Signaling virtue, or just ignorance?

With PTC1/Alex on the prowl I didn’t have a chance to comment on this, but the City of Savannah posted this photograph last week to signal the start of Pride Month. Notice anything? Yep. The Ukrainian Flag is backwards.

How to signal your ignorance.

Sadly, ignorance/incompetence isn’t just limited to the City of Savannah … here’s a screen capture from a Pentagon briefing a week or so ago. The fact this briefing was for Defense Industry contractors looking to cash in on the $40 Billion windfall masquerading as aid puts this firmly in the “you can’t make this stuff up” realm …

Assistant SecDef for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Laura Cooper (left), Defense Secretary (center), Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (right), with upside down Ukrainian Flags.

The Savannah thing is absurd. The Progress Pride flag I understand (it’s a domestic policy issue, the City has an advocacy office and well known positions, etc.), but why is the City displaying the Ukrainian Flag? Did the City put together a policy justification for why the City Government, as representatives of the Citizens of Savannah, should be signalling its support for either side of this war? Does the Mayor, anyone on the City Council, or anyone in City Government have the necessary background and expertise to understand the situation, or are they just jumping on a popular bandwagon? And even if this was a carefully thought through policy, didn’t anybody bother to look up how to properly display the Ukrainian Flag? Ten seconds on Wikipedia would have done the trick. The blue band is on top if flown as a flag, and on the left if displayed as a banner.

As any reader of this blog knows, I strongly feel the situation in Ukraine is a tragic mess, one we bear significant responsibility for starting and inflaming. I think that sending weapons in to this conflict is dangerous, and ultimately causing more harm than good. Expressing support for the present Government of Ukraine by flying its flag is not as simple as some might think. I have to wonder if the Mayor of Savannah is aware of what senior officials of the Ukrainian Government have said about people of color (much less, given the Progress Pride flag now displayed in the rotunda, the LGBTQ community). Almost certainly not.

But that’s not really the point of this post. If you do feel that support of the Ukrainian Government is justified, at least fly their flag right side up.

As for the Pentagon, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever I have been involved in activities at this level annoying but essential protocol officers were scurrying around making sure flags were right side up, seating was correct, and that I didn’t cause yet another international incident by asking for ketchup at a state dinner thrown by the President of France like that first time. That the DoD official responsible for Ukraine didn’t instantly recognize the problem is simply unbelievable, and for the SECDEF to be seen surrounded by upside-down flags is a major national embarrassment.

This is sadly yet another symptom of how US Diplomacy has collapsed over the last thirty years. This 2020 RAND corporation study (link) describes elements of that decline, but I think there is a deeper problem with the overall level of education in the US, ignorance about the rest of the world, and the self-centered, “exceptionalist” view of that world. Fẹmi Akọmọlafẹ, a journalist from Ghana, wrote the following recently comparing the competence of foreign diplomats from the major powers:

Western officials, on the other hand, attack the world as haughty, naughty, ill-mannered, ill-educated, uncultured, provincial, and narcissistic imbeciles. They lack the elementary decorum necessary to engage peers in respectful manners. Ok, superciliousness, fueled by racist arrogance, might partly explain why they behave so, but we cannot discount the possibilities that they simply lack the education, the culture, and the home training required for civilized behavior, especially in encounters with other cultures. The question needs to be asked how the Collective West ended up with the current gaggle of clowns holding positions of responsibility? … It didn’t use to be like this. The West was once great. I should know; I studied there.

Harsh, but an interesting perspective. A key difference between the US and some major countries is that in the US the top levels of the State Department are political appointees. Having watched career US diplomats first hand, there are some fantastically knowledgeable people working in that field, able to balance US interests with an understanding of history and a concern for the legitimate interests of other peoples. But unfortunately that does not extend to political appointees, who by and large lack those skills and tend to view everything through the lens of domestic politics. It’s a complex problem (yeah, I say that a lot), and one a serious President and Congress would try to address and find a better balance between political accountability, the ability of a President to direct foreign policy, the long term interests of the US, and the essential skills, knowledge, and experience that only comes from years – even decades – of experience.

