To The Reader,
In the Spring of 2010 I began writing short essays, one to three pages, which were sent out to a relatively short list-serve. Almost all of these essays dealt with one of three general topics: the behavior of the United States government, the tribulations of the Middle East, and the difficulty of enforcing international law. These brief essays were well received and often redistributed by those who read them. Occasionally they were picked up by news and commentary sites. Thus something of a demand actually grew for the essays and that led me to construct To The Point Analyses. In this endeavor I was aided by Glow Touch Technologies. Glow Touch did a very good job and I recommend them to any ambitious writer seeking a web based audience.
The site is divided as follows:
1. A Home Page on which appears the most recent five or six essays.
2. An Archival section where the interested reader can find all past essays divided by topic.
3. A Featured Essays section where more recent essays can be found on individual pages. In this section readers can also leave comments. To all those readers who take the time to send along a comment, please be assured that I appreciate your doing so and that I read them all.
4. A Cartoon section with political cartoons I find both humorous and meaningful.
5. An Other Opinions section that holds some particularly insightful essays by other bloggers, journalists and academics.
6. A Biography section in case anyone is interested in who I am and where I came from.
7. An RSS feed.
8. A Twitter access (at bottom of the home page).
9. And, finally, a contact tab (at bottom of the home page).
Not all readers will find these essays congenial, but then the Web is a vast arena that accommodates just about all views. And here you will find mine.
ANNOUNCEMENT: LAWRENCE DAVIDSON (RESIDING IN THE PHILADELPHIA AREA) IS AVAILABLE FOR TALKS AND DISCUSSIONS ON THE TOPICS FOUND IN THIS BLOG AS WELL AS RELATED SUBJECTS. FOR THIS PURPOSE PLEASE CONTACT HIM AT firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Speech Or Bribery? – An Analysis (15 April 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Legalizing Bribery
On Wednesday 2 April 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five to four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized their decision in the name of “free speech.”
What does this ruling do?
First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising. Indeed, in this way the influence and demands of wealthy donors continue to be more powerful and persuasive than the solicitations of ordinary constituents whose interests the elected official is pledged to serve. In other words, McCutcheon vs. FEC pushed forward the process of legalizing bribery within our political system – a phenomenon which already is well along in its development.
Second, the ruling corrupts the notion of free speech by equating it with the use of money. Thus, the Court majority confuses free speech with that very act of bribery noted above. They seem to be pretending that we are dealing with the transparent efforts of constituents seeking to convince their political representatives of a certain point of view. This is an illusion. We are dealing with donor individuals and organizations funneling millions of dollars to politicians in need of small fortunes just to maintain their professional positions, and to do so in exchange for political and legislative favors. That is the exercise of free speech only if you equate it with the suborning of elected officials. It is hard to believe that the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in the majority do not know this. And if they do, they are guilty of using the Constitution to rationalize criminal behavior.
Part II - The Specific Arguments and Their Flaws
Argument One - “Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association.”
In taking this line of argument the justices ignore an established principle that operates in the social (as well as physical) realm: that is that quantity can shape quality and in so doing “act as a causal mechanism in social behavior.” For instance, you can say that contributing of money to campaigns and parties is an inherent part of the right to political participation. However the quality of that right, that is, its consequence, is dependent on the quantity of the donation and its source.
Thus, this form of political participation has different consequences if a multitude of citizens give small amounts to various candidates and parties than if a few citizens, cleverly bundling their donations, give millions. The former is unlikely to skew an election through overwhelming, and often distorting, media advertising or to compromise the integrity of the candidate once elected. The latter is almost certain to do these things. In other words, so much money coming from a few sources into an electoral process dominated by the need for money transforms donations into bribes and payoffs. This transformation is exactly what effective campaign finance reform is designed to prevent.
Argument Two – Restricting contributions is like restricting the number of endorsements a newspaper can make. “Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”
The problem with this assertion is that newspapers do not usually trade in favors. Big donors almost always do. Newspapers usually do not expect those they endorse to change the regulatory environment in which the newspaper operates. Big donors almost always do. By making the comparison between newspaper endorsements and the actions of large donors, the Justices are making a false analogy. They are mixing apples and oranges.
