FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama to Putin: Do as I Say Not as I Do

by RALPH NADER

Dear President Obama:

As you ponder your potential moves regarding President Vladimir V. Putin’s annexation of Crimea (a large majority of its 2 million people are ethnic Russians), it is important to remember that whatever moral leverage you may have had in the court of world opinion has been sacrificed by the precedents set by previous American presidents who did not do what you say Mr. Putin should do – obey international law.

The need to abide by international law is your recent recurring refrain, often used in an accusatory context toward Mr. Putin’s military entry in Crimea and its subsequent annexation, following a referendum in which Crimean voters overwhelmingly endorsed rejoining Russia. True, most Ukrainians and ethnic Tatars boycotted the referendum and there were obstacles to free speech. But even the fairest of referendums, under UN auspices, would have produced majority support for Russia’s annexation.

Every day, presidential actions by you violate international law because they infringe upon national sovereignties with deadly drones, flyovers and secret forays by soldiers – to name the most obvious.

President Bush’s criminal invasion and devastation of Iraq in 2003 violated international law and treaties initiated and signed by the United States (such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter). What about your executive branch’s war on Libya, now still in chaos, which was neither constitutionally declared, nor authorized by Congressional appropriations?

“Do as I say, not as I do,” is hard to sell to Russians who are interpreting your words of protest as disingenuous. This is especially the case because Crimea, long under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, became part of Russia over 200 years ago. In 1954, Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, out of sympathy for what Ukraine endured under the Nazi invasion and its atrocities. It mattered little then because both “socialist republics,” Ukraine and Crimea, were part of the Soviet Union. However, it is not entirely clear whether Khrushchev fully complied with the Soviet constitution when he transferred Crimea to Ukraine.

Compare, by the way, the United States’ seizure of Guantanamo from Cuba initially after the Spanish-American War, which was then retained after Cuba became independent over a century ago.

The Russians have their own troubles, of course, but they do have a legitimate complaint and fear about the United States’ actions following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Led by President William Jefferson Clinton, the United States pushed for the expansion of the military alliance NATO to include the newly independent Eastern European countries. This was partly a business deal to get these countries to buy United States fighter aircrafts from Lockheed Martin and partly a needless provocation of a transformed adversary trying to get back on its feet.

As a student of Russian history and language at Princeton, I learned about the deep sensitivity of the Russian people regarding the insecurity of their Western Front. Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union took many millions of Russian lives. The prolonged Nazi siege of the city of Leningrad alone is estimated to have cost over 700,000 civilian lives, which is about twice the total number of United States soldiers killed in World War II.

The memories of that mass slaughter and destruction, and of other massacres and valiant resistance are etched deeply in Russian minds. The NATO provocation was only one of the West’s arrogant treatments of post-Soviet Russia, pointed out in the writings of Russian specialist, NYU professor Stephen Cohen (see his pieces in The Nation here:http://www.thenation.com/authors/stephen-f-cohen). That sense of disrespect, coupled with the toppling of the elected pro-Russian President of Ukraine in February, 2014 (which was not lawful despite his poor record) is why Mr. Putin’s absorption of Crimea and his history-evoking speech before the Parliament, was met with massive support in Russia even by many of those who have good reasons to not like his authoritarian government.

Now, you are facing the question of how far to go with sanctions against the Russian government, its economy and its ruling class. Welcome to globalization.

Russia is tightly intertwined with the European Union, as a seller and buyer of goods, services and assets, and to a lesser but significant degree with the United States government and its giant corporations such as oil and technology companies. Sanctions can boomerang, which would be far worse than just being completely ineffective in reversing the Russian annexation of Crimea.

As for sanctions deterring any unlikely future Russian moves westward into Ukraine, consider the following role reversal. If Russia moved for sanctions against the United States before Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other attacks, would that have deterred either you or George W. Bush from taking such actions? Of course not. Such an outcome, politically and domestically, would not be possible.

If you want continued Russian cooperation, as you do, on the critical Iranian and Syrian negotiations, ignore the belligerent baying pack of neocons who always want more United States wars, which they and their adult children avoid fighting themselves. Develop a coalition of economic support for Ukraine, with European nations, based on observable reforms of that troubled government. Sponsor a global conference on how to enforce international law as early as possible.

Drop the nonsense of evicting Russia from the G8 – a get-together forum of leaders. Get on with having the United States comply with international law, and our constitution on the way to ending the American Empire’s interventions worldwide, as has been recommended by both liberal and conservative/libertarian lawmakers, along with much public opinion.

Concentrate on America, President Obama, whose long unmet necessities cry out from “sea to shining sea.”

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail