Friday, March 7, 2014

On the U.S. government's hypocritical demand that Russia respect sovereignty and international law

To listen to U.S. officials talk about it, you would think that Russia had just instigated World War III. President Obama framed his criticism in terms of international law, saying that Russian actions "are in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." Secretary of State John Kerry ramped up the rhetoric even more, claiming an "incredible act of aggression." Then he said this gem: "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text." Hillary Clinton went further, saying that Russia's rationale in moving troops to Crimea was reminiscent of Hitler's during Germany's invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The hypocrisy of Kerry and Clinton, who voted for the invasion of Iraq, which has caused more than 1 million deaths and left many millions more orphans, widows and refugees, is obvious to anyone with a pulse. Obama, while he did speak out against the Iraq war, has escalated the war in Afghanistan. He is now refusing to withdraw all American troops from the country. To leave the obvious double standards aside for a moment, it is instructive to actually examine what Russia did to draw such righteous outrage from the American foreign policy elite.

Last week the democratically-elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country after weeks of street protests, which devolved into dangerous riots led by opposition groups with strong links to violent Neo-Nazis. Yanukovych surely is not a sympathetic figure; credible reports that he and his cronies have robbed the country of billions of much-needed dollars are likely true. However, he was elected by the people to serve as President and had only 1 year remaining on his term.

After his ouster, Oleksandr Turchynov was installed as the new President. The un-elected Turchynov, who enjoys the support of the U.S. and Europe, decided to fire the governors selected by the democratically-elected Yanukovych and appoint in their place a group of oligarchs. Russia has recognized that the Ukranian Parliament, which was elected by the people, is a legitimate governing body. However, they have refused to recognize the unelected Turchynov.

In response to the Ukranian turmoil, Russia has moved thousands of troops into the Crimea region, where Russia has a naval base, in a bloodless invasion. Reports describe Russian soldiers mostly standing around, surrounding Ukranian troops and government buildings without using force. To say Russian troops did this without firing a shot is not quite accurate, as they reportedly fired a couple of warning shots. But there are no indications of any violence, injuries or escalation of military activities.

It is important to consider the history of Crimea in making sense of the current situation. While it is technically now part of Ukraine, it had been for more than 200 years part of Imperial Russia. About 60 years ago, for no particular reason anyone seems to understand, Soviet Premier Nikkita Krushchev decided to gift the territory to Ukraine, while Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. It would seem more like an intra-firm accounting measure than a spin-off of a segment of a company. Rumors have claimed that Krushchev may have been drinking when he made the decision.

When the Soviet Union suddently broke apart about 25 years ago, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. But not exactly. It is an autonomous region. The majority of its residents are ethnically Russian and almost all residents speak the Russian language. After the Ukranain President was ousted, the majority protested against the new coup-President. 

Russia has said it wants to protect the region, and it obviously wants to secure its extremely strategic naval base. "The opposition parties seized control of parliament and began passing draconian new laws often unanimously, as neo-Nazi thugs patrolled the scene." This led the Crimean government to openly call for Russian protection.

Eric Draitser, examining the ramifications of international law, notes several factors in Russia's favor. Established treaties between Russia and Ukraine establish that Crimea is a strategic area for Russia; Russian naval bases are undoubtedly a strategic national interest; and, most importantly, the new coup President assumed power in a flagrantly illegitimate way.

"This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s Constitution, not to mention international law and the accepted principles of modern democracy. With Yanukovich having taken refuge in Russia, and still being the legal President of Ukraine, isn’t it fair to say that Russia is acting as the guarantor of international law, rather than its enemy?"

Now, to get back to the American hypocrisy. As noted before, the Iraq war has killed more than 1 million people. 1 million. Russia in it's "aggression" has killed 0. Kerry and Clinton both knew in 2002-3 that the war was being hyped up on phony pretenses. The nonsense about WMDs was always a transparent rationalization of a preordained decision, even before the intel turned out to be false. Dozens of countries possess WMDs, and none more than the United States. In the Middle East, no country comes close to Israel.

