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Crimea, Ukraine, and Self-determination
March 3, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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What ever happened to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's principle of national self-determination? Shouldn't President Obama being standing up for this right for the people of Crimea and the eastern Ukraine?

Geopolitics is complicated. Ethnic (and religious & other) minorities within a nation are often majorities within a smaller region, and often aspire to have their own nation-states. Right now the Scots are getting ready to vote on independence from Great Britain, the Palestinians want independence from Israel ... the list is quite long.

Who gets a nation, and who does not? The strong get nations; the weak do not. But often the strongest nations, like the United States, do a lot of the decision making. Right now Russia looks like it is determined to help do some decision making in parts of the Ukraine, particularly in Crimea. To have a fair position on this specific application of the principle of national self-determination, it helps to have a historic perspective. Tweets from 3 microseconds ago are hard to interpret if you don't know the history of the past hundred years or so.

After making sure the British Empire won World War I (thereby protecting U.S. banking loans to London and Paris), Woodrow Wilson went to Europe with a lot of big ideas about permanent world peace. Best known for advocating the creation of the League of Nations, President Wilson proposed the principle of national self-determination. His specific territorial recommendations made in his Fourteen Points were supposed to derive from this principle.

Self-determination, the right of people to choose their sovereignty and political status, to be "governed only by their own consent," got off to a bad start. Woodrow Wilson himself was the architect of modern racism in the United States and within the Democratic Party. This was reflected in his attitude towards non-white people. He wanted self-determination for Poland, a state that did not exist before World War I, because that would weaken both Germany and Russia. But when the Japanese proposed that national self-determination should mean all the colonies of Britain, France, Belgium, Italy (and presumably the Japanese colony of Korea) should be granted independence if they wanted it, Wilson blocked that proposal in a committee which he chaired.

Putting aside Wilson's personal hypocrisy, consider the problem of trying to apply national self-determination to the real world, with its actual real human beings on the ground. Consider some 20th century examples.

Wilson did not grant independence to the American colonies of Puerto Rico or the Philippines. While Puerto Rico is still a possession of the United States, the Philippines became independent under Japanese tutelage during World War II. Then the U.S. recaptured the Philippines in an exceptionally brutal campaign notable for the massive execution of POWs by U.S. soldiers, a war crime. Only when the Philippines leaders agreed to permanent U.S. military access to the islands did the U.S. grant independence, of sorts, in 1946.

The basic principle the U.S. has operated under is democracy and national self-determination is fine as long as pro-U.S. governments end up in control. If anti-U.S. people want independence, or win an election to control a nation, that is another matter entirely.

Vietnam is perhaps the best example, although it is just one of many. Vietnam was a French colony [actually 3 colonies, collectively French Indochina] starting before World War I. It had an independence movement throughout its colonial history. Japan took over Vietnam during World War II, but the French [who were controlled from fascist France] continued to work with the Japanese. The Vietnamese independence movement fought for national self-determination during World War II, and tried to convince the Allied Powers (notably the U.S.) to support Vietnamese national self-determination.

American policy makers (ultimately President Truman) flirted with the idea of an independent Vietnam. Then they decided keeping France happy was more important. The French re-conquered Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought a bloody war for independence, and won. As part of the peace & independence deal the French and those Vietnamese loyal to them (mainly Roman Catholics) concentrated in southern Vietnam. They then refused to allow for national elections because they knew the Viet Minh, who had fought the French, would win. Instead, with U.S. backing, the French set up a regime in South Vietnam that was universally despised from its inception. The U.S. fought the Vietnamese War to try to keep Vietnam from being united and independent.

Even as President Obama scolds Russia for using military intervention in Crimea rather than diplomacy, the U.S. is paying anti-gay rights nations like Uganda to fight in Somalia. The U.S. has not even withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan. France has troops in several African nations, helping to decide who will rule there.

So why is the Ukraine so special? Well, first of all it is white people. Second of all, it has a large pro-Western following. But the pro-Russian faction won the last election. Why are the people violently protesting the last elections, including many young men who admit to being nationalist thugs, given the Democracy label? Can't Americans just admit that our leaders are not for majority rule democracy, they just want the Ukraine to join the European Union and be allied with the U.S. and NATO? Why can't we just wait for the next round of elections to see if sentiment has shifted and power can be transferred peacefully?

Why are Russian police actions bad, but U.S. and French and Brit police actions good?

Because Americans, the vast majority of them, or us, have a misinformed sense of right and wrong.

Is Putin an asshole? Sure. But that is not the issue for Obama and the American corporate security state. The only question they ask is: Is Putin our asshole? As long as he is our asshole, as Saddam Hussein once was, and as Osama bin Laden once was, being an asshole is no problem.

Self-determination for the Crimea would mean an election to see if the people of Crimea prefer to be part of the Ukraine or part of Russia. Or maybe even independent. I hope such an election is held so the rest of the world can know what Woodrow Wilson would think.

And how about independence or statehood for the U.S. possession known as Puerto Rico? What about Kurdistan for the Kurds, and ... list almost every ethnic minority that does not have its own nation here. There are literally hundreds of them.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

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