The Republican “long game” of demonizing the President which began immediately after Barak Obama was elected president in 2008 has finally crossed the finish line. Vowing to do anything to destroy Obama’s presidency, the Republicans and their Tea Party sub-contractor began the process of character assassination that culminated in this week’s midterm elections. The strategy put the political future of the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner ahead of the needs of the country and therefore out of necessity had to ignore anything positive that might attach itself to the Obama presidency.
It is not surprising that much of the press largely played along with the story line, broadcasting Boehner and McConnell’s daily banalities after having given credibility to political hacks like Michelle Bachman, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum and pizza maker Herman Cain in 2012.
But hapless Democratic candidates were complicit in their own downfall by running away from Obama and simply ignoring anything positive in his record.
When Obama’s presidency began the United States was a living horror show, largely produced by Republicans. The country had wasted up to $3 trillion on a war fought over weapons of mass destruction that did not exist; it had allowed investment banks to run wild while bringing the American economy to its knees; the American stock market lost 54% of its value in the 2007-08 crash; unemployment soared to over 10% and thousands of homeowners lost their homes through foreclosure – or by simply walking away from suddenly wildly overvalued property. President George Bush’s last budget – for FY 2009 had a deficit of $1,412 billion. After six years of the Obama presidency the annual budget deficit ($483 Bn) is less than a third of Bush’s last deficit, unemployment is at a rate less than half of the 2009 rate, the stock market is at record highs, the housing market has largely recovered, housing foreclosures are at historic lows and the American economy has recovered better than any other Western country’s.
So why have the Democrats suffered such a huge loss?
MONEY: When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people and that their money is a form of free speech an already lopsided election funding process became a game of craps played with loaded dice. It has become almost impossible to gauge the amount of money spent on elections but one estimate is that some $4B was spent on the 2014 midterms. Anyone trapped in front of a TV in October must have believed that they were faced with voting for either a swine or a hog.
SUPREME COURT: the U.S. Supreme Court has managed to play a powerful (and perhaps inappropriate) role in politics with its Citizens-United decision opening up funding of election campaigns to corporations and unions, and has decided that protection of voting rights is no longer needed despite the efforts of Republicans to make voting more difficult by requiring photo IDs at the polls despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud in the past.
THE PRESS: The American mainstream press has always been susceptible to the temptations of closeness to power, giving us what amounts to a courtier press. The Sunday talk shows wheel out the same tired lineup week after week: John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Peggy Noonan, Reince Priebus, etc. and they become insider clubs with little difference between the reporters and the politicians. Print journalists have become an endangered species and cable news stations are uniformly tedious – even stupid – , pumping up non stories like the so-called ebola threat and refusing to do the hard work of journalism.
DEMOCRATS’ INEPTITUDE: The Democrats seem to have drunk the Republicans kool aid. They ran away from Obama’s (and their own) accomplishments, refused to defend the Affordable Care Act, never developed a positive message, ignored the positive economic record of Obama’s administration, and did not force the Republicans to defend economic policies that have favored the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class. They allowed the Republicans to determine and control the narrative and refused to risk losing on Democratic party principles. Turns out they could hardly have done worse and could at least have looked at themselves in the mirror the day after the election had they stood strongly for something positive.
OBAMA’S PASSIVITY AND ADMINISTRATIVE INCOMPETENCE: The President’s noted rational approach to governing could only work if it was supported by energy or, better yet, passion – for what he is trying to accomplish. His inability- perhaps unwillingness – to sell the Affordable Care Act to his clients (all of us) is an example of a failure of politics. The ACA has been vilified by the Republicans largely by their lying about it. Death panels, free abortions, increased deficits, etc. ad nauseum. The administration never fought back effectively and in fact, by losing control over the development of the ACA website, created a nightmare for themselves – to say nothing of the people who tried to sign up for health insurance. The apparent unwillingness to play the hard politics that end up being a necessary part of the job contributed to giving the Republicans control of the narrative for the election.
