The Rhetoric of Appeasement

Numerous Western “leaders,” à la France’s Emmanuel Macron, are insistent today that one should avoid using overly harsh terms in describing Vladimir Putin or his actions in Ukraine, or suggesting that regime change in Russia is a suitable goal, since such language threatens to escalate the situation. Avoiding escalation is standard and perhaps reasonable rhetoric during a time of diplomatic breakdown or “heightened tensions,” where the risk of unfriendly discussion giving way to hot-headed action is the issue at hand. But such talk of avoiding escalation is absurdly inappropriate and out of step with reality when the situation one is hoping to tamp down is not “tensions,” but an all-out, full scale military invasion of a peaceful nation by an expansionist dictator drunk on the power gained through years of being appeased and mollified by the world.

Putin is killing thousands of civilians, not by accident or as collateral damage, but as a matter of military strategy, a strategy he has used repeatedly over the years. But he is also meeting fierce and effective resistance the likes of which no one had any right to expect of Ukraine — and the likes of which he may never meet again in any future invasion, especially if this one proves what he is hoping it will prove, namely that he can attack anywhere with impunity, because the West will always talk big but do nothing in the end except appease him yet again.

Under these conditions, all talk of avoiding escalatory language is not only absurd — as though all-out war were not sufficient evidence that the other side is already fully “escalated” — but indicative of a cowardice of world-historical proportions. This is not the time to offer conciliation or compromise to Putin. This is not the time to accommodate some of his wishes or avoid “upsetting him.” This is the time — maybe the last manageable time that will ever come — to defeat Putin. The goal now must not be to allow Putin to save face, or to offer him “a deal everyone (except his occupied victim) can live with.” The goal must not be Macron’s dream, Israel’s dream, the appeaser’s dream, a ceasefire. Ceasefire in this case would be a euphemism for sacrificing Ukraine to the god of “global stability,” i.e., the accommodation of tyranny.

The goal should be Putin’s complete and unconditional surrender now. The paralyzing depletion of Putin’s resources now. The decimation and disarray of his military apparatus now. The encouragement and active support of anti-Putin, pro-democracy forces within Russia now — including within the military. This is the moment to seize, for anyone up to seizing the moment. His best military forces and leaders are all engaged in Ukraine today, an opportunity that may never come again. Help Ukraine destroy them right there, so that their effectiveness as a global threat ends there. If Putin’s regime is not dragged through the mud of abject defeat and absolute surrender now, then the world will face the same choice again next year against a vastly emboldened Putin, perhaps a Putin having garnered more complete support from China (in exchange for backing Xi Jinping against Taiwan, perhaps), when he stakes a similar “national security” claim, and makes a similar military assault, against Poland, or Lithuania, or Finland. 

Of course, I am only talking, like everyone else. None of this will happen. Ukraine is already being abandoned by the sober voices of ceasefire and non-escalation. In other words, the West is knowingly, willingly pulling a Putin victory out of the jaws of defeat on his behalf, where defeat was clearly his only possible trajectory without Western help.

Why is he being granted this help? To save his tyrannical regime.

But why save Putin’s regime? For the sake of stability.

Stability today at the price of freedom and the principles of modern civilization for a century? Yes, because that is what cowards, tired of living, bored with trying, and eager for the peace of a cool grave, do.

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