MYTH # 1: It's all about the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Uh... no, not quite!
As noted (at least once) elsewhere on this website, I accept the notion of 'American exceptionalism' (but- note well, dear reader- the small 'e'!): that is, in the sense of the so-called "exceptional child"- one who is noteworthily prodigious or otherwise gifted. For the American Declaration of Independence does, in fact, mark off a Novus Ordo Seclorum- a new order for the ages, an era in which Equal Justice under (Rule of) Law was herein, at last, being seriously contemplated (even if only in theory, and not yet in fullest practice) with what we Americans call 'the Bill of Rights' being the first real attempt to constitutionalize just such a concept on a National level.
Americans were, therefore, the first People to attempt- via written instruments, specialized legal codes known as 'Constitution's (both at the State and, not all that much later, a Federal level)- to most fully implement the notion of "a government of laws and not of persons" (this very notion attributed to Christopher Codrington the Younger, [English] Governor of the Leeward Islands at the Turn of the 18th Century, who opined- in a communication to his superiors at the Board of Trade back in London- that the colonial system within which he himself was an administrator should well strive to be that of an Empire of the Law and not of men... all magistrates bound by [the Law], an Emperor as well as a petty Constable). In this regard, then, the United States of America is, indeed, historically "exceptional" (although- again, note well- so being exceptional is not at all synonymous with inherent superiority!).
At the same time, however, it is, indeed, possible to be an American Patriot whilst not necessarily seeing the United States of America as the very Center of the Universe!
And it is in relation to same that *I* take fullest exception to two other forms the aforementioned phrase "American exceptionalism" has itself long taken.
There is ever the capital 'E' "American Exceptionalism"-- that which can best be expressed as We made the Rules, so we can break 'em. In this view, not only is America exceptional in the manner in which I myself have defined it above, but it is also- thereby- able to except itself from those norms generally grouped together under the rubric 'International Law' (as well as, perhaps, those dealing with "government of Law and not of persons"- where those persons so dealt with are not themselves Americans).
Even more extreme is that I will here denote as (if only for lack of a better spelling) "American Xceptionalism"-- which can best be expressed in two ways: 1. It's my way or the highway and 2. It's my ball and, if I don't like the game, I'll just pick it up and take it home with me. In this view, nothing should be done "out there" in the World without something of an American Imprimatur.
It is within these last two variations on the American exceptionalism "theme" that one most hears the plaintive cry: "Why do we have to follow the rules when they [whomever the "they" du jour might happen to be] don't follow them?!"... to which one should answer (as I myself once did nearly a decade ago now) 'We answer to a higher authority!'
At the time I first wrote that piece linked to in the preceding paragraph, I got myself in no little "trouble" with that one: one 'Vox Populi'er- in response to that piece- asked:
What principle underlies the Higher Authority argument? Is the American acclaimed Creator greater than the Muslim acclaimed Allah? That sounds like religious bigotry. Has American civilization achieved a superior sense of rights, of which Middle East savages are ignorant? That reeks of racism.
Is it that Americans have declared that all people are endowed with unalienable rights (life, liberty, justice) therefore Americans must respect those rights, while people who haven't acknowledged the rights can ignore them? If we, by declaration, created the Higher Authority and extended the endowed rights, can't we likewise revoke that authority and retract those rights? If we cannot, is it because the rights were acknowledged, not created, by our declaration and are true for all people everywhere whether we acknowledge them or not? If the rights exist without acknowledgment, have a common source and are held in common, isn't any violator accountable to the source of the rights; the same authority Americans answer to?
The answer is YES. Human rights extend to all humans, and all humans are accountable for their violations of human rights. No national deity or level of civilization puts a special obligation on some people to answer to a Higher Authority.
To all of which I most heartily agree (as I had also agreed at the time).
