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'US Foreign Policy Blowback': How US Disregard for Intl Law Set Stage for Crimean Crisis

Critics charge that US history of cherry-picking international rules gives license for other powers to do the same

Jon Queally

Eleven years ago this week, the U.S. decided to sidestep international law in its rush to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq. In doing so, charge critics, it has helped open a pandora's box of imperial lawlessness that is now rearing its head in Ukraine.

Amid warnings that what's taking place as Russia battles the U.S. and European nations over a new government in Kiev and Crimea's vote to officially secede from Ukraine is the beginning of a new 'Cold War,' many observers have called out western hypocrisy when it comes to the White House and Downing Street pointing fingers at the Kremlin.

"In an era in which exceptionalism has become the norm, where the cavalier disregard of domestic and/or global objections is considered politically acceptable, and where powerful nations can exercise a free hand in determining the future of less powerful ones when strategic interests are involved." —Randall Amster, Georgetown University

Taking that point further on Thursday, Randall Amster, director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University,  argues in a piece at Common Dreams that despite all the rhetoric, sanctions, and threats of further "punishment" coming from Washington, the missing analysis about Ukraine is how it represents a kind of "foreign policy blowback" resulting from "the US-led wars and interventions of recent years" in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Amster points out that by ignoring international law when it suited their own interests, the U.S. and U.K. set the stage for others (at least those with the requisite military and political might) to follow suit:

As many pointed out at the time, the invasion of Iraq in particular foretold a world wracked by disregard for international norms and defined by the mercenary pursuits of national self-interest. In setting a template for the policy engagements to follow, this archetype of adventurism ushered in an era in which exceptionalism has become the norm, where the cavalier disregard of domestic and/or global objections is considered politically acceptable, and where powerful nations can exercise a free hand in determining the future of less powerful ones when strategic interests are involved. It would be hard to conceive of a more pointed version of realpolitik, and the term is doubly poignant in light of the outcomes we are seeing today.

Russia’s rhetorical reliance on misguided Western policies does little more than render concrete that which has already been known and deployed by powerful interests for decades, if not longer. But the invocation of recent US-led forays and the specific use of the word “exceptionalism” in Russian discourse add a dimension that is deeply troubling for the future prospects of peace. By making realpolitik more, well, real, the annexation of Crimea is less likely to draw a military response from the West than it is to elicit wider forms of emulation. In abdicating their already-tenuous hold on moral legitimacy in international affairs, the US and its allies have eroded one of the last potential bastions against the imminent realization of a world dominated by strategic resource acquisition as a function of security.

In an editorial by The Nation posted Wednesday, the magazine's editors also invoke US transgressions in the context of Ukraine. "Yes, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea trespasses on international law," they write, but it's "difficult to bear US officials’ invocation of a principle that Washington itself has often violated (see, most recently, Kosovo and Iraq, the latter now marking the eleventh anniversary of an illegal US invasion and occupation)."

And author and historian Howard Friel, also at Common Dreams, defies the western media's dominant anti-Putin line not to defend Russian motives or actions, but to cast a light on U.S. violations that now make it impossible for Washington to stand as a moral authority on issues of international law. In a string of rhetorical questions, Friel asks:

Did Putin invade Iraq and destroy that society?

Did Putin lie to the American people about the reasons for that invasion?

Did Putin kill one million Iraqis?

Did Putin spend $1 trillion of the American public’s money on the Iraq invasion?

Did Putin invade Afghanistan?

Did he spend $700 billion on the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan?

Does Putin have a “kill list” to murder suspected terrorists without due process and outside any field of battle?

According to The Nation editors, the only thing that can now resolve the crisis in Ukraine and the brewing 'Cold War' redux between Russia and the western powers is a true and meaningful focus on diplomacy. Threats of military escalation must be averted, they say, and the "war parties" on all sides must be pushed aside in the name of a peaceful agreement going forward.

And while Amster agrees that a negotiated settlement should also be the focus, he argues strongly that time should be spent reflecting on how previous examples of cast-off international obligations—now the "modus operandi of powerful interests across the globe"—have brought us to this point.


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