Argument three - “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”
This statement contains one dubious assumption and one misstatement of fact. First, assuming that “spending large sums of money in connection with elections” is not done in an “effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties” and therefore does not result in “quid pro quo corruption” is, at best, dangerously naive.
Do these Justices really believe that the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and a host of corporations and special interest organizations would spend millions of dollars in an election cycle apart from “an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties”?
The claim that “an individual who spends large sums” does not “garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties” is just wrong. What do these Justices think the American Rifle Association or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are doing if not buying influence and access?
It is odd that these Justices, who undoubtedly recognize that they live in a capitalist country where just about everything is up for sale, would so blatantly pretend that politicians and elections are not also available for purchase.
Part III – A Formula for Disaster
Senator John McCain, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, predicts that the recent Supreme Court decision will result in “major scandals in campaign finance contributions” and these in turn “will cause reform.”
Scandals there are sure to be. However, I am not sure about reform. Past “major scandals” have not necessarily led to reform. In the United States numerous school shootings have shocked the public but not resulted in the reform of the nation’s gun laws. Recent financial crises have led to recession and government bailouts for savings and loans, banks and mortgage houses, but have not resulted in sufficient regulatory reform to prevent a recurrence of these problems. Therefore, campaign finance scandals may not yield the reform Senator McCain foresees. All these scandals do indicate one thing, though, and that is that the Supreme Court justices don’t know what they are talking about when they deny that big money contributions are not corrupting.
Let us keep in mind that the U.S. citizenry is largely estranged from politics and ignorant of the workings of their national economy. Such
indifference and ignorance allows power to default to the minority who are unethical enough and wealthy enough to not only buy politicians, but to buy public opinion through the manipulation of the media – a particular specialty of people like Rupert Murdoch.
This concentration of power usually results in periods of wholesale deregulation of business and politics leading inevitably to political unrest and economic ruin of one degree or another. Yet it is only when these consequences become so disastrous (I am talking here on the scale of the 1929 depression or the race riots of the 1960s) that the public’s backlash brings about significant reform. And even then the nature of such events is cyclical. We have forgotten the corruption of the Gilded Age and the hardship of the Great Depression. Some of us have even forgotten the racist nature of our politics prior to the Civil Rights Movement. So you should let your children know they may see these troubles again in the near future. Maybe they will be able to handle them better than we are.
Mr. Rosenberg’s Conundrum – An Analysis (3 April 2014 ) by Lawrence Davidson
M. J. Rosenberg
Part I – Down with BDS, Up with the Two-State Solution
Michael Jay Rosenberg is a well-known, sharp-minded critic of the Israeli government. But he is also a “liberal Zionist” who believes in the legitimacy and necessity of a Jewish state. This point of view has led him to attack the BDS (Boycott Israel) movement in a recent piece, “The Goal of BDS is Dismantling Israel”. In the process he seriously underestimates the movement’s scope and potential in an effort to convince himself and others that BDS has no chance of actually achieving the goal he ascribes to it. However, the only evidence he cites of the movement’s weakness is the recent failure of the University of Michigan’s student government to pass a divestment resolution. At the same time he fails to mention an almost simultaneous decision by Chicago’s Loyola University student government to seek divestment. Rosenberg also makes no reference to BDS’s steady and impressive efforts in Europe.
Rosenberg continues by asserting that the reason the boycott movement “keeps failing” is because its goal is to destroy Israel rather than to attack the occupation and pressure for a two-state solution. “The BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is to end the State of Israel itself.” What does that mean? Well, according to Rosenberg it means “replacing Israel itself with a state” that would be “in theory, hospitable to Jews [but] would no longer be Israel.”
