The Naivete of Western Europe

I woke up this morning and watched the images of flying missiles and airplanes and the explosions with fear and dread. But I watched the rest of the news with embarrassment and anger.

It's been quite fashionable to assimilate the behavior of many Western leaders with those of Neville Chamberlain, the lightweight British prime minister who famously boasted to have achieved "peace for our time" right before World War II. But I think this comparison is very charitable. To Chamberlain, that is.

With a century of hindsight behind us, we can look at documentaries about WWII and shake our heads in disbelief that Chamberlain could have been so foolish. The image of the preppy, dignified Chamberlain speaking before the crowd, secure in the (now we know it -- entirely incorrect!) belief that he had brought Hitler to reason is almost comical. And, for all the tragic grief it caused, perhaps it is even understandable. Chamberlain was operating in the unstable, ever-shifting, barely-understood order of inter-war Europe. He was the first British prime minister who'd had to have significant dealings with an European dictator who was not just power-hungry and trigger-happy, but also mentally unstable, in -- charitably! -- more than a century. He had excuses other than foolishness for his behavior.

But the current crop of European leaders have no such excuses.

They are armed with the same hindsight as everyone else. And this is hardly scholarly stuff, I'm talking about the kind of hindsight that even teenage Call of Duty players are armed with by now. They operate within an European framework that hasn't shifted significantly in -- again, charitably! -- more than twenty years.

Their capital sin is not cowardice. Don't get me wrong, they are cowards, but their embarrassing display of inaction and indecision is not rooted in cowardice, but in ignorance and naivete of the most sinister kind.

When entertaining all sorts of meandering debates about whether the harshest action a country can take against another country warrants the harshest response or not, Western European leaders are not displaying just cowardice. They are displaying the sophomoric naivete of sheltered, rich young men who engage in real estate business with thugs, go home happy that they've outsmarted those shady characters, and are then shocked, shocked, I tell you, to find out that their properties have been turned into meth labs, and that the new occupants have no intention to vacate them when the lease is up.

Germany, Hungary, Italy and Cyprus, countries that enjoy privileged commercial ties with Russia, hope that they will preserve these privileged commercial ties if they hold back on their response. They hope that once all this ugly war business is concluded, they will be able to resume civilized commercial dealings in a more elegant atmosphere.

In a baffling display of cognitive dissonance, they do so while also acknowledging that Putin is resurrecting the ambitions of the USSR, or those of Imperial Russia. But, for some reason, they imagine that these rehashed ambitions go no further than Lviv or so, even though the Russian empire spanned much further towards the West, and the USSR's sphere of influence spanned even further than that.

This is just not how things work in the real world, where power is grabbed, and wielded along with weapons of terrifying power, rather than meekly traded and administered by bureaucrats and charismatic politicians who pamper their rich friends and overlords.

Putin's claims over Ukraine are founded on a state of affairs that has been out-of-date for thirty years now. Back then, Moscow's influence spanned much further than Lviv. It reached Budapest and the Brandenburg Gate, and not through international financial regulations, but through the Brezhnev doctrine. Its messengers were not sleazy salesmen. As the terrified survivors of 1956 and 1968 could tell you, its messengers were tanks and infantry.

It is not just cowardice, but plain stupidity to hope that, if they give in to claims based on Soviet era maps, the aggressive foreign power who made those claims will stop halfway through those maps. It takes, let's not mince words, a special kind of stupid to think that Putin's idea of restoring Soviet glory includes the subservient Ukrainian SSR, but somehow leaves out the puppet Hungarian and German states of the Cold War years.

The vision of those who style themselves supreme rulers leaves no room for privileged relations of any kind: those who would be anything other than reliable, subservient subjects are inherently dangerous to such a vision, and are not allowed to live for much longer than they are useful. To give in to such people is cowardice. But to do so hoping that you'll enjoy a better position, or that it will at least not change things significantly, is entirely asinine.

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