VOTERS’ GENERALiZABLE ANGER: Americans are understandably pissed off. They saw their lives seriously disrupted by the recession of 2008-9, then saw bankers bailed out with taxpayers’ money, bank executives raking in record multimillion dollar rewards for incompetence while they were losing their jobs and homes. The rich do indeed get richer and the poor do indeed suck wind. So they looked around and – helped enormously by Republican money and ads demonizing Obama – decided to blame the President. Is that stupid? well yeah. Is it unexpected? well no. The hard work of figuring out what actually happened in the absence of a strong and honest press turns out to be beyond the capabilities of the American people. Or at least – so it seems.
So we come to the future and as our friend Leonard Cohen says, “I have seen the future brother: and it is murder”. And so it will be: possibly death to health care for all, more insane U.S.wars in places with little or no relation to our national interest; greater wealth to the oligarchs; less for the poor; no hope for immigrants; and a fundamental national commitment to all that works agains the interests of the vast majority of the American people. It is our democracy. Love it. Embrace it. Or work to change it.3 Comments
Arriving in Boston from Tanzania last Friday I was welcomed into a country caught in deep fright over a disease that had killed just one person in America – a visitor from Liberia who went to the emergency room of a Dallas hospital when he developed ebola symptoms. For whatever reason, the hospital staff misdiagnosed him, sent him home and a few days later he was back with a full blown case of a disease that killed him. It is apparent that an earlier correct diagnosis would have increased his chances, but of course, mistakes do happen.
We had spent nearly three weeks in Africa and ebola had come up in conversation exactly once. People understood that Tanzania, located in East Africa, was some 4-5000 miles from the epicenter of the ebola outbreak and also understood that it was almost impossible to become infected without coming into contact with an infected patient’s bodily fluids. So Tanzanians were informed, behaving responsibly and showed no sign of panic. So just why is America in a frenzy over a disease that has been successfully treated in several American hospitals, has to date killed one person in the country and which has led medical authorities to take very aggressive quarantine steps for any person (or dog) that came into even casual contact with the patient or with the two hospital staff who unwittingly became infected while treating him.
I suppose there are many possible causes of the panic, but three factors seem especially relevant. First is basic ignorance and an unwillingness to learn about the disease by simply reading responsible press reports or listening to the many medical experts who have addressed the issue on radio and tv. Second is the predictably poor performance of much of the press in reporting on the disease, all too frequently emphasizing the dramatic nature of the many deaths in West African countries that have extremely poor medical systems. A third reason – and the one that is almost scandalous in its self-serving irresponsibility – is the use of the issue in the political campaigns for next month’s midterm elections.
Republicans and America’s courtier press have managed to blame President Obama for everything from the civil war in Syria to the failed democracy in Libya, to the corruption in Ukraine, to the failed democracy in Egypt, ad infinitum. Too much of the press carries these rants with a straight face and enough of the people buy it to give it legs. So, we now have Americans hiding under their beds to escape a disease that is largely restricted to the African continent while our Republican leaders (sic) blame Obama for not stopping a disease that basically does not exist in America. Meanwhile a teacher in Maine is put on leave because he flew on a plane that previously had carried a woman that once upon a time had come into contact with the Liberian patient. Three Oklahoma students returned from a trip to Ethiopia, where there are no reported cases of ebola, and have been refused entry into school. Syracuse University barred a Washington Post reporter from a conference because he had done some reporting from Liberia; he had been cleared of any signs of ebola. A Mississippi school had been closed because its principle had been to Zambia, an African country thousands of miles from the West Africa ebola outbreak. A Southwest Airlines flight captain in Orlando called in authorities to remove a person from the plane because he had been in West Africa in late August (the incubation rate is 21 days and he proved to be healthy).
Last night Massachusetts has-been Scott Brown, who has moved to New Hampshire to run against Senator Jeanne Shaheen, joined a Republican national chorus and devoted a large part of a debate appearance to criticizing President Obama (and by implication Senator Shaheen) for not closing our borders to anyone coming from West Africa. The fact that that is a policy that no responsible health professional supports and that it is functionally not possible to accomplish did not deter Brown from trying to scare the bejesus out of the good folk in New Hampshire. Let’s hope the “live free or die” New Hampsherites come out from under their beds and send Brown home to Massachusetts.1 Comment
No doubt it was no big story out in the big world when Canada’s ruling conservative government – with both main opposition parties opposing – announced last week that they would seven jets to the Middle East, as well as small number of elite troops as advisors, to join the US-led t multi-national attempt to stop ISIS from taking control of a large swath of the Middle East, murdering many thousands of civilians on their way. After all a number of other NATO countries had already done so, some middleweights – Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, along with Australia, and a number of smaller Middle East countries,- along with supposed NATO heavyweights like Germany, the UK and France, even Turkey, although its motives seem very complicated and unclear.
