The fallout from flouting international law
As I watch all the usual suspects fulminate about the Russians invading a sovereign nation without provocation I can't help but think of this article about the end of America's foreign policy hypocrisy by Henry Farrell a few weeks back. He was writing about the Snowden revelations and how they have laid bare the hollowness of America's claims to noble behavior in foreign policy. He felt that this brave new world without secrets would inevitably lead to a necessity for this powerful nation to be more transparent --- and less hypocritical. I agreed with that at the time he wrote it and I still tend to think that the ramifications of the threat to secrecy is going to force a fundamental change in the way powerful nations operate. However, watching the debate unfold over Ukraine the last couple of days, one can see how hypocrisy is a pretty weak impediment to actions nations wish to take.
It's very hard as an American to righteously defend the precepts on International Law with respect to national sovereignty after what we did just 11 years ago in Iraq. I feel like an idiot saying it out loud to anyone and am embarrassed to see John Kerry shaking his fist and proclaiming the illegality and illegitimacy of Russia's actions when he personally voted for that illegitimate and illegal invasion. From what I gather, this is not a problem for most people so perhaps I'm in a minority, but to me, that misbegotten war has completely shattered any claims we have as a nation to lecture others in this way. It sounds hollow and phony and completely without what the neocons used to call "moral authority."
I think this matters, particularly for a democratic military super-power that has pretensions to benevolent hegemony. You do something like Iraq and you invite others to do the same. Indeed, one could make a better case for the Russians doing what they're doing today than what we did just a few short years ago --- there is a long, long history among these people and common borders that have been drawn recently (by historical standards) are always in flux. Compared to our patently phony rationale for invading Iraq, the violation of international law here is far less egregious.
The US can say that what we did has no bearing on what is happening today in Russia today so let's not bring up that old news. But we made a gigantic moral and strategic error and there is a price to pay for that. It looks preposterous when we wave around international norms and international laws that we violated with impunity in very recent memory. A little humility here would probably be more effective than the holier-than-thou lecturing we see coming from the usual suspects today.
I have no hope for the bellicose wingnuts who are doing the usual flag-waving and warmongering. If they had their way we'd be "liberating" Ukraine this week --- and onward to Moscow. And I certainly agree with the liberals and realists who want to prevent Russia from pushing further into Ukraine and provoking a bloody war. Nobody wins when that happens. (Hearing Brezinski, Albright and Zakaria evoke Munich is over the top and ridiculous and advice to deploy NATO at this stage is provocative and absurd, however.) Mostly I'd just like to see a little less sanctimony from our leadership as they try to work their way through this. It's not helping anyone.
To be honest, this is a moment I'm glad we have President Obama in office right now. He's shown admirable restraint in these matters in recent months and I'm hopeful he will prove to be a cooler head than most of Washington seems to be this week-end. At least he doesn't sound like an amnesiac when he wrings his hands over national sovereignty being violated. His hands are clean on that one.