Kerry and Clinton made a political calculation that they did not want to appear weak, so they sounded the war drums along with everybody else. Now, the disastrous situation is conveniently contained thousands of miles overseas. But when the history books are written, the Iraq war will go down as another holocaust on the same scale as Vietnam. Kerry and Clinton are responsible for enabling it to happen.

Obama's words carry the most weight. First of all, in denouncing Russian violation of international law, Obama threatened that "there will be costs." Remember again that Russia has no killed or injured a single person. The very next morning it was announced that three people were killed in a drone strike in Yemen, including at least one "alleged Al Qaeda fighter."

The person killed was "alleged" in the same way that hundreds of thousands of dead Vietnamese peasants were "alleged" Viet Cong. He was an alleged militant and he deserved a death sentence because Obama said so. Instead of a trial to determine his guilt or innocence, Obama served as his judge, jury and executioner. This is blatant violation of the principles of the 800-year-old Magna Carta.

This comes weeks after the news that another Hellfire missle attack in Yemen struck a wedding party and killed at least 15 people. After the attack, the Yemeni Parliament voted to ban drone strikes (and respect Yemeni sovereignty), but "analysts say politicians have limited powers and are unlikely to have an impact on Washington's campaign."

Obama has also recently announced that he will circumvent Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who is refusing to sign a security agreement with the United States that would let troops maintain their occupation of the country past the end of the year. That is Obama's way of respecting another nation's sovereignty.

Beyond these politicians, it is instructive to consider the U.S. government's record of respecting sovereignty and international law since WWII.

"The scorecard reads as follows," writes William Blum. "Between 1945 and 2005 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US has caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair."

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Iraq, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq (again), Haiti (again), Libya (again), Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia are the most recent victims to suffer the consequences of illegal, violent U.S. military interventions.

There were also Reagan's proxy terror wars in Central America. In 1984, the World Court found the U.S. guilty in Nicaragua v. United States of encouraging human rights violations, using force against another country and violating their sovereignty. The U.S. was ordered to pay reparations. After vetoing enforcement of the court decision in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. mercilessly denied paying Nicaragua anything. To this day the country has never received a penny from their aggressor, much like Vietnam before them.

In Israel-Palestine there is an illegal occupation that has lasted for 45 years. A recent UN human rights panel has said that Israel could be tried for war crimes for stealing Palestinian land, water, and resources for the benefit of Israeli settler-colonists. The U.S. has not only supported the violation of Palestine's territory and the constant atrocities against Palestinian people, but has actively funded the Israeli occupation and apartheid system. Thousands of people have been killed during the nearly half-century-long occupation, more than 1,400 during the terrorist assault on Gaza in 2009 alone. There was no similar outrage from American officials then.

The U.S. accusations hold that if a military crosses its own borders into a foreign country then this is always aggression regardless of any extenuating circumstances. There is no hypothetical situation in which this would be permissible. To ask the obvious question, why does the U.S. have hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in giant bases in Germany, the U.K., South Korea, Japan, Honduras and other countries?

The logic has always been that they are there to "protect stability" if a situation arose that would call for such. But if the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea is not one that requires protecting stability on Russia's own border, how could any situation ever require U.S. troops to do so thousands of miles away? If Obama actually believed what he was saying, he would call for all U.S. military bases outside the country to be shut down and the troops sent home immediately.

I am not suggesting that Russia is right or that they are in compliance with international law, merely that there is an extremely important historical context that U.S. officials are ignoring, if not flat out denying. They are trying to demonize Putin, turning him into the next Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, Castro or Chavez. Much like the two minutes hate of Orwell's 1984, the state needs official enemies to survive. Their evilness provides the contrast to the state's own benevolence. In reality, Russia is acting rationally and in accordance with their interests and those of ethnic Russians outside the relatively new borders of the Russian Federation.

There is a reason that instead of bringing Russia's actions to the appropriate international bodies for judgement, the U.S. is using a P.R. campaign to lambaste them so hypocritically in the press. The U.S. government doesn't care about international law and never has unless they can use it to score political points against someone they designate as their enemy, which is to say someone who refuses to accept the U.S.-imposed neoliberal world order. When it comes to aggression, violation of sovereignty, and respect for international law, the U.S. government and the officials who comprise it are the antithesis of credible.