As Crimea prepares to vote on Saturday March 16th in a crucial referendum on its future, the rhetoric coming from the West and its propaganda machine has hit a new and ridiculous low. Not only has US President Barack Obama and his administration done everything to undermine democracy in Ukraine, they have now resorted to the most naked forms of hypocrisy in an attempt to delegitimize the democratic process.
On Thursday March 6th President Obama spoke at the White House on the referendum and the issue of Crimea. In his prepared remarks, Obama stated categorically that the United States would not recognize the results of the Crimean referendum. He argued that the it would violate both the “Ukrainian Constitution and international law.” Obama kept the comedy coming when he noted that, “In 2014 we are well beyond the days when borders can be redrawn over the heads of democratic leaders.” As with all statements made by the US government, and the President specifically, this must be contextualized and deconstructed in order to be effectively critiqued.
First and foremost is the question of democracy and, more specifically, how exactly Washington is choosing to define this gravely abused word. In referring to the so-called “interim government” in Kiev, headed by Yatsenyuk and his associates, as “democratic leaders”, Obama demonstrates either a complete lack of understanding of the word democracy, or as I think is more likely, an utter contempt for democratic principles. By referring to an unelected entity that has seized political power in Kiev by force, and through collaboration with Nazi elements, as “democratic leaders,” Obama exposes himself and his administration to be cynical opportunists whose interests rest not in democracy but in a geopolitical agenda guided solely by strategic interests.
Naturally, the references to the Ukrainian Constitution and international law are also deeply disingenuous. Obama, and the US imperial system more generally, speak of international law purely when it suits their interests, eschewing it completely when it does not. This fact has been illustrated quite clearly with Washington’s wars of aggression throughout that last two decades, including the illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, not to mention the habitual violations of international law in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and around the world.
The most significant point here is that the US recognizes democracy and international law only when it suits their interests. Moreover, US hypocrisy regarding democracy becomes self evident if one examines the recent historical precedents of Kosovo and South Sudan. In both these cases, precisely the same individuals who today cry about international law and argue against the democratic right of Crimea to determine its own future, were then eloquently and unabashedly in favor of precisely the same sort “democratic aspirations.”
Kosovo, South Sudan, and Washington’s Amnesia
The fact that President Obama and the US political establishment have come out against the referendum in Crimea should not be surprising. Washington’s interest is not in the right of self-determination of the people of Crimea, nor in their desire to remain free of a neoliberal and fascist controlled government in Kiev. Rather, the US is primarily concerned with delegitimizing the democratic process in Crimea in order to prevent the region from moving closer to, and possibly integrating into, the Russian Federation. How interesting that, in a few short years, the US has gone from being the champion of “democracy” and “self-determination” to being their staunchest enemy.
In 2008, Kosovo, the region formerly part of Serbia held a referendum on the question of independence. Because the United States had, for nearly two decades, worked diligently to carve up the former Yugoslavia, and the states that emerged from it, it was seemingly a given that the US would be a vocal supporter and guarantor of the referendum on Kosovo’s nationhood. In fact, members of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, all made statements declaring Kosovo’s independence to be a triumph of democracy.
Then Illinois Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, came out in full support of Kosovo’s referendum. In a letter to the National Council of U.S. Albanians, candidate Obama wrote:
I support Kosovo’s independence and her desire to move towards full sovereignty. I believe that the U.S. should help develop a strong democracy in Kosovo that will be guaranteed by the application of laws that safeguard the interests of all people. I support Kosovo’s integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions, and that will best be accomplished by creating a free, tolerant and wealthy society that promotes minority rights and protects religious and cultural monuments.
It would seem that, for Obama, Kosovo’s “sovereignty,” “independence,” and “democracy” were of the utmost importance, despite its being part of Serbia. Somehow, “integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions” trumped whatever sovereignty Serbia had, and whatever international law might have dictated. Of course, the incredible amount of willful self-deception required to make such statements should come as no surprise. The US establishment understood full well that there would be no tolerance or protection of minority rights in Kosovo. On the contrary, the US supported the independence of Kosovo, knowing that it would be purged of Serbian influence and would become the de facto NATO protectorate that it has become.
And so, the principles of international law were of no consequence to Obama in 2008 when, as per his establishment advisors, he came out in full support of the Kosovo referendum. So then, it would be fair to say that Obama supports independence and sovereignty only when it is at the expense of oppositional nations and to the benefit of the US-NATO alliance. It should also be pointed out that those who now accuse Russia of “aggression” in Crimea (despite there being no evidence of any violence perpetrated by Russian forces) and the violation of international law were the same individuals arguing in favor of a vicious bombing campaign against Serbia for “humanitarian reasons.” In 1999, then Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry wrote:
Broader national interests are at stake as well. There is cause enough for American intervention on the basis of security issues, our commitment to NATO, and overwhelming humanitarian needs…the United States and its NATO allies are working to preserve international law and a standard of civilized behavior shared by the vast majority of our neighbors and allies around the globe.
So, just to be clear, the United States and NATO have the mandate to both bomb Serbia and support Kosovo’s secession, and both of these are “preserving international law.” However in Crimea, where there is actually a Russian population, Russian military assets, a long-standing cooperation treaty, and a historic connection to Russia, somehow it is a violation of international law? Such staggering double standards are hard to ignore.
This point is further illustrated by Obama’s unwavering support for South Sudan’s independence. Carved out of the Republic of the Sudan, one of Washington’s only remaining foes in Africa, South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, having declared its independence in a referendum in 2011. The United States and its allies had been leading the charge to split Sudan into two nations, lending their full political, economic, and diplomatic support to the South to move toward full independence.
At a UN summit on Sudan in 2010, President Obama stated that “the referendum on self-determination…must take place peacefully and on time…and the will of the people of southern Sudan and the region of Abyei must be respected regardless of the outcome.” Obama unequivocally demonstrated his support for the right self-determination for the people of South Sudan. Naturally, he used the rhetoric of democracy and human rights in order to do so. However, as with all conflicts around the world, Washington’s language regarding democracy and human rights was merely a cover for their geopolitical agenda.
In Sudan, the United States sought to break apart an oil-rich nation that was a critical trading partner for China, a country whose economic interests and investment in Africa had made it a rival of the United States on the continent. In Kosovo, the United States carved up a close ally of Russia for the purposes of expanding NATO hegemony in the Balkans – creating a de facto NATO colony where once there had been a Russian partner. All the talk of democracy was simply window dressing.
In contrast to Kosovo and South Sudan however, US policy on Crimea has been precisely the opposite. Rather than recognizing the rights of the Russian majority in the region and their historical, cultural, political, military and economic ties to Russia, the US cries foul. Obama’s declaration that the referendum is illegal and cannot be recognized is not only an insult to the people of Crimea, it is an insult to all those who have a historical memory and a conscience. Quite frankly, it seems about time that the US learned what democracy truly looks like.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”