Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Double Vision

In a Nation article last week, Stephen Cohen argued that the Cold War's "manichean, double-standard thinking" is making a return in the American foreign policy establishment, manifesting itself specifically in American consternation over the first round of voting (the fraudulent one) in Ukraine. There are more specifics in this piece than I want to get into, but I'll quote one line that I think is really very telling:

"The possibility that Russia may have a legitimate security or other national interest in Ukraine, to which it has been intimately, even familially, related for centuries by geography, traditions, language, religion, economics and intermarriage, was flatly ruled out. Indeed, according to an approving report in the Times by Elisabeth Bumiller (Nov. 30), Washington "Russia specialists say [Putin's] involvement in Ukraine is his most serious offense yet in American eyes.""

Let's take a closer look at the implications of this statement. What Cohen is defending here as "legitimate...national interest" is Russian financial and rhetorical support for Viktor Yanukovich, a politician closely associated with the notoriously corrupt Kuchma government. Said government surprised no one on November 21st when it rigged the voting in favor of its preferred candidate, and delivered a vote count which the Russian government instantly pounced on as evidence of a democratic mandate for Yanukovich. Based on the history of Ukraine's recent election, I don't think it's disputable that Cohen - consciously or not - is defending Russia's right to fix elections in countries it has a national interest in.

Of course, when Israel showed signs of meddling in the recent Palestinian elections - the outcome of which Israel had just as much of an interest in as Russia did in Ukraine - the Nation got a bit indignant (and rightly so). By the same token, if the US in any way condones electoral fraud in the upcoming Iraqi elections, I have no doubt that the Nation will lead the charge against American interference. Yet somehow Russia is given carte blanche to undermine democracy abroad for reasons of realpolitik which would normally be denounced by the left - at least if practiced by a Western democracy. Who, again, is being biased by a double standard?

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