I said on Monday that there is “something seriously wrong” with Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as others on the right who are suffering from an Obama-induced detachment from reality. Graham had blamed the invasion of Ukraine on the President, saying, “We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”
Whatever is wrong with Senator Graham (and, please, let’s stop blaming it on his primary election and the need to please radicals in his party; that makes what he’s doing worse, not better), the disorder has deepened. Yesterday he tweeted:
In comes the bizarre conservative obsession with Benghazi, which means that rational thought is on vacation. Even in times that call for some semblance of national unity, in the face of thuggish behavior by a thuggish despot, we get Benghazi. How sad that is.
But I don’t want to just pick on conservatives, when it comes to foreign policy obsessions. On the far left we have an equally strange and disunifying foreign policy obsession: Barack Obama and George W. Bush are the same people, just different colors.
A long-time follower of this blog, and a man of the left, Gerry Malan, commented on my piece on the right-wing’s hysterical reaction to what happened in Ukraine. He said,
We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.
When I asked him to provide such proof, he responded with this:
Not sure how you missed the Nuland recording where she and our Ukraine ambassador discussed cutting out the EU and putting in our own selected thugs. Here it is from Foreign Policy on Focus:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/02/21-8
Today on Common Dreams Ray McGovern explains more of the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/03/02-2
I highly recommend reading more from RT and less from Morning Joe.
So, I spent some time following those links and reading the content. And I’m still waiting for “proof” that the Obama administration tried to install “our own selected thugs,” or that there is any such thing as “the Obama/State Department grab for the Crimea.”
On the day it was released, I listened to the famous secretly-recorded phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt (hear it here or read a transcript here). That call featured Nuland saying “Fuck the EU.” Besides that one bit of profanity, what I heard during that call is not what some liberals, way too many I’m sad to say, heard in it.
As Gerry Malan’s comment makes clear, and as the writers he references also make clear, what some folks heard was a secret and grand attempt at American imperialism, executed by “neoconservatives” in the Obama administration. But what I heard was not some worrisome conspiracy to bring down a democratically-elected president, but two people discussing events in Ukraine that were not started by the United States, nor part of a plot to set up a “client regime” in that country, but events that lent themselves to some democracy- and better government-favoring manipulation by the United States. And I’d be disappointed if we were not doing that kind of “meddling” in such events, since I have a fondness for democracy and good government and believe we should help those Ukrainians who also have a fondness for those things. Especially when it doesn’t involve American troops and trillions of dollars.
As for that Russian-leaked phone call, let’s remember what Jonathan Marcus pointed out was the reason for it:
The clear purpose in leaking this conversation is to embarrass Washington and for audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message to portray the US as interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
“For audiences susceptible to Moscow’s message.” I don’t want to be in that audience. I tend to side with my own guys when a Russian thug is hard at work trying to embarrass them. I’m sorry that some liberals don’t have that same disposition. Unlike too many lefties, I will need a whole lot more than what I heard in that phone call to get me to buy what the Russians, and to some extent folks in the far-left press, are selling.
And one guy on the far left trying to sell this conspiracy is Patrick Smith, who wrote one of the articles that Gerry Malan linked to and presumably helped him conclude that, “We have proof of two US State Department high officials confirming their plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” Smith is a long-time journalist and foreign correspondent, but to give you an idea of the kind of pieces he writes these days, he recently wrote an article for Salon.com titled, “The world is right to hate us: Arrogance, ignorance and obscene foreign policy,” and subtitled, “This White House was supposed to be different. But our arrogant foreign policy has been the same since the 1950s.” That sort of gives you an idea where Smith stands.
Now, on to what he writes about that intercepted phone call and the recent events in Ukraine:
…we get to hear two American diplomats talking about Washington’s plan, already in motion, to install a client regime in the Ukraine.
