Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ukraine: Reputations are at Stake Here

A Disassociated Press Editorial, Taipei

Eric Mader

So Obama is telling Putin that his troop deployment in Ukraine risks seriously damaging Russia's "standing in the international community". Uh-huh. The administration is also threatening consequences, and Secretary of State Kerry has been talking tough about isolating Russia. Some are characterizing the Russian move as an outrageous military aggression, and I've even seen, yawn, Putin compared to Hitler.

The US president is obliged to grumble, to be sure, but frankly it looks like he's overplaying his hand.

Ukraine is a multi-ethnic state with a large Russian population. Much of the rest of the Ukrainian population besides considers Russia a traditional ally. The country, in terms of cultural loyalties, looks both to Russia and Western Europe, which has made it a flashpoint in East-West power politics.

Two more things to keep in mind: Ukraine's largest border is, yes, with the Russia Federation. Russia has had an important naval base in the city of Sevastapol for over two centuries. Sevastapol also happens to be in the Crimea, which is where most of the Russian population is located and where Putin has (so far) sent troops.

Pro-Russian demonstrators in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

Obama points out that Putin's troop deployment represents a "clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity". Which it certainly does. But why not get a little perspective here? Is Putin doing anything unexpected? What if we were to move this conflict to our own hemisphere?

Posit a fictive nation in South America (we'll call it "Jolivia") with a large American expat population mostly settled in one region. And those Americans have been there for quite some time, to the degree that the culture of the region is basically American.

Suppose further that Jolivia had elected a pro-US president (a corrupt bastard, as it turned out) but 1) an ELECTED president, and 2) a pro-US president.

Next suppose that a popular revolution by the Spanish-speaking majority was getting close to overthrowing that president, our Jolivian buddy.

How would Obama respond, or indeed any US leader?

Who are we kidding? It would go something like this: "Democracy is in peril in Jolivia. To prevent further violence and to keep this crisis from escalating further, I have authorized troop deployment. General Feldspar will be briefing you on the details."

The difference between US action in the case of "Joliva" and Russian action now?

1) If Putin were an American president, he wouldn't have waited this long to send in troops.

2) He wouldn't have sent troops only the region with a majority Russian population. Russian troops would be in the capital Kiev by now--indeed, they'd have been there two weeks ago.

Who can't see that this is so?

And how would the US population likely view this crisis, if it were a matter of something happening "in our back yard" (i.e., Latin America) rather than on the other side of the planet?

As for American perceptions, of course most people would be worried about the Americans in Joliva falling victim to ethnic violence. Those perceptions would be shaped in real time by our wonderfully objective media.

CNN and Fox both would be covering the crisis as follows.

"To what degree are those seeking to overthrow the president linked with these fascist organizations, Bob?"

And: "We know there's a large Muslim population in Jolivia, and some analysts have shown that radicalized elements in the Muslim population are actively involved in the uprising. Where is this likely to lead?" (In fact there is a Muslim population in Ukraine, and many Muslims are none too friendly to Russia.)

And: "So the Jeffersons' shop windows were broken by the Jolivian protesters? Is that what you're saying, Dara? And the neighboring shops weren't touched?"

And: "Did some of those arms come from Cuba, according to what we've been hearing?"

And: "Some people are saying that if this crisis isn't contained it's likely to spread to neighboring Bradzil. Now we go to our correspondent Brent Botoxathon in the Bradzilian capital." Brent: "Well the streets are mostly quiet here in Anistonia, Lisa, but there were reports of skirmishes on the outskirts of the city--" blah blah blah. . . .

And after each news segment (before the car or insurance ad came on) a flashy logo appears on the screen with a militaristic soundtrack in the background, the logo reading:

---Democracy in Peril---

Please understand. I'm not on Russia's side here. I just don't like to see adults taken in by the hypocrisy of superpower politics. What Americans don't seem to realize is this: Our president lecturing foreign leaders on respecting other nations' "territorial sovereignty" sounds utterly ridiculous these days. Such niceties may sound fine in our domestic media, but to people in other countries (and I live overseas) they provoke mostly hissing and jeers.

And sorry to say: On this score we deserve hissing and jeers. For decades our leaders have shown zero respect for national sovereignty whenever the flimsiest excuse can be made that American interests, or "freedom", or whatever, is threatened. Putin is much more justified in invading Crimea than we've been in four of five of our last deployments.

But patriotic Americans, likely offended by what I've written here, may still wonder what we must do. To appear tough. To show the world we mean business. To show that Russkie he can't do just any old thing he likes.

I have a suggestion for these folks. Why not send over Sarah and Todd Palin? Sarah knows what to do when Putin rears his head. And send a Fox News correspondent to cover the mission.

No, wait. Fox, like Dairy Queen, doesn't actually have foreign correspondents. Kind of odd for a news channel, isn't it?

Send Bristol with a camcorder.

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