Ooobie on Everything

Moral Imperatives

chkThe US hawks have been released from their tethers. The likes of John McCain are pushing hard for a much deeper US military commitment to the riff-raff and terrorists opposing Assad in Syria — including the dispatch of military advisors and heavier arms. The US president is considering the request. Was one Iraq not enough? I guess not. The hawks want a whole team of people over there directing the effort to unseat an elected government. They insist that a government elected in the midst of civil strife, as Assad will be in June, cannot be a truly legitimate government. The US has a moral imperative to intervene to impose a government there (and depose one, as well) to balance out the scales of justice .

This contrasts to our position in Ukraine, where we backed a putsch-installed regime that forced an elected president to flee and then declared the putsch-installed regime legitimate. When pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine began resisting the Kiev authorities the US immediately condemned Russia for alleged military aid to those fighting . Now the West asserts the legitimacy of the new president who was elected in the midst of civil strife and without participation of the eastern part of the country.  The US has a moral imperative to help Kiev, so they say. These two cases alone highlight how utterly flexible US policy is and how the rationale used in one case to US advantage can be flipped somewhere else, also to answer US interests.

vietnameWe are currently in a pissing match with China over what the US says is bullying behavior in the South China Sea. China recently got into a row with Vietnam over fishing rights (and Chinese oil rigs) and China sank a Vietnamese fishing boat. Japan and China are now poised for a fight, backs arched and hissing, over who owns a handful of rocky islands. Japan’s legal claim is said to be stronger than that of China. But many Chinese think that doesn’t matter, what matters is who plants the flag.  A participant at the Davos economic forum wrote that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion. That sounds an awfully lot like what Russia just did, and in fact we have now moved from the stage where NATO overturned existing international law and set new precedents, to Russia and now China using those precedents to their own advantage and fine-tuning the precedents by adding new wrinkles.

The hard-liners pushing US policy demand a full-scale re-militarization of the former Warsaw Pact states (excluding Russia) that would involve deploying missile defenses and heavy equipment, and men, too. They want NATO to push ahead for the final NATO expansion that would put it belly-to-belly with the Bear. Russia is responding by re-militarizing itself, and moving to latest-generation weaponry as well as upgrading its nuclear arsenal.

benghaziA US troop carrier sits off the coast of Libya, waiting for what we do not know. Is it filled with the thousand Marines it can carry? They claim they are there to evacuate Americans if things go awry. What things? Do we know something is going to go wrong? Then why not evacuate now, before anybody dies? In any event, why do we have so many Americans there after what happened previously — is it the same illegal weapons dealing that was going on then? One thing is for sure, there is something afoot by one party or the other. I wonder if we are planning to help the inept and floundering government in Tripoli by going into and occupying Benghazi (in support of Libyan forces, of course).  It’s practically a US moral imperative to do so. And, coincidentally I’m sure, if the current US regime could only calm things down in Libya, even if only briefly, an image-spinner could maybe make it look like not such a disaster by the time Mrs. Clinton strides to accept the nomination of her stupidly adoring party. I’d guess that would be the rationale. If they don’t do anything in Libya, by the elections for the next president Mrs. Clinton will be pounded to dust over the massive failure of her chief foreign policy accomplishment (the murder of Qaddafi and the installation of a puppet regime).

We are currently using US resources to track down a large number of schoolgirls kidnapped by fanatics in Nigeria. Now we’re deploying to do the absolute duty of other governments, which is to protect their own people. It seems it’s a moral imperative. There and everywhere else.

hegemonWhen people talk about the “US hegemon,” this is what they have in mind. The US has put out so many tentacles into the world and is involved up to its neck in so many mutual defense agreements and intervenes in so many quarrels large and small that it is hard to escape the impression that what America wants is to control the globe and all its actors. What the US wants is one global sphere of influence, its own, which it calls no spheres of influence. It is an utterly futile fancy, of course. The move away from the “single superpower”  model is already well underway. All we do by injecting ourselves into every argument is to make more enemies  and stiffen the spines of those who will never let the US dictate to them. Russia and China have their own serious problems, but they can form a tactical or even strategic alliance that serves the purpose of bringing the US down to size.