I truly felt that the 'Vox Populi'er had very much missed my point, however: thus I wrote, in direct response to the above, that I reject such a claim that the "Creator" of Thomas Jefferson and the others in the Continental Congress of mid-Summer 1776 who tweaked and otherwise modified Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence is, in any way, superior to the Muslim's "Allah" [the reason being that "Creator" and "Allah" alike is one God] and that I had already (by mid-2004) written one or more Commentaries for this website (most notably, back on 10 April 2002) in opposition to the despicable (and, yes, racist) concept that, somehow, the Islamic World is inherently incapable of Liberty, Justice and Republican Democracy (though I do feel that Islam, as a Civilization, has yet to have fully hashed out that which we here in the West call "Church and State" [in the Middle East context, I suppose we should use the phrase "Mosque and State"], the Separation of which is, in my opinion, a key component of such concepts as Liberty, Justice and Republican Democracy...)
But, to his original question- that is: 'What principle underlies the Higher Authority argument?', I answered with the following:
The principle involved is one along the lines of "If you are going to profess it, you'd better be living it!" and the "Higher Authority" of which I spoke is not "the Creator" which has, according to the Declaration of Independence, "endowed" persons with "unalienable Rights" but- as you yourself seem to be pointing out- these very unalienable Rights in and of themselves... [I]f America is going to profess... the bringing of "Liberty and Justice for all" to [at the time, Iraq], then America had better always be seen as acting on the best possible carrying out of just such Liberty and Justice.
Likewise, today, the United States of America had best be "touched" by Abraham Lincoln's "better angels of our nature" within our own approach[es] to- in this case- the ever more dangerous Ukraine Crisis!
Having said all this, however: Russia annexed Crimea because it could... not because of any strength- or lack thereof- on the part of the United States! And a 'McCain Administration' or 'Romney Administration' would have done no better than the Obama Administration in preventing it (no matter the opinions of the blinder anti-Obama acolytes in this regard)!
Despite the referendum in Crimea in favor of once again becoming part of Russia having been so obviously rigged, the fact remains that, therein, you have a population that is, in fact, majority Russian- ethnically, as well as linguistically- whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents (where not they themselves, if these be amongst those old enough to have been already alive at the time) were not all that happy with their peninsula having become attached to Ukraine back by Kremlin fiat back in 1954 and became even less so with the collapse of the Soviet Union and, as a result, the re-emergence of Ukraine (including Crimea) as an independent Nation-State in the early 1990s. Even had the referendum been both fairly conducted (which it wasn't) and the questions asked within same not themselves leading (for there was no option for those in Crimea who might have wished to remain part of a unitary Ukraine to have expressed such an opinion via that plebiscite), it is altogether clear that the Crimean Autonomous Republic joining Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation would have been approved by a sizeable margin in any event (thus, what amounted to "ballot-stuffing 'overkill' " was, likely, wholly unnecessary).
None of this, however, alters the fact that- so long as Victor Yanukovich remained President of Ukraine- Putin's government had no interest whatsoever in annexing Crimea and that- only once Yanukovich had been ousted by the Ukraninian Parliament in response to what had gone on in the Maidan back in late February- was any such interest within the Oligarchate in and around Moscow even evinced. Truth be told, and for all the flag-waving Russian Nationalism across that peninsula both leading up to and since that referendum, Putin didn't (and still doesn't) give a rat's left 'bleep' for the strongest feelings and deepest aspirations among Russian-speaking Crimeans...
no... instead, Putin cared (and still cares) about one thing and one thing above all else: the Russian Naval Base at Sevastopol (the only year-round ice-free port on the Black Sea) which he and his government now saw threatened by the new interim government in Ukraine. Annexing Crimea, therefore, was but a political means to a military (as well as geopolitical) end- one with little political risk for Putin himself or his government (for annexing Crimea is almost- although not quite- as wildly popular across Russia as it is amongst the Russian population of the peninsula itself), as well as even smaller military risk (for Putin well knew- as did just about everyone else [including this writer]- that the USA and its European allies were not going to go to war merely to keep Crimea within Ukraine, no matter how much "fist-shaking" the West might, as a result, thereafter engage in): he also knew that whatever sanctions might be imposed- as they were- by the West would not yet directly impact the Russian economy "on the ground" (something that would also tick off those within Russia opposed to Putin, those who have actually applauded Western sanctions-- that is: so long as the average Russian doesn't get hurt!)
In the main, then, the Russian annexation of Crimea was all the stuff of that which might well be lumped together under the rubric "geopolitics is local"!