At this juncture there are several points in Rosenberg’s thinking that warrant scrutiny. First of all his emphasis on “in theory” in the comment above implies that, in his view, only a Zionist state can really be “hospitable to Jews.” Take the Zionism out of Israel and you really have to take the Jews out as well. One can understand his concern, since he is aware of the wrongs committed by the Israeli government and knows that reconciliation with the Palestinians will not come easily. However, given the right sort of compromises, his fear for the well-being of Jews in a non-Zionist Israel does not have to necessarily translate into fact. Secondly, he is still arguing that a two-state solution is possible. “The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states for two peoples.” Maybe “in theory” that is the case. However, “in the real world” (to use Rosenberg’s words) it is almost impossible to envision this happening given the make-up of the Israeli power structure and its worldview.
Most of those who organize and participate in the movement to boycott Israel know that the two-state solution is dead in the water. Even if the present negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry produce some pale imitation of a Palestinian state, it is hard to see it amounting to anything but a Bantustan. The fact is, even now, there is only one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and that is Zionist Israel. Having realized this, the boycotters have two choices: to give up the cause or to pressure for the transformation of Zionist Israel into a democratic, religiously and ethnically egalitarian state – a new Israel. This is what Mr. Rosenberg calls “dismantling Israel.”
Part II - The South Africa Precedent Plus the Right of Return
Those seeking a genuine democratization of Israel are encouraged by the past dismantlement of apartheid South Africa. But Rosenberg will have none of this either. He points out that in that case it was “the South African apartheid regime that was abolished, not the country known as South Africa.” Here he is not clearly thinking his point through. The boycott movement helped destroy an apartheid ideology and its institutionalized manifestation as the government of Republic of South Africa. That, perforce, altered the essential character of the country. There is no difference between that and the present boycott goal of the destruction of the Zionist ideology and its institutionalized manifestation as the government of State of Israel. That also must result in a change in the character of that country.
Finally, Rosenberg points to the demand embodied in UN Resolution 194, and supported by the BDS movement, which calls for the return of Palestinian refugees evicted in 1948. This really scares him and understandably so. From the Zionist perspective, the demographics of Israel are precarious enough as it is. Allow back a sizable number of non-Jewish refugees and the maintenance of a Jewish majority in Israel becomes impossible. On this note I have a Palestinian friend who asserts that one refugee should be resettled in pre-1967 Israel for every Israeli settler living beyond the Green Line. Would Mr. Rosenberg think this fair?
When it comes to Palestinian refugees, what Rosenberg appears not to take seriously is the long-recognized fact that, when and if the implementation of the Right of Return ever takes place, it will certainly be the result of negotiations aimed at minimizing social disruption.
Part III – Conclusion
None of this analysis of Rosenberg’s position is meant to deny that he does raise a very serious question: can justice be achieved for the long-suffering Palestinians while preserving Israel as an exclusive Jewish state? He wants to answer this question in the affirmative and he thinks a two-state solution will allow him to do so. Unfortunately, that is “not how the real world works” (his phrase again) in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The truth is that this solution has been taken off the table by the Israelis themselves. We are left with a unitary Zionist state. The answer to the question of whether such a state is compatible with justice for the Palestinians is simply no. Zionism, like apartheid before it, has to go – for the sake of the Palestinians and also for a more promising future for the Jews.
Saudi Arabia Flexes Its Fanaticism – An Analysis (26 March 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – An Aggressive Anachronism
Saudi Arabia is one of a handful of Middle East anachronisms: a family-based monarchy that believes it sits at the right hand of God. The Saud clan that rules in Saudi Arabia is both insular and fanatic. It is devoted to the Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, perhaps the most strict and intolerant manifestation of the religion.
Except for the religious details, there is really not much difference between the respective outlooks of a Wahhabi true believer, a hard-core Christian fundamentalist, and the Jewish extremists in Israel. Like their Christian counterparts, the Saudis are proselytizers who spend huge sums every year supporting fanatical preachers pushing their message in far-flung parts of the world. And, like their Jewish counterparts, the Saudis have an army equipped with more advanced American weapons than they know what to do with. This, if you will, mechanizes their fanaticism.
