Tag Archives: Ukraine

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Clueless in Gaza – We Americans Support Democracy, But Only When the Elections Go Our Way

http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/140326164134-abdel-fattah-al-sisi-story-top.jpg

“Rarely has a president been confronted with so many seemingly disparate foreign policy crises all at once,” The New York Times noted about Obama on July 23rd. What the paper didn’t/won’t/can’t say is: Rarely has a president caused so many of his own crises.

This summer, most of Obama’s problems follow from his unwillingness to respect democracy overseas.

The U.S. government supports democracy in other countries — but only if the elections go its way. If not, anything goes to obtain a favorable outcome: economic sabotage, backing violent coups d’état, installing dictators to replace democratically-elected leaders, even ginning up all-out war.

Three recent examples showcasing U.S. contempt for electoral democracy include Egypt, and two places making news this week, Palestine and Ukraine.

Egypt’s 2012 election, the first after the overthrow of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is a recent case of American perfidy that’s embarrassing going on tacky. Mohamed Morsi of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, won the presidency in elections international observers called as fair and transparent as could be expected in a nascent democracy.

The thing to do, of course would have been to congratulate Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people, and offer assistance upon request.

Rather than accept the results, however, the Obama Administration “channeled funding … [that] … vigorously supported activists and politicians who have fomented unrest in Egypt.” A year later, Morsi was overthrown by a coup that restored Mubarak’s military junta minus the ailing former tyrant. Ignoring American law, Obama continues to finance General Abdel Fata al-Sisi’s violent, oppressive regime, which many human rights groups describe as even more brutal than Mubarak’s. Morsi, a democratically-elected leader whom a principled American president should demand to be restored to power, rots in a prison whose jailers are paid by American taxpayers.

To add Orwellian insult to neocolonialist injury, Secretary of State John Kerry is still saying that Egypt’s post-Morsi junta is “transitioning to a democracy.” Kerry’s mouthfart came a day after al-Sisi sent three foreign journalists away for long prison terms.

Overshadowed by Israel’s latest brutal swat-a-fly-with-laser-guided-missiles invasion and bombing campaign against the Gaza Strip is the fact that, as in Egypt, the United States got the elections it demanded in Palestine, only to succumb to buyer’s remorse after the ballots were counted.

The Palestinian elections of 2006 are hardly the most thrilling story ever told, so I won’t be surprised if you decide to look at this story about the guy who sent his wife a spreadsheet detailing all the excuses she gave him for not having sex and never look back.

Still here? Here’s an abridged recounting of an episode that not only sheds some light on the current conflagration between Israel and Palestine, but reveals the methods used by Israel and its allies to undermine Palestinian self-governance — and belies America’s loudly proclaimed commitment to democracy to boot.

Israeli leaders like to complain that the Palestinian side doesn’t offer them a viable partner with whom to negotiate peace. Read the following, however, and Israel’s right-wing government’s real agenda becomes clear: to demoralize and divide the Palestinian people in order to sap their resistance to economic and military oppression.

In the Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, held both in the West Bank and Gaza in response to pressure from the United States, Hamas beat Fatah (Yasir Arafat’s more moderate party), 44.45% to 41.43%, entitling it to 74 seats in parliament over Fatah’s 45. (The current split, in which Hamas rules Gaza and Fatah has the West Bank, followed a later internal military clash.)

Israel’s interference with the 2006 elections began during campaign season, when it preemptively arrested and jailed 450 members of Hamas because they were involved in the elections as candidates or campaign workers. Despite this and other acts of sabotage, including trying to ban residents of East Jerusalem from voting, the elections went off well. The European Parliament’s spokesperson called the vote “extremely professional, in line with international standards, free, transparent and without violence.”

The thing to do would have been to congratulate Hamas and the Palestinians, and offer assistance upon request.

