Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Years of Western meddling pushed Ukraine over the edge

It is beyond wrong to hold Russia responsible for the Ukrainian instability

The current mainstream argument in the West about Ukraine is seriously misguided and dishonest. According to Western media and politicians, Russia has become an aggressive, reckless and expansionist power. Yearning for the glory days of the Soviet Union, Russia has ramped up tensions with the West with a series of bold and cunning moves directed by that inscrutable master strategist, Vladimir Putin.

Post-Cold War, so the story continues, the West had dreamed that a new and better world order was dawning, one in which the European Union and America could act as forces for good in the world, bringing order and human rights to all. But Russia squandered that opportunity. And now it is dragging Western nations back into the old world, forcing them to respond to Putin’s aggressive and reckless policies.

Virtually everything about this argument is false. The only thing that is true is that military and political tensions between Russia and the West have escalated to a level unprecedented since the end of the Cold War. But blame here lies, largely, with the West, not Russia.

The first thing to understand is that the Ukrainian crisis comes after a decade of escalating tensions. The crisis is therefore an expression of the worsening relationship between Russia and the West, rather than a cause of it. However, this worsening relationship cannot be attributed to the behaviour of Russia. In fact, it is the West that has embarked on a number of reckless and catastrophic follies that have had devastating effects on international stability.

From the 1990s onwards, Western states have promoted the idea that state sovereignty should be conditional upon a state’s treatment of its population. Under this banner, the West has embarked on several military interventions, breaching sovereignty in the name of human rights in Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo and, of course, Libya, where the catastrophic intervention of 2011 has opened Libya up to the Islamic State.

Kosovo was particularly significant. Russia had refused to support a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution supporting the intervention, arguing that allowing human rights to trump sovereignty, as US attorney Kenneth Roth put it, would permit Western states to intervene at will in weaker states. Moreover, the bombing was conducted by NATO. This marked a change in the role of NATO, from a formally defensive institution to one that could be used to engage in aggressive military operations.

Over a decade later, Russia did support UNSC resolution 1973, which paved the way for NATO to conduct a humanitarian intervention in Libya. However, NATO went beyond the mandate given by the UNSC, and aided the removal of Colonel Gaddafi from power with no thought as to what would happen next. Following this, Russia stated clearly that it would no longer support any similar Western initiatives and blocked UNSC resolutions over Syria. While many laughed when Putin cited the Responsibility to Protect doctrine when annexing Crimea, he was only reading from a script that was written in the West.

When it comes to Western interventions justified in hard security terms as opposed to humanitarian terms, you do not have to be a member of Putin’s inner circle to think the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were out of control and clueless. It is clear when one looks at Iraq that the US and its allies have destroyed a country on the basis of known lies for no clear reason (Saddam Hussein did not want to stop selling oil to the West), and the consequences are only getting worse. As Patrick Cockburn points out in his excellent new book on the Islamic State, immediately after 9/11 al-Qaeda was a marginal force. Today, the al-Qaeda offshoot IS and other related jihadi groups control vast territories containing millions of people.

NATO membership has been expanded regardless of the entirely legitimate fears and interests of Russia. However, as John Mearsheimer has pointed out, when in 2008 NATO announced that Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO members, it was a step too far for Russia. The Georgian War can be understood as a direct consequence of NATO’s provocative expansion.

Ukraine is a country of particular importance to Russia. A recent House of Lords report on the Ukraine crisis says that the West constantly misread Russia and failed to understand the importance of Ukraine. Yet in fact, Russia made it very clear (as it did over Georgia) that Ukraine joining NATO or moving closer to the EU was unacceptable.

The EU deposed Ukraine’s elected head of state with no thought as to what the consequences might be in a complicated and divided nation. Speaking in November last year about the crisis, outgoing European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said: ‘We were perfectly aware of all the risks… I spoke with Putin several times, and he told us how important for him was the customs union, the specific role he saw for Ukraine.’ Thankfully, Ukraine is no Iraq, but the war there has already cost thousands of lives and destroyed thousands of homes.

In comparison, Russia’s aggressive military exploits have been very limited, and clearly linked to maintaining a buffer zone between itself and NATO. Now, one may think that this is not a good principle for international affairs and that powerful states have no right to control their neighbours. But do you think that Mexico would be free to join the Eurasian Union? Or Greece? Moreover, the real consequences of Russia’s intervention in Georgia, for example, are nothing compared to the devastating consequences of the West’s follies in the Middle East and North Africa. This is because Russian intervention in Georgia and Ukraine has been guided by a straightforward strategy: to establish control of a buffer zone.

What we have today is a strange kind of shadow of the Cold War. Tensions between the West and Russia are very high, and the current crisis in Ukraine is frightening because it creates a situation in which tensions can easily escalate. But what is lacking, certainly in the West, is any kind of public engagement with the conflict. The Cold War played a key role in both East and West in terms of giving meaning to a specific set of differing social and political arrangements; in this sense, the whole of society was involved in the conflict. Today, however, there is little evidence of such engagement.

Rather, Western policy over Ukraine seems to be conducted largely at an elite level. Cameron’s bizarre off-the-cuff decision to send 75 military advisers to Ukraine was not done in reaction to public demands, but rather in response to a House of Lords report advising Britain to take more of a diplomatic role. I do not think that many British people would support a war in Ukraine, let alone a potential war with Russia.

There have been some half-baked attempts to talk up some kind of grand moral division between Russia and the West. For example, Western politicians attempted to use the Sochi Winter Olympics as an opportunity to bash Russia over its record on gay rights. Beyond the liberal media, this narrative utterly failed to take root in people’s minds. It’s simply not enough to try to recreate the existential battle of the Cold War.

