Ukraine War, March 6, 2022 (II): The Tempo of War and the failure of the West

Developing

Dispatches

1) “Sam Jones and agencies, “More than 4,300 people arrested at anti-war protests across Russia; Demonstrators take to the streets in 53 cities to denounce Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” The Guardian, March 6, 2022 (17.12 GMT);

2) Simon Tisdall, “The more Ukraine resists, the greater the danger to Nato. It should act now to stop the slaughter; Western democracies will be sucked into this conflict. It’s time they threatened Vladimir Putin with a no-fly zone,” The Guardian, March 6, 2022 (07.30 GMT).

Tindall concludes his opinion piece with thr following question:

Putin’s slaughter of innocents is unbearable, yet we are forced to watch. Will the west fight to the last Ukrainian? Or will it stand up and fight for itself?

3) Shane Harris, Michael Birnbaum, John Hudson, Dan Lamothe and David L. Stern”U.S. and allies quietly prepare for a Ukrainian government-in-exile and a long insurgency, Washinton Post, March 5, 2022 (1:19 p.m. EST);

4) María R, Sahuquillo y Luís de Vega (Odesa / Irpin), “Rusia se ensaña con los civiles en su ofensiva contra Ucrania; Moscú acelera el asedio a Kiev, ataca a la población civil en las afueras de la capital y asfixia Mariupol tras fracasar la evacuación de sus habitantes. Putin asegura que solo detendrá la guerra si Ucrania abandona la resistencia,” El País, el 6 de marzo 2022 (07:51 EST, Actualizado: 14:26 ESt);

5) Garri Kasparow, “Das ist bereits der Dritte Weltkrieg,” Die Welt, den 6. März 2022

Commentary

Armchair warriors

Armchair warriors watch cable TV in rapt attention, as tens of thousands of civilians are subject to the medieval bombardment of their cities–though with all the weapons of modern warfare, and anchors safely esconced in places like the U.S. tell their correspondents, “Be safe”.

Well, it is only the armchair warriors, the confident bystanders telling us NATO can’t risk a military conflict with Russia, who are safe. No one in Ukraine is safe.

In fact the leaders speaking to the armchair warriors are telling us that the civilized countries of the world can’t do anything to defend the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who are dying and who will die, because we who are safe want to stay safe. And not risk anything in order to defend Ukraine, Europe, and civilization.

The pitfalls of U.S. cable TV war coverage

A few reflections on the cable TV coverage of the war follow below:

The cable news channels have done a great job, particularly in some programs, in reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Nonetheless, certain features of the medium and the business models the cable TV channels have adopted lead to certain tendencies all viewers should be aware of.

First, the visual medium itself grabs and holds viewers attention by showing explosions and disasters over and over, and over again. Given their business models, the business goal of the cable TV channels is to attract and keep viewers tuned in for the maximum length of time. Explosions and fires are particularly useful in achieving this objective.

The human brain is wired in such as way as to give priotiy attention to such images, which in our evolutionary history undoubtedly had great survival value.
The use of such images can be readily observed when, e.g., the host of a program is interviewing a general or knowledgeable expert, or just anyone the network found to hold the audience’s attention. While the interview is underway, some 60-75% of the screen is taken up with unrelated images of explosions, fires, destruction, etc. These images hold the attention of those viewers, perhaps a majority, who are not interested in or are unable to follow the intellectual content of the interview or conversation.

More relevant in terms of substance would be the reporting of numbers (of dead, wounded, tanks destroyed, etc), but the task of collecting and interpreting such numbers is hard work. Images of violence are easier, and more cost-efficient in terms of audience retention and “selling soap”.

A dramatic example of this phenomenon occurred in the last few days, when the 60-75% of the screen was filled, over and over, with video of a building that had been bombed, was on fire, and the upper portion of the building on fire was collapsing. The Observer must have seen these video images–exactly the same video images–over 20 times.

What we need to see more of, but are not likely to, are former generals, strategists, current and former national security decision makers, and more stories on why Biden is so timid, so slow, and so not stepping up to the plate.

While interviews with these kinds of people were good during the first days of the war, they are gradually being replaced by interviews with young telegenic people who have no particular expertise relevant to the conflict, and interviews with residents and refugees, preferably young and telegenic, in Ukraine or in Poland and other countries.

It is hard and expensive to cover the strategic dimension of the war. It is much easier to report on the horrible circumstance of war victims, and the courageous efforts of Ukrainian forces and citizens to defend their country.

What is missing is accurate reporting on the very significant military advances of the Russians as they bomb the cities snd seize control of ever-widening portions of the country.

Watching cable TV, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi might think taking measures in “bureaucratic time” is sufficient to meet the Russian military challenge, whereas taking effective actions in “war time” is what is required.

The tempo of the war

The tempo of the war in Ukraine is very fast, and thousands of Ukrainians are now dying every day. But the U.S. could not see its way to get NATO to allow Poland to transfer 28 old fighter jets to Ukraine last Tuesday, March 1. Many people have probably died as a result of that decision.

Discussions are underway now to arrange for a “deal” that will allow for the donation and transfer of NATO fighters to Ukraine. It may require Congressional authorization.

Meanwhile, the House has gone home for the weekend. Nancy Pelosi and other leaders in Washington obviously feel no great sense of urgency, as if thousands of lives hung in the balance.

Biden and the West are moving in “bureaucratic time”. Putin is moving in “war time”.

Putin is winning. The Ukrainians are losing, as thousands of them are being killed and their cities destroyed every day. Each and every day.

Regarding the number of dead and wounded, we need to believe what we are seeing with our own eyes, not the totals government and international agencies provide following bureaucratic procedures designed for entirely different purposes.

When we see apartment block after apartment block destroyed by bombing and artillery strikes, we may safely assume that many people, perhaps in the thousands, have died as a result. In Syria, perhaps 500,000 people died as a result of the methods Russia is currently using in Ukraine.

Our task is to make a rough assessment of what is going on, and to react appropriately to stop the commission of crimes against humanity by Russian forces.

The “Binary Thinking Trap”

The illusion that the U.S, and NATO can avoid a military conflict with Russia is a product of what might be termed the “Binary-Thinking Fallacy”. It leads those who fall under its sway to think in terms of either/or outcomes.

Examples:

1) Either we are in a military conflict with Russia / or we are not;

2) Either we avoid any use of force to oppose Putin’s invasion of Ukraine / or we’ll be in World War III and nuclear annihilation will destroy us all;

3) Either we adopt a full no-fly zone over Ukraine which leads us into direct conflict with Russian military / or we do not;

4) Before the invasion: either we adopt economic sanctions before the invasion, and we’ll have no sanctions left to deter Putin from further bad actions (e.g., launching a broad war in all of Ukraine / or not;

5) Russia is committing war crimes / or is not;

Binary thinking shuts down needed discussion and debate, and leads to absurd behavior. After we have all seen on television the Russians’ bombing and use of artillery against apartment blocks and civilian populations, Joe Biden, when asked if Russia was committing war crimes, responded that it was too early to tell. Jan Ptaki clarified at her press briefing that the Biden administration has a process to determine that, and we are waiting for their findings.

Come on! We in a hot war and Russia committed war crimes on a massive scale before our eyes, and you are waiting for a governmental process to tell you whether what we are witnessing is real!

We will lose this war with that kind of adled and bureaucratic thinking!

As Lech Walensa once said, “How can the West beat Putin when he is boxing and when we are playing chess?”

There is a war going on. Can’t Biden form a War Cabinet that can cut through all that crap and help us defeat Putin?

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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