Ukraine – The Acid Test
The hysteria over Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and incorporation into the Russian Federation still has the Washington policy wonks all a-twitter. We even have the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a.k.a. AIPAC) calling for US ground troops to be sent to "defend" Ukraine: apparently all military occupations are not morally equivalent.
But the reality is that, however loudly the neocon media screams bloody murder, the resolution of this phony "crisis" is within sight. Even as Ukrainian troops were advancing on eastern cities taken over by Russian separatists, the "interim President" in Kiev was trying to appease his rebellious countrymen:
"I am certain that a large majority of Ukrainians at this referendum, which, when the parliament decides so, could be held alongside the presidential election, will favor an indivisible, independent, democratic and unified Ukraine."
While he added that the referendum would take place in "all of Ukraine," and not just the eastern regions – which would ensure a victory for the centralizers – the mere fact that he offered this as an option is significant. For it echoes the "federalist" rhetoric coming out of Moscow and acknowledges what the Washington know-it-alls refuse to consider: that many if not most Ukrainians who live in the eastern and southern parts of the country may not be entirely thrilled with the coup leaders in Kiev.
The right-wing ultra-nationalists of Svoboda and their crazed allies in the neo-Nazi Right Sector may be itching for a fight with Putin, but the relatively moderate coup leaders have a bit more common sense. They know they can’t hold on to the eastern and southern provinces without an all-out civil war, and they also know it’s by no means certain they can come out on top in the wake of such a conflict. What’s more, the corrupt oligarchs who dominate the "interim" government in Kiev are not about to give up their ill-gotten fortunes in order to uphold some nationalist ideologue’s idea of "Greater Ukraine." They don’t want their factories and other holdings damaged or destroyed, and in the end they’ll follow the money all the way to the peace table.
Sitting around that table in Geneva, probably this Thursday, will be the Ukrainians, the Russians, the Europeans, and Uncle Sam, and it’s hard to believe the concept of a federalist solution won’t be introduced, if not by the US and the EU then by the Kremlin. It’s also hard to see why this won’t be accepted, at least by the US/EU mediators, as a face-saving way out of the embarrassing corner they’ve backed themselves into.
After all, the West started all this: in spite of Western commentators loudly inveighing against Putin’s "incitement" of pro-Russian Ukrainians, it’s pretty hard to deny the US and its European allies are guilty of more than their fair share of inciting going all the way back to the "Orange Revolution." This latest insurrection, too, is a product of Western "democracy promotion" efforts, with tens of millions handed to our sock-puppets over the years.
And of course we have the presence of CIA director John "drone warrior" Brennan in Kiev: he just slipped in to have a nice cup of tea, nothing to see here – so move along, if you please. And while he traveled under an alias, that’s nothing to be concerned about – because he’s a playful guy and he reads too many spy thrillers.
Brennan’s visit doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: anyone who thinks our intelligence services haven’t been active in Ukraine for quite some time is being willfully naïve. Not to mention the "democracy-promoting" nomenklatura, both public and "private," who have been funding Ukrainian NGOs and "citizen education" programs: these are not neutral players.
But what game are they playing?
Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the empire-builders in Washington and the capitals of Europe have been marching eastward, bringing the "shield" of NATO ever closer to Moscow’s gates. Their ultimate goal: the restoration of Yeltsinism in the Kremlin, i.e. the installation of a pliable sock-puppet where Putin and Peter the Great once stood.
The Western powers have no intention of confronting Russia militarily, although the potential use of force is always a card they hold close. With the US public war-weary beyond endurance and the European economy dependent on Russian energy exports, a direct military conflict with the nuclear-armed Russkies has to be ruled out. However, as John Glaser wisely pointed out, a proxy war is another question entirely: one can easily imagine an alternate world in which John McCain is President and a full scale civil war breaks out, with Washington and Moscow supplying arms to Kiev and the separatists respectively.
Reentering the real world, however, this possibility seems incredible – but increasingly a possibility. Yesterday I would’ve given it a less than 20 percent chance of happening: today the odds are considerably greater, although I don’t see the point of assigning a numerical value until we find out what happens in Geneva.
