Yesterday President Barack Obama tried to claim that the United States government’s actions in the 2003 Iraq War were legal and different than Russia’s actions in Crimea because the US had “sought to work within the international system.” Apparently merely seeking to work within the international system is some kind of get out of jail free card. If one follows Obama’s logic then Russia need only to have “sought” a doomed UN resolution justifying the annexation of Crimea before doing so, this would have made their actions legitimate under Obama’s standard.
Of course the Iraq War killed hundreds of thousands of people and annexation of Crimea has killed how many again? Let’s just hope this absurd argument of legitimacy through failed UN lobbying does not turn into a doctrine, it can justify anything.
Anne-Marie Slaughter of the New America Foundation has some sound advice for Obama and others trying to act like Russia’s actions during Ukraine’s political crisis are some amazing act of aggression unseen before in our lifetimes – tone down the sanctimony.
More broadly, the United States would do well to tone down its sanctimony. Putin’s annexation of Crimea violated international law. But so did the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the NATO intervention to protect Kosovo, even if the latter was, to many, including me, a legitimate violation. Insisting that this is a new era because Moscow is bent on violating international law may indeed propel the world into a new era. But that would be a choice of our making, not Russia’s.
Beyond the hypocrisy of the sanctimonious denunciations by US policymakers is the reality of American public opinion – thanks, but no thanks. The American people don’t care about the annexation of Crimea and want nothing to do with “Cold War 2.0.”
And for good reason. Let’s revisit the actual history – forces backed by the US and EU overthrew the democratically elected and Russian-backed president of Ukraine. Russia responded by annexing Crimea and throwing its weight around in East Ukraine.
Not an ideal situation, but not grounds for World War III. If anything President Obama should take away the lesson that intervening in the internal politics of other countries can have unintended consequences. Though that lesson is also available from studying the history of the Iraq War.