The global power calculus is shifting. As the US loses its grip on things here and there, the perception spreads that the hegemon is not what it once was. It has been made vulnerable and weakened by its spread of commitments around the globe. The US is so weighed down and imperiled, it dare not trigger a major confrontation. So it talks tough to Russia and China, but stays its hand. The US can be challenged, and it can be challenged successfully as was already proven in Crimea. The US is not in a comfortable position these days. It’s the defending champion, but there are a lot of Mohammed Ali’s around.


Human Rights and Foreign Policy

humrtsHo-hum, human rights. The issue has become so over-used that just hearing the words makes my mind wander off to more interesting subjects. The thing is, human rights was Jimmy Carter’s brain child and it is made in his image — full of idealism and poorly adapted to reality. Human rights today is the only thing that it could possibly be — a political football.

The issue that immediately comes to mind is the just-issued report from a UN panel or committee or “body of nosy parkers” about the situation in Ukraine. I am looking for the original report, but the Fox News synopsis says the report “suggests” an increase in violence in southeastern Ukraine by the “insurgents” or “armed groups” (never Freedom Fighters). The report calls on Russia to urge restraint on those who were behind the “violent take-over of towns” that was made possible by local politicians and police engaged in illegal activity. The report assures the pro-Russian Ukrainians that the government in Kiev means them no harm and there is no reason for any kind of uprising against the government. If this description of the report’s conclusions is correct, then it is hard not to take Russia’s view that the report is a whitewash of the reality in Ukraine in the service of the US and NATO. A rather bone-headed one, at that, as it ignored major human rights’ abuses that continue to this day against the pro-Russians (and not just where the patched-together Ukrainian military is trying to bomb the resisters out, but in Kiev itself). There was never, for example, any follow-up on the “widely accepted view” that the snipers were trained in Poland and Lithuania. No, it was the Berkut riot police. No proof, but hey. And of course the report didn’t concern itself with Kiev; the goal was to whip up some sort of official sounding document in no time flat that absolutely confuted every argument the pro-Russians could ever have for resisting Kiev, thereby making the “insurgent struggle” illegal and unacceptable in the eyes of that phantom “international community.” As if such a conclusion would put paid to what by now is a genuine civil war.

The report made no reference to the burning alive of 40 or so people who had taken refuge from a Kiev-loyal group of paramilitary thugs who were armed and extremely violent. The latter threw Molotov Cocktails into the building and set it afire. Others made it out of the building but were then killed — beaten to death — by the Kiev fighters. A Kiev official even apologized saying it was an accident. Then we got the revised explanation: the victims had “accidentally set the building on fire.” They killed themselves, it seems. And it apparently satisfied the EU and Washington, who took the line they no doubt suggested to Kiev and played it back for the world. Terrible tragedy, those guys shouldn’t be fighting Kiev, tsk tsk. Ho-hum.

Instead the report seems to have been obsessed by the detentions of journalists, suspected Kiev spies, and western military attaches parading as (and apparently ex post-facto deputed as) OSCE “observers.”  For observers, they showed a bit too much concern for observers’ safety issues for good taste. They ought to have focused on the fear and suffering of the Ukrainian population. Just my opinion.

political footballBut this is just one example of the double standards of human rights, which utterly undermines the credibility of the subject. Here are a few more: NATO bombed Serbia for 70+ days because of alleged ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. However, when the Kosovar Albanians who had been given Serbian territory as a gift from NATO began their own ethnic cleansing against Serbs, well, there was nothing NATO or the US or the EU could do, was there? NATO couldn’t very well bomb again, could it? So it downplayed the significance of the Kosovar Albanian violations of human rights and the outflow of Serbs from the province. Nor did subsequent investigations into NATO’s contentions of “mass graves” and other Serb atrocities prove the claims true.

Or how about this one: in Honduras, both of the country’s major parties agreed that the populist left-wing president had violated the Constitution by illegally preparing ballots (in Venezuela!) for an illegal referendum to change the Constitution and allow him to stay in power. The legislature voted to impeach him and remove him from office, the judiciary had already ruled that it was a Constitutional violation, and the president was arrested. Then the Hondurans sent him into exile to Costa Rica, that tropical playground, rather than jail him. This exile was then twisted into a human rights violation, allowing the US and the OAS and other “human rights” champions to claim that the Hondurans had illegally removed an elected president and had to allow him back home to resume his role as president. Imagine. The Hondurans defied the US, for once, and defended their Constitution (one the US had backed strongly) rather than do as the US wanted. Then we come to Ukraine again — where a mob of people who were protesting government corruption and other grievances were used as a springboard to power by the opposition, elements of which were involved in the killings that triggered events. This putsch was immediately recognized by Washington and all the major European capitals as well and good. Even if their legislature in Kiev voted under duress for a change of president, the Western arbiters of legitimacy declared the vote fine and got down to directing the junta in its “roadmap” to fend off Russia. How can a junta be legal, and yet a legal impeachment and removal of a president be illegal? It’s all a matter of what your interests are.

chrkillOr look at Egypt, where we were light-headed with euphoria (or Hillary Clinton was) at the Arab Spring’s results. The Beast, Mubarak (a close friend, despite being thoroughly corrupt, since the 80’s) was dumped in a heartbeat to let the people’s voice be heard. Of course, it was the voice of the Moslem Brotherhood, which immediately launched a campaign of murder and harassment of Christians and non-backers of militant Islam. The US had to zip its lip or look stupid, but Washington was not against the military taking control to oust the Moslem Brotherhood. Today the military de facto rules Egypt. Good going. So in one country we can’t seem to make up our minds which set of human rights abuses are tolerable and which aren’t.

I could go on and on, and all of you can add a few yourselves, to the list. But I won’t go on. It’s too boring.


The Tar Baby: Irresistible but Deadly

brer-foxThe tar baby was my favorite Uncle Remus story. That rabbit was so smart, and Brer Fox was only half smart. Great story. Unfortunately, it seems to me that we as a country have fallen for the ruse, attacking the tar baby of “unacceptable behavior” by other (weak) countries over and over as the world’s number one power and global cop. It was fun for a while, a piece of cake, really, but then things started to get harder for America. It realized the sinkhole of debt it was sitting on, added to by every expensive military adventure, while the folks at home grew sick of waging wars against countries they don’t know or want to know for unconvincing reasons, none of them having to do with US security, and none of the results being particularly impressive. But in the end, there’s no way to get free of the tar baby. If the US shows enough common sense to say “fix it yourselves,” the whole world will hoist a glass of champagne to the demise of America as a global superpower and proceed to settle those old unsettled quarrels. The obvious weakening of US authority, above all, invites adventurism on the part of other regional great powers that mirrors what NATO has done internationally. The rising countries, like Russia and China and Iran, do it for their own national interests and also to show their contempt for the myth of America, the World’s Only Superpower.

We are gripped by Messianism, as if we, a single country, are the hand of God (if we believed in God anymore). We feel ruling the world (though not occupying it, as we are quick to point out) is our destiny. It is even in a sense our moral obligation and thus we continue to intervene in every event anywhere in the world, at great expense to the US taxpayer and without his consent or support. There is very little focus or stratification of our interests from vital to non-existent. Our foreign policy disarray today reminds me of the 24-hour news stations that tell us all about the lack of US border security or a car chase or a dog caught in a drain pipe in some Podunk, all with the same rapt attention and sense of urgency. Fox News covers all the trash we wish they wouldn’t just because it exists, and so must be reported on. Thus with our international affairs. We intervene because there are places that practically beg for intervening. They exist, and therefore we must.