Instead, the Bush Administration and its allies cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, ended diplomatic relations and imposed trade and other economic sanctions. Three months after Hamas formed its first government, in June 2006, Israel invaded Gaza and the West Bank, demolished and bombed civilian and government infrastructure, and arrested 25% of the members of parliament “because technically they were members of a terrorist organization although they may not be involved in terrorist acts themselves.” The U.S., which supplied the weapons used in the attacks, cited Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

Hamas, U.S. government-controlled media frequently reminds readers and viewers, is a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. So to people who don’t hold tickets to the Way Back A Decade Ago Machine, the actions of America, Israel and their allies vis-à-vis Hamas, which rules Gaza, seem reasonable. They’re terrorists! They shoot rockets at Israel! (Really lame rockets, but still.)

Hamas remains boxed in and desperate under Obama. Israel and Egypt’s al-Sisi regime, the two largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid military hardware, have shut the territory’s land crossings to Israel and Egypt and imposed a naval blockade on the Mediterranean coastline. Despite dozens of tunnels built to smuggle in goods, the West’s sanctions regime has been successful; Gaza’s economy has tanked, and unemployment among its 1.8 million people has risen to 38.5%. (The highest rate in the U.S. during the Great Depression of the 1930s was 25%.) Shooting rockets at civilians isn’t a great way to make friends — but desperation makes people do stupid things.

What the U.S. media doesn’t want you to know is: Hamas is popular. They won the last election, and they’d probably win again if one were held now. By pushing regime change in Gaza, therefore, the U.S. wants to replace a popular government with an unpopular one…in other words, subverting democracy.

Ukraine is yet another case of a democratically-elected ruler overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup.

Viktor Yanukovych won the Ukrainian presidency in 2010 elections that were widely believed to have conformed to international standards according to foreign observers. The thing to do would have been to congratulate him and the Ukrainian people on a fair election, and offer assistance upon request. But the U.S. was wary of Yanukovych, worried he might not easily be tamed. (Sample American punditry at the time: “The Ukrainians need to expand their relationship with the International Monetary Fund.”)

He didn’t. Finally, in November 2013, Yanukovych sealed his fate by siding with neighboring Russia over a pending EU association agreement — thus rejecting closer ties to the West and the United States. Street protests that led to Yanukovych’s ouster in February 2014 were likely indigenous, but would almost certainly not have succeeded in driving the president into exile without the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars in covert U.S. funding to the Maidan organizers.

Though more of a money-motivated oligarch than a creature of the far right, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to accommodate right-wing factions, including neo-fascists, in Ukraine. Moreover, whatever you think of Poroshenko, he is not the legitimate ruler of the country. Nevertheless, President Obama has recognized him as such and offered economic and military hardware in his civil war against Russian-speaking separatists in the eastern part of the country.

I’ll close with a quote from Noam Chomsky: “For Washington, a consistent element is that democracy and the rule of law are acceptable if and only if they serve official strategic and economic objectives. But American public attitudes on Iraq and Israel/Palestine run counter to government policy, according to polls. Therefore the question presents itself whether a genuine democracy promotion might best begin within the United States.”

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

 

 

Flash War

Heavily-armed men who took over Crimea last week refused to say who they were, so foreign media outlets dutifully refused to accuse Russia of invading Ukraine until after it had happened. Imagine how much better the invasion of Iraq would have gone if nobody had been able to blame the United States for it?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Four Horsemen of the American Apocalypse

http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1707148.1393683215!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/527604029.jpg

 

What the Media Can’t/Won’t Tell You About Why Russia Invaded Ukraine

As usual, America’s foreign correspondents are falling down on the job.

Stories devoid of historical context cast Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a naked act of neo-Soviet aggression. Considering that the relevant history begins a mere two decades ago, its omission is inexcusable.

The spark that led to the takeover of Crimea was not the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich. It is what happened the day after.

A 2012 law gave the Russian language official status in regions where Russians comprise more than 10% of the population. This is the case in most of eastern Ukraine and particularly in Crimea, where 59% are ethnic Russians.