A number of these countries, including Canada, refused to join the US campaign in Iraq 15 years ago, and it seems certain that none of them regret that decision. So what has changed , since it’s also clear that, at least in Canada, a majority of the pubic support the decision to send in jets against ISIS in 2014? It seems certain that the main difference is that, while for many back then there was wide-spread skepticism (as it turned out completely justified) about US claims that the Iraqui government had devastating weapons that it was ready to employ, while there is no question at all about whether ISIS has tremendous military and monetary resources – much of it stolen from deserting opposition armies – and is capable of using it in the most brutal fashion. There is also a religious element this time – ISIS threatens and kills the remaining Christians and other minority religious and ethnic groups. This time is also a domestic one – ISIS ha successfully recruited its killers in all the western countries involved in the coalition and has threatened violence against these same countries. Canada is in this one, whether it like it or not.5 Comments
The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy;
it is an alibi for the absence of one.
The Ukraine crisis has raised significant – some would say unnecessary – risks of international turmoil that could become much worse if not brought under control by the main participants, esp. Russia and Ukraine. Yet, it seems clear that a significant portion of the American foreign policy community and the American press has been unable or unwilling to discuss or even consider alternatives to what has become the de facto official narrative. Official in the sense of presenting a one-sided, American/European view of a situation that is a lot more complicated and that has roots in Western policies aggressively aimed at attacking Russia’s national interest under the guise of our never-ending and almost always futile attempt to install Western democracies in countries not ready for it. e.g. Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc.
But most troubling is the almost total lack of debate minus the demonizing of the debaters. Without defending Putin’s actions in Ukraine there are, nonetheless, geopolitical realities that should not be ignored while blindly following simplistic thinking of the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham in calling for military action in some form (i.e. giving lots of weapons to the Ukrainian military) as the only answer to what is a complex political and diplomatic problem.
The behavior of the American press is reminiscent of its cheerleading for the Vietnam War with unquestioning acceptance of the government narrative of the dominoes theory. The press’s support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was similarly supported without substantive debate in the press, although there were a small number of politicians willing to voice their doubts. But the alternative narratives for the Ukraine are mostly being ignored or even ridiculed.
For example, two notable commentaries by respected foreign policy thinkers provide a very different narrative of how we arrived at the Ukraine crisis and both authors have been largely ignored. John Mearsheimer, a highly regarded University of Chicago political scientist published his views of “Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault” in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, reiterating points he made in an earlier piece in Foreign Policy and again in the NY Times. Princeton and New York University Russian Studies Professor Stephen Cohen presented his views in a Conference in Washington but had published extensively on the crisis in The Nation Magazine. While writing in very different journals they come to similar conclusions: that the West failed to consider the importance of an unaligned Ukraine to Russia’s security and national interest; that the West continues to treat Russia as a “defeated” former enemy; that the West – specifically the EU – blundered when they offered Ukraine an economic agreement that would begin the movement of Ukraine into the Western sphere; then supporting the revolt that toppled the elected government of Ukraine. The West eagerly accepted the bonafides of the “revolution” and by picking sides in a battle of primary political importance to Russia contributed to the crisis. Consider the U.S.’s Monroe Doctrine and what the U.S. would likely do if a rival power decided to foment revolution in Mexico. Then ask whether the U.S. and European leaders bothered to put themselves in Putin’s shoes when they decided to foment revolution in Ukraine.
