It must be getting time for me to ask that the world be stopped so I can step off. Consider Ukraine and Gaza. There is a common thread uniting the two. We the West have the right to control, change and determine the destiny of the peoples, dispose of their land and territory, and install or reject and topple their governments whether elected or not. You have no right to resist.
Europeans and Westerners rightly and gratefully remember the United States as liberator and defender of freedom and liberty. Across vast swaths of the Third World, however, for most of the Cold War, in the name of fighting communism, Washington bankrolled and armed dictators, toppled independent-minded democrats, and fueled civil wars.
In a Chatham House study of elite perceptions, Europeans emphasized America’s historical “moral leadership” and praised U.S. ideals and values as inspirational. But many Asian elites view it as hypocritical, overbearing, arrogant and disinterested in others’ interests, aggressively pushing its own policy priorities instead with a disparity between words and actions.
The reliability of promises is as important a diplomatic tool as the credibility of threats. The relentless eastward expansion of NATO into parts of the former Soviet empire broke U.S. promises on the basis of which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had peacefully withdrawn Soviet troops from Eastern Europe, permitted Germany’s reunification, and even accepted united Germany as a member of NATO. Millions of ethnic Russians were abandoned and relegated to second-class status in former Soviet republics, and Russian voices, votes and interests were brushed aside in detaching Kosovo from Serbia.
Ukraine had a succession of presidents duly elected by the people but lacking in leadership skills to provide competent, effective and honest government for all groups. President Viktor Yanukovych was no more or less incompetent, corrupt and partisan than his predecessor, but he was pro-Russian. That mattered more to the European Union and the United States than the facts that he was elected and had only a year left in his presidency. So the regime change template was put into play.
A forced choice between trade and security interests with China and the U.S. would be extremely painful for Australia. For reasons of geography, history, language, ethnicity and family links, Ukraine cannot choose between its European and Russian identity. In November 2013, Europe forced Yanukovych to choose between joining the Eurasian Economic Union — a Moscow-led customs union opposed by Washington as a ploy to re-Sovietize the region — or a free trade and association pact with the EU. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was prepared to accept Ukraine choosing both. Under the EU ultimatum, Yanukovych accepted the more generous $15 billion Russian aid package.
Having played hardball and lost, the West threw a tantrum and quickly moved in to destabilize his regime with the help of far right, neo-Nazi and nationalist groups in western Ukraine and Kiev, with the direct participation of Western leaders and U.S. officials like Sen. John McCain.
Victoria Nuland is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. She achieved notoriety for saying “F—k the EU” in a covertly taped conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt that was leaked in February. Nuland was a key foreign policy adviser to former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to a card-carrying founder-member of the neocons. She also traveled to Independence Square in Kiev in December 2013 in a publicized show of support for the anti-Yanukovych demonstrators.
The intensified instability quickly spun out of control. Yanukovych was overthrown and fled; his successors imposed second-class status on the Russian-speaking minority in the east and Russia’s major naval base in the Crimea came under threat. Russia responded with an iron fist, organized a hasty referendum in Crimea of dubious validity but almost certainly reflecting majority preference, and re-absorbed Crimea. Pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine have taken a leaf out of their western compatriots’ playbook to defy the writ of the government in Kiev.
Russia is ordered to stop destabilizing Ukraine. But it is perfectly legitimate and permissible for the West to have been engaged in an active destabilization campaign in Syria to try and bring down President Bashar Assad. Western powers destabilize or overthrow the three most secular if brutal regimes in the entire Arab world — Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and Assad — and then are surprised that the monster of Islamic extremism has been let loose.
After the no-longer deniable disasters of regime change policies and interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, Western powers might show some humility and circumspection. But no, they pursue the same destabilizing policy of regime change to bring down even an elected president in Kiev.
Similarly, Israel and its Western backers routinely blame the Palestinian victims for fighting back against Israel’s ruthless military occupation and electing governments not to Israel’s liking. In a notable act of Christian charity, Western reparations to Jews for centuries of persecution climaxing in the Holocaust were paid mainly in Palestinian coinage.
Israel is a state imposed on the region by the Western powers in the dying days of colonial dominance and is now backed without qualification by the U.S. Israel is surrounded by many enemies sworn to its destruction, and is as grimly determined to defend, protect and preserve its existence as its enemies are to destroy it. But it is decades since Israel spoke and behaved as the weaker party in fear of imminent liquidation.
Under its national security responsibility, the government of Israel has a duty to defend its population from external attack and daily harassment.
Hamas employs the tactic of hiding its fighters and weapons amidst civilians, knowing that doing so will risk the death of innocents as Israelis return fire. Hamas blows up busloads of school children, hides behind human shields and fires rockets indiscriminately targeted at civilians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not wrong in saying “here’s the difference between us: We are using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
That said, there is still no moral equivalence between 1,600 deaths on one side against 60 on the other. And the chief obstacle to negotiations in recent times has not been Palestinian rejectionism but Israeli intransigence and settlements policy.
If Hamas resistance is defined by terror, Israeli occupation is rule by fear and overwhelming brute force. Its policy of confiscating or razing Palestinian property, colonizing Palestinian land and ruthlessly putting down protests is done with the help of Western weapons.
At the same time as Putin was demonized for arming Ukraine’s rebels (while the West continues to supply arms to Syria’s rebels) and held responsible — before an independent international investigation is conducted and concluded — for the deaths of almost 300 civilians when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a missile, the U.S. restocks Israel’s dwindling supply of munitions used to kill 1,600 Palestinians in Gaza.
Australia’s merchandise and service exports to Russia last year were worth more than $900 million. When Russia retaliated against Western sanctions on some of its banks and individuals by banning foodstuffs from 32 Western countries joining the sanctions against it, including Australia, Canberra’s politicians criticized Moscow for being unfair.
Go figure. But first let me off this crazy world.
Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University