BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA – FEBRUARY 24: United States President George W. Bush, left, today met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Bratislava Slovakia. Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic, center on February 24, 2005 in Bratislava, Slovakia (via
On the Virtues of Whataboutism

“To defend civilization, defeat Russia.” Writing in the unfailingly bellicose Atlantic, an American academic of my acquaintance recently issued that dramatic call to arms. And lest there be any confusion about the stakes involved, the image accompanying his essay depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin with a Hitler mustache and haircut.

Cast Putin as the latest manifestation of the Führer and the resurrection of Winston Churchill can’t be far behind. And, lo, more than a few observers have already begun depicting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as the latest reincarnation of America’s favorite British prime minister.

These days, it may be Western-supplied missiles downing “kamikaze drones” rather than Spitfires tangling with Messerschmitts over southern England, but the basic scenario remains intact. In the skies above Ukraine and on the battlefields below, the “finest hour” of 1940 is being reenacted. Best of all, we know how this story ends — or at least how it’s supposed to end: with evil vanquished and freedom triumphant. Americans have long found comfort in such simplified narratives. Reducing history to a morality play washes away annoying complexities. Why bother to think when the answers are self-evident? 

A Case of Whataboutism?

Not that donning the mantle of Churchill necessarily guarantees a happy outcome — or even continued U.S. support. Recall, for example, that during a visit to Saigon in May 1961, Vice President Lyndon Johnson infamously anointed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem the “Churchill of Asia.”

Read the full piece in Responsible Statecraft.

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