One week ago, Ukraine’s rump parliament (members of Yanukovich’s party, hiding from opposition forces and in fear for their lives, didn’t show up) took advantage of Yanukovich’s downfall to overturn the language law. Americans didn’t notice, but Russians did.

            Attack on the Russian language in Ukraine is a brutal violation of ethnic minority rights,” Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s commissioner for human rights, tweeted that day.

Seems a little over-the-top, right?

Sure, but only if you don’t know that millions of ethnic Russians in former Soviet Republics have suffered widespread discrimination and harassment since the 1991 collapse — and that their troubles began with laws eliminating Russian as an official language.

Laws like the one passed last week in Ukraine.

The demise of the Soviet Union left 25 million Russians stranded in 14 newly independent states, in such countries as Belarus, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine. These new countries had to scramble in order to create the trappings of national identity virtually overnight. They designed new flags, composed national anthems and printed new currency.

To instill a sense of loyalty and patriotism, the governments of many of the freshly-minted republics resorted to rank nationalism.

Nationalism isn’t just about what your country is. It’s also about what it isn’t. This requires defining some things — some people — as outsiders. Unwanted. Scapegoats. Enemies of the state.

Turkmenistan, a Central Asian dictatorship and former Soviet republic in Central Asia, is one example. It instituted a policy of “Turkmenization” after 1991. Russians, a privileged group before independence, were now refused work permits. A 2000 decree banned the use of the Russian language in official business; since Turkmenistan is a totalitarian state and all business is legally governmental, this reduced Russians who didn’t speak Turkmen to poverty and low-status jobs.

The Turkmen government abolished dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship, leading to the mass exodus of panicked Russians in 2003. Denaturalization — the stripping away of citizenship — followed. “Many people…were having to sell houses and apartments at far below market values in order to leave by the deadline,” reported the UN. Hundreds of thousands of people lost everything they owned.

“Over the past decade Russians have been systematically discriminated against, and currently hold no positions in Turkmenistan’s government or state institutions,” says the report.

Russians who remained behind after 2003 fared poorly. “On the streets of the eastern city of Turkmenabat, Russians appear to be rapidly becoming an underclass in a nation mired in poverty. Many scrape a living as taxi drivers, waitresses or in other low paying, insecure jobs.”

Harassment of Russians is rife throughout the former USSR. Every other Commonwealth of Independent States nation has abolished dual citizenship.

In the former Soviet Union, everyone knows that the road to statelessness, unpersonhood and poverty begins with the official elimination of Russian as an official language.

National language statutes targeted against Russian speakers are analogous to Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws, which prevented Jews from holding jobs or even owning a radio: the beginning of the end. At the end of the Soviet period in 1989, the Tajik SSR passed a law establishing Tajik as the sole official language. Less than two decades later, 85% of ethnic Russians had left the country.

“The linguistic nationalization carried out in each republic provided a strong impetus to emigrate…Even if schools systematically introduce children to the official language today, the [former Soviet] states have established no programs to train adults,” Seymour Peyrouse noted in a 2008 report for the Woodrow Wilson Institute about the Central Asian republics. “It seems that the principal cause of emigration remains the absence of a future, or the perception of such, for the younger generations.”

Given recent history, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that ethnic Russians freaked out when one of the first official acts of Ukraine’s parliament was a linguistic nationalization law.

As for Russia’s response, you need to know two facts. First, Ukraine isn’t as independent of Russia as, say, Poland. None of the former Soviet republics are. “Kiev is an ancient Russian city,” Masha Gessen writes in Vanity Fair. “It is an overnight train ride from Moscow — closer than 90% of Russia is to the Russian capital. Russian citizens haven’t needed visas or even foreign-travel passports to go to Ukraine — the way U.S. citizens can enter Canada with only a driver’s license. Every store clerk, waiter, and taxi driver in Kiev speaks Russian.” And of course there’s the Black Sea Fleet. Really really independent countries don’t have 11,000 foreign troops stationed on their soil.

