Numb to the News

One of the casualties of information overload is information fatigue. We know so much about so much – so much information competes for our attention – that we turn off and tune out.

So it has been with Ukraine. Though some of us have been beating this drum for months, most of us have been too distracted to pay the deteriorating situation in East Europe much mind. People die every day along the border between Ukraine and Russia. But they do so unspectacularly. They are killed anonymously, away from the cameras. They are not beheaded by ISIS, or assassinated by terrorists in the streets of Paris.

Still, it’s slowly becoming more widely appreciated that what’s happening in Ukraine is a big deal. The conflict between Moscow and Kiev is not a minor skirmish between minor players, nor has it proven amenable to settlement or diminishment. To the contrary. In recent weeks the violence in eastern Ukraine has been ratcheted up by the Russians, leaving the West to figure out what exactly Putin has in mind and what exactly to do about it. High time. For so far, precisely because we have been numb to the news out of Ukraine, the US and the European Union have responded only meekly and mildly. While sanctions have been imposed on the aggressor, on Russia, up to now the West has declined to provide Ukraine either with the military hardware it needs, or with the economic package it requires to become what the US and Europe want it to become: a stable and prosperous state, sympathetic to the West.

It’s been interesting to watch Thomas Friedman on this issue. Friedman is, of course, a longtime columnist for the New York Times, arguably the most prominent American journalist specializing in foreign affairs. For all his vaulted reputation, however, it’s taken him a while to claim in his column that the conflict in Ukraine is a crisis.

To Friedman’s credit, in his piece posted January 28 (link below), he admits that he’s been late to the table.  And he acknowledges that Russia has been an “awful” aggressor, disguising its heinous behaviors “by a web of lies that would have made Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels blush.” In fact, Friedman now goes so far as to argue that “Putin’s use of Russian troops wearing uniforms without insignia to invade Ukraine and to covertly buttress Ukrainian rebels bought and paid for by Moscow… is the ugliest geopolitical mugging happening in the world today.”

Amazing what happens when attention finally is paid. Amazing what happens the wheat finally is separated from the chaff.

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