Aside from largely symbolic actions like banning certain Russian official and semiofficial figures and sending extra stuff to Poland, the US has managed to restrain itself: the President actually does seem like he’s amenable to a diplomatic solution. But who knows what this administration is doing covertly? Even the Estonian foreign minister wonders who those snipers were serving when they shot both protesters and police in the incident that sparked the Kiev coup.
The fog of war has already descended over the Ukrainian landscape: it’s hard to know what’s really happening over there. We’ve got Right Sector besieging the Rada (parliament), at one point, and then turning around and storming eastern Ukraine: these, after all, are the only tough guys the coup leaders have at their disposal these days. The Berkut was disbanded and the regular police aren’t considered "reliable." That leaves the Right Sector skinheads and neo-Nazis who are coming from all over Europe to join up with a fascist version of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
In the days leading up to World War III, Ukraine is slated to be the modern day equivalent of the Spanish civil war – that is if the neocons, the professional Russophobes, and the walking zombies left over from the last cold war have their way.
Much has been said about the reluctance of the Europeans to take as hard a
line as the
Americans, and this is usually ascribed to pecuniary motives – the EU nations are too economically intertwined with the Russian economy to bear the cost of meaningful sanctions. Yet there is another reason for their reluctance which nearly always goes unmentioned by Western pundits and that is the political character of the "interim" Ukrainian government, which has a high proportion of ultra-nationalists whose politics put them entirely beyond the pale as far as the EU is concerned.
Given the ideology and origins of the Svoboda party, which holds no less than eight top positions in the Ukrainian government, it would be illegal in both Germany and France, which have draconian laws on the books against "hate groups." Svoboda ("Freedom"), founded as the "Social National" party (wink! wink!), explicitly upholds the legacy of Stepan Bandera, leader of the "insurgent" army recruited by the Nazis to fight the Soviets during World War II. The party’s leader has ranted about an alleged "Jewish-Muscovite" conspiracy against Ukraine, and Svoboda’s youth group, "C-14," bears a striking resemblance to the infamous Nazi S.A. The number 14 has symbolic importance for neo-Nazis: thus the name.
To Americans, the idea of a National Socialist revival seems unlikely if not impossible: to us, Nazis are simply figures out of some historical drama, a synonym for pure evil. Europe, however, is another matter entirely: there the old horrors lie just beneath the surface, and you don’t have to dig down very deep in the eastern regions of the continent to find evidence that new horrors are rising.
The Soviets kept a lid on all this, even as they encouraged it starting in the 1950s with the Slansky trial in what was then Czechoslovakia and continuing with the "anti-Zionist" purges in the Soviet Union. When the Soviet empire imploded and Russian influence receded, these neo-Nazi troglodytes came out from underground and were greeted with the same propitious prospects for growth that had propelled their ideological ancestors into power: widespread poverty, endemic corruption, pervasive hopelessness – and the ever-present need for a "foreign" scapegoat.
The US State Department is now openly defending Svoboda as having "moderated" its politics – while the party’s activists stage torchlight parades through the streets of Kiev carrying flags bearing the dreaded Wolfsangel symbol, the insignia of the Waffen-SS division that helped the German Nazis carry out the holocaust in Ukraine.
No doubt the Europeans find this shocking, as do I. It wasn’t that long ago that the European Parliament condemned the action of then President Viktor Yushchenko honoring Bandera as a "national hero" of Ukraine. Listening to US officials explain away Svoboda, the Europeans can hardly believe their ears. After all, this is an ostensibly left-of-center "progressive" administration headed up by an African American chief executive: what are they doing whitewashing outright fascists who echo the slogans and symbolism of America’s white nationalists?
The neocons are hoping they can get Ukraine into NATO, thus raising the military stakes considerably, but there’s no chance of that given the country’s financial condition – and the look of the Ukrainian political landscape. We’ll find out much more about the latter after May 25, when elections are scheduled. We’re told the far right is polling badly, but the reliability and sources of these numbers are dubious at best. The country is ripe for demagogy of the worst sort and certainly Svoboda and its allies even further to the right are capable of it.