Recently, there are suggestions that this is indeed the case. In 2011 the Saudi monarchy came to the rescue of another Middle East anachronism, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family monarchy in Bahrain. The Al-Khalifa were in trouble because for decades they had been systematically discriminating against the country’s Shiite Muslim majority until, in the atmosphere of the short-lived Arab Spring, the Bahraini Shias decided to stand up and demand a bit of democracy for their homeland. When the Bahraini police, mostly imported from Pakistan, could not handle the evolving situation, the Al-Khalifa called in U.S.-armed Saudi troops to put an end to any hopes of a better, more democratic Bahrain. Even though the Saudi incursion violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, there was no protest from Washington.
In the meantime the Saudis have also been busy funneling money and weapons to the Sunni opposition in places like Iraq and Syria.You might not like the governments in Baghdad and Damascus, but the groups the Saudis are underwriting are often worse. Be they the suicide car-bombers of Iraq or the self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, Saudi money, both private and government funds, along with the guns they buy, have been making their way into the hands of people who seemed to have the same callous disregard of non-combatant life and limb as do, well, the guys who operate U.S. drones in Yemen.
There have been repeated protests about this sort of Saudi behavior. The Russians have complained about it in relation to Syria, and the Iraqi government has directly accused the Saudis of sponsoring terrorism in their country. Has this given any pause to the zealots in Riyadh? No, it has not, because, like the Israelis, they know that they have God on their side and, ultimately, Washington D.C., as well.
Now the Saudis have turned their bullying ways toward their neighbor Qatar. In early March the Saudi foreign minister declared that Riyadh would “blockade Qatar by land and sea” unless that country ceases its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a mostly non-violent Muslim organization that the Saudis have illogically designated a “terrorist” group – probably because the Brotherhood proselytizes a rival interpretation of Islam and has been outlawed by the Egyptian military dictatorship, which is an ally of Saudi Arabia. They also want Qatar to close down Al Jazeera and evict several U.S.-based research organizations with offices in Doha because they have all been critical of Riyadh. Considering that most of Qatar’s fresh food comes across its only land border with Saudi Arabia, the threat must be taken seriously.
Part II – Lack of a U.S. Response
There is no indication that the United States will stand by relatively liberal Qatar any more than it supported the democracy advocates in Bahrain. As far as Washington is concerned, the oil that comes out of Saudi Arabia to America’s trading partners (not much of it comes to the U.S.) is more important than the independent broadcasting of Al Jazeera, the American research centers and, without a doubt, the ideology of democracy. And it is the Saudi monarchy that keeps the oil flowing. Thus, despite some complaining, the U.S. acquiesces in the behavior of the Saudi fanatics, just as it does with the Israelis.
This means that Washington can sanction the Russians for protecting their security interests and the Russian-speaking population in the Crimea. They can sanction the Iranians for developing nuclear energy. And, they can acquiesce in the utter destitution of 1.76 million Gazans. But you will hear no talk of sanctions due to Saudi aggression or its sponsorship of terrorism.
Part III – Strange Bedfellows
At present the Saudis and Israelis are acting in unlikely unison on a range of issues such as support for Egypt’s military dictatorship. This makes them strange bedfellows. What can they possibly have in common? Well, besides adhering to arrogant and aggressive notions of manifest destiny, they both fear democracy in the Middle East. And, believe it or not, we can make the duo into a trio by adding the United States. Why should all three governments fear democracy? It’s really very simple. What often happens when there are free and fair elections in that region of the world? One gets leaders and governments that are (1) almost by definition wary of monarchies and other forms of dictatorship, (2) anti-American, because Washington is an historic supporter of Middle East dictators, (3) pro-Muslim, but not receptive to the strict Wahhabi or Salafi versions of Islam, and (4 ) more active in their support for the Palestinian people.
At this point these strange bedfellows are having their way. The Arab Spring and its aspirations of a more tolerant and democratic Middle East are, with the possible exception of Tunisia, rapidly fading memories. In its place we have the fanatics: the military style in Egypt, the religious style in Saudi Arabia, and an aggressive mixture of the two in Israel.
And what about the U.S.? Well, its style is to arm fanatics and dictators and then preach democracy. In Washington, the name of the game is hypocrisy.
