For much of the national news media, the situation in Ukraine isn’t about a deadly war involving a dangerous nuclear power so much as an opportunity to romanticize foreign conflict and signal their virtue.
That’s why it’s best to ignore a lot of what the media are saying, lest we find ourselves needlessly and irreversibly entangled in another costly, unwinnable struggle. Pro-war columnists and cable news people on the left and right are as excited as ever to push America to “do more” for Ukraine, even if it does nothing to advance our own national interests.
Avoiding that kind of manipulation isn’t hard if you simply ignore these three things:
- Any journalist or talking head swept up by the sight of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a T-shirt. Zelensky has become an emotional hero for so many of these people and the mere image of him apparently makes their insides ache for more war. Last week, after Zelensky’s televised address to Congress pleading for additional military support, MSNBC host Jonathan Lemire, who is also White House bureau chief for Politico, could hardly contain himself. “Zelensky there, who has emerged as this really heroic figure,” he said, “there in his trademark t-shirt, on the front lines, a wartime leader…” The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker has been similarly worked into a gooey mess, referring to the Ukrainian president as “the modern-day warrior-artist,” and “an Everyman in his trademark T-shirt and half-zip.” People who think about war in corny feel-good symbols can’t be taken seriously.
- All appeals to ideals of “democracy” and “freedom.” That much of Ukraine’s population is truly trying to be a free and democratic country is a good thing but that doesn’t make that nation’s problems our problems by default and it’s not a reason for America to promise unlimited military support in the fight. On March 10, the New Republic ran the headline, “We Must Defend Democracy in Ukraine—and Win It at Home Too.” E.J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post suggested that “Vladimir Putin’s aggression has, at long last, unleashed a come-to-democracy moment.” It’s all an attempt to assert that our own affairs are inextricably linked with the fate of Ukraine and that to suggest otherwise is anti-democratic. Well, no, it might just be an admission that we can’t recreate the world in our image and attempts of the very recent past have been disastrous.
- Every TV segment featuring Alexander Vindman. For weeks now, news shows have invited Vindman on air to say we should “do more” in Ukraine, or some variation thereof. You’ll recall Vindman as the government worker who took it upon himself to instigate a president’s impeachment because he didn’t think that president was sufficiently dedicated to the wellbeing of Ukraine. What else would he say? At the start of Russia’s invasion, he said on CBS, “There’s more that we need to be doing.” Last week, he said on MSNBC, “Our approach to supporting Ukraine is too incremental. … They need more.” Vindman has long made clear his personal devotion to Ukraine. He has signaled a desire for the U.S., along with NATO allies, to institute a no-fly zone, which would involve shooting down Russian aircraft. There is nothing he isn’t willing to risk, despite being in no position to risk anything himself.
Pay no attention to those three things, and what our position should be on the Ukraine-Russia war is a lot clearer.