Two Invasions – and One Truth
Crimea and Afghanistan: A comparative analysis
No bombing, no casualties, no armed resistance, no “shock & awe” – Crimea isn’t so much an invasion as it is a hook-up.
If Russia’s retaking of a region it has held since the days of Catherine the Great is an invasion – and it surely is – then it’s an aggression of a new type. Perhaps we can call it a passive aggression, or even a pacific aggression, which might be defined as an invasion that has the tacit consent of those aggressed against. Even the Tatars – noted in every Western news article as opponents of Russia’s annexation – have apparently reconciled themselves to life in the Russian Federation, and are seeking autonomy within Crimea. That wouldn’t even have been an option had they remained within Ukraine.
It’s not exactly accurate to say the Russo-Ukrainian contretemps has resulted in absolutely no casualties – there were some, but they weren’t in Crimea, and the victims didn’t fall under fire from Russian guns. The first blood was spilled in Kiev, where the "Right Sector" neo-fascists opened fire in the Maidan, wounding the deputy mayor of Kiev and two others. There’s probably going to be more where that came from, as the Kiev coup leaders come into inevitable conflict with the ultra-nationalist militias that provided the muscle for the coup in the first place. Oh, but don’t worry, because Jamie Kirchick says they’re "imaginary" fascists – although I hear they were handing out racist newsletters.
While Crimea, the site of the Russian invasion, is calm, real chaos is enveloping western Ukraine, where the political factions are falling out among themselves and "Right Sector" and its ideological allies in Svoboda are now making their bid for power. The police are nowhere to be seen in Kiev, while armed Right Sector thugs prowl the streets dispensing "revolutionary justice" with crowbars, bats, and pilfered guns. With elections scheduled for May 25, rival oligarchs are maneuvering for position, hoping to win US/EU approval and cash grants from Western "democracy promotion" programs – while the neo-fascists of Svoboda wait in the wings for their chance.
Speaking of Western cash, no sooner did the US start sending "nonlethal" aid to the Ukrainians – in order to hold off an "imminent" Russian move into the eastern part of the country that never materialized – than the Ukrainians began selling it on the Internet. This is how America promotes entrepreneurship!
Now behold another invasion, the American "liberation" of Afghanistan – which, by any measure, wasn’t (and isn’t) anything other than an old-fashioned shock-and-awe kill-‘em-all invasion. No one really knows exactly how many deaths and other casualties were suffered by Afghan civilians and the Taliban: most casualty counting web sites only report US and allied deaths and wounded – because after all we’re talking about the wilds of Afghanistan. However, it’s safe to say the number – conservatively – is in the tens of thousands, including those taken by US drone strikes (and the Taliban which habitually attacks civilians).
Like the Russians, the Americans have held an election (or two) since their conquest of the region: unlike the Russians, however, who offered Crimean voters a choice – annexation or autonomy within Ukraine – Afghan voters only got to choose between foreign occupation under one US sock-puppet or foreign occupation under another US sock-puppet. In the end, they chose Hamid Karzai, whose chaotic reign as de facto mayor of Kabul has been fraught with corruption and worse both for the US and the long-suffering Afghan people.
In Iraq, the contrast between "liberation" American style and Russian annexation is even starker. There the death toll exacted by the Americans easily tops one million, while the electoral process has been even more corrupted by Washington’s political agenda. Here we destroyed a nation in order to "save" it – and we didn’t even gain the geopolitical advantage of acquiring a compliant ally. Iraq is now firmly in the Iranian orbit after having asked us politely – but firmly – to leave. You have to give the Americans credit for actually withdrawing – even though, in terms of domestic US politics, the Obama administration didn’t have much choice in the matter.
In short, some aggressors are more aggressive than others: indeed, there is one in particular that tops the list. Some libertarians are quite uncomfortable with these difficult yet irrefutable truths. They’d prefer we didn’t talk about them. Anthony Gregory, writing in some obscure web site that nonetheless got picked up elsewhere, complains "Our unifying enemy should be the same: aggression, whether it is ordered from Moscow or Washington DC" – and never mind the disproportionate death and destruction caused by the latter. That’s just a detail.
But is it? Doesn’t it matter that the Russian "aggression" caused no loss of life and no real destruction of property – not even a dented automobile? Doesn’t that alter the tortured calculus that instructs us in who our "unifying enemy" should be?
Say a robber breaks into your house, steals your stuff, rapes your wife, mutilates your children and then burns the house down as he’s leaving – is that morally equivalent to a robber who steals into your home when you’re not there, takes your old love letters and maybe your old model i-phone, and does no real damage?
Oh, but we aren’t supposed to notice these moral imbalances, because, after all, as Jim Antle – a journalist I admire – puts it, that would be "taking the other side." But what "side" are libertarians – and all honest critics of US intervention abroad – supposed to be taking – the side of the US government, or the side of truth? Antle writes:
"The answer for American intervention skeptics isn’t to pick a side. It is to say that this is not something the United States should become involved in militarily. We do not want or need another Cold War—or a hot war with a nuclear-armed Russia. –
"… Antiwar conservatives and libertarians often fear that criticizing odious foreign regimes gives aid and comfort to those who use tyranny abroad to justify more military spending, bombings, and wars. But the opposite is the case: when opponents of U.S. military interventions appear to endorse, or at least deny obvious facts about, other governments’ interventions, it makes non-interventionist arguments less persuasive to most people."
Notice the double standard: who can deny the "obvious facts" about the bloodless Russian intervention in Crimea? Yet we are asked to do just that because, you see, noting these facts is "taking sides." So what Antle is really saying is we shouldn’t notice these facts if they make the US government look bad – but we should, indeed we must notice them if they make the "other side" look bad.
There’s also another important pointed glossed over by Antle: he says the Ukraine crisis is "not something the United States should become involved in militarily." But what about deploying "soft power," which is what happened in Ukraine? When we look at the facts to determine who is the real aggressor in this case we come up with a long and very public record of US intervention in Ukraine – not bombing and droning, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, but ginning up internal turmoil ending in violence.
As the American public tires of endless overseas wars, the War Party is increasingly turning to political subversion of "rogue regimes" – backed up, as always, by the implicit threat of force. Does this not count as aggression?
That’s why demands that libertarians condemn "Russian aggression" in Crimea miss the point entirely – the point being that the Russian action was a response to US aggression against a democratically elected government which posed no threat to Americans. The President is right, for once, about this in the sense that the annexation, rather than being some glorious victory, was a confession of Russian weakness.
So, yes, it’s right to condemn the Russian action – but not before denouncing the American acts of aggression that led directly to this resumption of cold war hostilities. And there’s no question of condemning both equally, because it’s clear who started it.
What these "both sides are equally bad" libertarians and fellow-travelers are loath to admit is a simple fact of reality, underscored by the history of the world since September 11, 2001, and well before that, and it is this: the US government is the biggest, most consistent and deadliest aggressor the world has ever known. Washington – not Moscow, or Beijing, or god help us Caracas – is the main danger to peace and liberty in the world. It is our moral and political responsibility as libertarians to ceaselessly point this out –no matter how many hand-wringers and wishful thinkers are bothered by it. To do anything less is to capitulate to the aggressive American nationalism that has had this country by the throat lo these many years.
The War Party is going to accuse us of being "anti-American" traitors in any event for the crime of opposing their latest regime-change crusade. Our "side" is the side of truth – and let the chips fall where they may.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.
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- The Good News – July 14th, 2016
- The Myth of the ‘War on Terrorism’ – July 12th, 2016