In a democratic country, it is a matter of basic principle that elections are preferable to violence as a way of resolving conflict, and that after a government has been elected, you don’t take up arms to overthrow it.
These are excellent principles. But when dealing with political conflicts in foreign countries, democratic powers too often forget their own principles.
Instead we apply double standards — one set of rules which we insist that our opponents ought to follow, another set of rules for our friends.
After the Geneva conference in 1954, in which both sides in the French Indochina War agreed to elections throughout Vietnam, the US government backed a group in the south who didn’t want the elections to go ahead. The US and its friends expected any elections to be won by the party of Ho Chi Minh, who was considered to be on the wrong side in the Cold War. The US government violated democratic principle, and this led to years of bloodshed, and ultimately to debacle for the US itself.
Two years ago in Ukraine (Feb 2014), the US government supported the paramilitary overthrow of an elected government which had not completed its term — the government of Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. This violation of democratic principle has already led to two years of bloodshed. Will it lead ultimately to another Vietnam-like debacle for the USA?
Régime change in Ukraine: timeline
What was the character of the régime change in Ukraine in 2014? Here is a timeline of key events…
- November 2013 Yanukovych announces plans for closer economic ties Russian Federation, calls off negotiations for an agreement with the European Union.
- November 2013 to February 2014. Demonstrators occupy central Kiev. Anti-government paramilitary groups assemble in the areas occupied by demonstrators. Western powers insist that Yanukovych must not suppress the protests.
- February 18, 2014. Opposition forces take over government buildings in Lviv (west of Kiev) and help themselves to over one thousand pistols and assault rifles.
- February 19, 2014 President Obama makes a statement condemning “violence” and holding the Ukrainian government “primarily responsible for dealing with peaceful protestors in an appropriate way”. He also says: “we expect peaceful protestors to remain peaceful”.
- February 20, 2014 Shootings by still-unidentified snipers in central Kiev result in over 50 deaths. Those killed are mostly protesters, but also some police. To opponents of Yanukovych, it is smoking-gun evidence against him.
- February 21, 2014 Yanukovych meets opposition leaders, agrees to a national unity government and early elections. The agreement is immediately rejected by leaders of the paramilitary groups.
- February 21-22, 2014 Paramilitary leader Andriy Parubiy announces that his forces, the “Maidan Self-Defence”, have taken up positions in Kiev government buildings, including the parliament building, the president’s building and national police headquarters. (See this report from the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN.) Yanukovych leaves Kiev. US ambassador Pyatt gloats that it is “a day for the history books”.
- February 22 to 27, 2014 Ukraine’s well-guarded parliament declares that Yanukovych is no longer president, and establishes a new government team, none of whom are members of the Party of Regions.
- April 2014 CIA director John Brennan visits Ukraine to discuss security cooperation with the country’s new leaders.
- April-May 2014 The new government in Kiev begins an “anti-terrorist operatiion” against people in eastern Ukraine who don’t recognise its legitimacy. The US representative at the UN Security Council calls the new régime’s behaviour “appropriate and reasonable”.
Obama’s statement on February 19 looks unobjectionable until the context is understood. Seizure of weapons from government armouries is hardly peaceful protest.
The February 20 “snipers’ massacre” gave opposition forces a plausible excuse for the final push against President Yanukovych. Did police panic and play into the hands of the opposition, or was the massacre a false-flag operation by the opposition paramilitary leaders? An analysis of publicly available sources, by political scientist Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa, seems to show that the snipers operated from buildings already controlled by opposition paramilitary; implying a false-flag operation.
Régime change in Ukraine: bottom line
Historian Timothy Snyder, an articulate advocate for the new Kiev régime, described what happened as a “classic popular revolution”. Or should that be “classic populist insurrection”?
In any case, doesn’t history show that classic revolutions are often followed by classic counter-revolutions, leading to a classic civil war? Maybe that’s one way of looking at the current war in Ukraine…
Political scientist Nicolai Petro compared the February events to the 1922 March on Rome, the armed demonstration which brought to power Europe’s first Fascist government.
While there is no reason to suppose that the régime change was micro-managed by the US government or its EU allies, public statements from US leaders show consistent support for the Maidanist “revolution”, before, during and after the capture of state power.
Developments since the régime change
The paramilitary forces which brought down Yanukovych have been rebranded as sections of the Ukrainian army and given better weapons.
The new régime held its own elections, in conditions of civil war and paramilitary power — elections boycotted in major cities of eastern Ukraine. Like the elections conducted by the Diem régime in South Vietnam in 1959, they were designed to legitimate one side in a conflict, rather than to resolve the conflict.