Had it been possible for rational diplomats and demographers to manage the Soviet collapse, Crimea probably would have wound up in Russia.

Until half a century ago, after all, Crimea was Russian. Nikita Khrushchev “gifted Crimea to Ukraine as a gesture of goodwill to mark the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s merger with tsarist Russia. Not surprisingly, at the time, it did not occur to anyone that one day the Soviet Union might collapse and that Ukraine would again be an independent country,” writes The Moscow Times.

It’s easy to see why Vladimir Putin would invade, why Russian public opinion would support him, and why neither cares what America thinks. Back in September, after all, most Russians told pollsters Crimea is part of Russia.

Why are American reporters covering Crimea ignoring the big picture, and instead so focused on secondary distractions like how it makes Obama look and whether there’s a chance of a new Cold War?

Four horsemen of the journalism apocalypse afflict overseas reporting:

Journalistic stenography, in which attending a government press conference constitutes research.

Kneejerk patriotism, where reporters identify with their government and are therefore less likely to question its actions, while reflexively assuming that rivals of the U.S. are ill-intentioned.

Jack-of-all-trades journalism, in which the same writers cover too many different beats. A few decades ago, there would have been a bureau chief, or at least a stringer, who knew Ukraine and/or the former Soviet Union because he or she lived there.

American ahistoricism, the widespread and widely acceptable ignorance of politics and history — especially those of other countries.

All four horsemen are pulling the Crimea story, but the fourth — not being aware of stuff that happened just one generation ago — is the most embarrassing.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Guest Blogger Post: Don’t Blame Obama for Syria and Ukraine

Susan here. There have been a lot of accusations about Obama being “weak” in not invading Syria or stopping the Russian “invasion” of Crimea. But the truth is, it’s not Obama who is “weak”, it’s the United States that’s weak.

The truth is, we are not living in the unipolar world of the 90s, or even the bipolar world of the Cold War. We are currently living in a multipolar world where both old superpowers and newer superpowers are emerging, and even imposing sanctions on a particular country doesn’t have the effect it once had. For instance, Iran is still chugging along quite nicely despite a Western embargo.

Where Obama is weak is in failing to recognize this basic fact. In this new world, you can’t go around making threats and “redlines” and promises you can’t keep. Because the truth is, Americans do not have the stomach for the sacrifices it would take to make war on other superpowers, and furthermore, we don’t have the money.

Much ado has been made about Obama’s non-attendance of a recent White House “security meeting” on Crimea, but in this instance, I think he’s doing the right thing, for once, by not attending. Crimea is 85% ethnic-Russian, so that’s like Russia invading itself. Not to mention she already has a naval base there. And despite the rhetoric from “transitional government” in Kiev, there is only so much western Ukraine can break away from Russia’s influence. As I said, a multipolar world.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Ukraine Is Not a Revolution.

http://timeglobalspin.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/par7771097.jpg?w=720

Mainstream news outlets in the United States, whose politics are closely aligned with those of the U.S. government, frequently criticize mainstream media outlets in Russia, whose politics are closely aligned to those of the Russian government. Current example: recent events in Ukraine.

“Russian officials have been doing everything they can to make it clear that they don’t recognize the legitimacy of this current parliament or its right to form an interim government,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff reported February 26th. “The impression that ordinary Russians would get from [their] news coverage is really that the Ukrainian Revolution is very much a thing to be feared.”

Flintoff made fun of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who called the overthrow of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych “essentially the result of an armed mutiny.” Russian Interior Minister Sergey Lavrov said it was “an attempt at a coup d’état and to seize power by force.”

Yet American media insist on the R-word: revolution.

Here we go again.

