I’ve noticed with some amusement that the hawks have come out about Russia and the Ukraine. Timothy Snyder at the NYRB is practically foaming at the mouth, warning that if Crimea is annexed it will mean the end of the “European order”. Similarly, David Remnick and his reporters at the New Yorker are pulling out propaganda tricks that were old in 1991, when they were used to propell the US into the defense of tiny, embattled, and surely democratic (or semi-democratic or completely feudal) Kuwait.
Myself, I think Putin’s annexation ploy is probably a feint that will allow him to get what he wants anyway by “compromising” and making Crimea totally autonomous. But even if Crimea is annexed, there is little Europe or the US can do about it.
However, there is a certain lesson, here – a lesson that we are forced to swallow every four or five years. The lesson is that America’s gung ho gang of interventionists always cause immense and long range trouble. For instance, the Putin who Remnick spits on is, what? The product of Boris Yeltsin. And as those who have memories longer than your average tv anchorman, Boris Yeltsin’s second term was the result of a massive and unprecedented use of private funds and government power, and was influenced by the same American government/NGO nexis that has traditionally gone around making a sham of elections in various “strategic” countries.
Remnick’s comments on the 1996 elections are, in this context, extremely relevant. First he quotes from Adam Michnik: “Today, Russia stands before a dramatic dilemma to which no one yet has given a reasonable answer. What is better: to disrupt the rules of democracy and chase out the totalitarian parties while they are sufficiently weak, or to respect the democratic order and open these parties to the road to power?” http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1996/06/17/1996_06_17_005_TNY_CARDS_000373659 This is the kind of orotund stuff that is the cat’s meow to American pundits. Kissinger said it much better about overthrowing Allende: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves."
In the event, though, Michnick’s dilemma was solved by a judicious use of power that Remnick compared to what John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Rutherford Hayes did – to which we can add George W. Bush, then not on the horizon. So the state media saturates the zone with pro-Yeltsin news and fake photo ops.
It was a classic operation, and it even involved a photo-op war – the war in Chechnya. The war had a strange effect on Chechens – they seem to multiply right before the election and vote in overwhelming numbers for your friend and mine, Boris Yeltsin, putting him over the top. A winner!
In fact, Time Magazine was so proud that they impertinently put out an issue, Yanks to the Rescue, in 1996, detailing just how the Americans had rejiggered the Yeltsin campaign. Of course, they avoided talking about the really dirty stuff, but the model was created that would elect Putin in 2000, and thereafter the Russians could take over the reins in running dirty elections.
However, butter does not melt in the mouth of yesteryear’s interveners, always straining at the bit to visit some new disaster upon the world, and spitting on those who oppose them as the friends of totalitarianism and the murderers of Mickey Mouse.
I resent that latter charge. My son loves his Mickey Mouse, and I wouldn’t hurt a hair on that Mouse’s head.
But the official mediasphere, for too too long, has had its run of DC’s toys. One of the effects of the Bush-Obama deal, which solidified the plutocracy on the top of the American economy and has allowed the bottom 80 percent to slip decorously into the shit, is that it is hard to get that 80 percent all excited about our national interests in Crimea.
Just as with Georgia, Putin is playing for low stakes, and the US will lose and give John McCain an ulcer. To say this isn’t to celebrate Putin, a true butcher and an heir to an illegitimate and corrupt system. It is to look at the real effect of the 90s fun filled shock therapy, mafioso ologarcho takeover of industries, and the skewing of the very beginning of Russian democracy by the farce put on in 1996. The let’s do it again crowd should not be listened to.