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April 1, 2014

History hurts our credibility on Crimea

The Daily Star

---- — What? President Obama had to try to justify our invasion of Iraq so that the U.S. does not look ridiculous in condemning Russia’s intervention in Crimea.

You have to admit the Iraq war has come back to haunt us, despite the president’s insistence that “at least we sought to work within the international system” before launching our “shock and awe” to pave the way for the invasion.

Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border after Crimea’s “illegal” vote to exit that nation and rejoin Russia, has mocked the moral arguments of the U.S. as an example of Western hypocrisy.

Obama keeps warning of more isolation and sanctions against Russia if it engages in any further aggressive actions toward Ukraine. But speaking in Brussels last week at a European Union-U.S. summit, what a shame that the president was forced to address the Iraq war and almost seemed to regret the fact that he had opposed it.

“It is true that the Iraq war was a subject of vigorous debate, not just around the world but in the United States, as well. I participated in that debate, and I opposed our military intervention there.

“But even in Iraq,” he continued, “America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about its own future.”

Yes, we sought international support, and popular favor within the U.S., but with lies about weapons of mass destruction. The Bush government even had many Americans thinking Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

And, speaking about Russia, Secretary of State John Kerry had the guts to say it was simply not OK to invade another country on a “completely trumped-up pretext,” or because you’d like a regime change.

We may have helped engineer elections in Iraq after our regime change was completed, but we left that country with hundreds of thousands dead, mired in a constant crisis of civil war, bombings and religious strife. As for Iraq’s resources, our so-called “blood for oil” endeavor forced the state-controlled industry into private hands controlled by the West.

Before that, we invaded Afghanistan. Since then, for good or ill, we have been involved in the affairs of Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.

So, it is difficult to take the moral high ground with Ukraine, and, rightly, that is the kind of path President Obama likes to travel. He favors negotiation over saber-rattling, and talking is usually the best way to avoid wars.

The trouble is that we support the interim government in Ukraine, which gained power after a violent coup that ousted a democratically elected president who was opposed not so much because he was pro-Russian but because his government was corrupt. Again, we keep being thrust into an arena of these hypocritical positions created by the conflict between our ideals and our past actions.

These inconsistencies in our foreign policy make it all the more difficult for Obama to tackle crises the way he prefers, and leads the opposition at home, such as Sen. John McCain, to call him weak and demeaning to our standing in the world.

Some commentators now are saying that Obama makes former President Jimmy Carter look like a warmonger. Carter responded to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 with mere sanctions and isolation, rather than the force the real warmongers wanted.

Carter preferred to answer crises by asking, “what would Jesus do?” Apparently, the contemporary militarists would like Obama to respond to Russia by asking, “what would Bush and Cheney do?”

Obviously, sending troops into Ukraine to prevent further Russian incursions would probably lead to a showdown not unlike the Kennedy missile crisis of 1962. The difference being that dispute was about Soviet missiles not far from our shores. The Ukraine formerly was part of the Soviet Union, and our national interest there is not clear.

I try to see the situation like this:

There has been a Quebec separatist movement for decades. Let’s say the pro-separatists are not French-Canadians but rather Canadian-Americans. The province votes to secede from Canada and to prevent Canada from using force to thwart the secession, we send troops in to make sure the vote counts and the ethnic Americans can be free of Canadian rule or join the U.S.

What should Russia do in response? Scold us, impose sanctions or send troops to help Canada?

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.