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Ukraine Crisis a Godsend to Israeli Rejectionists

bibi cartoon

Bibi (in hard hat): “We will not stop construction!” (Amos Biderman)

It’s no accident that John McCain introduced the issue of the Ukraine crisis into his speech at the Aipac national conference.  No, he wasn’t mixing up his cue cards.  Of course, McCain was using Ukraine as a club with which to beat the Obama administrations for its “feckless” (read, “anti-Israel”) foreign policy.  McCain is a throwback to the days of Teddy Roosevelt and apparently wants the U.S. to exercise maximum military might around the world.

But there’s another reason why Ukraine will aid the rejectionist camp in Israel (which is virtually the entire right-wing government and almost all its ministers with the exception of Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid).  As long as the U.S. is tied up in Ukraine, trying to prevent the crisis there from spinning out of control and into war, then John Kerry’s peace talks will probably not get the attention they’d received until now.  Liberal Zionist analyst Aaaron David Miller put it euphemistically:

“It does give the prime minister additional room to maneuver.”

Meaning it gives Bibi yet more time to stall, obfuscate and generally wriggle out from under the pressure Obama and Kerry were bringing to bear.

obama netanyahu

Obama, listening unhappily to Bibi’s White House lecture yesterday (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Though Pres. Obama did meet yesterday with Bibi Netanyahu, there was no sense of pressure or urgency, as there had been in the President’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, in which he essentially warned Israel that it would become an international pariah if it continued to reject the Kerry initiative.  So Ukraine is a godsend to the extremists and yet another obstacle to Palestinians who still harbor hope of a peace agreement (a group that is receding by the minute).

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Putin’s territorial putsch in the Crimea echoes Israel’s history of conquering and absorbing Palestinian lands.  In both cases, these two states are expansionist and seek to protect their perceived interests by dominating their own neighborhoods.  Russia seems nostalgic for its imperial empire.  Israel asserts a regional hegemony over its frontline state neighbors.  Both states eschew diplomatic niceties when military force will do the job.  Both present their enemies and the world a fait accompli and then dare them to dislodge them.

The main difference of course is that Russia is a second tier international power while Israel is a regional power with one essential superpower ally.  Russia has real power on the world stage, while Israel’s power is regional at best.  Russia isn’t terribly threatened by the economic sanctions the west can impose.  It has vital natural resources needed by European powers like Germany.

Aside from U.S. support, Israel does not hold any such sway in the world.  It can hold out only as long as the U.S. can fend off full international isolation and boycott.  As Pres. Obama warned in his Atlantic interview, there will come a time when even U.S. protection won’t help.

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Ukraine also poses a crisis testing the mettle of the Obama administration.  While most analysts and politicians see it as a battle of wills between the west and Russia in which naked power will be matched against a western response.  I think it would be more productive to view this as an opportunity to take Ukraine, which is currently a basket case, and develop a Marshall Plan-like program in which the west would help restructure Ukraine’s economic and financial system.

Stephen Cohen makes the excellent point in the above PBS interview that Russia, before this crisis, approached the west in hopes of devising precisely such a program.  But the west rebuffed it.  I don’t know the particulars of this alleged approach.  But now that Ukraine has fallen into chaos and threatens to become a protectorate of Russia, we must find a way to exit this mess with as much grace and as little bloodshed as possible.

We simply cannot win a contest of wills or military force with Russia in its own backyard.  We didn’t allow Khrushchev to plant missiles in Cuba in 1962 and there’s no reason that we should expect Putin to welcome perceived threats to his own stability on his border.  We’ve got to skate around a naked military confrontation.

You now have the example of Soviet satellite states like Moldova and Belarus, and regions like Chechnya and Crimea ruled by warlords and riddled with corruption and oligarchic power.  Under the former Ukrainian president, the same system held sway there.  Why not gather together the key players in Ukraine and present them a plan to thoroughly revamp their political, financial and economic system so that it would reflect the European shift that so many Ukrainians were willing to die for only a week ago.  Guarantees must be put in place to ensure transparency, and that funding and programs would not lapse into the former corrupt model, as they have in Afghanistan.

Make clear to Russia that such a reform effort is not a physical threat to him or his country.  That it is entirely a domestic political shift, rather than an attempt to threaten Russia.  From my point of view, even the issue of Crimea should be secondary to pursuing the success of this strategy.  Ukraine can deal with territorial claims over Crimea at some future date (though ardent nationalists will chafe at this outcome).

Ukraine should apply and be accepted into NATO.  This will add another deterrent layer to the process of reform, giving it the protective mantle of NATO should Russia have further territorial or expansionist designs.  It might be possible to negotiate with Russia to put NATO membership in abeyance as long as Russia commits not to interfere in the economic and political reforms underway.

There are risks in this strategy of course.  Corrupt systems generally want to remain corrupt.  Entrenched oligarchs will not see a benefit in creating a new transparent system in which their opportunities may be circumscribed.  There must also be buy-in from key political and social leaders.  That won’t be an easy task since Ukraine is essentially a failed state currently. It may be difficult for these individuals facing an immense crisis to see their way toward an alternative that may appear so ephemeral.

But the benefits of this strategy are potentially enormous: instead of armed conflict, you use capitalism and democracy as a model for reform in the region.  You present an example of a state which failed under the former system but thrived when it embraced a different set of values.  You meet Russia’s naked aggression with economic reform rather than bullets.  You show even Russians themselves that if they want to join the rest of the world they too can turn away from the former imperial model to one of an inter-connected world economy in which everyone can win.

