March 3, 2024

and rhetoric

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Meaning and rhetoric
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — Meaning is often missed in rhetoric.
          Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden have rightly been hailed for their efforts to thwart Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, just as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was hailed for his staunch stand against Nazi Germany. Their heartfelt speeches resonated, but a dissection of them reveals much more.
          In 1941, when Great Britain stood alone against Hitler, Prime Minister Churchill broadcast from London: “Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
          What he meant was that, yes, Britain needed weapons, but only as a precursor for U.S. direct involvement in World War II, an event he knew must occur if Hitler was to be defeated.
           In 2022, when Ukraine is standing alone against Putin, President Zelensky addressed NATO: “You have thousands of fighter jets! But we haven’t been given any yet. You have at least 20,000 tanks! Ukraine asked for one percent — one percent — of your tanks to be given or sold to us. But we do not have a clear answer yet. We asked for tanks, so that we can unblock our cities that are now dying: Mariupol, Bryansk, Melitopol, and others.”
          He is right and wrong. He is not calling for U.S. or NATO forces to join the fight. He is asking for tanks, but just as Russian tanks have been stopped by shoulder-launched anti-tank missiles, so, too, would Ukrainian tanks be vulnerable to Russia’s shoulder-launched anti-tank weapon, the Coronet AT-14 Spriggan. His tank request appears to be in lieu of prior demands for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine. He should reverse these demands. Drop the tanks and modify the no-fly zone to a humanitarian no-fly zone over Western Ukraine where refugees are fleeing and Russian troops are not present in force.
          President Biden, speaking in Poland, declared: “Today's fighting in Kyiv and Melitopol and Kharkiv are the latest battle in a long struggle. . . .The Western world has come together to provide for the people of Ukraine with incredible levels of military, economic, humanitarian assistance. But as I've made clear, American forces are in Europe — not in Europe to engage in conflict with Russian forces. American forces are here to defend NATO allies. . . . The reason we want to make clear is their movement on Ukraine — don't even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.”
          As if answering Churchill over the arc of time, he is saying we will give you the tools so you can finish the job. Conversely, every time he reiterates that NATO will only defend NATO, he is making clear that Ukraine is not part of NATO. While this is true, it is also the green light that paved the way for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the first place and implies that NATO would not come to the aid of non-NATO countries such as Finland or Sweden. Reality is otherwise. The invasion of Ukraine is creating a new NATO order that envisions protection not only for NATO members but also for NATO partners. It is too late to send NATO troops to Ukraine. It is not too late for other NATO partners, and this should be Biden’s message.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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