Condemning ‘The Aggression We Ourselves Will Not Practice’

Whenever the U.S. gets outraged by the actions of another state, be prepared for elaborate displays of self-deception and hypocrisy. This has surely been on display in the case of the latest outrage in Russia’s annexation of Crimea and meddling in Ukraine.

At the Cato Institute’s blog yesterday, Ted Galen Carpenter reiterated a point I’ve made here repeatedly, that Washington’s supposedly principled denunciations of Russia’s actions are wildly inconsistent with the strong defense of comparable actions taken by the U.S.

U.S. officials scarcely miss any opportunity to denounce Russia for severing Crimea from Ukraine and then annexing the peninsula. Yet Washington’s own track record regarding respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries is inconsistent, to say the least. Critics have noted that the position the United States and its NATO allies adopted toward the issue of Kosovo is at sharp variance with the current denunciation of Moscow’s conduct in Crimea. Not only did NATO launch an air war against Serbia to detach one of its provinces in 1999, but it proceeded to encourage and defend Kosovo’s subsequent unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 from what had become a fully democratic Serbia.

The insistence of U.S. officials that the Kosovo situation was unique and, therefore, did not set any precedent, barely passed the laugh test. Russia explicitly cited Western policy in Kosovo for its own actions in Georgia, detaching two of that country’s secessionist-minded territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, later in 2008. More recent efforts by staunch critics of Russia’s amputation of Crimea to argue that Western actions in Kosovo were entirely different are scarcely more credible than Washington’s original justifications. The reality is that the Kosovo, Georgia, and Crimea episodes were all acts of aggression.

Cyprus is another case that undermines Washington’s professed reverence for the territorial integrity of nations. NATO ally Turkey invaded the island in 1974 and proceeded to occupy the northern 37 percent of Cypriot territory. At the very least, the U.S. government looked the other way while its ally committed a blatant act of territorial theft. And a provocative new book, Kissinger and Cyprus: A Study in Lawlessness, by former Nixon Administration official Eugene Rossides, makes a solid case that the administration aided and abetted Ankara’s aggression.

It is important to note just how ubiquitous this hypocrisy is. Even the mildest forms of nationalism virtually require one to ignore the crimes of ones own government, even while vociferously condemning similar crimes committed by other governments. This goes back for as long as the United States has existed and the same hypocrisy can be found in every country.

In 1915, while he was slowly trying to coax Americans into intervening in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson condemned the European belligerents by referencing America’s “principles of right and liberty” which lead us to “resent, from whatever quarter it may come, the aggression we ourselves will not practice.”

To Wilson almost 100 years ago, aggression and annexation was the antithesis of America. Never mind that we had just completed the conquest of the West, which included annexing Texas under false pretenses and ethnically cleansing Native Americans every step of the way. Disregard that only a few years before Wilson uttered these words, the United States intervened against the Spanish in Cuba and tried to annex the island, in the end forcing the Cubans at gunpoint to enshrine in their constitution permission for U.S. military domination. Following that, the U.S. went to war in the Philippines in a vicious colonial experiment waged for cynical geopolitical interests. Inclusive estimates that account for excess deaths related to the war say there were as many as 1 million casualties, mostly civilians.

None of this could penetrate Wilson’s blind faith in American Exceptionalism. Belligerence, aggression, colonialism, annexation, etc…these were things only other governments engaged in. Not America.

So when Barack Obama, John Kerry, and countless members of Congress condemn Russia for meddling in Ukraine and pretend not to know that the U.S. has committed much worse crimes in its very recent history, they are continuing a tradition that goes way back. Russia, they say, has no respect for international law or Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Never mind that the U.S. has so consistently violated international law and the territorial integrity of other states that it is impossible to even talk about U.S. foreign policy without acknowledging it.

Some say an honest reckoning of the history of U.S. crimes would invalidate Washington’s condemnation of Russia. And they are right.

10 thoughts on “Condemning ‘The Aggression We Ourselves Will Not Practice’”

  1. The Crimea annexation was not an act of aggression. It was done with the overwhelming support of the population of the region in a democratic referendum. To argue equivalence to what the U.S. did to Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia and Kosovo, is simply wrong headed. The U.S. has absolutely no claim to any land in Yugoslavia. So what right does it have to go half way around the world, bomb Serbia and separate part of its territory? Russia on the other hand can make a serious territorial claim to Crimea and the areas of Eastern Ukraine that used to be part of Russia. These areas of Ukraine are majority Russian speaking and the people there understandably want to be part of Russia rather than the new right wing Ukraine. Why is past the severing of these areas of Ukraine from Russia by Soviet administrative fiat more legitimate now in the "democratic" U.S. and Europe than having a Crimea style democratic referendum?

    As far as all of this alleged concern for "human rights" in Russia goes, I don't recall this high moral tone about Russia's savage behavior in Chechnya in the 90's, when it laid waste to the country and left 100,000+ corpses behind. Russia peacefully annexes Crimea after a democratic referendum and Putin now represents the reincarnation of Hitler. Give me a break. The reason for these seemingly contradictory policies can be easily explained. Yeltsin was the kind of complaint stooge of a Russian leader Europe and the U.S. like. Not getting in the way of the break up of Yugoslavia. Putin on the other hand is drawing lines for Washington to not cross, as in Syria.

  2. Glaser uses a writer named Ted Carpenter to buttress the argument he was making a few weeks ago. Glaser, a doctrinaire libertarian, seems to think that self-defense is aggression. What was Russia to do when native Russians in Crimea were pleading for help and Ukraine was descending into anarchy due to US provocation? I would say that, far from being aggressive, Putin has acted with, if anything, too much restraint. I wish Obama/Kerry were half as rational.

  3. The next intervention by the USA will be Syria, then Iran, followed by the East China Sea (Diaoyu Islands), then the South China Sea (Huangyen Islands). The USA is really a big bully with extremely low moral standard.

  4. The reality is that the Kosovo, Georgia, and Crimea episodes were all acts of aggression.
    NATO wannabe Georgia tossed it's military into South Ossetia, both nations in Russia's 'soft underbelly.' Georgia had done that multiple times over twenty years, and I gather Russia withdrew after a swift victory. "also known as the … Five-Day War or August War".
    And Crimea should not have been an issue at all.

    I think we might need to face that there's an impulse to condemn actions of America's opponents just to appear 'fair.' Or worse, for the sake of accomodating USraeli demonization of its enemies-du-jour. Also known as the "I'm not saying he's not a bad guy, but…" gambit. Basically preserving some of the Manichean impact for posterity.

  5. " Yet Washington’s own track record regarding respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries is inconsistent, to say the least"

    Talk about an UNDERSTATEMENT. Allow me to rephrase that sentence for you: " Yet Washington’s own track record regarding respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries is CONSISTANTLY CRIMINAL, to say the least"

    There, MUCH better!

  6. Ukraine is a neighbour of Russia at least, they may see it necessary to take side on this conflict but US is the last country to lecture another.

    But the Cyprus example is also annoying because Turkey had to intervene for peace. There is no oil in Cyprus and it was not for any revenue.

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