As hope dies, hypocrisy lives.
That equation, of sorts, came to mind as I watched with a depressing mixture of grief, sadness and dread Russia’s invasion of Ukraine occur in real time on TV.
While diplomats, sitting in a solemn circle, urged restraint at the United Nations, the familiar images of “shock and awe” began anew and an equally familiar sense of déjà vu once again seized a war-weary world’s consciousness, too.
It was not supposed to turn out this way.
I read on Al Jazeera’s opinion page and elsewhere that it was unlikely that Vladimir Putin would do what he has done. The reasons offered by writers much more acquainted with Russia’s leader, the region and its history made sense to me and were reassuring.
Perhaps, like you, I held fast to the hope that war could be avoided, that diplomacy would prevail, and that yet more innocents in yet another part of the globe would be spared the inevitable pain, suffering, indignities, and horrors caused by small men with big armies.
The “analysts” and we were wrong.
So now, hope seems lost – again. It is a casualty of another stupid, useless war started by another small, inadequate man with a big, powerful job.
Perhaps, like you, before Putin chose war, I imagined the possibilities over the not-so-distant horizon. I imagined that a sliver of optimism could finally break through the gloom as some of us emerged from the long grip of a killer virus. And I saw selfless, kind and intelligent people shepherd us from loss and uncertainty towards a welcomed measure of recovery and promise.
The slim prospect of knowing possibility, optimism and promise has been erased; replaced, suddenly and bluntly, by a foreboding for the fates of millions of Ukrainians caught in the lethal crosshairs of this latest spasm of insanity and a world that is going back, back to a “cold war” we thought we had left behind.
Since early Thursday morning, an already damaged, wound-tight world has become more fragile and ominous. The chance that a new, bourgeoning cold war may, in time or by mad design, turn into a wider hot war is more conceivable today than it was just days ago.
These are bleak times for those of us who care about our neighbours far beyond our parochial interests and borders. All the hard, necessary work done by so many good people in so many places who have tried to fashion a return to living life – fully and completely – has unravelled in an instant.
Still, our duty, our obligation is to render aid and comfort – as best we can – to the Ukrainian children, women and men who are holed up in bunkers and subway stations to escape the death and destruction above. It is our duty and obligation to help Ukrainians – as best we can – to find safe haven if and when they seek it. It is our duty and obligation to help Ukrainians resist and regain provenance – if possible – over their country.
Courageous Russians understand this duty and obligation. Thousands have gone into the streets in cities across Russia to say no to despair, no to inhumanity, no to war. They have risked their freedom to show solidarity with Ukrainians next door.
We must commend enlightened Russians for taking a just and humane stand when confronted with the imperative to do so.
But other players in this unfolding drama deserve our scorn and censure for their blatant hypocrisy on astounding display.
It has been astounding to watch an American president and a British prime minister and their surrogates at the UN and alike condemn Russia for violating supposedly sacrosanct and binding charters and international law when American and British foreign policy has, for generations, been a ruinous reflection of haughty contempt for those same charters and laws.
History is replete with countries and peoples who have paid and continue to pay dearly and collectively for the decisions made by American presidents and British prime ministers – in particular – to dismiss diplomacy in favour of force and “regime change”.
It is astounding to hear an American president and a British prime minister and their surrogates proclaim their fulsome defence of Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” when American presidents and British prime ministers have – in particular – treated the “territorial integrity” of scores of other sovereign nations as an inconvenience to their imperial designs.
Examples of British and American “exceptionalism” abound – Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Chile, Venezuela, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq and many more.
It is astounding to listen to an American president and a British prime minister caution Putin to avoid making a “historic mistake” when an American president and a British prime minister rejected the exact (and prescient) advice offered earlier this century by a slew of diplomats at the UN Security Council and millions of anti-war protesters who were then smeared as naïve quislings in the service of a dangerous autocrat.
As a corollary to this, it is astounding to read opinion columns published by leading British and American newspapers – that have often provided the imprimatur of their editorial pages as cover for illegal invasions and coups – titled “The West Must Show Putin How Wrong He Is To Choose War”.
It is astounding to watch American and British cable news personalities decry the Russian military’s cruise missile-fuelled campaign of “shock and awe” as evidence of Putin’s malignant designs when they watched in silent and sometimes celebratory awe as American and British forces unleashed “shock and awe” in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Finally, it is astounding to watch Western politicians and commentators rush with a sprinter’s speed to demand that crushing sanctions immediately be imposed on the Russian “regime” and Putin’s enablers inside and outside the Duma when these Western politicians and commentators cackle like angry donkeys when human rights groups suggest sanctions be imposed against other regimes found to be guilty of apartheid.
From where I write, hope that once appeared to be within reach is on the verge of extinction. Meanwhile, hypocrisy, as always, thrives.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.