In the long run, the prognosis for Russia is not good.  Its resources will run dry after the massive wild West exploitation of the past two decades.  Its oligarchs will strip the nation of everything of value and leave little or nothing on the carcass.  When that happens, Russia’s economic elite and KGB agents-cum-presidents will not have devised an alternative economic model to transistion into a new era.  This will leave Russia in desperate straits.  Of course, all this will happen gradually over a period of a decade or more.  But when it does, it’s imperative that the west have devised an alternative economic model that allows Russians to see where they could go if they chose.

The challenge for the west is that it must unite to come up with such a visionary plan.  It must put both economic and political capital behind the project for it to work.  It must be willing to roll up its sleeves and commit to a long-term project that will thoroughly reshape Ukraine and possibly other former Soviet-era states.  It must counteract the tendency to put band-aids on complicated problems and walk away from them until they blow up.  Do we have it in us to do this?  Or do we accept the risk of a massive shooting war in Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of dead like in the former Yugoslavia or a decade long civil war as in Chechnya?

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Bandolero March 4, 2014, 4:22 PM

    [comment deleted-anti-Semitism is NOT permitted here. Your next such comment will result in banning.]

    • Bandolero March 4, 2014, 8:09 PM

      [comment deleted: when I delete a comment telling you it was anti-Semitic that doesn’t mean you should double down on the anti-Semitism. These comments don’t belong here. You’re now moderated]

    • Bandolero March 4, 2014, 8:21 PM

      So am I banned here now for quoting:

      1. Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State
      2. Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin
      3. Jewish Telegraphic Agency
      4. Clifford A. Kiracofe, former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations?

      I ‘ld find that kind of ridiculous.

      • Richard Silverstein March 4, 2014, 11:24 PM

        First, learned the difference between moderated and banned. If you were banned I wouldn’t publish your comments at all. Moderated means something different.

        As for your comment rule violation: first, your comment was more of a rambling rant in which you tried to tie Victoria Nuland to Israeli mercenaries in Ukraine. You didn’t make the anti-Semitism overt, but it was there for almost everyone to see. You know what the comment rules are. Follow them or go.

  • bluto March 4, 2014, 4:53 PM

    Ukraine buys Vicki Kagan and AIPAC’s Girl Hillary nothing

    Tick Tock – it’s just Vicki and Bibi rearranging deck chairs. They’re all out of songs or they would play violins

    Ukraine gave them just a little more rope

  • Questionable logic March 4, 2014, 10:31 PM

    “As long as the U.S. is tied up in Ukraine, trying to prevent the crisis there from spinning out of control and into war, then John Kerry’s peace talks will probably not get the attention they’d received until now.”

    Well, heck, think back to the Russia/Georgia conflict in 2008, which was the last time everyone got themselves worked up into a state of hysteria.

    All it took was for Sec Def Gates to stand up in a press conference, look the camera straight in the eye, and firmly announce that the USA was not going to go to war with Russia over a backwater province called South Ossetia.

    The war hysteria ended before he left the podium, and the perception that the USA was “all tied up” was shown to be nonsense.

    Same thing here: all it will take is for a senior US Administration official to stand up on record and say “Go to war over the Ukraine?? Are you MAD????????” and all this nonsense about Obama being “tied up” over this will disappear in a puff of smoke.

    Aaron Miller always strikes me as an egomaniac driven by sour grapes: HE didn’t get to solve the Israel/Palestine problem, so of course it is utterly insolvable. Obviously.

    It isn’t. All it requires is that the USA stop beating its head against that Lukidnic brick wall and simply say “Enough”. You won’t take our advice, so we are stepping aside and cutting you loose. I hope they have a nice cell for you in The Hague, Bibi ol’ Boy, and we’ll send you a nice “Missin’ Ya’ Big Fella'” on every anniversary of your incarceration.

  • Bob Reynolds March 5, 2014, 2:29 AM

    Just as in Georgia, the US is up to its neck in provoking this crisis. Since the Clinton administration there has been an attempt to
    surround Russia with NATO countries as a way to assert our desire for world domination. Had Georgia been brought into NATO we would have had to go to war with Russia. Not worth it then. Not worth it now with Ukraine. Don’t forget that in
    the take over of the oligarchs in Russia and elsewhere they had lots of guidance from the US.
    When Obama talks of violations of international law by Russia it is pure hypocrisy from a nation that has a long history of
    violations of international law. Just take the last few Presidents and we can site Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iraq,
    Libya, and Syria. There is a point at which Russia could well feel that they either surrender or launch a preemptive attack,
    a nuclear attack. The Cuban crisis almost provoked that. And creating a “Cuban crisis” for Russia could do the same.
    There are those among the neocons who believe we could survive a nuclear war. In the GHWBush administration they were called the crazies. But they continued to have posts in all subsequent administrations. By out aggressive policies we
    are creating situations in the MiddleEast and elsewhere that could spiral out of control and be the end of all of us.
    If we had spent as much time and money seeking peace as we have world domination the world would be a better place.
    Sorry to say our country has become a threat to world peace and to the survival of our species.

  • Bob Reynolds March 5, 2014, 2:41 AM

    here is a link to an essay on “US imperialism, Ukraine and the danger of World War III
    link to wsws.org
    It certainly presents a point of view that our actions could lead to the war to end all wars .

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