by Playthell Benjamin
As a shocked and confused world watched in awe, the Ukrainian government, which just days before appeared to be all-powerful, crumbled like a sand castle hit by a tidal wave. President Viktor F. Yanukovich fled the capitol and went into hiding to escape the righteous wrath of the howling mob calling for his head, and has since been impeached by a parliament dominated by members of his own party, while an assortment of misguided American voices are calling for American intervention in that unstable violence-torn nation at the door of the steppes of Russia.
Led by pugnacious politicians like Senator John McCain – who recently traveled to that country during the uprising and urged the angry anti-government crowds on – and talkative media wags, all drunk on the ideological opiate of American Exceptionalism, are demanding that President Obama “do something” to influence the outcome of that volatile internal crisis that threatens to spill over its borders and spark a conflict with Russia. Although none of these eager interventionists seem to have a clear idea exactly what the President ought to do.
Influential journalists invited to comment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe at the height of the violence in the streets last week, like the popular television commentators Andrea Mitchell and David Gregory, are talking air heads that understand no more about the Ukraine that a mule knows about playing a fiddle. And based on the specious prattle these talking heads confuse with serious analysis of the of the situation in Eastern Europe, I found myself saying thank God for Dr. Jeffery Sachs, a Columbia University economist, whose presence gave some semblance of intelligence to the discourse.
Although given Dr. Sach’s nefarious role as an advocate of “Shock Treatment” – a spurious and dangerous economic theory promoted by the right-wing free market theologian Milton Freedman – in countries like Chile and especially Russia after the fall of the Communist Party, which caused horrendous human suffering and bears some blame for the present crisis, I never thought I would be applauding anything that emanated from his mouth. Alas, the fact that Jeffery Sachs now sounds like a wise man is a measure of the depths to which American political discourse has plunged.
To his credit Dr. Sachs calmly pointed out what ought to be obvious to anyone with an inkling of how the world actually works. First the Russians have their national interests and the Ukraine is a matter of grave national interest to them. Second the US has no power to do anything about the situation because it lies within the heart of their Sphere of Influence. And to those who are whining about President Obama’s timidity, Dr. Sachs pointed out that President Eisenhower – a Republican former general who had led the fight that defeated the Nazis – did nothing when the Soviet army invaded Hungary in 1956!
Once again we see the indisputable truth of historian Benjamin Quarles’ observation that in order to fully understand the complexities of the present “one needs the added dimension of historical perspective.” Hence it is of critical importance – a life and death matter really – that we understand the reason why Ike refused to intervene in the Hungarian mess. As a former Five Star General who witnessed the horror of the atomic bombing of Japan, Ike understood that the US had no power to affect the situation militarily and thus to risk a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union would be suicidal folly!
Presiding over a nation that had operated under the Monroe Doctrine, initiated by President William Monroe in 1830, which declared all of the Americas from Canada to Chile and the islands of the seas an American Sphere of Influence, for which the US was willing to go to war in order to prevent encroachment by the imperial powers of Europe – a doctrine which eventually led to the Spanish American war some sixty years later – Ike realized the absurdity and futility of attempting to deny another great power, especially one armed with nuclear weapons, their natural Sphere of Influence.
The prestige of Ike’s military record enabled him to stand firm against his more bellicose critics who urged him to “do something!” It is hugely instructive that he was called a “communist collaborator” by Senator Joseph McCarthy, a deranged rightwing Democrat from Wisconsin who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ted Cruz, a deranged rightwing Republican Senator from Texas, whose crazy Cuban exile dad traverses the country addressing the lunatic rightwing of the Republican/Tea Party explaining how President Obama is a communist dictator. And the silly old fart continues to draw enthusiastic crowds anxious to hear him blow hot air out of his ass despite the absence of any hint of reality.
Yet those who are calling for American meddling in the Ukrainian crisis appear not to recognize that despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicans – which is why the Ukraine is now an independent nation – the Russians have a greater nuclear capacity than they had in 1956… which means they have the power to destroy every American city within half an hour!
Anti-government protesters prepare to advance over a burning barricade in Kiev’s Independence Square
Yet from the response of Joe Scarborough – a pompous airhead whose success as a TV pundit appears to be based more on the fact that he is a John Wayne lookalike than intellectual gravitas – Dr. Sach’s sober analysis of why any attempt by the US government would be a dangerous exercise in futility was like pouring water on a duck’s back as Joe dismissed his comparative analysis as a “false analogy.” It was anything but; it was in fact a paragon of political wisdom.
This discourse demonstrates the vital need for well-informed commentators to discuss these issues in mass forums like Morning Joe, in order to raise the level of understanding on the part of an abysmally ignorant American public that knows but little of the critical issues in American politics – recent polls reveal that more Americans can name the judges on American Idol than the US Supreme Court – let alone the complexities of the issues that underlie the present Ukranian crisis, which more and more resembles a civil war.
Nothing reflects this ignorance more than American calls for President Obama to “do something” about the Ukrainian crisis. Just as in the uprisings collectively called “the Arab Spring” the US has no power to determine the course or outcome of events. In order to properly define US options regarding the crisis in Ukraine we must first gain a thorough understanding of the nature of this situation by a careful analysis of the ideology and objectives of contending forces.
Those who are demanding that President Obama intervene in this faraway conflict display no evidence that they have carefully sifted the facts. Although American intelligence agencies understand the identity and relationships of the political forces at work better than was the case with the “Arab Spring” uprisings, we are just as powerless to determine the outcome of the Ukrainian crisis or predict the course of events. Hence what the would-be interventionists are suggesting is akin to dancing in the dark in the middle of a mine field.
Which Way Ukraine?
Note: Part II will examine the ideology and objectives of the contending forces
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.