Why was Iraq in 2003 not a “vital American interest” while in 2014 it is. Bush certainly made an awful mistake in his judgment, no doubt aided by lousy advisors, but the US is once again attacking in Irag – and Syria -, and did not leave Afghanistan during most of the Obama presidency – and actually still hasn’t. This time it is on Obama’s orders. How come Bush was a fool while these military actions are (still?) supposed to be considered wise diplomacy?
Comment to earlier blog from Flaming Bombadier
Hey Flamer: Whoa!! take a deep breath and sit down. Fan yourself and relax. And consider some history and some contemporary events.
1. Iraq invasion in 2003 was an illegal invasion of a country, based on fabricated intelligence which led to the dismemberment of an (unpleasant, but recognized) government to satisfy the wet dreams of Dick Cheney and possibly W. Bush. It involved over 200,000 American troops, killed nearly 4000 of them, added hundreds of thousand of Iraqis to the death list, sent some 4 million Iraqis to refugee camps and cost the U.S economy between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. In terms of national interest it was an enormous deficit and we continue to pay the price., Which brings us to number:
2. U.S. troops sent into Iraq by Obama were and are sent specifically to support the currently existing Iraq government – not a terribly difficult to understand difference from sending in troops to overthrow a government – but it is a government produced by the Bush/Cheney war. It is a great example of the consequences of stupidity, but Obama has sent 1500 – soon to be 3000- and maybe more later – in response to a real threat. Ask The Parisians. Ask London, Ask Madrid. There is – in my view- a threat to not only our national interest, but the interests of all Western liberal democracies iby a theocratic, existential movement opposed to Western ideals and our right to hold them.
3. It has taken a long time (too long) to get out of Afghanistan, but to say the U.S. is ttacking Syria is a rather bizarre comment. Obama has been butchered in the U.S. by McCain, Lindsey Graham and their ilk for not invading Syria. He is holding back and resisting anything more than plane attacks on ISIS. And it is very hard to argue in favor of letting ISIS go its merry way unmolested.
It is an ugly world out there and today’s murder of journalists in Paris, and the beheadings of American and British journalists and the random bombings of innocent people every day, yes, every day, makes this battle one of national interest for us all.
Obama has been criticized for 6 years for being who he is – a thoughtful, careful, rational leader who has led America out of most of their foreign battles. It has become easy to just criticize him without thinking about what came before, what he was left with and what he has accomplished. Perhaps Flaming Bombadier would have been happier with a McCain or a Chamberlain, but I think not. There are always disappointments but in these issues Obama has acted wisely and with restraint.
Maybe Flaming Bombardier has some thoughts on how best to negotiate with ISIS, Al Queda, et alia and how to bring diplomacy to the process. if not maybe a bare chested Putin can do it. We shall see. But probably not4 Comments
In the great world of men’s ice hockey, the results in the World Junior (Under 20) Championship that is now going on in Toronto and Montreal both confirm and rattle the previously understood natural order of things among elite national teams. While it is true that three of the four teams that will meet in the semifinals have long belonged to that elite (Sweden, Canada, Russia), it is the surprising rise of new entrants to the quarter finals – Denmark, Slovakia, Switzerland – and the quick exit of former occasional pretenders to the throne that has hockey fans reflecting on the future. There seems to be no obvious reason other than ongoing decline for the collapse of last year’s champion, Finland, as well as formerly perennial challengers, the Czech Republic and the USA in this tournament that can be used to predict the future of the upcoming men’s national teams.. Suggestions by veteran US hockey commentators that the Yanks, who were quite easily knocked out in the quarterfinals for the second straight year by a pretty unconvincing Russian squad, may have been because the largely college-based players felt sorry for their Russians because of the sad state of their country at the moment must be taken with a grain of salt. The more likely reason is that the attempt to turn hockey in the US into a college-based minor league, much like football, playing out of hockey-mill colleges, particularly in the Boston area, is a failure for obvious reasons. Hockey demands well-trained team work and students at Boston College, Boston University, Tuffs, Harvard, etc (which seem to make up a serious percentage of the US payers), can’t spend all of their time practicing,as football players can .
The Russians traditionally play unpredictably in early relatively unimportant matches (they tied Denmark), but not in the ones that count against Sweden or Canada. So don’t be surprised if the Russians look like a different team against Sweden in the semi-final and face a Canadian squad in the final that has been untouchable so far. Most commentators still believe that Canada has too much depth to be considered an underdog to Russia this time, but it is a virtual guarantee that this final would be one of the best hockey games played this year. And don’t put too much money against Russia. If Sweden meets Slovakia in the bronze-medal game, don’t be surprised if the totally undervalued Slovaks, who have the best goalie in the tournament and have been playing with great passion, don’t upset the rather lackadaisical-seeming Swedish squad.
Who would have thunk it?