MYTH # 2: THE WEST in general (and the United States of America in particular) is principally responsible for the Ukraine Crisis
Blaming the West- that is, the European Union and the United States- for what has gone on in Ukraine of late is so easy...
after all, it is very clear that the Ukraine Crisis is- at its heart- but another chapter in the long story (one going back into at least the late Medieval Period) of various and sundry European Powers (later, 'Great Power's) fighting each other (as well as- from time to time- also having to stave off external forces, principally [originally Czarist] Russia and [originally Ottoman] Turkey) for control over Central and Eastern Europe, a story as important to the flow of modern European History as is that of European/Western Global Expansion and Empire occurring at the same time.
The historical narrative of Western Expansion itself has tended to at least blur- where not, if only at times, outright overshadow- the often even more important effects of this wrestling between Nations and even whole Civilizations (or "World"s, as I myself termed these last in the opening paragraphs of that aforementioned Commentary of mine written for this website back in 2002) over the European Plain-- for two main reasons:
- 1. The story of Western Expansion is-- well-- "sexier", for it is the stuff of adventure and adventurers: a Columbus or a Magellan, a Drake or a Cook; it is also the stuff of great Empires on which "the sun never set" and various and sundry "places in the sun", possession of which seemingly gave the metropole, the homeland (even 'the Fatherland'!) its own "Place in the Sun"; although, yes, it also involves dealing with such unpleasant- even thorny- issues as (mis)treatment of aboriginal peoples and now-discredited (or so one hopes!) exploitative techniques as race-based Chattel Slavery.
- 2. Post-World War II Western Historiography itself came to be dominated by that one Superpower that itself came to dominate the West- the United States itself (and- here, if only in this rather limited sense- it is "all about the United States of America"!): the USofA is itself a by-product of Western Expansion (thus, the long struggle for control of the European Plain is, for the most part, not America's story) and- even before America's entry into World War II would wholly change its relationship to the rest of the Globe in ways that could not well be foreseen on 6 December 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor- there was a longstanding tendency to avoid (where not even an attempt to deny) a more direct connection to Europe (except, of course, for Great Britain: for American Historians could not well ignore the English/British antecedents to what would emerge as American Law and American Society after American Independence was internationally confirmed in the Second Peace of Paris in 1783). Those trying to "sell" Americans on what might be necessary to contain the immediately post-World War II threat of what was termed "the Soviet (or, more broadly, Communist) Bloc" used this same narrative to underline the need for such things as the United Nations and the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (as usual, what was- in many ways- altogether novel was "sold" as something, rather, quite old: yet, at the same time, those doing the "selling" were not altogether wrong either!)
So now- here, re: Ukraine in early 2014- we have the lineal successor to the European 'Great Power' System- the European Union- facing a direct threat to its own political and economic oversight of Central and Eastern Europe from the Russian Federation (itself the principal successor to the defunct Soviet Union which had provided- and, indeed, had carried out- much the same threat during the Cold War and which itself was the direct successor to All the Russias of the Czars) to the east.
There is, therefore, a reason former Warsaw Pact members- such as Poland and Hungary, the two Nation-States formerly joined together as 'Czechoslovakia', Romania and Bulgaria (not to also mention three former Republics of the Soviet Union itself: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)- fairly jumped at the chance, once the Cold War had ended, to join both the EU and NATO!
Yes, 'tis true that the late 20th Century into early 21st Century equivalents of the "hot" Diplomatic Cable were replete with warnings that EU- and, especially, NATO- Expansion might well lead to, among other things, Ukraine splitting in two; but saying that something could, or might, happen is not the same as saying it will happen: for Warning is not Prediction! As for Russia itself not being all that happy with just such a thing: well--- that one was the quintessential "no-brainer"; but this does not at all alter the fact that those aforementioned countries formerly within the orbit of what came to be called "the Soviet Empire" voluntarily chose to join both organizations now headquartered in Brussels (whereas, the incorporation of the Baltic States- again, nowadays EU and NATO members of their own respective accords- into the Soviet Union in 1940 was decidedly not voluntary [and, indeed, involved no little of the methodologies we can now- more than six decades later- watch just about 'live' on our television screens from such places as Donetsk]):
Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me!
Therefore: blaming the West for the Ukrainian Crisis, while so easy, is also very much the quintessential "cheap shot"!