Ah. There is that “install a client regime in Ukraine” stuff. But think about it. Even if there were proof of such a plot, it is hard to see just what we would do with such a client regime, especially when the opposition who would lead such a regime are, in the words of Patrick Smith, full of “oligarchs of the new Russian model.” Just why would we want to get mixed up with those guys in such an intimate way?
But even Patrick Smith isn’t quite bold enough to make the claim that there is “proof” that such a vast neocon-led conspiracy was and is going on:
With Kiev again erupting in violent confrontation, an understanding of the possible role of covert activities is essential to a complete picture.
“Possible role of cover activities”? Possible? Proof is more than speculation. Proof is more than saying it is wise to have “an understanding of the possible role of covert activities” in the confrontation going on in Ukraine and in what Gerry Malan and other liberals are calling a “plan to install a new client regime in the Ukraine.” If there is proof, present it. That intercepted phone call is not proof. But there is evidence all over the place that what led to the fall of the government in Ukraine was homegrown frustration with corruption and malfeasance. Whether the protesters went too far and committed their share of violence, and whether there are neo-fascists and other miscreants among their ranks, is another question. We are debating here whether the United States government deliberately toppled a democratically-elected president.
I admit I am suspicious of anyone, like Patrick Smith, who tries to make the case for a conspiracy to install that new client regime but who also says that “demonizing Yanukovich is a distraction.” What? Viktor Yanukovich, the former Ukrainian president, caused turmoil in the country, ordered the killing of civilians, and looted the treasury. I don’t find demonizing him a distraction and I’m suspicious of the motives of any writer who could so cavalierly dismiss his role in the mess.
I also find suspicious the writer’s motives when he says things like this:
There is a tendency among the East European nations to idealize the West, as if westernizing is the solution to all problems. I see this among the Kiev demonstrators. It is a mistake. Disillusion is never far when people follow this line of thought to its end.
That sounds like good old-fashioned lefty-loathing of Western civilization, a disease that some liberals just can’t shake. And for some of them the disease gets worse when a Democrat is in the White House. I wish I had the cure for such an illness, but I don’t. Western civilization, for all its faults, is better than the alternative. Therefore I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. I wish all Westerners did.
As for the actual speculation on this client regime stuff, Mr. Smith writes:
More interesting by far are the machinations Nuland and Pyatt describe. The American plot revolves around manipulating various figures in the opposition, backing the fortunes of some, keeping others from the table, and thereby inducing a friendly, post–Yanukovich government of one kind or another, compromised from its very conception.
And what exactly is wrong with such manipulation, so long as it is not accomplished at the point of a gun? I’d like for any liberal to explain to me why it isn’t a proper component of our foreign policy, as part of a larger Western strategy, to attempt to curb the appetite of a Russian despot? Mr. Smith also says:
The West unites around the thought of undermining Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions and pushing institutions such as NATO up to his doorstep.
So? Isn’t that what we should be doing? Isn’t “undermining” people like Putin a worthy objective? Or have liberals become so critical of Western civilization that they can no longer distinguish between the good and the bad? At one point Ambassador Pyatt says during the phone call with Assistant Secretary of State Nuland:
I’m just thinking in terms of sort of the process moving ahead we want to keep the moderate democrats together.
Is that some awful conspiracy? Keeping those “moderate democrats together.” What next? Will we have the gall to advocate for a chicken in every Ukrainian pot? Seriously, this left-wing criticism is surreal. Since when are liberals opposed to democracy and good government and thwarting the ambitions of thugs? So what that we publicly said we were peace-loving brokers regarding the uprising, while behind the scenes we are trying to make good things happen more than we dared to publicly admit. God, I hope we do that stuff all the time. We have national interests, even if sometimes they are only what should be non-controversial interests (at least for Americans) in seeing to it, the best we can, that good democratic governance has a chance to flourish where it is wanted. To me, that is better—and much different—than invading Iraq and forcing it on people, like the real George W. Bush did.
