16.02.2015

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"? Sanctions and “twisting arms” or: On being on the right or wrong side in the “world of rules”

According to our business and political elites, we in Europe and North America (and, ideally, in all of “global society”) are living in a “world of rules”. According to our business and political elites, we in Europa and North America are living in a free and democratic society. According to our business and political elites, some countries have “left this world of rules” and thus have to be punished.


This "world of rules" (and Russia's "leaving it") was what Radoslaw Sikorski, former foreign minister of Poland, mainly spoke about at a talk on the Ukraine crisis at Harvard University in November of 2014. Yet, time and again, it is becoming increasingly clear, that these “rules” are just political tools – as President Obama put it recently, we occasionally have to twist the arms of countries that wouldn't do what we need them to do.“ Since 2004, a "Presidential proclamation allows the US government to ban foreign nationals whose corrupt conduct hurts US interests, without providing proof of the charges."


Radoslaw Sikorski (left) elaborating on and defining who is on the good and the bad side of the "world of rules", at Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma.,  November 20th, 2014

So it is up to Washington and New York, but also their transatlanticist (neo-)“liberal“ allies in Londo
n, Frankfurt and elsewhere (e.g. Warsaw) and some of their lackeys in the media, to define what is treated as corruption and what is not – i.e. there is “good“ corruption, white-collar crime and fraud, as long as it happens on Wall Street, K Street, in the City of London, at Frankfurt high-rises, at Brussels institutions, or in Ukraine, and “bad“ corruption or white-collar crime, in Greece, Russia, Hungaryor Venezuela etc. You can not only be on the right or wrong side of history, but also of corruption, geopolitics or the war on terror, as above countries and countless civilians in embattled conflict regions elsewhere have learned the hard way (by having their “arms twisted“ or as “collateral damage“ of austerity or "democracy promotion").
Many countries/regimes or armies/groups haved turned from Paulus to Saulus in recent decades, because they started challenging US domination or hegemony: the Mujaheddin, anti-Soviet allies in the 1980s, became the “Taliban“ and enemies in the 1990s, with a war against them starting in 2001; Iraq, an ally against Iran in the 1980s, turned enemy in the 1990s, with a war toppling the regime in 2003; Libya, a business partner until well into the 2000s, turned enemy at the beginning of the next decade, with the regime toppled in 2011; the Syrian opposition fighters, supported with arms, then turned enemies (ISIS/ISIL); Russia, a “friend and partner“ in the 1990s and in the “war on terror“ of the early 2000s, increasingly was seen as an enemy from the late 2000s, with NATO expansion into the Baltics and the war in Georgia, and now the current, even bigger conflict over Ukraine. Others, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, have always held US support despite the former's illegal settlement policy and war crimes in Palestine, and the latter's funding of Islamist terrorism (not to mention the human rights violations). They have always been exempt from “the rules“, and “more equal than others“.

The discord between the U.S. and Europe over their different approaches became increasingly visible ahead of Minsk II in early February


President Obama recently admitted that the US was more than just an benevolent bystander and its politicians more than purely coincidental visitors to Kiev (V. Nuland/J. McCain) in the "Maidan" conflict between pro-Western protesters and the government in Ukraine. These protests, that had started in late 2013, escalated in late January/early February of 2014 and led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich almost exactly a year ago, on February 22nd/23rd. A treaty signed by all parties to the conflict, that would have set up a transitional government, was breached by the radical wing of the protesters, who toppled Yanukovich anyway - but as they were on the right side of the Western “world of rules“, they didn't have to stick to them. Subsequently, as a backlash of this coup and thus the expansion into what Russia perceives as its sphere of influence, the Kremlin annexed Crimea (important due to its Russian naval port Sevastopol), and an “anti-Maidan“, pro-Russian insurgency in the Donbass Region, in Eastern Ukraine, ensued. The US/NATO is allowed to expand its sphere of influence, Russia is not. On the other hand, the Kremlin hasn't acted in the most conciliatory manner either within the last few years; but diplomatic failures have also been committed by the EU/Brussels in its dealings with Russia over the envisaged EU membership of Ukraine. Most recently, though, for the first time since the run-up to George W. Bush's Iraq War in 2003, remarkable cracks in the transatlantic foreign policy axis are highly visible again.

