President Obama addressed the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly today in New York and gave what could only charitably be called an incomplete accounting of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine:
Here are the facts. After the people of Ukraine mobilized popular protests and calls for reform, their corrupt President fled. Against the will of the government in Kiev, Crimea was annexed. Russia poured arms into Eastern Ukraine, fueling violent separatists and a conflict that has killed thousands. When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, they refused to allow access to the crash for days. When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.
This is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed. America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future.
Aside from what HL Mencken would have recognized as “the usual hypocrisies,” there are, it hardly needs saying, a number of problems with this kind of capsule history of the Ukrainian crisis, not least the venue and the timing of its airing.
The United States has, as of yesterday, embarked on its fifth war (Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria/Iraq) in 15 years, and this time in the company of five Islamic countries, four of which are perhaps, and without exaggeration, some of the most odious regimes on Earth. The target of the U.S.-led airstrikes is a relatively small (30-35,000) army of fanatics and malcontents whose leadership happens to be made up of more than a few of the former Iraqi Army officers who were summarily dismissed in the aftermath of our second Iraqi adventure in 2003. The IS Group, ISIS or ISIL, has in addition to declaring war on the United States (no doubt for recruitment purposes, but no matter), also declared that none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin is in its sights for, among other things, helping to arm Assad and for Russia’s degradations in majoritarian Islamic Chechnya.
What this might suggest is that Russia, because it faces a challenge from these very same extremists, and given its vast military superiority over our five allies as well as its longstanding relationships with Syria and Iran, could be of some assistance in our latest Near Eastern adventure.
All the while, incidents of violence between Russia and Ukraine since the cease fire agreement took hold on September 5 have sharply declined. And on Friday the two sides will begin talks on how to address the issue of resuming the transit of Russian gas, which has been on hold since June 15, to Ukraine. That Mr. Obama thought that the opening of the UN General Assembly would be an opportune time to hector Russia speaks volumes as to the quality of counsel he must be receiving. And so rather than issue a plea for the cease fire to hold in eastern Ukraine, and rather than use his UN address to try and maneuver Russia into assisting the anti-ISIL coalition, the President, as he so often does, chose instead to grandstand and assert a largely fictitious American moral superiority before the world.change_me