And so the US keeps doing the same thing over and over. We find an opposition group in a country where we want some regime change, we funnel money, we arm, we intervene. It has become so expected, this interventionism, that every group or party opposed to a US-hostile regime or government invokes America’s name as its savior who must step in for the sake of democracy. The pressure is tremendous. We now intervene because “they want us to intervene.” The kink in this reasoning is that “they” are never the country as a whole, but only a faction that we have chosen to support. What we end up with after all those collateral deaths are puppet governments incapable of ruling their countries or keeping them together; what we get are scores that will wait to be settled until the US is no longer in the picture, i.e. violence postponed.  And we should remember that it is only in propaganda that “they” are transformed into “freedom fighters” from the fanatics and fascists that our allies so often are. Even now, knowing who the opposition really is in Syria — Al Qaeda affiliates gaining experience for future fights elsewhere — we are sending in armaments to help bring down Assad. The idea seems to be “we’ll deal with the terrorist problem later.” General Dempsey recently said before the Atlantic Council regarding Syria “I’ve heard it described as a succession of conflicts. You have the conflict that currently exists; then there’ll be the second conflict, which is kind of an internal conflict; and then there’ll be the third conflict against the terrorist organizations that are growing. That’s probably right.”  Is this a sane foreign policy?

In Ukraine, the US has met the unmovable object. It was irresistible for the US and the Eastern European fringe of NATO to try to snatch the cradle of Russia right from under Russia’s nose and hopefully make Crimea a US naval base in the near future. Talk about encirclement wet dreams! But the Russians were ready with plans no doubt long in the perfecting. It was able to prevent the establishment of the new regime’s authority in southeastern Ukraine and as the prize for enduring such insulting US treatment of Russian interests, it took Crimea without a single shot fired and without having to invade. It is prepared to invade southeastern Ukraine if need be, but that seems unlikely now. Instead we had a referendum, however flawed, showing a strong anti-Kiev vote (whipped up by Kiev’s inept military assault against the “terrorists”) and a subsequent request from Donetsk authorities for annexation by Russia. Russia is being coyly silent about the request, but the tacit threat is real: continue meddling in Ukraine, and we’ll accept the request for annexation. This ace in the hole gives Russia what it needs to force an agreement for a federal Ukraine with significant powers held by the provinces. That in turn ensures Russia’s continued dominant influence in southeastern Ukraine that will almost certainly make it impossible for Ukraine to join NATO — Russia’s ultimate goal.

tar babyThat the strategy is succeeding is suggested by the sudden visit to Ukraine by the German Foreign Minister to encourage direct talks between the two parties and rumors that Kiev is being pressured to accept the federal solution. Germany is the number one opponent of any action by NATO vis-a-vis Ukraine and will spare no effort in heading off the American hawks. It isn’t just war with Russia that frightens, but the damage further sanctions can do to the German economy. The US meanwhile continues its tough talk, in an increasingly futile effort to look like it is still in control of events unleashed by its proxies in Kiev. The one bright spot is that, so far, the US has resisted the temptation to haul off and whack the tar baby one more time. That is good. If we put our boots in Ukraine or try to fly over and drop some bombs, the US would find out what it’s like to be stuck so deep you can’t get out — no matter how much you want to.


Here we go, take a deep breath…

people jumpingWe are at the very precipice, the very eleventh hour before Russia invades eastern Ukraine to stop the mayhem that is now spiraling out of control. My husband and I agree that the military operation underway in eastern Ukraine by the so-called Army and Kiev’s leading fascist group is being run with the advice of NATO (US in first place) military and intelligence. The Right Sector is probably coordinating with the Army but they are doing their own vicious thing there, and it is igniting the eastern Ukrainians as never before, literally. This is the perverse effect of murdering whole groups of people you don’t like, by however brutal a means is available. Burning them to death or forcing them to jump to death to escape the fire is as good as a laser ray as far as these testosterone-laden Neanderthals of the far right are concerned.