We are seeing increasing US skepticism towards Brussels, Paris and Berlin over the current initiative (the Minsk peace talks) in the Ukraine crisis, and vice versa. Not only are Merkel and Hollande being criticized by the hawks in the US Congress and government, now Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, distanced himself from the US stance towards Russia, on German TV, on February 8: "[T]his war is not happening right at the borders of the United States of America. This is why I want to make it very clear: It's a European problem, and I am of the opinion, that the United States have to restrain themselves a bit. Russia, by the way, is not, [as Pres. Obama has said], a 'regional power', it is a veto player in the [U.N., PB] Security Council, and has a nuclear arsenal, therefore I am asking myself: What is the reason for this provocation? I think it is much better that we Europeans solve this problem among ourselves." (translation from the German: PB) 


A French-German peace initiative led to talks at Minsk on February 11/12, 2015, and to a truce in the Eastern ukrainian civil war;
from left to right: A. Lukashenko (Pres. of Belarus), Pres. Putin, Chancellor Merkel, Pres. Hollande and Pres. Poroshenko 

The US meddling in Ukraine is apparently a part, according to Obama a legitimate part, of Washington's "twisting arms" modus operandi, as are the sanctions against Russia (and Iran, and Venezuela). While those countries are punished for resistance to economic or military expansion by the big stick that US Presidents, according to Teddy Roosevelt (Pres. 1901-1909) should always carry, others are drawn (back) or closer into the US corporatocratic hegemonic sphere by offering the proverbial “carrots“, such as Cuba, in lifting the decade-long embargo, or the “Trojan Horse“ for the EU which is the TTIP trade agreement (similarly the CETA between Canada and the EU), that disempowers states against corporations by creating a parallel justice system.
But back to these so-called “rules“, that Mr Sikorski and others are so keen on. If we see international law as a serious precept to be followed, with the breach of it to be consequently sanctioned, the US and many of its allies in Europe, as well as Israel, should be pariahs on the international stage by now – instead, it is Russia (or at least the US, the UK and most East European states (except Hungary, Greece (see above) and Serbia) are trying to push Russia into that position, with Austria, France, Italy and Germany a.o. taking a more moderate, mediating stance, as we saw in Minsk last week), Iran and Venezuela.

Even if we regard what happened before the Bush era, i.e. in the late 20
th century, as already “elapsed by time“, so to speak (i.e. part of history), that still leaves us with the 2003 war in Iraq and almost all the measures of the “war on terror“ of the last thirteen years, the torture scandals of the Bush and Obama eras, and the drone killings that have effectively “executed“ many terror suspects, but even more civilians, in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan without any trial. These breaches of international law have only been half-heartedly been condemned by the European (some more, some less) “friends and allies“, largely due to the fact that they were conducted partly from and through Europe (many of the drone pilots are steering the drones from US bases in Germany) or that some European countries were an active part of the “coalition of the willing“, at least for a couple of years, most prominently the UK and Poland, a.o. under the auspices of the above-mentioned, rule-loving Mr. Sikorski, who, from 2002 to 2005, was a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative, and, a.o., climate-change-denying, think tank, and director of the New Atlantic Initiative, an Atlanticist organization within the AEI. He is now, surprise, surprise, among the toughest anti-Russian hawks in the Ukraine conflict.

But as none of these breaches had any punitive consequences for the perpetrators, because they were committed by “the good“, who have “God“ (or more fittingly, the the law of the jungle), “democracy“, the “free markets“ or “liberalism“ on their side, it seems as if Bob Dylan's epic, Old-Testament-evoking lines "the masters make the rules/for the wise men and the fools" (from"It's alright, Ma", 1965) are still valid, and possibly will be until the end of time, or at least until the end of the unipolar hegemonic global order, and the (admittedly, pretty utopian) coming of Kant's “Perpetual Peace“ („Zum ewigen Frieden“). Two of the basic propositions to be implemented for a lasting peace are firstly, „no independent states, large or small, shall come under the dominion of another state by inheritance, exchange, purchase or donation“ and secondly, “no state shall by force interfere with the constitution or government of another state.“ The US president has, during his current term as a “lame duck“, openly and frankly talked about his country breaching these propositions in the pursuit of political and economic interests. Thus, the "perpetual peace" will remain an utopia, especially with "benevolent hegemons" like these.  


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