PS – Please don’t use this space to debate the Progress Pride or Pride flags and domestic policy issues. Such posts will be deleted unless they are respectful and relevant to the Ukraine/Foreign Policy realms.

11 thoughts on “Signaling virtue, or just ignorance?

  1. Russia as evil actor in this war, regardless of the background lead up , is a mantle that now fits. Had a polish cab drover the other day and ex serviceman of polish army who served in kosovo, its 100 percent totaliatarian monster versus democratic governemnt situation now, no matter which way you hang the flag

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    • I think you just made several of my points … anyone saturated in the present media environment (driven by people with axes to grind like your cab driver, or people with economic interests like the President and SecDef) is in a difficult position to discuss this rationally. Also, (and this is simplistic of course), you appear to be saying if you are mugged, and beat the crap out of the mugger in response, you’re at fault because only the last one to throw a punch is to blame? As for Democracy vs. Totalitarian, you’ve clearly not really investigated the current Ukrainian government. There are no heroes here, only varying degrees of villains. The average person in Ukraine or Donbas is caught in the middle.

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  2. Wait, russia got mugged geopolitically somehow and that justifies what we are seeing? If you are saying they donbas etc is rightfully russias and that portion of the war is a ok, how can one justify the failed attempt to take the entire ukraine via encircling the capital? Are the publicized atrocities by russian soldiers fake news or somehow morally justified? Lets assume the war was inevitablea and of the west’s making, and that russias actions are explicable and expected. If I recall, other than ukraine acquiescing, your take is the west should not support ukraine, mostly due to the risk of nuclear escalation. Since that isnt happening, and this will be a long haul conflict with russia as colonizer/occupier and long term resistance, whats the long term impact of this war? Any hope that russia becomes weakened and we get a democratization of that country? Seems to me the fewer countries that are totalitarian the better. Just watch the russian news, its bananas the way the talking heads gleefully speak of nuclear destruction of new york, etc. That type of society is dangerous and anything that diminishes its power which doesnt result in global apocalypse has to be the silver lining of this conflict. Would love to hear your future predictions

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    • I’ve said this dozens of times: understanding isn’t justification. Your narratives (failed attempt to take the capital/country, atrocities, etc) are, to be blunt, incomplete and inaccurate. Do you understand Russian? Are you watching Russian TV yourself or are you watching the often poorly translated and out of context snippets that are circulating in the US media? Imagine what you would think if your only impression of the US was of selected excerpts of, say, Tucker Carlson, Glenn Beck, or Rachael Maddow. Your recollection of my take is mischaracterized – I’ve written so much on this it’s hard to know where to start, but try this link as a start at the history that got us here: https://blogenkiops.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/russia-ukraine-and-impeachment-some-missing-context/ and this as a mid-conflict update: https://blogenkiops.wordpress.com/2022/04/03/the-pace-of-events-watching-the-war-crimes-in-ukraine/

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      • Gee, this is a snarky reply to the second comment.
        I thought the 100% totalitarian monster was Ukraine (arresting political opponents, outlawing all opposition parties, closing all TV/media that is not government controlled) and the democratically elected government was Russian (any worse the the pay to play elections in the U.S.? probably not.)
        AJ

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  3. Well, if the united states and russia are basically the same, I guess the illuminati really DOES run everything. I will await the next tropical storm update

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    • One of the reasons rational discussion is almost impossible is that people immediately sprint to the extremes and make assumptions as to what the “other” is saying rather than actually bothering to read and consider what is being said. I for one never said the US and Russia are the same, or suffer from the same problems. Each has good and bad aspects – often very different. That’s part of the reason you can’t use a superficial analysis that assumes everybody thinks the same way. But it is equally true that in the US especially there is no introspection as to what we do in the world or how we look.

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  4. The group-think mentality inside the State Department is worse than it is outside – everyone is supposed to be “on the same page” regarding Ukraine/Russia, China, etc.

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    • It’s like nobody has read “The Best and the Brightest” or learned any lessons from Vietnam aside from how to manage the news media.

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