In U.S. and Western media, both the Tahrir Square “people power” demonstrations that removed Hosni Mubarak and the military coup that imprisoned the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi are called Egyptian “revolutions.” So is the Benghazi-based insurgency that toppled Libya’s Col. Moammar Gaddafi. If the civil war in Syria leads to the downfall of President Bashar al-Assad — even if, like Gaddafi, he gets blown up by a U.S. drone or a NATO fighter jet — they’ll call that a revolution too.

But those weren’t/aren’t revolutions. A revolution is “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.”

A new system. Those are the key words.

Even if it occurs as the result of dramatic street violence, a change in leaders doesn’t mean there has been a revolution. If the system doesn’t change much, a revolution  has not taken place.

Egypt’s Tahrir Square was dramatic, an important event. But it wasn’t a revolution. This became evident last year, when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi arrested and jailed President Morsi. If the 2011 Tahrir uprising against Mubarak had been a revolution, Sisi — a high-ranking officer who served most of his career under Mubarak — would not have been in the military at all, much less a figure powerful enough to stage a coup.

In a real revolution, the old system — all of its most important components — are replaced. Military leaders aren’t merely shuffled around or replaced; the army’s core mission and organizational structure are radically altered. It isn’t enough to rejigger boardrooms and change CEOs; the class structure itself — which defines every other role in society — is changed. (In China, for example, landlords went from a privileged class to impoverished pariahs after 1949.) Reforms don’t make a revolution. In a revolution, everything old gets trashed. Society starts from scratch.

The bar for whether a political change qualifies as a full-fledged revolution is extremely high.

And yeah, the definition matters. It matters a lot. Because revolution — capital-R, blood-in-the-streets, head-on-a-stick Revolution is by far the biggest threat to our system of corporate capitalism and the ruling classes who have been stealing almost every cent of the fortune we the people create with our hard work. If our business overlords convince us that revolution is something short of actually changing the system — in other words, getting rid of them — then they’re safe no matter what. Even if we protest, even if we turn violent, we will never truly emancipate ourselves.

Maybe they’ll pay higher taxes. For a little while. Until they bribe their way back out of them.

Until we destroy the 1%, stripping them of their money, power and social status, we will be their slaves. And that will never happen if we forget what revolution is.

Bearing in mind what revolution means, Ukraine comes nowhere close.

Consider this quote from Nicolai Petro, a politics professor at the University of Rhode Island, on Amy Goodman’s radio show:

“Yes, [Ukraine] is pretty much a classical coup, because under the current constitution the president may be—may resign or be impeached, but only after the case is reviewed by the Constitutional Court and then voted by a three-fourth majority of the Parliament. And then, either case, either the prime minister or the speaker of the Parliament must become the president. Instead, that’s not what happened at all. There was an extraordinary session of Parliament, after—it was held after most members were told there would be no session and many had left town. And then, under the chairmanship of the radical party, Svoboda, this rump Parliament declared that the president had self-removed himself from the presidency.”

Note the trappings of “legitimacy”: Constitutional Court, Parliament, preexisting political parties, laws created under the old regime.

Under a revolution, old institutions would be abolished. Anyone who had anything to do with them would be discredited, and possibly in danger of being executed. Parties, if there were any, would be new (unless they’d been operating clandestinely), with revolutionary politics and brand-new organizational structures. You certainly wouldn’t see old establishment figures like the recently released former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (a leader of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004, which also wasn’t a revolution), seriously discussed as a potential new ruler.

Many Ukrainians know what revolution is — and they want one. “We need new people who can say no to the oligarchs, not just the old faces,” a 25-year-old economist told The New York Times. “The problem is that the old forces are trying to come back to take their old chairs,” said a shipping broker who waved a sign outside parliament that read: “Revolution, Not a Court Coup!”

U.S. reporters quote the would-be revolutionaries, but they can’t understand their meaning. After all, their country’s founding “revolution,” the American Revolution, was nothing of the sort. The elites became even more powerful. Slavery continued. Women still couldn’t vote. The poor and middle class didn’t gain power.

Just another coup.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM