The Ukraine situation has once again shown that when president Obama is faced with an international situation where the sheer brute force of the US cannot be used to get his way, he resorts to childish language and taunts. This happened last year when Edward Snowden took refuge in Russia to escape from the clutches of the US security apparatus and president Putin ignored US calls to hand him over. Then Obama gave a press conference where he made the extraordinary comment that Putin looked like “he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom”, hardly the way to speak about a foreign leader.
The Ukraine situation in which Russia is doing what it wants and not what the US says it should do seems to have left him feeling ineffectual again and he has once more resorted to some childish rhetoric trying to demean Russia. In a press conference he disparaged Russia as a weak, regional power:
“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors — not out of strength but out of weakness,” Obama said in response to a reporter’s question about whether his 2012 election opponent, Mitt Romney, was right to characterize Russia as America’s biggest geopolitical foe.
This is clearly aimed at appeasing his domestic critics because the usual right-wing crazies are demanding that he show US strength by doing something, anything, without of course specifying what it should be.
In the same news conference Obama went on to make some laughable assertions of moral superiority, saying: “Ukraine has been a country in which Russia had enormous influence for decades — since the breakup of the Soviet Union. And you know, we have considerable influence on our neighbors. We generally don’t need to invade them in order to have a strong cooperative relationship with them. The fact that Russia felt compelled to go in militarily and lay bare these violations of international law indicates less influence, not more.”
Really? The US doesn’t invade its neighbors? Maybe Obama should take a look at this graphic that shows all the countries that the US has bombed, sabotaged, fomented trouble, or tried to overthrow governments since World War II. If you consider our neighbors to be just Central America and the Caribbean, the list includes Guatemala (three times), Cuba, Dominican Republic (twice), El Salvador, Nicaragua, Grenada, and Panama, not to mention repeatedly intervening in Haiti.
And if the US is feeling particularly neighborly, it will similarly attack countries in South America like Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Argentina,
But perhaps the most incredible claim by Obama is that what Russia did in Crimea is worse than what the US did in Iraq.
Speaking in Brussels, Obama dismissed suggestions by Russia and its supporters that the Iraq war undercuts the United States’ credibility in criticizing Russia’s incursion into Crimea in Ukraine.
“It is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate – not just around the world, but in the United States as well,” Obama said. “I happened to oppose our military intervention there.”
Obama added: “But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory, nor did we grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state could make decisions about its own future.”
This is the usual tactic of apologists for US imperialism. Find some small difference in two cases and insist that that alone is what makes the US superior. Then in the next conflict, ignore the previous difference if it has become inconvenient and find a different tiny difference and use that. But this latest claim of Obama is so risible that it is breathtaking in its audaciousness. The US invaded Iraq on the basis of deliberately manufactured lies, bombed its infrastructure to rubble, killed hundreds of thousands of people, left a devastated country that has ongoing violence and sectarian strife and is on the verge of a civil war, and that is ruled by an authoritarian government. And Obama has the nerve to say that what happened in Crimea is worse?
Obama may pay a price for indulging in such petulant language. He risks losing the cooperation he seeks with Russia on other international issues, Iran being just one. Putin is undoubtedly an authoritarian leader but even if he does not harbor grand expansionist plans, he seems to be at the very least a strong Russian nationalist and someone with an ego and self-aggrandizing image and he is not likely to take these remarks kindly.
Some time ago, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told his American counterpart John Kerry “Let’s act like adults”. Kerry should convey that message to Obama.