Who Set-Up Medea Benjamin? An Analysis (16 March 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I - Background
For several months prior to March 2014 the peace organization Code Pink was in communication with Egyptian diplomatic representatives in the United States. The two sides were arranging for the arrival of approximately 100 women from around the globe who would come to Egypt, travel up to the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, and (if prevented from actually crossing into the besieged territory) hold a demonstration on International Women’s Day (March 8) to show solidarity with the women of Gaza.
One of the principal organizers of this event was the well-known peace activist Medea Benjamin, winner of such awards as the Martin Luther King Peace Prize (2010), the Marjorie Kellogg National Peacemaker Award (2012), the Thomas Merton Center Peace Award (2012) and the Peace Foundation Memorial Award (2012). Benjamin is, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “One of the high profile leaders” of the American peace movement.
Here then was the situation: We had a nationally known personality traveling to Egypt for a publicly scheduled and well-advertised peace mission. The Egyptian government knew she was on her way and it is probable that the U.S. government also knew her plans.
Part II - The Set-Up
Benjamin, along with several other members of Code Pink, arrived at Cairo’s international airport about 8 p.m. on March 3. In her own words here is what happened next:
“I arrived at the airport. When I gave in my passport, I was taken aside, brought into a separate room, where I was held for seven hours without anybody ever telling me what was wrong. Then I was put into a jail cell at the airport, held overnight. And in the morning, five very scary-looking men came in and wanted to take me away. And I said, the [U.S.] embassy is coming. They were supposed to have arrived. Instead, the men dragged me out, tackled me to the ground, jumped on me, handcuffed my wrists so tight that they started bleeding, and then dislocated my shoulder, and then kept me like that grabbing my arm.”
In the meantime both the Code Pink members who had accompanied Benjamin to Egypt as well as those in the U.S. were pleading for help from the U.S. embassy in Cairo. They would continue to plead for some 13 hours. The embassy refused any assistance, telling the women that they “were on their own.”
To this day Benjamin has not received any explanation for the incident from either the Egyptians or the Americans.
When an official at the Egyptian interior ministry, Brigadier Alaa Mahmoud, was asked about the incident by CNN, he replied, “Benjamin was not detained. She was denied entry because her stated reason for visiting Egypt was to make a trip to Gaza. Authorities explained to her that the crossing was closed and consequently refused to allow her to enter the country.” He denied that she was assaulted or that force was used on her.
Mahmoud did not explain how Benjamin ended up on a plane to Turkey with a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder.
Part III – Responsibility
Here is what I surmise happened. Medea Benjamin’s horrid treatment was not a mistake. It was not the action of a few rogue border officials. It was a premeditated act on the part of the military dictatorship that now passes for a government in Egypt. Who gave the orders? No doubt this plot started in Washington when someone, probably a security officer attached to the visa department at the Egyptian embassy, recognized Benjamin’s name. He alerted someone in Cairo that a major supporter of the Palestinians and someone who had spoken up for democracy across the region was coming to Egypt. Then someone in Cairo decided to make an example of her.
The next question is: Would you do that to a high-profile American activist without running the scheme by some relevant U.S. official? I guess that depends on just how cocky the Egyptian security folks have gotten. However, considering the reaction (or lack thereof) of the U.S. embassy personnel in Cairo, it sure looks like the U.S. government was in on the plot. And, if they were, one has to ask the question why.
After all, when an American embassy gets a call from a U.S. citizen who has just been assaulted and harmed to the point that they need hospitalization, the standard policy is to render assistance. If necessary an embassy representative is dispatched to the scene to ensure such assistance. To deny such aid is so counter to policy that any embassy employee doing so is putting their job in jeopardy. Unless, of course, someone higher up has explicitly changed the rules. That is unlikely to have been done on the spur of the moment by someone at the embassy in Cairo. Such a negation of policy would have had to come from someone relatively high up in the Department of State or perhaps the White House.