Even if we accept (if only for sake of this particular argument) the various and sundry 'Conspiracy Theories' currently making the rounds- not just out of Russia and pro-Russian sources within Ukraine itself, but even here on this side of the Atlantic- along the lines of the whole 'Maidan Movement' being just one vast Central Intelligence Agency paradigm (as if everyone in all of Ukraine so loved Yanukovich- and, for that matter, Putin- and would have but forgiven Yanukovich's "palace", with its private zoo and its built-in tanning salons, had it not been for Western/American meddling with, and in, a Ukraine that actually had it so good without forging closer at least economic ties to the EU), the fact is that there are many, many Ukrainians who see a far better future for themselves, as well as their own children and grandchildren, whilst more tied to Europe rather than to Russia (no matter the very strong historical and/or cultural connections between Ukraine and Russia).
As I noted in my first Commentary on the Ukraine Crisis more than two months ago now: [S]uch demonstrations in Kiev and elsewhere across Ukraine that ended up causing the downfall of Yanukovich are all about those seeing the comparative prosperity just to their west (even in the midst of more than a half-decade of Recession) and comparing it to that which is less desirable to their east and then making their own decisions about in which direction to now turn, "their own decisions", as therein described, having nothing to do with whatever CIA operatives might- or might not- have been doing of late in Ukraine!
Russia- either as a country or as a culture- may well be angry at such Ukrainians as described above for having, in effect, so turned their backs on Mother Russia (which, in the Russian conception of things, gave their own country birth) but it is Russia that is in real danger of losing control (and fast!) over events on the ground as the crisis has now spread into eastern Ukraine and even down along the Black Sea coast of Ukraine from Mariupol to Odesa (and it is this last that very much concerns the West- EU and USA alike: the seeming attempt to turn what would become a rump Ukraine, shorn of its easternmost- but also southernmost- oblasts, into a landlocked country much as is Belarus [to Ukraine's immediate north] already [and I've already noted, however in passing within my second Commentary on the Ukraine Crisis, NATO's concern with just how such a thing might also serve to foment separatism in the Transnistria region of neighboring Moldova to Ukraine's southwest]).
[And, speaking of Belarus (as well as things only noted in passing): this is the one country that seems to have been largely forgotten in all of this! Belarus has, by now, long been governed by those who have themselves long coveted becoming part of the Russian Federation: indeed, many- as well as perennial- have been the predictions that Belarus would, sooner or later, be just another Autonomous Republic within Russia, as Crimea itself has so lately become (although, among many other reasons, one reason Belarus has not done so is that it would then lose its seat in the UN General Assembly: both Belarus and Ukraine were admitted as original Member-States in the United Nations- with seats in the General Assembly separate from that of the Soviet Union of which they were each then still a part at the UN's birth- to, in part, offset both British India and the then-U.S. Commonwealth of the Philippines [each of which was also not yet independent and, yet, each had also already signed on, individually, to the anti-Axis Declaration of United Nations during World War II] also so joining the UN as original members back in 1945).]
For: what must the Russian Oligarchate now be making of such as the self-proclaimed 'People's Republic of Donetsk' or masked men in military fatigues waving red flags with the Soviet-era hammer and sickle alongside their own home-brew black, blue and red tricolor (a banner, by the way, that was most provocatively flown in the streets of the capital of Latvia, an EU/NATO Member-State, on this past "Victory Day" [9 May])? These oligarchs surrounding- and, to an extent, even propping up- Vladimir Putin had signed up for a form of Monopolistic Capitalism, not a rebirth of Stalinist Totalitarianism! So these same oligarchs had better hope that such fervent waving of Communist banners- along with the very use of 'People's Republic'- is far more along the lines of those "Drive 75, Freeze a Yankee" bumper stickers emblazoned with the Confederate Battle Flag I would see, from time to time, while driving through Baja Alabama but a few miles inland from the coastal resort towns along the Gulf of Mexico during a vacation of mine in Florida's "Panhandle" a few years back now rather than a genuine, and strong, sentiment for Secession- not only, in the case of pro-Russians in eastern (and, yes, southern) Ukraine, from Ukraine but, ultimately, also from the very economic system of the post-Soviet Russian Federation itself!