The Difference Between the ISIS and Ukraine Stories

Islamic_state_of_iraqTV viewers react with well-founded, visceral fear to the ISIS story, but at bottom ISIS is a band of thugs with an archaic worldview that a willful president and his or her allies, if they had a mind to, could clobber using Colin Powell’s overwhelming force commensurate with ISIS’s brutality. The challenge to Ukraine, on the other hand, is an assault on the world’s organizing principles, with the potential to collaterally undermine both NATO and the Obama administration.

The creeping annexation of first Crimea and now the Donbass is more subtle and harder to follow than the plight of people stuck on a mountain, yet it has more potential to undermine international systems. Dire warnings by the professional national-security-for-profit apparatus that JIHADIS ARE COMING TO YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD are far more sensational than real, but they make great TV. By comparison, an academic discussion about Ukraine and competing power blocks in the post Cold War world only prompts a rush for the remote.

Many of the institutions set up at the end of World War Two need a sharp, thorough overhaul. But they remain in place because they have provided more stability than chaos and no challenge has emerged that promises more liberté, egalité and fraternité.

In 1990, with Kuwait occupied by Iraq, George Bush proclaimed a New World Order but over time Americans grew reluctant to propose new institutions to deal with new realities. It turned out they rather liked their hyperpuissance. Since the Clinton years the new order has remained largely inchoate (though not for lack of predictions). Should Russia now redraw the map of Ukraine on its own, some of the mist will begin to clear and few west of Moscow will like what they see.

Ukraine right now is hugely important because Russia is challenging the fundamental ways the world has organized itself for seventy years and the whole world is watching. The potential impact of the ISIS insurgency is much smaller. It is a manifestation of the post-Ottoman Sykes-Picot agreement, an element of the reshaping of the Middle East region and not the entire world.


So what about Ukraine? Today the pertinent news sites and #Ukraine, #Donbass, #convoy, #Crimea and so on on Twitter read like play-by-play.

We knew nothing good would come of this convoy thing, didn’t we? Just like in Crimea when the war was over while we still celebrated the #Euromaidan, it’s all happening today, Wednesday, in eastern Ukraine. 

Rostov is south of any crossing point proposed so far. If you’re intent on creating chaos, just peel away and melt into … who knows where. And while shamelessly hoisting the forged banner of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

280 military trucks carrying ‘aid’ under hastily assembled white canvas, juking, their recipient not knowing their route or their intent – least of all the ICRC dude standing outside their building in Geneva dispensing press statements.

Meanwhile, as I mentioned last night:

This morning, well:

It’s all just so unseemly. Russia lurks on the gangstas side of town. Always has. In the Cold War, cynical authoritarianism under equality’s cloak. Now it’s the same authoritarianism under the cloak of, well, nothing.

2 thoughts on “The Difference Between the ISIS and Ukraine Stories

  1. Today I saw a picture of a man holding the headless body of a little girl. How do I go out into the world, see muslims and not lose my mind?


  2. Yeah, I respect your revulsion at medieval barbarity like that. Everybody feels that way. It’s basic, visceral.

    I don’t think you can stretch that to cover by extension nearly a quarter of the world’s population though. Can you?


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