Ministers were quick to condemn People Before Profit’s Paul Murphy for failing to applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he became the first foreign leader to address the Oireachtas’ common homes while his country was under attack.
Right-wing TDs, in turn, defended themselves, insisting their opposition was only for further sanctions that would harm ordinary Russians.
This position can be honorably held, but not by hypocrites who have repeatedly called for the harshest sanctions to be imposed on Israelis, no matter the severity.
But does it matter? The Trotskyist left in Ireland could not be more irrelevant – and recent events have made them so. They are little more than a boil on the back side of politics.
If anything, her main role last week was to provide a convenient distraction for centrist politicians in the Dáil, who could point indignantly at her to hide their own shortcomings.
Zelensky also exposed our ruling class as flimsy and dishonest.
It’s important to be careful. Zelensky is a war leader. Few of us really know what he was about before this conflict or what he might be like afterwards. Oversimplified hero worship of “strong” leaders can easily lead to disappointment or worse.
There is a risk that Ukraine’s plight will spur actions that may ultimately aggravate the situation.
However, Zelenskyy has undoubtedly highlighted the weak underbelly in the current generation of Western leaders and leaders-in-waiting.
Last week’s BBC report on the Thatcher-Reagan relationship that ended the Cold War through unity and determination was another reminder of the shrunken stature of their successors.
The problem with Western liberal politicians is that they seem to have run out of beliefs they would be willing to risk everything for.
They now belong to a post-ideological managerial class oriented towards polls, NGOs, academia, Brussels and media spinners.
There are a number of reasons why this is so. One is that Western politicians were lulled into believing they could afford to be mediocre because the big global and economic issues were all solved and their job now was just to keep the system running.
Ukraine and a deepening cost-of-living crisis have erased this smug delusion.
The rise of social media hasn’t helped either. Politicians no longer need to convince us with an authoritative grasp of detail when they can post TikTok videos and hop on trending hashtags and bask in simple attention.
All of this is extremely important. A spur to the rise of populism has been that the mainstream alternatives have looked so flimsy and unappealing, yet politicians have been demonizing populists rather than looking in the mirror to see why populists have gained ground.
Right now, liberal centrists in the West may be seeing a surge in the polls as voters rally in a spirit of us versus them, good versus evil. But there is also a danger that this will lure them back into complacency.
The populists are more of a symptom than a cause. It is those who could come after them if the causes are not addressed that pose the real danger. Real tyrants and dictators are not defeated with hashtags.
Leaders must quickly become more assertive when it comes to defending Western values, but can they do it?
It is encouraging that Russia has now been expelled from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for “gross and systematic… violations of international humanitarian law” in Ukraine. But this determined action raised some trickier questions.
The UNHRC includes countries guilty of documented human rights abuses, including Uzbekistan and Somalia. Most notable is China, a country where millions of ethnic Muslims face “mass arbitrary incarceration, forced political indoctrination and religious repression.”
Nonetheless, trade between Ireland and China continues to grow, particularly in the food sector. Many livelihoods at home depend on it thriving.
Again, there is a compelling case for pragmatism rather than principle. Some countries that abstained on the UNHRC vote, like India, make no apologies for prioritizing the economic well-being of their citizens over far-flung human rights.
But it is not possible to have the cake and also eat it. Last November, Leo Varadkar – who hailed last week’s UN vote by declaring: “The world is united against the barbarism inflicted on Ukraine – is united” – ushered in an Irish trade delegation to the United Arab Emirates The country, which is also a member of the UNHRC, has been accused by the UN itself of war crimes in Yemen.
Blaming Russia doesn’t hurt the Irish economy one bit. Blaming the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, which Varadkar was also visiting at the time, would definitely do the trick. Are we ready for that, or are we just standing up against the human rights atrocities that we are witnessing on the Six-One Messages? These are the choices that the liberal West will increasingly face.
Principles cannot be one-off gestures; they require a radical rethinking of how we live in a world of autocrats and oligarchs. What would an ethical foreign and trade policy look like?
Italy has conceded it will suffer significant economic damage from a drop in sales of luxury goods and wine if EU sanctions on Russia bite. Between 80 and 90 percent of Italians support a boycott anyway. Would we be just as determined if that meant not selling to China and certain Arab markets?
A few weeks ago, Varadkar gave a speech discussing an upcoming enterprise policy white paper setting out Ireland’s ‘vision’ for trade ‘to 2030 and beyond’.
He promised to be “informed and challenged with new perspectives” by experts and business people.
Not a single word was said in that speech about the moral principles that must underpin economic policy, and this after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had already begun.
It is a doom-loop. A truly ethical foreign and trade policy requires leaders who can articulate the democratic values on which open, pluralistic societies are based, and who call us all together to make the necessary sacrifices.
Tragically, that leadership quality just isn’t there right now. Until then, the sleep of tyrants will remain undisturbed, and it will be we who suffer from nightmares.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/tyrants-grew-strong-because-leaders-in-the-west-became-weak-41538114.html Tyrants grew strong because Western leaders grew weak