Andriy Parubiy, who led the paramilitary forces in February 2014, is currently the speaker of the Ukrainian national parliament.
Worrying parallels between western handling of the Vietnam war yesterday and the conflict in Ukraine today:
(1) Hawkish positions are taken not only by conservatives, but also by liberals.
Supporters of the militant pro-western régime in South Vietnam included not only conservatives like Curtis LeMay and Barry Goldwater, but also liberals like John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Supporters of the militant pro-western régime in Kiev include not only conservatives like John McCain and Tony Abbott, but also liberals like Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as George Soros and the German Green intellectual Ralf Fücks.
(2) Widespread refusal, by western politicians and media, to recognise agency of people in the conflicted country who are on the other side.
During the Vietnam war, western politicians and media gave little thought to why many peasant farmers in southern Vietnam supported the NLF. Instead, the NLF was dismissed as a proxy of North Vietnam, and the government of North Vietnam as a proxy of China and the Soviet Union.
Today western politicians and media show a similar disinclination to ask why industrial workers and farmworkers in eastern and southern Ukraine oppose the current Kiev régime. Instead opponents of the régime are dismissed as proxies of President Putin, and the civil war in Ukraine is called a proxy war.
In this way, western policies which played a part in starting the conflict and which perpetuate it are packaged in idealistic terms, as supporting a comparatively small “free” nation against a stronger adversary.
A difference between now and then
On a more positive note, there’s at least one big difference between the situation now and the Vietnam war days. Back then, we didn’t have the internet. Existence of online media makes it easier today to develop and express an alternative position. If we’re prepared to make the effort…
Colin Robinson lives in Sydney, Australia. He grew up during the Vietnam War period, and has a lifelong interest in relations between different nations and cultures, as well as in protest movements and social change. He studied Social and Political Theory and Chinese Studies at Murdoch University, Western Australia. He is an essay writer on matters of war and peace, comparative religion and the relation between mind and nature. Examples of his writing can be found through the website Kali for the World, and at the question-and-answer site Quora.
3 thoughts on “Ukraine – Vietnam Redux”
Like every other aspect of US foreign policy, Obama’s position on the events in Ukraine and The Crimea emit the stench of militarism and the insane belief that the USA has some “God-given” right to rule the world. Russia and its president are currently under relentless propaganda assault, surely a prelude to direct military confrontation one of these days. Madam Clinton’s ascension to the throne…I mean, Oval Office, which Obama suggests she’s been destined for her entire life, guarantees the continued ratcheting up of tensions. A Trump victory November 8, now considered highly improbable, would bring who knows what? Yes, we have been cursed to live in interesting times.
My fellow Vietnam veteran, Daniel Ellsberg, had a succinct answer to those who said that there were no similarities between America’s War on Vietnam (not to mention Cambodia and Laois) and America’s war on Iraq: “Yeah. Like in Iraq it’s a dry heat and the language our civilian and military personnel don’t speak is Arabic instead of Vietnamese.” Then, on October 25, 2009, Mr Ellsberg gave an interview on the Real News Network entitled From Vietnam to Afghanistan, in which reviewed yet another decades-long military quagmire also taking place in the middle east. I’ll just excerpt the opening comments of the interview, although the entire dissertation deserves a careful reading:
[Interview subtitle]: As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam.
“My experience in Vietnam, two years, going through 38 of the 43 provinces in Vietnam over a period of two years, looking at pacification, writing doctrine for pacificationactually, for what’s now called “counterinsurgency”taught me that we were not going to succeed in Vietnam, not by what we were doing and really, eventually I realized, not by anything that anyone had proposed. There was no prospect for victory in Vietnam, only endless, bloody stalemate that was likely to escalate as it did not only under Johnson but under Nixon as well.”
[Interviewer Paul Jay]: “And why?”
ELLSBERG:” For the same reason it was in Afghanistan. Let me repeat the same words, just change the place names. That’s what I could do with the papers I wrote 30 years ago and they would apply now. No victory lies ahead in Afghanistan, no success of any sort that will be lasting once American troops leave. American troops short of hundreds of thousands will not achieve anything that could be called success in Afghanistan. And I’m sure, by the way, that President Obama is being told that, just as President Johnson was and President Nixon. I don’t believe that there’s one official, like my former colleagues in the Pentagon, one official in Washington or in Afghanistan who believes that 40,000 additional troops, which is the minimum request by General McChrystal, will achieve any kind of success in Afghanistan or will be enough. I don’t believe there is one official, civil or military, who believes that 80,000 more troops will achieve any kind of success. Nothing short of hundreds of thousands of combined Afghanistan and American troops would, even in their own terms, by their own calculations, be successful. I believe they’re wrong about that, too. Either way, they’re not going to get effective operation out of the Afghan troops from any number of more years. We’ve been training them for eight years. Eight more years, 80 more years will not provide foreign troops the motivation to fight offensively against their own countrymen, against the independence of their own country, for a foreign power, and we are a foreign power in Afghanistan. That may seem like a truism, but it’s very hard for Americans to really internalize the meaning of that.”