As for Cohen and Mearsheimer, rather than producing a transparent, robust debate, they have been vilified as Putin’s puppets, etc. by much of what passes for an informed press. But almost no one has seriously debated them on the merits of their arguments or – more significantly – on the facts of the case. And more importantly, there is no evidence of such a serious debate behind the scenes. Most commentators have taken the facts as presented by the U.S. and Ukraine governments and have been happy to demonize Putin. As for the political players, senators from both parties have bought the line with the Republicans criticizing Obama for the lack of “action” whatever that might be, when the real issue is his over reaching in the region that contributed to a major, dangerous crisis.
Finally, lest we forget, a significant portion of the Ukraine population does not support the movement to the West and in fact yesterday the NY Times reported that hundreds of thousands of citizens of eastern Ukraine are fleeing into Russia for refuge from the Ukraine army which, according to Human Rights Watch, has matched the rebels in killing thousands of civilians. Most of those “refugees” are now planning to remain in Russia. And are there Russian troops fighting with the rebels? Maybe so, or even probably so, but that does not give us the moral edge. After all, we have had our instances of sending troops – secret in many cases – into almost every Central American country in the past when our leaders had determined it to be in our national interest. much like Mr. Putin in the Ukraine. With a Ukraine cease fire tentatively agreed to by Russia and Ukraine this morning, the West (i.e. NATO) has announced its planned “Rapid Reaction Force for Eastern Europe”. We shall see how Mr. Putin responds.2 Comments
Four stories for Labor Day:
1. CNN noted today that the average American CEO is paid 375 times what their ordinary worker gets paid. Twenty years ago the difference was 20 times.
2. The NY Times published a front page story today describing how major businesses cheat their employees out of earned overtime payments. Walmart’s warehouse subsidiary, McDonalds, Federal Express and Doubletree Hotels are among the many corporations that have routinely screwed their workers for years.
3. The long fight to increase the minimum wage in America continues to be stalled as Republican politicians and their business community supporters and funders continue to insist that they cannot afford a federal minimum wage increase over the current disgraceful level of $7.25 an hour while payoffs to CEOs has increased exponentially since the 1990s.
4. Several weeks ago the Board of Directors of Marketplace, a large grocery chain in the Northeast, fired its CEO. The family owned and operated chain had been plagued for decades by a nasty family feud that led finally to one branch of the family controlling the Board and ousting the CEO. But in addition to family rivalries the Board was responding to the desire of the controlling interests for reduced benefits and pay to its employees and greater profit to them. Well fine, except it ended up blowing up. Seems the fired CEO was beloved by his employees AND his customers and both groups began a battle to overturn the decision which included massive protests including workers simply refusing to go to work and customers refusing to shop in the chain. Soon store shelves were empty and threats to fire employees only exacerbated the problems.
Before it was over the Governors of Massachusetts and New Hampshire got involved in negotiations, the press excoriated the Board for its inability to manage itself, and it became apparent that the only viable solution to keep the company afloat was to find a way to put the former CEO back in charge. He raised the funding to buy out his rivals and in a victory for workers and consumers the stores reopened last week. So a once successful, profitable business was saved by its workers and its customers without any of the workers being formally unionized. They simply refused to be pushed around by greed.
It is only one out of four for the good guys, but nice to have one positive story on this Labor Day. Now, back to work, everyone.2 Comments
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Reading comments of readers of daily newspapers and reading or hearing the ongoing barrage of criticism and blame laid on the President by his political foes has led many who should know better to believe that President Obama is a human disaster, laying waste to the America we learned about in grade school. Listening to Obama’s supporters could lead us to the conclusion that he is too good to be true and that his political enemies are ignorant louts. Both sides can claim some evidence to support their views, but to get sucked into the mire of so-called analysis by our press pundits is to get lost in a maze of untruths, half-truths, facts, non-facts, beltway bullshit and sheer hate speech.
This is not to conclude that Obama has been a knight in shining armor; clearly he has not. But let’s review some of what he and we have had to put up with for six years:
* the idiotic nonsense of his country of birth with calls for his birth certificate continuing still some five years after it was produced;
* the absurd claims that he was a secret Muslim intent on bringing us sharia law;
* the public insults hurled at his wife for promoting healthy eating;
* criticism linking him to every failed democracy in the world, with John McCain leading a bitter vendetta against the man who defeated him in 2008;
* and, of course, the subtle and not so subtle, racist comments directed at him and his family. It is this factor that has mostly been an elephant on the table, mostly ignored or simply pretended that the issue does not exist.
A good measure of where the U.S. is in its movement toward genuine racial equality is not so much the recent events in Ferguson Missouri, but rather the way in which the country has responded. A young, black teenager is gunned down with six shots by a white policeman. The teenager’s body is left in the street for over 4 hours without so much as a sheet over it. The police wait a few days and then finally release the policeman’s name, simultaneously beginning to slur the teenager with a video of him pushing a clerk in a convenience store. For many this was enough of a reason to execute the young man. The riots that followed were all too predictable as was the overreaction of the white police, which included arresting journalists, bringing in an ARMY TANK for God’s sake, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, and threatening law-abiding citizens participating in their constitutional right to protest. The NY Times did not help by publishing a front page story about the victim saying he “was no angel” and listing his many crimes – occasionally smoking marijuana, drinking beer underage, jostling a neighbor once – crimes that are consistent with growing up in America – white or black, and perhaps a reminder that none of us are “angels”.
So what has been the response? Well, it varied of course and mostly in predictable ways. There was the initial gnashing of teeth in most of the press with the notable exception of Fox News – an exception also predictable. Then over time the slurring of the victim, the calls for peace in the street, the calling of a grand jury investigation, the burial of the victim, and then back to a sense of normality which means that nothing much is likely to change. Although there is some public concern over their local police forces turning into military machines, dedicated to keeping the people under control rather than protecting them. We shall see where that goes.
But perhaps the best measure of where W.B. Yeats’ “worst…full of passionate intensity” have ended up is that a few weeks after the event, nearly $500,000 had been raised (some by the KKK) for the defense of a so far not even charged white policeman who managed to put 6 bullets in an unarmed black teenager. This spontaneous outpouring of support is as good a measure as any of where we are in our crawl toward racial equality. The money quote in the fund-raising for the officer came from one contributor who said: “We’ll all see this in the end that it was a good shooting. You know, it was a good kill.”
All of this keeps the issue of race on the table when thinking about Obama’s performance as President and the cost to America of continuing to avoid fully addressing the problems facing black Americans. Americans were justifiably proud of their willingness to vote an African American to the presidency – twice. Now they need to do the really hard work of persuading the rest of the country of the need for mutual respect and of the common interest in renewing the nation’s efforts to finally, at long last, put racism in its past. The effort needs a new beginning.No Comments
If you go down to the beach this evening you will find the antidote to the seemingly never-ending series of miserable stories of life around the globe at this point in history. Here in Vancouver you will find many thousands of people along the 20 kilometers of public shoreline that stretch from Stanley Park through downtown to the University of British Columbia. Hundreds of them will be in the water, kids will be dashing about on the rafts, still after all these decades trying to push other kids over the side, girls screaming unconvincingly, boys responding to the challenge as they always have, many sailboats, some racing, are out in the harbour, 15 container ships lay at anchor until a spot opens at the industrial port beyond Stanley Park, other megaships waiting for their turn at the the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool quays, a couple of regal cruise ships will come sailing by at supper time on their way to Alaska, whole fleets of paddle boarders will come floating by, further out there are kayakers and even a few canoeists.
And look at this – fathers are playing with their kids , as they used to do but supposedly don’t do any more, mothers try to keep the kids in acceptable flock formation, life guards guard life and row rowboats. ice cream trucks are playing their seductive songs as they move about, concession stands deliver hot dogs, there are a couple of dozen different languages in use around barbecues and there are no police in sight anywhere . The sunset behind the snow-covered mountains is fabulous. Mensch was willst du noch mehr.3 Comments
O-Bama, O-Bama, Wherefore Art Thou?
That is the question that many of us ask, but when we do we must also ask: what kind of country has the U.S. become and why are we unhinged in so very fundamental ways. The previous entry on this blog by my pals from the friendly North is representative of what seems to me to be a lack of understanding (or empathy? God help us) of just what it is we are suffering through down here in the arid, thought-deficient South.