“We don’t need tough guys. We need wise guys. We’ve tried tough guys, and it always ends in tears. Tough guys you know right away because they’re never scared of a fight. Wise guys you only know in retrospect, when you remember that they quietly walked away from the fight that now has the tough guy in a hospital.” Adam Gopnik, The NewYorker Magazine
As 2014 winds down we find the two Putins – the Russian Vladimir and Turkish President -Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – struggling to maintain their images of power, strength and competence. I’ll save Erdogan for a later posting, but for the Russian Putin the struggle has become increasingly difficult. This is in spite of the admiration expressed by the likes of America’s Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, former Chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence Mike Rogers and Fox News TV evangelist, Mike Huckabee. In fact,reviewing the past year or two, commentators from both respected and semi-respected media outlets have nourished the fantasies of the right wing by questioning Obama’s manhood while praising Putin’s bare chested virility. This has included analysts from beltway think tanks, the editorial board of the once great Washington Post and, of some note, the NYTimes’ columnist Maureen Dowd, who has consistently whined that Obama is not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie character. Honoring Putin’s heroic posturing following his takeover of the Crimea, Rogers said that “Putin played chess” while Obama played marbles; Giuliani commented that Putin defined “leadership” while poor Obama spent too much time “thinking”. As for erstwhile presidential candidate and Fox News analyst, Mike Huckabee, he said “I know the only time that Vladimir Putin shivers is when he takes his shirt off in a cold Russian winter”, as opposed to poor old thoughtful Obama. Other notable comments on Putin’s manly leadership included these from some of America’s finest blowhards:
- “Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everyone’s eyes roll, including mine,” noted war lover Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
- “People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” Former Alaska Gov. and heartbeat away from the presidency VP candidate, Sarah Palin said. “They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”
- “This is Putin running rings about us. There’s no question what’s going on here, is Vladimir Putin is reassembling the Soviet Union,” said conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.
- “The Ukrainians, and I think everybody, is shocked by the weakness of Obama’s statement,” Fox’s (noted psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer said. “What he’s saying is, we’re not really going to do anything.”
- “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality,” wrote the once great Washington Post’s editorial board.
- “President Obama’s attempt to seek peace through apologetic diplomacy while defunding and dismantling our military has failed. Today, our enemies don’t fear us and our allies no longer respect us,” Senator and noted climate change denier Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.
- “The president must now accept that the only way to deal with tyrants like Vladimir Putin is with a clear understanding that they can’t be trusted and that only decisive action will deter their provocative moves,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) “If Putin’s illegal actions are allowed to stand unpunished, it will usher in a dark and dangerous era in world affairs.”
So here we are some months after Obama did not get involved in a war in Ukraine and Putin is watching helplessly as the Russian economy goes in the toilet, and realizes belatedly that Obama’s sanctions combined with the drop in oil prices has pushed Russia into a catastrophic recession. He is forcing Russian companies to sell dollars in a hopeless attempt to strengthen the Russian ruble and the Central bank has increased its interest rate to 16% ensuring a disastrous 2015 for Russia’s economy. Perhaps Putin is now asking himself how he will pay the high costs of maintaining the Crimea as a vital part of his new Russian empire. American commentators seem puzzled by the success of Obama’s foreign policy moves that have placed a premium on avoiding direct American military involvement, invoking diplomacy over confrontation and waging economic war via sanctions over sending Americans to defend other countries’ interests. While many in American politics and the press have conveniently forgotten the lessons of America’s disastrous 2003 Iraq invasion, almost automatically seeking ways for American military might to be utilized, Obama has continued to resist the temptation to send American troops into foreign battles that do not threaten our vital national interests.1 Comment
In a seemingly desperate attempt to dispel the conventional image of Canada as a splendid place to live, but unfortunately a really boring place unless you are being attacked by a herd of grizzlys or a lone wolf. its self-apponted national newspaper, The Toronto Globe and Mail, affectionally known as the Maple Leaf Rag, brought excitement to its front page on Wednesday, Dec 3 by boldly confronting proposed changes in the national film industry.
Now in film history Canada may be best known for allowing its cities to be dandied up to pose as US cities in schlock films and tv series, or for developing a series of brilliant directors almost all of whom are French-speaking Quebeckers. But during the Christmas holidays its signature brand is such a minimalist idea that much of the world now is threatening to copy it as it reflects a more simple way of life. In Sweden they spend the holidays looking at Donald Duck films, in Norway at lampposts, in Germany grotesque quizzes, but in Canada they look at logs burning cheerily in a fireplace and have done so for a long time. There they are – a bunch of logs peacefully burning away in a pleasant log cabin room where all the grizzlys are outside longingly staring in through the becurtained windows.
But all things, even the most successful and exciting ones, must come to an end and the producers of this classic show have announced that the fire itself will be updated by being filmed anew in high definition. No major changes in the plot will take place, but the hand that occasionally comes in and pokes at the logs will have to be refilmed and strife has broken out between the chap who originally provided the hand 20 years ago and young whippersnappers who feel they should now be given the chance to poke away. And the flannel shirt itself that is visible above the hand will have to be replaced by a new flannel shirt that reflects more modern tastes in flannel shirt colours. It remains to be seen whether these deeply disturbing problems can be resolved peacefully, but there is no doubt that The Toronto Globe and Mail has done the print media a real service by drawing this to the readers’ attention on its front page, thus ensuring an even larger audience in front of the tv fireplace this holiday season.1 Comment
“Always Remember… Once You Give Up Your Rights, You Can Never Get Them Back. Once You Turn On That Police State, You Can Never Turn It Off.”
