The crux of Mr. Robinson’s unfortunate thesis is that all military intervention and occupation is the same. No, really. Context is irrelevant. U.S. has no moral authority to condemn Russia for invading Crimea, because of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also throws in Panama and Grenada in the stew of moral equivalence to make sure that no anti-Western talking point remains unmentioned:
“the United States, frankly, has limited standing to insist on absolute respect for the territorial integrity of sovereign states. Before Iraq there was Afghanistan, there was the Persian Gulf War, there was Panama, there was Grenada.”
Robinson’s shockingly flawed argument takes minimum analytical firepower to debunk, which begs the question as to why a shrewd editor didn’t point out to Robinson that his brazen assault on reason was ill advised.
Let’s examine each case separately.
Russia has invaded and occupied Crimea, a sovereign territory of Ukraine, taking over its government buildings and military installations. The sovereignty of Crimea is not in dispute. It is unequivocally sovereign Ukrainian land, whose sovereignty was reaffirmed in 1994 when Russia signed a treaty guaranteeing that Crimea remains a part of Ukraine in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons. Russia is unambiguously in violation of that 1994 treaty (among other treaties).
Russia’s justification for the invasion and occupation centers on the claim that ethnic Russians are being threatened and persecuted by Ukrainians (and strangely, neo-Nazis). So far, no independent reports have confirmed Russia’s claim.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait under the pretext that Kuwait had refused to forgive Iraq’s debt accumulated during the Iraq-Iran war when Saddam was fighting on behalf of all Arabs against the Persian enemy (or something like that. Saddam offered a litany of reasons for the war of aggression, none of them compelling.)
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States petitioned the United States to first protect Saudi Arabia and others from Saddam (operation Desert Shield) and then to expel Saddam from Kuwait (operation Desert Storm).
The United States organized and led a coalition of 39 nations to expel Saddam Hussein from Iraq.
JUST LIKE RUSSIA’S INVASION OF CRIMEA.
What’s that you say? The unilateral (literally unilateral, Russia is the only “coalition” member) occupation by Russia of a sovereign country that has not invaded its neighbors is NOT like an international coalition liberating a sovereign country occupied by a maniacal tyrant?
Ok, let’s keep going.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States issued an ultimatum to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ruling party: surrender Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, or face an international coalition to overthrow your government on the grounds that you are harboring terrorists responsible for an act of war against the United States.
The Taliban refused to comply, and the United States organized and led an international coalition, this time of over 40 nations, to overthrow the barbaric Taliban regime.
JUST LIKE RUSSIA’S INVASION OF CRIMEA.
No? Some minor differences there? Ok then, Robinson surely nails the next analogy.
In 2002, the United Nations passed a resolution demanding that Saddam Hussein (yes, the same Saddam Hussein who invaded Kuwait, and the same Saddam Hussein who was in material breach of every single UN resolution passed after a ceasefire agreement ended the first Gulf War) disclose when and where his WMD stockpiles had been destroyed as he had claimed.
After Iraq failed to meet the stringent requirements outlined in the 2002 resolution, the United States led a coalition of over 30 nations to overthrow one of history’s most brutal dictators; a dictator who had used weapons of mass destruction against Iraqi Shiites, Iranians, and Iraqi Kurds, who had been a prolific sponsor of international terrorism, and who continued to defy the international weapons inspectors, according to most objective experts, including none other than the UN’s chief arms inspector Hans Blix.
JUST LIKE RUSSIA’S INVASION OF CRIMEA.
Eugene Robinson, whose smugness is only eclipsed by his hatred of facts, unapologetically draws a parallel between Crimea and Iraq:
“We’re supposed to be shocked — shocked! — that a great military power would cook up a pretext to invade a smaller, weaker nation? I’m sorry, but has everyone forgotten the unfortunate events in Iraq a few years ago?” [emphasis mine]
No, Eugene, we haven’t forgotten that every intelligence agency in the world had concluded that Saddam Hussein had WMD stock piles, financial and operational ties to international terrorism, and a capacity to reconstitute his WMD programs even if the programs were currently dormant (only the first of these claims proved to be based on faulty intelligence).
On the other hand, there is no international consensus to back up Putin’s claim that ethnic Russians are being targeted. In fact, Putin is the only one making this claim.
Ok then, what about the U.S.’s actions in Central America in the 1980s. Surely, those cases revoke all moral credibility the U.S. has in opposing the Russian occupation of Crimea, because they are totally the same.
In the 1989 invasion of Panama, the United Stated deposed and arrested the thuggish dictator, Noriega, who was under indictment in Florida for drug smuggling. The rationale for the invasion centered on protecting the integrity of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties governing the Panama Canal, which Noriega was continually threatening, and on defending democracy and human rights, which no person familiar with Noriega’s rule disputes were under attack.
The 1983 invasion of Grenada must be seen through the context of the Cold War. Communist controlled Grenada was one of the few nations that refused to condemn the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan 4 years earlier, and most U.S. national security experts considered Grenada to be a satellite of Cuba.
The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Barbados and Domenica supported U.S. action to liberate Grenada from a group of communist thugs who had literally machine gunned their way into power. That these thugs were brutalizing the people of Grenada is not in dispute, unlike the dubious and unsubstantiated claim by Putin that ethnic Russians are in danger.
And again, Russia was the sole member of the “coalition” to occupy Crimea. No other nation or international body called for Russian intervention in a territory only Russia believes is being overrun by neo-Nazis and terrorists.
If Robinson wanted an apt analogy, he could have drawn one between the Russian occupation of Crimea and the German annexation of Sudetenland in 1939. It would go something like this:
Hitler claimed the right to the sovereign Czech region because of the 3 million ethnic Germans living there, allegedly under persecution by the Czechs. Putin is claiming that occupying Crimea is necessary to protect that sovereign region's ethnic Russian population, which is allegedly being threatened by ethnic Ukrainians, though there is no independent confirmation that this is happening. Hitler used Sudetenland as a pretext for occupying all of Czechoslovakia; Putin is signaling that other territories in Eastern Ukraine with large pockets of ethnic Russians are in his sphere of influence. Hitler assumed Europe would do nothing, Putin assumes Europe, NATO, and the U.S. will do nothing.
But of course, that analogy does not advanced Robinson’s goal of perverting U.S. history in order to question the U.S.’s moral authority in condemning Russia.
Like so many good leftists who preceded him, Robinson is unapologetic in drawing a shameful moral equivalence between U.S. interventions on behalf of freedom, and Soviet (now Russian) wars on behalf of tyranny.