Tuesday, March 21, 2023 | Sha'ban 28, 1444 H
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Sacrifices of unnamed Ukrainian soldiers

I am thinking about three people today whose behaviour could have a significant impact on the world in the coming months and possibly years: a soldier with no name, a politician with no shame and a leader with no soul.

The first I admire, the second we should have nothing but contempt for and the third must forever be known as a war enemy.

The unnamed soldier is the thousands of Ukrainians — those in uniform and those civilian men and women — who are defending their country’s nascent democracy against Vladimir Putin’s attempt to wipe Ukraine off the map.

Whether they are professionally trained soldiers or “babushkas” using their smartphones to call in coordinates of Russian tanks hiding in the forest behind their farms, their willingness to anonymously fight and die to preserve Ukraine’s freedom and culture is the ultimate refutation of Putin’s claim that Ukraine is not a “real” country but rather an integral part of Russia’s “own history, culture and spiritual space.” We don’t know their names — I can’t name a single Ukrainian general, despite all their success so far — but their deeds have shown Putin that the country they are fighting for is very real, very distinct and willing to ferociously defend itself.

If Ukraine’s leaders choose to cut a peace deal with Russia, we should help bolster them in negotiations, but as long as they choose to fight, we should help arm them. Because they are not just defending Ukraine, they are defending the possibility of a Europe whole and free — where one country cannot simply devour another. That doesn’t just make for a better Europe, it makes for a better world.

The second person I am thinking about is Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House — a man who, we now know, did not have the courage to stick with his own fleeting manifestation of courage.

We are indebted to the reporting by my Times colleagues Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns to fully appreciate how much McCarthy’s behaviour is a profile in cowardice in four acts:

Act 1: Martin and Burns quote McCarthy as having told his GOP colleagues about his feelings about President Donald Trump in the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. “I’ve had it with this guy,” McCarthy said, and described Trump’s actions on January 6 as “atrocious and totally wrong.” Trump was likely to be impeached, McCarthy said, so he intended to recommend to him, “you should resign.”

Act 2: After these revelations were published last Thursday morning, McCarthy issues a statement declaring that “The New York Times’ reporting on me is totally false and wrong.”

Act 3. That night, thanks to a leaked audio recording posted by the Times and aired on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, the whole world got to hear McCarthy telling a January 10 House Republican leadership conference that his plan was to tell Trump that his impeachment “will pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign” — exactly what McCarthy hours earlier had denied saying.

Act 4. McCarthy — instead of apologising to his constituents and the American people for lying — calls Trump to explain himself and why he should remain in Trump’s good graces. Trump magnanimously pardons the bootlicking McCarthy for his sin of telling the truth.

The legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden liked to say that “the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Most lawmakers would want the world to believe that when everything was on the line for America, they told the truth and stood with the Constitution against a president trying to subvert it. That’s what McCarthy told his GOP colleagues privately was his stance.

But McCarthy then revealed his true character. When he realised that doing the right thing for the country might cost him Trump’s support and his dream of becoming speaker of the House, McCarthy ‘lied about telling the truth.’

And even worse, when McCarthy’s lying and bad character were exposed, many in his party backed him up anyway. — The New York Times

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