― Ziad K. Abdelnour
America is caught up in an all too familiar argument about the relationships among young black males, mostly white police departments, the press, politicians and the general public. And it would be a real dandy if it addressed the reality of what has happened in America in recent years. This is the case especially since the 9/11 attacks that have contributed to a level of free floating existential fear, furthered by a host of American politicians, aided and abetted by a mediocre – or worse – media..
The Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri subverted the discussion by directing it to the narrow and away from the broad. The narrow allowed people to argue that Mr. Brown was a “thug” because he pushed a convenience store employee and stole some cigarillos. It allowed people to argue that he was a very big and very black and ergo a very scary guy. Therefore for some, he deserved to die. The narrow also allowed the discussion to accept as truth the carefully scripted grand jury testimony of the policeman without any questioning by – for instance – the prosecutor – at the grand jury proceedings. So be it. The dice were loaded, the game was fixed. Few of us were surprised.
The police in America have way more power than they should or that they deserve, given past behavior. They work for us and we do not expect them to play dress up in Camo duds to come out and scare us. We expect them to be on our side and that does not include killing people because the are big and black. But the problem – while largely one suffered by young black males – is not and will not be restricted to them. We are giving the police in America powers they do not need, do not deserve, and that in the end will haunt us all.
Michael Brown was one in a long line of victims of criminal police action. Tonight a grand jury refused to indict a NY policeman who choked an unarmed black man to death with the help of three or four additional cops – on video. No indictment from that grand jury. Last week a 12 year old black child in Cleveland was shot for holding a toy gun. The excuse? The yellow tag that identified it as a toy had been removed. The reality? The cops arrived, waited less than 2 seconds and blasted him into the history books. But these well-reported cases are the tip of the iceberg. From May 2013 to today over 1450 people have been killed by American police. Some were no doubt bad people – perhaps deserving to die – but there is simply too much evidence in the public domain to ignore the fact that the people we hired to protect us have become one of our major threats. In 2013, 111 police were reported to have died in duty 46 died in traffic accidents; 33 by gunfire and 14 by heart attack, the rest by various means. So a total of 33 by gunfire (although the report does not indicate whether it was friendly fire or suicide – neither uncommon).
The basic issue sits out there. How afraid are we? 9/11 happened 13 years ago; can we please get over it? Apparently not. But why would we foster the development of a police state that infringes on all of our freedoms and that becomes more dangerous than the so-called enemy and provides no real increased protection? The police work for us. We pay them more than we pay our teachers while requiring less training and background. Then we give them guns and a badge and they become a national nightmare. And then we give them tanks and assault weapons and camouflage uniforms. And then they begin to believe that they are all powerful and can get away with murder. And guess what? They can and they do.4 Comments
The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago left a vacuum at the top of the two countries that have dominated Europe for almost a century, or at least since Great Britain made it clear it didn’t really feel itself to be part of Europe , and which has trouble understanding how little greatness it still possesses and France began electing leaders whose main claim to fame is that they take Vespas to visit their mistresses, followed by paparazzi, a scene that seems to have stepped right out of a parody of La Dolce Vita. Speaking of which, I’ll bet you will know the name of the last visible prime minister of bankrupt Italy, but not of the current one. And if you take a look at the photo op of the 20 leaders who recently gathered at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, you get high marks if you can identify more than five of these minnows. But there are two among them you should know, one of the two women in the photo, a rather nondescript looking German woman, and a tough-looking Russian, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.
These two have known each other for most of the time the wall has been down, can speak each other’s languages, and supposedly held lengthy private conversation in Brisbane without interpreters, and they didn’t hold them in English. No one could claim that this daughter of a Lutheran minister in an atheistic country dominated by the Soviet Union and the KGB’s man in the historic East German city of Dresden are friends.. But a sort of grudging respect for each other – and each other’s country – seems to have become one of the casualties of Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine and his potential plans to reclaim other former parts of the Soviet Union. It seems that Frau Merkel has finally had enough of the bully she long tolerated on the assumption that bluster and theatrics were an acceptable price to pay if German-Russian relations remained reasonably stable. And by displaying over the years a quiet resolution to manage Germany with moderation and respect for its newly-won dominating position in Europe, she seems to have also now won the right to strike back at an aggressive Russian and currently has the highest domestic approval rate – after 15 years on power – of any leader in the world. Putin is also very popular in Russia and we can only hope that economic and political pressure will now convince him to withdraw the troops, settle down into reflected glory of Russia that has certainly regained the word’s attention under Putin’s rule and let the world worry about great problems threatening all of it elsewhere.1 Comment
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.2 Comments
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