The Russians got it right when they said that this new violence against the pro-Russians has taken things to the point of no return. Russia went to the UNSC but know as well as anybody that this is not going to do anything or go anywhere. Nevertheless the Russians have been busy checking off all the boxes, from the quick Geneva accord that obligated both sides to disarm thugs and free occupied public buildings, to the multiple appearances at the UNSC, to intervention to free from the pro-Russian forces the western military attaches to Kiev masquerading as OSCE observers. Kiev decided it could escape the need to try (fruitlessly) to disarm the Right Sector and its allied goon squads in western Ukraine by deputizing same and “allowing” them to continue “guarding” the public places. Russia in return did nothing to calm down its side, which is now busy agitating that ancient Russian instinct to rally when the village bell sounds warning. People are dying now. A 70-year old eastern Ukrainian told a reporter that the people have no choice but to take to the streets now, they are abandoned by everyone and must defend themselves however they can. This is civil war, not the earlier stalking and marking of territory by proxies of the two chief foes, Washington and Moscow. Now the population in both Russia and eastern Ukraine is engaged and angry and frightened. Every ugly thing they ever heard about NATO is very real for them now.

For those who think NATO is trying to calm things down, the comments by Alexander (Sandy) Vershbow the other day should give pause. Vershbow is very smart and somewhat scholarly, a professional US diplomat who served as US Ambassador to both Moscow and to NATO. In his retirement years, he has become a no doubt highly-paid NATO apparatchik and it was in this capacity that he was speaking. What he said was that NATO now (reluctantly) had to put Russia in the enemy category. Also as a consequence, NATO should start beefing up its eastern member states militarily and even arming the remaining buffer states (Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) with so-called defensive arms immediately.  This is a man with a deep knowledge of Russia and he’s demanding NATO rush to encircle Russia as far as it can and to do so in the spirit of enmity? I ask you: what is Russia to do? How is Russia to react?

great gameWhatever Russia may have wanted prior to the Kiev putsch, it was faced afterwards with a situation that directly affected its vital interests (the ultimate alliance of Ukraine). The EU was aggressively pushing its own interests as opposed to Russia’s and in many ways to the disadvantage of Russia, and Moscow knew that the ultimate goal was Ukraine’s membership in NATO. It was with reference to this that Putin, after he annexed Crimea, said that had Russia not acted, the historic Russian territory would be hosting a NATO naval base. It was not going to happen. Russia is world-class when it comes to Realpolitik. After Kiev it was clear where this was heading. No international organization was going to keep Ukraine out of NATO, so Russia would have to do it — through forceful diplomacy or force. Moscow has pushed negotiations aimed at creating a federal state in Ukraine that gives eastern Ukrainians equal power with Kiev and treaty-based neutrality for the nation. EU/NATO and their puppet regime in Kiev reject federalization although they have deigned to recognize the majority-language of eastern Ukraine (Russian) as a legitimate and legal language (although not through legislation). Their overt concern is that Russia will manipulate that federalism to Kiev’s disadvantage. As for neutrality, it is of no interest whatsoever to the ever-expanding western military bloc.

Now Russia will do what the US would do in an analogous situation (far more serious than that in, say, Grenada in the 1980s). It will invade and occupy and reassert order. And whether the outcome is federalism or an independent eastern Ukraine or an annexed eastern Ukraine, things are unlikely to revert to the status quo ante.

Everything beyond that certainty is open to chance. How will NATO respond? Can  Germany continue to block US ambitions to push NATO right up physically to Russia’s border? And how about our publics? In the US, a WSJ poll just found that a majority of Americans want a pull-back in America’s presence abroad and an end to wars. By a huge margin they want the US to keep out of Ukraine and let the Russians do what they will. They oppose war against Syria. They don’t think the US owes Ukraine anything, much less a defense against Russia. In Germany, there is plenty of opposition to NATO expansion and threats against Russia, and don’t even mention the possibility of going to war against Russia. This sector wants Germany to keep out of the Russia-Ukraine squabble and in many European countries there is a strong resistance to any further economic sanctions. Despite the unanimity of will NATO leaders point to, it doesn’t exist. The fractures are there and they are deep and NATO’s latest threats against Russia have inaugurated a new era in international politics.