The Group of Seven — the U.S., Canada, France, Britain, Italy, Germany, and Japan — will convene on the west coast of France this weekend. Once again, for the fifth year running, the leaders of the world’s most-prosperous democracies will leave one seat at their table empty.
They’re not awaiting the appearance of Elijah: Rather, the Russian Federation has been barred from the group since its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The G-7 used to be the G-8, until the Kremlin’s brash dismembering of Ukraine was judged, understandably, to be beyond the pale.
But now both France and the U.S. are pushing for Russia to be reinvited, and for the G-7 to once again swell to G-8. This weekend’s confab could be the last one at which Russian President Vladimir Putin does not have a seat at the table.
Russia’s imminent readmission to the G-7 has nothing to do with it improving its behavior, or making amends for past misdeeds. Crimea, after all, remains firmly in the Kremlin’s grip. So what changed? Nothing, really — just that time passed. The annexation of Crimea was a crime, but it happened all of five years ago. Who can remember back that far?
Mark Twain once famously quipped that if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait five minutes. But now it seems the adage is due for an update: If you don’t like being punished for your misdeeds, wait five minutes.
Consider as well the travails of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. A few months ago, Mr. Northam acknowledged having appeared in a medical school yearbook photo dressed either in blackface or a mock Klan outfit (an admission he later walked back, while bizarrely admitting out of the blue a separate blackface incident) Scores of politicians, including such members of his own party as his state’s two U.S. senators and its last presidential nominee, called for his ouster.
Around the same time, Mr. Fairfax was accused of sexual assault by two separate women. Calls went out for his resignation as well.
But in the end, neither Mr. Northam nor Mr. Fairfax resigned, and now the political conversation has moved on. The facts of the case did not change; time simply passed and nobody really talks about the governor’s racist hijinks nor the disturbing allegations about the lieutenant governor anymore.
Then there’s the pundit Mark Halperin, once known as much for his banality as his ubiquity on cable television. In late 2017, scores of women came forward to accuse Mr. Halperin of all manner of misdeeds, including throwing a woman against a window when she reacted unfavorably to a sexual overture. Mr. Halperin withdrew from public view for less than two years. Now he’s out with a new “book” — a series of interviews with 75 top Democratic strategists who managed to lose to Donald Trump in 2016 describing, seriously, “how to beat Donald Trump.” (They mean it this time!) To make amends for his many alleged misdeeds, all Mr. Halperin had to do was wait a little while.
There has been backlash against Mr. Halperin’s reappearance, and several of his interviewees have expressed regret about collaborating on the project. That speaks to the relative weakness of Mr. Halperin’s position — he’s just another pundit in a sea of them. Russia, on the other hand, is deemed a major power that the rest of the G-7 has to do business with, so bygones, it seems, can be bygones. Meanwhile, had Mr. Northam or Mr. Fairfax resigned (and Virginia’s Democratic attorney-general had to go because of blackface admissions of his own) they could have been replaced by — heaven forfend! — Republicans.
Rehabilitation is important, of course. Only those who have committed the cruelest of crimes should be denied a path to re-entry to society. But a key component of rehabilitation is reckoning and punishment. Simply escaping judgment, waiting around a few years, and then reappearing is no rehabilitation at all. It’s escaping justice rather than facing it.
On a global scale, Russia‘ reemergence sets a troubling precedent, one that will no doubt be keenly observed in Beijing. At this point, it remains highly unlikely that Chinese dictator Xi Jinping — despite massing troops near the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen — will actually send the People’s Liberation Army into the democratic enclave and perpetrate mass killing. Mr. Xi’s bet seems to be that the protests will burn themselves out. He may be right.
But if Mr. Xi does do the unthinkable and perpetrates a massacre in Hong Kong, he can bet on this: Sure, the world will be mad for a while — China might even be subject to a few sanctions and a few toothless United Nations resolutions. But to gain forgiveness and for the world to move on, all Mr. Xi will have to do is wait five minutes.
⦁ Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.
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