Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine, a chilling moment that cries out for a tough response. Thankfully, the president of the United States has deployed his usual silver tongue.
“The world will hold Russia accountable,” Joe Biden said last night. “I will be monitoring the situation from the White House this evening and will continue to get regular updates from my national security team.”
Cue Cockburn nearly collapsing from the sheer rhetorical power of that statement. It’s a wonder the Russian tanks didn’t screech into reverse and roll back over the border. Cockburn understands this is a dangerous situation that calls for delicacy and forethought. But were such bland bromides really the best the leader of the free world could do?
Now contrast Biden’s statement with the clear language of British prime minister Boris Johnson. “Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny,” Johnson said. “We and the world cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out. We cannot and will not just look away.” Johnson added, “If the months ahead are grim and the flame of freedom burns low, I know that it will blaze bright again in Ukraine.”
Boris has been waiting his entire life for a Churchillian moment, which may explain his high-flying rhetoric here. Still, Cockburn couldn’t help but feel inspired by his address. Also outdoing Biden in the linguistics department was French president Emmanuel Macron, who pronounced, “We will respond to this act of war without weakness, with cold blood, determination and unity.” Even Ursula von der Leyen of the European Union, not a body known for its decisive action, mustered up a hardy “We condemn this barbaric attack, and the cynical arguments used to justify it.”
As for dishonorable mentions, Cockburn’s pick goes to China’s Xi Jinping, whose spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last night, “We call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control,” as though Russian jets weren’t already bombing Ukrainian cities. “This is perhaps a difference between China and you Westerners,” she boasted. “We won’t go rushing to a conclusion.” Another difference is that Hua is a mindless puppet of a mad totalitarian regime while Westerners are permitted to believe their own lying eyes when they watch television.
Amid this Kremlin aggression, we will all have roles we can play. Cockburn is already planning to give up Smirnoff vodka, a nigh-on-unthinkable sacrifice that could bring the entire Russian economy to its knees. For Biden, it will mean, among other things, rising to meet the moment, even if he must reach for a thesaurus.
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