There is actually precedence for this flip-flopping of the rules, and it is found at the U.S. embassy in the country of Israel. As the American activist Rachel Corrie and others have found to their dismay, in Israel the denial of assistance to U.S. citizens in trouble is the rule, not the exception. That might now be the case in Egypt too.
Part IV – Conclusion
As a matter of training and policy American diplomatic personnel are not supposed to cooperate with the hired thugs of Egyptian dictators or the military murderers of various regimes ranging from South and Central America to the Eastern Mediterranean. They are not supposed to conspire in the denial of the rights of American citizens just because they, or their bosses, disapprove of the political positions and actions of those citizens. To do so is to utterly trash the U.S. Constitution.
But we know that in practice our diplomats are quite capable of doing just this. And, while you will never get the bureaucrats to admit it, I am pretty sure that there are government officials both in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Cairo who conspired with the thugs now employed by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to drag the U.S. flag through the mire by turning their backs on Medea Benjamin. There should be consequences for such treason.
Disturbing Democracy – An Analysis (7 March 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Disturbing Democracy
In the past couple of years a disturbing political phenomenon has arisen. To put it simply, groups espousing democracy have caused their countries to politically self-destruct by violently turning against the results of free and fair elections. Apparently, they act this way because the elections did not go their way and/or the elected officials adopted policies they oppose. They do so even when there is a possibility that changes in policy, and even changes in constitutions, can be had peacefully through legal means.
Admittedly this is happening in states both new to democratic politics and deeply divided along ideological lines. A tradition of compromise and sensitivity to minority rights are not yet manifest.
Part II – The Egyptian Example
As I have explained in a previous analysis, this is what happened in Egypt in 2012-2013. In this episode, the country’s democracy movement, led on by such groups such as Tamaroud, turned against the democratically elected government of Mohammad Morsi because of its Islamist orientation.They boycotted the government’s constitutional convention, claiming that their demands were not being met, allied themselves with authoritarian forces, and went back into the streets to bring the government down.
These ersatz democracy advocates believed that the Morsi government was going to create a “dictatorship of the majority,” that is, an Islamist majority. They were frightened that their minority rights, be they in reference to religion, lifestyle, or gender, would not be protected. This was a palpable fear rather than an assured fact. Thus, the real question for them should have been whether the constitution the Morsi government was creating was open to amendment by democratic actions over a reasonable period of time.There was some debate over this but no definitive evidence that this would not be the case. Nonetheless, instead of allowing Morsi to serve out his term of office and test out the proposition that political evolution was possible within the newly won democratic environment, the “liberals” showed no patience. They simply abandoned the democratic road. There was something strange about this, for given their ability to bring massive numbers of people into the streets to demonstrate against Morsi, one would think that, come the next election, their chances to exact meaningful compromises from the Morsi forces was very good. Worse yet, they conspired with the starkly undemocratic military officer corps to overthrow the government. In this they succeeded and now find themselves under a brutal military dictatorship.
Part III – The Ukrainian Example
Now we have the situation in Ukraine. Like Egypt, the Ukraine is deeply divided, this time between those who identify with western Europe and those who identify with Russia. Driven by both economics and anti-Russian sentiments, the former group wants to join the European Union, and some go so far as to call for Ukraine to become part of NATO – a really provocative move given Russian sensitivities. The latter group for its part is mostly made up of large numbers of ethnic Russians.
In 2004 Ukraine experienced its “Orange Revolution,” in which a campaign of non-violent popular protest overturned a presidential election tainted by widespread vote rigging. Under the circumstances, this action was both appropriate and necessary. In the reelection that then took place, Viktor Yushchenko, a Western-oriented leader, won the presidency. However, for the next four years political power within Ukraine’s parliament shifted back and forth between the various ideological blocs.
In 2008, the global financial crisis caused a severe downturn in the Ukrainian economy. That situation no doubt influenced the outcome of the 2010 elections, which brought the Russian-oriented Viktor Yanukovych to power. Yanukovych proceeded to negotiate an extension of Russia’s lease on the naval base at Sevastopol in return for favorable prices on imported natural gas. All efforts to join NATO were abandoned.
