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War In Ukraine – OpEd

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Another war, another litany of half-truths, more dead and injured bodies. War is hell and to visit it upon others for questionable reasons is a war crime. Yet, these pillars of stone are never caught and brought to justice for their ultimate crime. They simply feed off of the apathy of others and foreign powers that are unable to summon the strength to defend freedom and democracy, the values they supposedly stand for, adore and nurture.

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Today, I was reviewing some documents that I brought back from Afghanistan where the outnumbered and outgunned mujahideen fought a losing war for years against the Soviet invaders during the 1980s. One calendar showed the faces of young martyrs who sacrificed themselves while opposing foreign aggression. I thought of my Afghan friends and contacts, some dead, some alive, when I left those killing fields.

This week, the madman Putin, an assiduous student of the Stasi East German secret police, has unleashed death and destruction on Ukraine. He never really wanted to negotiate with the West or anyone. He wants blood and he is achieving his aim.

Meanwhile, as in the Syrian uprising, North America and Europe stand by and watch. The lack of intelligent and strategic leadership is appalling. As a Canadian, I am ashamed of our government and would gladly trade my passport for a Ukrainian one.

My time with the Syrian opposition showed me the wretched face of war. Broken families, livelihoods, unhealthy children and the bloodthirsty Syrian regime of Bashar al-Al Assad made me understand the human consequences of war. At least then, I was making a positive contribution to the war for freedom in Syria. It felt better than standing by. The consequences for a diplomat and a career were far too ephemeral for me to turn the other cheek or become apathetic to the practice of totalitarianism.

Call it idealism? Most would call it irrational romanticism. Our Political Science professors from cushioned chairs lost in the dusk of a declining epoch would call it lame and impractical romanticism. I call it the search for truth and an unwillingness to accept tyranny and hypocrisy. Ukrainians of. goodwill will rise up and throttle the Russian invader. He can be beaten. My Afghan friends can testify to that. They are far from infallible.

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Brute force has its logic and I will not try to argue against its success. Russia should be able to crush Ukraine in a week or two but they will not crush the Ukrainian faith in themselves. The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 was no chimera. Unlike North Americans and Europeans, Ukrainians are getting lessons in how precious the values of freedom and democracy are. They are worth dying for and this is what the Syrian and Afghan opposition demonstrated. Our Western leaders do not have the faintest idea of what these values really mean and whether they are worth fighting for.

Many will write off Ukraine and forget about the conflict in a month.  The fact that no NATO troops intervened proves Putin’s point – Ukraine is in the Russian sphere of influence. Putin’s bluff has won whilst Western leaders grapple with definitions, protocols and straws. It is the theatre of the absurd. The man in the telephone booth moving his mouth but saying and meaning nothing. Meanwhile Putin and his Chinese friends rejoice.

The Ukrainian resistance will be different from the Afghan example. The Russians have a larger task facing them. Ukraine is a large, heavily populated country. It is also a united country unwilling to accept Russian stooges and their occupying forces. In this regard, holding Ukraine in the Russian giron will be substantially more difficult than in the Afghan case where mujahideen groups fought among themselves in sandals and turbans.

The war in Afghanistan changed radically with the election of Ronald Reagan as American President. His subsequent provision of Stinger missiles to the Afghan resistance coincided with the destruction of Russian Spetsnaz, which began falling from the sky. Air power was blunted as planes had to fly too high to bomb targets due to the threat of Stinger missiles.

The Ukraine insurrection will unfold differently but with the same result.  Russian mothers will welcome home their sons and daughters in body bags.

Such is my anger toward the Russians as I watch the calamity unfold in that distant land. Am I too a war criminal in hoping that the Ukraine will be free again even at the cost of Russian invaders? Or is it a result of the pestilence of war and war criminals who begin wars and suffering, the consequences of which they do not care to fathom. They make us share in their criminal enterprise despite our best intentions. Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad now sit at the same table and drink the same intoxicating elixir of war.  Both need to go.

I wish I could tell you that that will happen. My Syrian brothers await their day of redemption. The sun will shine again in Damascus that day. It will be a great day for humanity but it will not happen on its own. The Afghans were able to drive the Russians out but at great cost to the invaders and inhabitants.

Today is perhaps a bad day to discuss Ukrainian renewal. It is still under Russian bombs and it is too soon. However, the seeds of apathy and crisis of leadership in the West make me fear for the worst. Are Trump and Biden all that America can summon up as leaders?

In Syria, my diplomatic colleagues decided not to act fearing consequences if they did. The fear of a firm scolding from the Ambassador, fewer promotions and future postings were enough to strike fear into their bureaucratic souls. I could not ethically stand by and watch. One of my European colleagues confided to me that if he had done a fraction of what I did, he would be on the first plane back to his capital.

This is what must change if democracy and freedom are to live on as political values.

Bruce Mabley

Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.

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