What’s more, the "interim" government is encouraging the growth of ultra-nationalist sentiment by sending the military – with a heavy quotient of Right Sector "activists" – into the eastern region, trying to quell dissent by force when the only hope of holding the country together is negotiation.
The prospect of bloodshed doesn’t deter fanatics: it only emboldens. Even ostensible "libertarians" like Eglė Markevičiūtė – board member of “Students for Liberty,” whose leader recently denounced Ron Paul for supporting Crimea’s right to secede – aren’t immune from the prevailing atmosphere of blood-lust. Here she is in the Daily Caller:
"Military intervention is a taboo topic, especially for war-weary Americans in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as the free-market Russian economist Andrei Illarionov contends, ‘Putin must be confronted militarily. I do not mean acts of war. But the West should show a military presence in the Black Sea, for example. This is the only way to stop Putin.’
"Limited military presence, such as an increased NATO presence in the Baltic States and Poland or troop deployment in Ukraine, is something that liberty-minded individuals should reconsider as a preventive measure to stop the spread of Putin’s conquests further into Eastern Europe."
What’s needed is a "preventive measure" on the part of the members and affiliates of Students for Liberty to rein in their board-members-gone-rogue. After all, here is a Lithuanian citizen who calls herself a "libertarian" demanding that US taxpayers subsidize a NATO action to "stop the spread of Putin’s conquests" – as if the people of Crimea prefer a bankrupt corruption-ridden Nazi-infested Ukraine to their traditional loyalty to Moscow. What she’s asking for is US troops in Ukraine – an outrageously nutty idea that not even the most extreme neocons are proposing.
As for Mr. Illarionov: this isn’t the first time that wacko has called for US action against Russia, and it won’t be the last. He’s an embittered expatriate who has a grudge against the country of his birth that nothing and no one can propitiate. Listening to him on Ukraine – or any Russia-related matter – is like listening to Lord Haw Haw for the real lowdown on World War II.
At the bottom of Markevičiūtė’s piece her bio identifies her as “an International Executive Board Member of Students For Liberty." There is no disclaimer stating that she speaks only for herself and not for SFL, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that her call for US military intervention in Ukraine represents the view of the Students for Liberty leadership. We’ve already seen Alexander McCobin, the group’s Maximum Leader, attacking Ron Paul as an "apologist" for the Russians, while SFL simultaneously denies the organization takes any position on foreign policy matters. However, when I managed to corner newly-appointed SFL board member Jeff Giesea on Twitter, he lamely replied that, yes, non-interventionism is a core libertarian principle, but that everyone is "entitled to their opinion."
Isn’t it time for the activists who’ve been gulled by SFL’s apparently huge budget and freebies all around to start demanding – and getting – some straight answers from the leadership clique in Washington? First Ron Paul is slandered by these folks, then they come out of the closet as full-on interventionists. To the many dedicated student activists who have taken SFL as good coin: it’s time to put your house in order, or abandon ship. There already is a very large and active libertarian student group, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), with over 5,000 members nationwide. Founded by Ron Paul and his supporters, YAL is doing real libertarian activism – like its "A Generation of War" project, which last year drew renewed attention to Obama’s drone war and the depredations of American intervention overseas.
Ukraine is the acid test for libertarians. How they respond is a measure of how far they’ve traveled from their origins as a subset of the conservative movement during the cold war era. Those who haven’t come all that far and are still mired in the old cold war mentality that dominated the American right in the age of Bill Buckley – no matter what their age – will react with a jerking of the knees: "To arms! To arms! The Russians are coming!" Those who have long since moved on – or were never in that space to begin with – are bound to have a view much closer to Ron Paul than to some Lithuanian lady who expects us to pay her "defense" bill.
And it’s an acid test for "progressives" and "constitutional conservatives" as well: we’re seeing all sorts of splits and realignments on account of this issue. Yes, folks, it’s going to get really interesting, so stay tuned to this space for more developments.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
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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- Imperial America – August 27th, 2015
- China and the Return of the ‘Yellow Peril’ – August 25th, 2015
- The Persistence of the War Party – August 23rd, 2015
- It’s Miller Time! – Judy, That Is – August 20th, 2015