But let’s begin with our Northern pals’ comments. Right out of the chute (a Calgary rough rider reference, we should note) they wonder whether Obama is the least trusted president in recent memory. As my old Mom would have said, “are you kidding me? have you gone bonkers?” There was for instance “W” and his merry gang of thieves and eejits, led by the estimable Vice, Cheney. All they did was torture people all over the planet, with the help of countries like Germany – just to name one- start a war on a lie (aided in a somewhat clumsy perhaps accidental way by German Intel), kill ca. 4500 NATO troops (most American but also Canadians, Germans etc.), kill ca 100,000+++ Iraqis, send 200,000+ Iraqis into refugee status, and empower a Shia dictator-to-be to screw Sunnis and Kurds in whatever way he can thus producing a seemingly perpetual civil war which we are now – too late again – recognizing as a – well, problem. I could go back further to Reagan and his criminal work with the Contras and Iran, or even Nixon – remember him? Trustworthy guys, eh?
Then we have the concern that Canada – our best friend to the north of us – supposedly moving away from us with the indisputable fact that our ambassadors are not top drawer. Without making a huge point of it, Bush appointed former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci as ambassador and frankly his best strength was his wife, a bright, articulate librarian at Boston College before she agreed to sacrifice a life in a real city for duty in Ottawa. Fact is that Canada has not had a real U.S. Ambassador for over thirty years and even then they got a guy with blood on his hands. And I do not here discuss the Keyspan pipeline, aka, the Pipe of American Death and Canadian Profit.
And yes, we are reluctant to build a bridge from Detroit to Windsor – but is Obama to blame? I remind those who live in a Parliamentary political system that we have a system of “checks and balances” which has ensured in this time that nothing can ever happen. We live in a Kafka novel. It is not fair to blame Obama for the failures of a Republican party that has decided not to participate in governance. I know not whether it is because he is black or a democrat or just whether the republicans have drunk the kool aid — what i know is that nothing happens, nothing can be done, and every bad fking thing that happens in the world is presented as the fault of the black American Democrat – and democratically elected – - president. When considering anything that involves expenditures of federal money always look at congress and specifically the House of Representatives.. They have broken my country and are traitors to the core interests of our country.
Now, onto the unpleasant fact that we are listening to everyone’s phone calls and reading everyone’s emails, including Frau Merkel’s….On one level it is simple to say that of course we spy on Germany – they are an important player – and that is what intel services do. Alas there are issues of trust – and issues of competence.. When i read about the spying on Merkel I thought that – well – ok, but why are you listening to MY calls and reading MY emails? Obama has clearly been sucked into the security organizations’ thinking and that is not a good reflection on his judgment. The CIA has – at best – a questionable record and that a President with a background in constitutional law would do what he has done is more than very troubling.
But for we who live in this country the mood of the people is more troubling. There is a strange and nasty beast out there and it is ignorant, stupid, lazy and ugly and it blames Obama for everything wrong in its world. So more of this in the future. More on President Obama’s failures, Congress’s complicity, and the failure of the American people to grasp and deal with reality. It is, alas, a rich subject.
Is Obama trying to become the least trusted president of the US in recent memory? If he is, he doing a very good job of it. Just in the last couple of months he has managed to alienate many of his formerly most reliable friends, none worse than Germany, although Canada would also have a good case of feeling most offended. Perhaps the Canadian irritations seem to be small matters, but they have certainly added up, and do nothing to bring about any sense of harmony among the second and third largest countries on earth, not to mention a feeling of solidarity in North America. There is no doubt that Canada is quickly drawing away from its long-standing position of being a close ally of its smaller southern neighbour, whose arrogance in such matters as the naming of ambassadors, the paying of obviously-due bills, the willingness to co-operate on border issues, and the inability of Washington to understand that spying on your friends and neighbours is considered unacceptable by respected governments, and the simple absence of courtesy visits is simply rude by Canadian standards. The two US ambassadors to Canada appointed by Obama have both been non-diplomat bagmen for Democrats with no experience in foreign affairs or for that matter in Canada. The US seems to be unwilling to pay for the building and maintenance of a new border crossing on the desperately needed new bridge to Canada near Detroit, but has plenty of money for drones cruising along the once so-called longest unarmed border in the world. The almost total absence of visits by the Candian Prime Minister to Washington and the US president to ottawa does nothing to dispel the feeling that these two countries are not getting along well.
