Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cold War nostalgia

When President Reagan ordered the invasion of Grenada in 1983, in response to a coup on that island, most of the world condemned the action as a violation of international law. Most Americans supported the invasion, however. We had American students on the island to protect, and the coup leaders arguably represented a threat to national security and to democracy in the region. But whatever people might have thought about the justifications for the invasion, hardly anybody attributed it to weakness on the part of the Soviet Union. After all, what was taking place in Grenada was taking place in America's back yard. Most Americans felt it was nobody's business but our own. (When President Reagan was told that the UN General Assembly had condemned the US invasion of Grenada by a vote of 108-9, he stated that that did not upset his breakfast at all.)

So why, after the Russian invasion of the Crimea, do critics of the Obama administration insist on viewing this action solely as a reflection of the administration's actions? After all, the Russian military action is taking place in Russia's own backyard. It is a response to a popular uprising in the Ukraine, and it was taken arguably to protect the substantial Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine. I'm sure there was some consideration given in Moscow to the world's, and the US reaction to the invasion, but the Putin administration undoubtedly also had other priorities to consider. This is territory that once belonged to the Soviet Union, and that Russia still wants to influence.

The Ukraine basically sits on the border of Europe and Asia. It has been fought over by European and Asian nations for centuries. At the risk of over-simplifying the causes of the conflict in that country, it helps to understand that most of the people in the western regions of the Ukraine want to tilt politically and economically toward Europe, while most of the people in the east gravitate toward Russia. Of course the conflict in the Ukraine is of concern to the United States. It is perhaps of even more concern to Europe. Other nations should condemn violations of international law, and there should be consequences to Russia for actions that break the law and threaten the peace.

But to view Russia's military response solely as a response to US foreign policy actions reflects a nostalgia for the kind of flawed Cold War thinking that has been out of style for more than 20 years. Either that, or it's just politics: the kneejerk reaction on the right that whatever goes wrong must be Obama's fault. But everything that happens in the world is not about the US, and the US is not solely responsible for preventing every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world. President Obama's critics just look foolish for forgetting that.

(Wikimedia Commons)

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