I have found myself getting a bit nervous as I hear various U.S. politicians rattling their swords in response to the Russian aggression in the Crimea. Before we lose our minds in this crisis let’s consider a few things.
First, there was a revolution in the Ukraine that, no matter how justifiable, put into office a new government that from the beginning was quite hostile to Russia and to ethnic Russians in the Ukraine.
Second, ever since the final years of the Soviet Union, the USSR and later Russia have pulled back militarily from Eastern Europe, only to see an expansion of NATO that the U.S.A. promised would not happen. An expansion, it should be added, that has been pressing up against Russia’s borders.
Third, Western Europe has a demonstrated history of provoking or encouraging secessionist movements, as it did in the former Yugoslavia, and/or encouraging smaller nations to provoke Russia, as it did in the case of the Georgian Republic.
Now, none of this excuses Russian aggression. None of this lets Russian President Putin off the hook for inflaming ethnic nationalism in Russia and the Ukraine. But what this does help us to understand are the conditions in which this aggression took place and that the West, specifically Western Europe and the U.S. are not blameless.
U.S. is not blameless
The United States has been willing to engage in all sorts of military aggression within the Western Hemisphere when the ruling elite believed that its interests were in danger, whether that was against Haiti in the 19th century through today; Cuba; or the countless interventions in the Caribbean and Central America. Despite this history, U.S. politicians have been acting as if they have never even heard the word “aggression” in the context of U.S. foreign policy.
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, has offered rhetoric that would lead the uninformed to believe that U.S. foreign policy has been guided by nothing but sweetness in comparison to the policies of the Russians. I believe that Senator McCain, and the Obama administration for that matter, need to re-read a bit of the history of U.S. foreign policy.
Before we hear any more discussion of sanctions and military force in connection with the Russian/Ukrainian crisis, it is instead time for a different approach. There needs to be an actual honest broker who starts speaking with both sides to pull everyone back from the brink. If that is not the United Nations, then perhaps it can be an assortment of countries from Europe and the global South. “Discussions” and “negotiations,” in either case, should be the watch-words.
In the meantime, class is in session for our politicians on the history of U.S. foreign policy. Anyone ever heard of the works of Howard Zinn, for instance?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.