What I find appalling about all this is the idea that what the United States was trying to do, shape events as best they could in favor of better democratic angels in Ukraine, is worse than what the Russians were and are doing, including endorsing the use of deadly force against Ukrainian civilians and still implicitly threatening such force. If this is what hard-core liberalism has become, count me out. I think I can still tell the good guys from the bad ones, even if, in this case, one of the “good guys” is Victoria Nuland, a career foreign service officer who, after she worked for Bill Clinton, then worked for neocons like Bush and Cheney, before working for Barack Obama. In any case, even if we were talking about bad guys, we aren’t exactly talking about torture or starting a war on false pretenses here, even though one of the commenters on Smith’s piece wrote,
Obomba is a thug who heads a thug state (see Engelhardt’s article of yesterday here at CD), and it seems that by now this ought to be clear to anyone who has been paying attention to his appointments, his bellicose foreign policy, and assassination program. No different in fact from Bush the Lesser and an entire lineage of U.S. presidents who threw their weight around all over the planet, plundering, occupying, killing, etc. That is (why) Nuland was appointed as she was. She is the perfect agent of a rogue state.
What a load of America-loathing bullshit. But this thinking, engendered by the kind of writing Patrick Smith does these days, represents what some folks on the far left think. They fail to differentiate between bad, better, and best. It sounds so much like what I hear a lot of Obama-hating conservatives say. As I said, count me out as wanting to join that kind of liberalism, which I find every bit as darkly conspiratorial as anything Glenn Beck could fantasize into existence. And thank God or Allah that Obama isn’t that kind of liberal either, just like he isn’t the same kind of neoconservative thinker that led us to a foolish war during the Bush administration.
For the record, as many mistakes as America has made in its foreign policy, and believe me there have been a lot, trying to seek out and help “moderate democrats” in Ukraine doesn’t rise to the level of the “assassination program,” for God’s sake. Those of us on the left, who value the principles of good-government democracy, shouldn’t let an obsession with misguided neo-conservative “regime change” philosophy get in the way of appreciating the fact that we, as a nation of freedom-loving democrats, should still be friends of liberty everywhere, even if we screw things up now and then.
The deal about all this “fuck the EU” business is that the U.S. diplomats were expressing frustration at the slow-walking EU folks, who want to avoid a confrontation with Russia and a mean-spirited despot like Putin, who controls much of their energy needs. In that context, we all should be applauding what these two U.S. diplomats were trying to do, not accuse them of evil. It’s not exactly like they were trying to establish the Ukrainian version of the bleeping Third Reich.
As for Gerry Malan’s other link to an article by former CIA analyst Ray McGovern—who was a daily briefer for George H. W. Bush but who now thinks Julian Assange is a “hero”—I will only quote one passage:
In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”
Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?
What? There is no evidence, not to mention proof, that the United States pushed “the putsch” that ended Yanukovych’s presidency. Protests in Ukraine initially began in November of last year, after Yanukovych backed away from signing a free trade agreement with the European Union, mostly under pressure from Putin. There were also issues with the Ukrainian constitution. But, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune pointed out, wanting closer ties with Western Europe wasn’t enough to get “[m]iddle-class professionals, blue-collar workers, students and retirees” out to “form ranks of street fighters armed with Molotov cocktails.” The biggest reason for the unrest was a familiar one:
The demonstrations reflected the appalling state of governance in Ukraine. The Yanukovych government was a kleptocracy. Policy goals were subordinate to the enrichment of the president and a privileged elite, known colloquially as “the family.” In international rankings of corruption, Ukraine was recognized as one of the most corrupt regimes on Earth.
There you have it. The tumult in Ukraine was not a coup d’état (as Russian expert and Putin apologist Stephen Cohen claimed) plotted by Barack Obama and the U.S. government. And if someone, anyone, claims it was then they have to offer up more evidence than a Russian-provided telephone call between two American diplomats.