I have quoted Daniel Ellsberg at length because his comments remind me of a paper I once had to write for a class in Sino-American relations back in 1972. After coming home from an eighteen-month tour as a U.S. Navy adviser in the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam, I got out of the military, returned to college, and enrolled in the foreign studies program in Taiwan, where I studied Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. My instructor in the Sino-American relations class, knowing of my status as a Vietnam veteran, asked me to write a paper comparing the U.S. intervention in the Chinese Civil War of 1945-49 and the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, which followed directly upon the French failure in their own ten-year military intervention in their former colony. Like Ellsberg, I gave as the summation of my paper, the observation that I could change the Chinese names and places to Vietnamese and the paper would read the same. The U.S. government and its handmaiden military (or the other way around) simply cannot learn from past experience in failed foreign interventions because its experience has only to do with its own maintenance, care, and feeding. The identity and particulars of the foreign country or countries devastated by American meddling simply do not enter into U.S. considerations. Foreigners don’t matter. Only political and career self-aggrandizement does.
I do not know what lies ahead for the U.S. military in Ukraine, but.the situation there seems more like what prevailed in Korea shortly before American belligerence so near the Chinese border — especially the threatening comments from U.S. General Douglas MacArthur — caused hordes of Chinese troops to pour into Korea, causing heavy U.S. casualties, knocking the American forces far back into South Korea, eventually leading to a bloody stalemate and negotiated cease fire, which has pretty much lasted until the present. Today, however, both Russia and China possess arsenals of atomic and other modern weapons, which means that neither will permit the U.S. to threaten their borders like the U.S. has so often done since 1945. The Russians, for example, have already made it perfectly clear that they will not fight the next war on their own territory as they have done so many times throughout their long history. They will fight the next war on their assailant’s territory, which the brain-dead morons infesting the U.S. government and military seem not to recognize even as they drive through it on their way to “work” each day.
The Russians and the Chinese have had enough. The next U.S. president will discover that the hard way if she thinks she can keep on going the way the last four U.S. presidents have. Gotterdammerung II: the Twilight of the Girls. Wagner would have understood and loved it.
I already covered this “Groundhog Day” thing in verse seven years ago on the advent of yet another U.S. president about to find himself bulldozed and run over by the Pentagram and associated deep-state war vampires. But, what the hell? Let us hear it once again for:
(From The Triumph of Strife: an homage to Dante Alighieri and Percy Shelley)
The changing of the guard brought no relief
To those who thought they’d voted out the old.
Instead, the ones who hoped soon came to grief
As pointless wars dragged on, with “new” lies told
That sounded like a replay, word-for-word,
Except for better syntax smoothly sold,
But meaning just the same as ever heard:
The status quo before and after shuns
The merest hint of change, however slurred.
The ones who “lost” kept winning while the ones
Who “won” soon found that they had really not;
That they had bought no butter – only guns.
You’d think that they could figure out the plot:
Not change they wanted, just the same they got.
He said that if elected, things would change;
So, once in office, change he did – and fast.
He pitched his voice just slightly out of range
So that which he had promised in the past
He afterwards could claim he didn’t say.
And, anyway, what virtues ever last
When power won intoxicates all day
And through the night, as well, until the dawn?
The devils, round the clock, come out to play
While sycophants and jesters kneel and fawn.
Our new Prince Charming revels in command
Of armies quartered overseas that spawn,
Through pointless violence, a deadly sand
That now blows back, eroding our own land.
The Law of Karma has a truth to tell:
That actions taken with a bad intent
Reap only consequences bad as well
And he who bombs the poor and won’t relent
Will find himself defending what he can’t
With all the lies the clever can invent.
No matter how well spun the bogus slant,
The recrudescent, bald resort to threat
Will always mark reactionary rant;
And tiresome war waged only on a bet
Has long since raised the overdue alarm.
The bankrupt deadbeat nation now must fret,
That having lost a hand, a leg, an arm,
It now looks poised to lose the whole damn farm.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2009
George Orwell would understand perfectly. Not just WAR IS PEACE, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, and FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, but America’s VERY own signature addition to political/military oxymoronic schizophrenia: DEFEAT IS VICTORY!