It is also unfair. For all Putin’s talk about the decline of the West and orthodox Christian values, the Russia of today is very different to the Russia of 40 years ago. It is going through rapid social changes. The BBC loves to present Russians as some kind of race apart, brainwashed by state media, listening to folk music and crying into their vodka about how great they once were. This is nonsense and should be ignored. Russians have internet access, including to the BBC (lucky them) and to international newspapers, and many more Russians speak English than Europeans do Russian.

Currently, there seems to have been a rare outbreak of common sense within the EU. It is beginning to recognise the need for a political settlement in Ukraine. Let’s hope a settlement is reached soon, one which will eventually lead to the EU and NATO limiting their ambitions in this part of the world and allowing Ukraine to decide its future for itself.



What's Fair?

By John Stossel

Donald Trump’s kids and Paris Hilton’s siblings were born rich. That gave them a big advantage in life. Unfair!

Inequality in wealth has grown. Today the richest 1 percent of Americans own a third of the assets. That’s not fair!

But wherever people are free, that’s what happens.

Some people are luckier, smarter or just better at making money. Often they marry other wealthy, well-connected people. Over time, these advantages compound. Globalization increases the effect. This month’s issue of Forbes says the world now has 1,826 billionaires, and some struggle to find enough parking places for their jets.

President Obama calls inequality “the defining issue of our time.” Really? Not our unsustainable debt? Not ISIS? The president also said, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change!”

Politicians constantly find crises they will solve by increasing government power. But why is inequality a crisis?

Alexis Goldstein, of a group called The Other 98%, complains that corporations got richer but workers' wages “are lower than they’ve been in 65 years.”

That’s a common refrain, but it’s wrong. Over the past 30 years, CBO data shows that the average income of the poorest fifth of Americans is up by 49 percent. That doesn’t include all the innovations that have dramatically improved everyone’s life. Today even the poorest Americans have comforts and lifespans that kings didn’t have a century ago.

George Mason University economist Garett Jones says, “If I was going to be in the bottom fifth in the America of today versus the bottom fifth of America in 1970 or 1960, it’s hard to imagine that anybody would take that time machine into the past.”

And despite America’s lousy government schools and regulations that make it tough to start a business, there is still economic mobility. Poor people don’t have to stay poor. Sixty-four percent of those born in the poorest fifth of the U.S. population move out of that quintile. Eleven percent of them rise all the way to the top, according to economists at Harvard and Berkeley. Most of the billionaires atop the Forbes richest list weren’t born rich. They got rich by innovating.

Rich people aren’t guaranteed their place at the top, either. Sixty-six percent fell from the top quintile, and eight percent fell all the way to the bottom.

That mobility is a reason most of us are better off than we would have been in a more rigid society, controlled by central economic planners.

Life will always be unfair. I want to play pro basketball. It’s unfair that LeBron James is bigger and more talented! It’s also unfair that George Clooney is better looking! It’s unfair that my brother is smarter than me.

Jones points out, “I was born with an advantage, too. Being born in the United States … totally unfair.” He also has two married parents – another huge advantage.

The question is not whether people start out life in homogeneous circumstances, he adds. “The question is whether government policies that try to fix this actually make things better or worse.”

Worse, in most cases. Government “help” encourages poor people to be dependent and passive. Dependent, people stay poor. Also, most government handouts don’t even go to the poor. They go to the middle class (college loans, big mortgage tax deductions, Medicare) and the rich (corporate welfare, bailouts to banks “too big to fail”).

Instead of making government more powerful, let’s get rid of those handouts. Left and right ought to agree on that.

America has prosperity and innovation because we have relatively free markets.

Progressives say, “Keep the innovation but have government make us more equal.” But that doesn’t work. It’s been tried. Government-enforced equality – socialism – leaves everybody poor.

Equality is less important than opportunity. Opportunity requires allowing people to spend their own money and take their own risks.

Instead of talking about “fairness,” it would be better to talk about justice: respecting other people, respecting their freedom and their property rights.

Real fairness requires limiting government power.



Here We Go Again: Online Sales Tax Resurrected

An online sales tax bill passed the Senate (with 27 mostly Republicans voting "no") in 2013 but flamed out in the House. Its sponsors, however, are undeterred. The Hill reports, "Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) rolled out the Marketplace Fairness Act on Tuesday, which would give states more power to collect sales taxes from businesses that don't have a physical location within their borders."

As Mark Alexander explained two years ago, the MFA is designed to force states to collect taxes for the states in which a purchaser resides, and this amounts to taxation without representation.

Clearly, politicians want this bill passed to raise new tax revenue for broken state governments facing budget shortfalls. Mitch McConnell opposed the bill as Senate minority leader. Now that he's majority leader, we'll see if he holds true.



Leftists Hail Flawed Gun Ownership Survey

Anti-gun advocates hailed the findings of a new study released this week that claims firearm ownership in America is fading. NBC News writes, "According to the latest General Social Survey, 32 percent of Americans either own a firearm themselves or live with someone who does, which ties a record low set in 2010. That's a significant decline since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when about half of Americans told researchers there was a gun in their household."

If that sounds strikingly odd considering gun purchases remain near historic highs, that's because it is. Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says, "GSS isn't actually counting the number of firearms in each household. Rather it is counting the number of individuals willing to disclose to a stranger at their front door how many firearms they own." That's important because "it is far more likely that the political climate is driving down self-reporting."

By comparison, Gallup, which relies on anonymous phone surveys, puts gun ownership at 42%, a percentage that's more or less remained constant over the last decade. The Left is attempting to twist this survey as proof today's America just isn't that into guns. The last few election cycles suggest otherwise.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog

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1 comment:

DaraLundy said...

Wrong about Putin. Whatever Ukraine's failings, that man is evil. He has handled everything like a south american dictator. Russia is an evil land. Ukraine is a big doofus.