But the situation with regard to Germany has deteriorated even more rapidly. Any North American liviing in Germany has long had the feeling that the Germans basically ten d to look at eh US through rose-oloured glasses, no doubt because of the US eole in t he Second World War and its aftermateh. (These same German almost never know anything about the role of Canada , whose army played a major part in the D-Day invasion and fought its way on its own through northern France and the Netherlands.) But that good will has almost been destroyed by the revelations about Washington’s tapping of phones of the leaders of government there, including the private cell phone of Prime Minister Merkel, who seemed honestly taken aback by this revelation . As she was brought up in the DDR, she is more or less the last person on earth who has to be reminded of the awful reaction of citizens who hear that their private communications have been listened to by threatening governments, in this case a foreign one. And now the head of the CIA in Berlin has been kicked out of Germany as the proof of illegal spying that came out of his office continues to widen . What birdbrains allowed this to happen? did they really think the Germans, by far the central power of Europe. would take this affront without acting? And there we can see it: Merkel talking with Putin in Rio about the Ukrainian situation, which has left the US once again all at sea, German Foreign Minister Steinmeyer icily confronting an outmatched US Foreign Minister Kerry in Vienna. It’s all unnecessary, if there were only some sense of diplomatic skill coming out of Washington . But there isn’t and we shall see what the consequences are of such amateur behaviour.
As events in Ukraine continue to seem to spin out of control, some aspects of the crisis seem to be getting clearer:
1. Crimea is lost to Ukraine and will soon be understood by almost everyone to be apart of Russia – again. It is time for the western leaders to stop saying otherwise. It is a peninsula in the Black Sea that Russian armies have fought for over the centuries against the British, the Ottomans and others when it was threatened with invasion, and no one stepped in to defend it when Russia just took it over , not even the Ukrainian army that was stationed on it. Most of the people who lived there were in favour of the return to Mother Russia and Putin wasted no time in welcoming them back. In Russia itself it was an event that worked greatly to increase Putin’s popularity.
2. Ukraine has always functioned as a kind of buffer zone between the Russian Empire and western Europe. . There is no doubt that the western part of Ukraine, with the city of Lwiw/Lwow/Lemberg has been at different times a centre of Polish, Yiddish, German and Ukrainian cultures. There is absolutely no doubt that its inhabitants would vote overwhelmingly to look west for its future, but it is also true that western Europe has never been particularly welcoming towards them. When the EU clearly placed its eastern boundary on the Ukrainian/Romanian border and welcomed Romania and Bulgaria into its military wing, NATO, it made life very difficult for those western Ukrainians who would love to enjoy free travel and close relations to the people in the lands beyond the visa-controlled Romanian border. Ukranians have emigrated in large numbers over the last century and a half, especially to the Canadian prairies, partly because they never felt particularly welcome in central and western Europe while simultaneously being subjected to enforced famine by its Slavic brothers to the east.
3. There is real uncertainty about what would happen in eastern Ukraine if such a vote were held. Cities of a million people like Donetsk and Karkov – and suddenly Odessa seems to have joined this assembly – seem to be so divided on the topic that civil war seems a real possibility if serious negotiations aren’t held immediately. Nobody seems to really know what Putin’s plans might be, but his recent suggestion that the pro-Russian separatists should act with a bit more caution, may be a sign that a kind of semi-autonomous status within the Ukrainian Republic for Russian-speaking areas areas of eastern Ukraine might be a negotiable position that would be less threatening than anything anyone else has been able to think of. .
4. Putin has proven to a ruthless and powerful opponent in all this. Here on his home turf he has been able to completely outmaneuver both his Ukrainian adversaries and the western leaders who have so ditheringly come to their defence. His foreign minister makes mincemeat of all the western foreign ministers except the German Frank-Walter Steinmeyer who is very aware of how awful the actions of west European armies in Ukraine have been in the recent past. Putin has a black belt in judo, and he has proven he is one tough customer, but it may be that he has made all the moves he plans to make and that a negotiated settlement based on a Ukrainian Federation can bring some chance of peace to this tormented part of the world. If not ….No Comments