As the US and its European allies rally around the Ukrainian coup leaders and denounce the Crimean referendum, we have yet another opportunity to stand in awe of Washington’s limitless supply of arrogance. Meeting with the new "Prime Minister" of Ukraine – who achieved his high office by unleashing mobs on the duly elected government – President Barack Obama averred Washington would be "forced to apply a cost" unless the Crimean vote is called off.
So here is the United States, the alleged champion of "democracy," hailing a decidedly undemocratic coup, honoring one of the coup leaders with an appearance at the White House, and railing against the decision of the democratically elected Parliament of Crimea to let the people vote on their own future.
As if vaguely aware of the massive hypocrisy infusing his word-cloud, Obama conceded the Crimeans might possibly have some say in all this, just not now: he wants talks with the Kremlin which "could lead to different arrangements over time" for Crimea. "But, that’s not something that can be done with the barrel of a gun pointed at you" – that is, unless we’re talking about Afghanistan. Or Iraq.
In Iraq, the first post-invasion elections were unilaterally canceled by Paul Bremmer, the American viceroy, because the newly "liberated" nation "wasn’t ready."
As conceived by the neocon geniuses who lied us into that war, the original scenario for the elections was for a series of handpicked local "councils" to vet the candidates and apportion parliamentary seats to suit the convenience of Washington policymakers. This was furiously rejected by the Ayatollah Sistani, supreme religious leader of the country’s majority Shi’ites, who called out tens of thousands of his followers into the streets, howling holy murder. This set Bremmer and his fellow neocons back on their heels, and I guess the military intervened to get Washington to override Bremmer’s commissars and let the Iraqis have direct elections: you know, like one person one vote.
Then a referendum to ratify the Iraqi constitution was held, and shortly afterward the much-touted "blue finger" vote, at which point over 100,000 US troops were fighting a revived Sunni insurgency. The elections failed to tamp down support for the rebels and so Bush ordered the "surge," which brought the total to over 150,000 American soldiers on the ground in Iraq.
Four elections have been held in Afghanistan with a very big American gun pointed at the Afghan people. In the ’04, ’05, ’09, and 2010 elections for President and Parliament there were as many as 101,000 US troops in the country – that is, 101,000 guns pointed at the electorate. Two of those elections have been held with Obama in the White House – but we can’t really blame him for his hypocrisy.
After all, the habit of "exceptionalism" is so ingrained in our political class, so much a part of the very air they breathe, that they are no longer even aware of it. To ordinary human beings, the breathtaking double standard is all too obvious, but to an inhabitant of Washington’s Beltway such heretical thoughts are downright subversive, indicative of the dreaded "moral equivalency" that separates supposedly marginal figures like Noam Chomsky from the ranks of the respectable.
When we do it, goes the unspoken first rule of "mainstream" American foreign policy, it’s an act of "liberation" – but when they do it, it’s a brazen violation of international law and a horrific act of aggression.
Our European sock puppets don’t dare dispute this, although their subjects might have a far different opinion. Before Yatsenyuk showed up in Washington with his hand out, the US and its NATO allies plus Japan issued a "stern warning," as the McClatchy story put it, demanding the Russians cancel the referendum – and naturally not deigning to address the Crimeans directly:
"Any such referendum would have no legal effect. Given the lack of adequate preparation and the intimidating presence of Russian troops, it would also be a deeply flawed process which would have no moral force. For all these reasons we would not recognize the outcome."
Yet all these American satraps recognize the "government" of Hamid Karzai, kept in power by American force of arms, just as they recognized the Iraqi government that finally emerged from the rubble of war. Or is it that the presence of American troops is somehow less “intimidating” than the Russians? Tweet me when Putin sets up the Crimean equivalent of Abu Ghraib. Or when those mysterious Russian-troops-out-of-uniform go on a murderous rampage like these guys did.
In Washington, Yatsenyuk at his side, Obama declared that he and his international vassals would "completely reject" what he called a "slapdash" election. Did Yatsenyuk wince just a bit upon hearing these words? After all, is the May 25 national election scheduled in Ukraine any less slapdash than the Crimean referendum? Not that elections mean much in Kiev these days.
As Obama hailed the "courage" of the coupists – and Yatsenyuk posed for the cameras while declaring in a Ukrainian-accented Churchillian voice "We will never surrender!" – it all came down to the money. Hurry up and pass that $1 billion dollar "aid package" for Ukraine, Obama urged Congress.
He needn’t have bothered: legislation passed the House on Tuesday and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a similar bill the next day. One of the few rational human beings on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul, wrote an op-ed saying we should "get tough" on the Russians by … denying Ukraine that billion dollar boondoggle, which I thought was a rather too clever by half way of putting it. But that should tell you what the atmosphere is like in Beltway-land, where your money is their chance to posture as world leaders and we’re always on the verge of some stupendous "crisis."
Meanwhile, back in the real world, the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose US intervention in Ukraine, and are against sending military aid in any form: even support for sanctions is weak, with younger voters decisively opposed. While the Washington establishment is frothing at the mouth over Ukraine, a judicious politician like Sen. Paul is wisely urging policymakers not to "tweak" the Russians – a view more in line with what ordinary Americans think.
Preening and posing on the international stage, huffing and puffing and threatening to blow Putin’s house down, the Americans are overreacting to what should be a regional issue of marginal importance. Yet there is an internal logic to this overreaction, one dictated by economic and political factors, the first of these being the ongoing project of NATO expansion.
When a country joins NATO, it must measure up to the alliance’s military standards, which means a complete upgrade of the armed forces. This is a bonanza for Western arms companies, mostly American, which supply the required equipment and reap multi-billions in profits every time a new member is inducted into the club. The old Committee to Expand NATO was generously funded by the big weapons manufacturers, who drooled at the prospect of recruiting former Soviet bloc nations into the fold. There is money to be made in Ukraine by the sort of crony capitalists who thrive in the Age of Obama, and you can bet the push to confer NATO membership on Kiev is bound to pick up steam. The Georgians, too, are in line for amalgamation into the NATO Borg, which has moved so far eastward since the end of the cold war that they’re almost at the gates of Moscow.
When the Berlin Wall fell, and the old cold war order dissolved, Western European leaders were eager to ensure peace and relative stability. This is why Germany’s Helmut Kohl made a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev that the price of German reunification would be no eastward expansion of NATO. We can see what the status of that "gentleman’s agreement" is today.
Western leaders only bloviate about moral and "international law" when it suits their purposes. Otherwise, when that law is supposed to apply to them, they shrug it off and suddenly it’s might makes right. Such a Janus-faced view of justice on the part of the US government is all too familiar to the world’s peoples: what’s new is that, at this point, even the American people are beginning to take the same justifiably cynical view of their government’s role in world affairs. Once again, as in the case of Syria, the American people oppose the policy preferred by their elites: thankfully, however, the Beltway crowd is too stupid and self-absorbed to heed that warning, their second in a few months.
I’m thankful because their blindness augurs their downfall.
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.