Yanukovych adopted other policies orienting Ukraine toward Russia. He may have felt ideologically comfortable in doing so, but he also had good economic reasons for his actions. Ukraine needed financial support, and the West, in the form of the European Union, was offering an economic package with many neoliberal economic strings attached. So Yanukovych decided to go with the Russians, who offered to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainain bonds and again reduce gas prices. Yanukovych for sure is no angel, and unless he is watched carefully he may well play fast and loose with democratic rules. However, his decision to negotiate a deal with Russia, announced in November of 2013, was legal and economically prudent.
Before the end of November, the Western-oriented opposition, the ones who allegedly were most supportive of keeping things within democratic parameters, put hundreds of thousands people in the streets of Kiev. The demonstrations were started by students supporting a turn toward the West, but they were soon joined by right-wing nationalist groups whose rhetoric and actions have unsavory fascist overtones. The protestors were soon taking over government buildings – behavior which spread to regional cities by early in 2014. Soon the risk of civil war was real.
I have seen no evidence of a formal alliance between the democratic protestors and those of fascist leaning. On the other hand, I have seen no evidence that the democrats sought to distance themselves from the fascist right. They seem to have informally been brought together by the common objective of destroying the Yanukovych administration.
In the face of the growing protests, Yanukovych agreed to a compromise agreement with opposition leaders that would have paved the way for a new “national unity government,” a reduction in presidential powers, and early new elections. It was at this point that the protest movement made a truly fatal mistake. The opposition forces in the streets refused the negotiated compromise and stormed the presidential palace, forcing Yanukovych to flee the country. The opposition also took control of the parliament and issued an arrest warrant for him as well. As in Egypt, the forces of democracy had aided and abetted in staging a coup.
All of this predictably aroused Russian concerns not only for their naval facilities and personnel in the strategic Crimean Peninsula, but also for the fate of the Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population. It has also
opened the door to ethnic inspired separatism that could well pull the Ukraine apart. Recent events in the Crimea and eastern regions of Ukraine are just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible.
Part IV – The U.S. Response
The United States, the self-proclaimed head of the “international community” and (at least in its own eyes) a democratic model for the world, has not reacted to these events in an inspiring fashion. In the case of Egypt, the Obama administration refused to call the overthrow of the democratically elected president a “military coup,” even though that was the case. Avoiding the obvious meant that there would be no automatic cutoff of the bulk of American aid to Egypt. For its part, Congress made no move to deprive the new military regime of the statutory aide doled out to the Egyptian army each year. In fact, the U.S. has had an all-too-muted response to the demise of democracy in Egypt.
When it comes to the Ukraine, there is some evidence that neoconservative holdovers in the State Department encouraged the Ukrainian opposition in its defiance of the elected government. Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who repeatedly showed up at Kiev demonstrations to hand out cookies to both demonstrators and police, was caught discussing, on an open telephone line, who should be the new leader of the country. Her favorite candidate turned out to be a 39-year-old Ukrainian adherent to neoliberal economics, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was willing to “cut subsidies and social payments” along the lines of an IMF aid plan. These are just the sort of policies that would guarantee that Yatsenyuk would never win an honest election.
Part V – Conclusion
The behavior of the Egyptians and Ukrainians may not be all that surprising. Neither people comes out of a democratic political culture. Nonetheless, there is something particularly disturbing when those who present themselves as champions of democracy betray their own alleged principles and violently refuse to accept free and fair electoral results. It is the old scenario where you will play the game only if you win, otherwise you fly into a rage and upset the whole board. The situation gets even worse when one realizes that representatives of the U.S. government might be encouraging such anti-democratic behavior.
Liberal democracy (with a strong, tempering dose of social democracy) may be the best, or perhaps the least worst (it depends on how you look at it), form of government there is. However, to create it and keep it requires tolerance and willingness to make reasonable compromises. It also precludes making deals with authoritarian forces whose ambitions are dangerous to democracy itself. Will others learn from the mistakes of Egyptian and Ukrainian democracy advocates? Somehow I doubt it.
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