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Wars in Ukraine Gaza show West’s flimsy values and hypocrisy

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The war in Ukraine will be two years old later this week. Though it might as well be turning 10, so clearly has it slipped down the news bulletins.

When Vladimir Putin’s lawless invasion began on February 24, 2022, the sense of injustice and outrage was all consuming. Ukraine’s subjugation under Russia’s might was a foregone conclusion given the asymmetry of their respective militaries.

But that led to the next remarkable news “angle” – plucky Ukraine’s defiance and Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s effectiveness in stiffening Western resolve. It would see Germany more than double its defence spending and other nations respond too. Finland and Sweden, both countries committed to non-participation in NATO, would seek membership. Economic sanctions were enacted. The bank accounts of Russian oligarchs were frozen. The international community spoke of the rules-based-order, and of “never” appeasing territorial expansion and brute force.

Slowly the tables turned and by the first anniversary, it was Ukraine seizing the initiative. A decisive, counter-offensive began in June last year, amid high hopes. The same month, the ultra-violent Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin, embarked on an ersatz coup, leading his troops out of Ukraine towards Moscow. For a few moments at least, Putin’s authority wobbled. Prigozhin died not long after in an unexplained plane crash.

But then? Cue the grim disaster of stalemate with the Ukrainians bogged down in heavily mined fields and woodlands. Parallels with the futile nightmare of WWI abounded.

For all its past mistakes, Russian technical proficiency had been underestimated. If this was the Western Front it came with precision ordnance guided by sophisticated aeriel detection. Ukraine’s advancing tanks faced bombardment by an enemy aware of their new locations before their own side could adjust its artillery cover.

The Biden Administration is frustrated at Bibi Netanyahu’s unrestrained violence in Gaza. Picture Shutterstock

The Biden Administration is frustrated at Bibi Netanyahu’s unrestrained violence in Gaza. Pictures Shutterstock

If shock and awe hadn’t succeeded in 2022 Putin still had the old Russian staple to fall back on, blood and gore. How had Stalin explained the allies’ defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII – Britain provided the time, America provided the money, and Russia provided the blood?

And so, this war too, would migrate to the “international” pages.

Its slide from the global gaze was already underway when the world’s attention was seized by the gut-wrenching savagery of the Israel-Gaza conflict with Hamas’s unconscionable war crimes and Israel’s cold-blooded inhumanity in response.

The West has an utterly subjective application of its “principles”.

Ukraine hardly gets a look in now that the attention has swung to the Middle East. Even here though, there’s a sense that it is only the fear of regional expansion – think Iran and Hezbollah – and the escalating severity of deadly attacks on Gazan civilians that is keeping the news lens focused.

Sadly, these escalations keep coming. The latest being the attack mounted inside the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, reportedly the last functioning hospital in the Gaza Strip. This, ahead of a foreshadowed massive Israeli assault on Rafah, the southern-most city in the strip which has swelled to a population of up to 1.5 million – internally displaced Palestinians complying with Israel’s instructions to flee south.

Imagine, if you can, the helpless terror of huddling under a tarpaulin with children during such an attack.

If the Russians did this, Western leaders would not hesitate to call it a war crime. Ditto the catch-all “justification” of Hamas combatants sheltering underneath. Such flagrant hypocrisies embolden the West’s enemies.

And this is the point. Ukraine displays the West’s principled stand against lawless occupation, the use of disproportionate force against a neighbour, and the targeting of innocents. Whereas Gaza and the illegal expansion of armed Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank show the West’s utterly subjective application of these “principles”.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel. Picture Shutterstock

Self-evidently international support for a sovereign Ukraine has re-unified Europe and rejuvenated the principles of collective deterrence and mutual defence. It has also rallied a demoralised West which had grown listless amid its own internal surrender to illiberalism from Christian nationalists on the right and from the fanatical identity police on the pseudo-left.

While hardly flawless, Western clarity on Russia has facilitated a re-evaluation of the lethal dangers of appeasing aggressors and of relying on others to enforce fundamental values of democracy and security.

Israel’s unchecked license in the Middle East undoes all of this. Decades of Israeli exceptionalism give the lie to such shining moral certainty. Why, one might ask, have the Palestinians been denied the international recognition of statehood? For whom has this denial been beneficial?

The Biden Administration is frustrated at Bibi Netanyahu’s unrestrained violence in Gaza but US impotence is self-created. Like the efforts many countries in the late 1930s who sought to accommodate and navigate Hitler’s fanatical anti-Semitic rhetoric, America has modelled only servitude and weakness. It has failed to make Tel Aviv pay any price for the ongoing oppression of displaced Palestinians, and for the iterative vandalism of any future Palestinian state. Repeated approvals for illegal settlements in the West Bank have brought stern words but no interruption of arms or other aid nor any US sanctioning of Israel in the UN.

Is it any wonder that Biden reportedly referred to Bibi as “an asshole” recently, now that he finds American jawboning amounts to nothing?

It was said of Hitler during the futile diplomatic frenzy in the lead-up to war that he had always understood the crucial difference between talk and action, between treaties and tanks.

So too does Putin. And Netanyahu.

  • Mark Kenny is The Canberra Times’ political analyst and a professor at the ANU’s Australian Studies Institute.
Article link: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/8524774/wars-in-ukraine-gaza-show-wests-flimsy-values-and-hypocrisy/


2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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