.
C’mon Nick, what happened to you?
Once upon a time an American President, Teddy Roosevelt, won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to negotiate an end to a war between Russia and Japan. That was in a happier era, before we had nurtured and fed an enormous, malignant blob of military industry, a money-fattened blob that has oozed into 81 countries around the planet, a corrupting blob that has seeped everywhere into the American political system and has poisoned political thought itself.
Joe Biden could at any point rise above this blob. He could follow in Teddy Roosevelt’s footsteps, and could step forward with a bold peace initiative to bring the U.S.-Ukraine-Russia war to an end. He could do it tomorrow.
But he won’t. And why should he, when not even as renowned a humanitarian as Nick Kristof can be bothered to ask for this?
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