The Hypocrisy of the West Part Two: The Moral High Ground
In which we discuss how the West is full of it
In Part One I attempted to establish that despite the fact that Putin is a dictator, the West (Europe especially) was happy to rely on Russia for its energy needs, while keeping its leader at arm’s length, thus funding his regime and ambitions. The bottom line is that fossil fuels purchased by the West largely paid for Putin’s atrocious and illegal war.
Yes but, I can hear some argue, we thought we could reason with him. There’s no reasoning with Putin, he’s a wild animal, a dictator! He’s the new Hitler!
Putin is not insane. He might have miscalculated, or he might have overplayed his hand, sensing an opportunity that wasn’t really there. I think he must have decided that even in a worst-case scenario (excluding a war with NATO), he would be successful.
I believe that the sad reality is that he can win. Because, frankly speaking, he is an autocrat and he is not really dependent on popular opinion. Many, even most Russians can be against his war, but it doesn’t matter much if their protests are violently quelled. Not unless said protests became so massive and persistent that Russia would simply stop in its tracks. Failing that, Putin will keep on leveling cities and killing civilians until Ukraine caves to his demands.
Having said that, one has to question how much democracy really matters in modern wars. Were Americans ever asked before their country bombed Yugoslavia? When their country invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? When trillions of dollars and human lives were sucked into the black holes of failed interventions and democratic projects instead of being invested in the crumbling interior of their own country? Was any citizen of the United States or of Europe asked about their respective country’s commitment to NATO participation in any of these (and other) instances?
All we can do is protest. That’s the key difference with Putin’s Russia. Wars, however, will happen regardless.
We can protest war, but we cannot vote on it. The American people can vote on candidates for office — who never make war or peace part of their platforms and never ask us what we think about any particular war. But we cannot vote for or against a candidate based on their likelihood to get us into a war, and we cannot vote for or against a war ourselves. Obviously, a sudden invasion or last-minute ultimatum can’t allow for a referendum in the defending country, but we all know that not all wars are born equal. Some wars are deliberated for months, and concern faraway countries, while the media gradually grooms public opinion accordingly, long before the first gunshot is fired.
And what if a war is proven beyond all doubt to be illegal? Are there any repercussions? Only Tony Blair comes to mind. His political career was ruined after his fierce support for the war on Iraq, but nothing more than that. At worst, it was considered a “mistake.”
The West is quick to summon the International Criminal Court to judge Putin’s actions, but where was this court when the US invaded Vietnam or Iraq (for the second time) or Afghanistan? How is it that the US (and allies) can get away with declaring war with a proven false “casus belli” and no one ever was put on trial about this? How is it possible that the United States ambassador to the UN can go on national television and claim, without pause, that the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of children due to western sanctions against an evil dictator was worth it?
The US finally got what it wanted. Iraq was invaded, Saddam Hussein was deposed and executed, even more people were killed and the war essentially lasted 14 more years. Was any of that worth it? A failed state and the subsequent power vacuum which festered into ISIS? And let’s not forget that Hussein was once a “good” dictator, an ally to the West who did indeed use weapons of mass destruction against Iran, half of which were produced by German companies.
There are many case studies available for analysis. Destabilizations, coups, interventions or outright invasions have all been part of the superpowers’ arsenals for decades, throughout the Cold War and beyond. There was little regard for international law in most cases, especially when the operations were clandestine or the political situation was complicated. Which it almost always is.
I will offer one case here, as it is often overlooked in the grand scheme of things. It’s just one example in a long list, but for us Greeks it’s deeply traumatic and significant. In 1974, after four unsuccessful assassination attempts in the previous years against Archbishop and President of Cyprus Makarios III, a coup was staged by the military junta in Greece to depose him. The coup succeeded, but Turkey used this as a pretext to invade the northern part of the island. Despite the fact that the puppet regime of the Greek junta collapsed (as did the junta itself) in the aftermath and democratic rule was restored in Cyprus, Turkey not only refused to end the illegal occupation but actually doubled down on the invasion, capturing more than one-third of the island and creating its own puppet state, which exists to this day. Approximately 150,000 Greek Cypriots lost their homes and properties and became refugees in their own country. War crimes were committed by both sides, with widespread rape used as a weapon against Greek Cypriots so extensively that the Orthodox Church of the island allegedly took the unprecedented step of unofficially allowing abortions. Greek Cypriot and Greek nationalist elements responded in kind in several villages. Turkey was condemned for ethnic cleansing, for multiple violations of human rights, for illegally invading and setting up an invalid state by many international organizations including the European Commission of Human Rights, the UN, the UNSC and others.
However, as Turkey enjoyed the status of a privileged NATO member owing to its proximity to the USSR, nothing really came out of these condemnations, other than consigning the Turkish Cypriots who live in the occupied territory to a miserable existence in a place that seems frozen in time, and the Greek Cypriot refugees to a displaced life of uncertainty and pain, as many families still wonder about the fates of their missing.
Not only that, but in the decades that followed, Greece has been engaged in a costly arms race with its neighbour and supposed NATO ally, Turkey. To be precise, our military budget is a staggering 2.6% of our GDP, more than any other country in Europe and over twice the EU average. This is something that routinely flies under the radar whenever there is talk in the EU about the “spendthrift Greeks”, as a significant percentage of the money goes to German and French defence contractors.
And all that despite the fact that Greece is a democratic country since 1974 and that Turkey’s “democracy” has traditionally been under the long shadow of its military, an iron grip which only Erdogan, a dictator himself, has been able to break for his own benefit.
If international law is not upheld within the EU and NATO, what hope is there for it to be upheld by Russia, a country which has only ever known authoritarian rule?
And what, pray tell, has NATO ever really done for Cyprus and international law, apart from protecting Turkey from any sanctions or real measures against it for what was for all intents and purposes an illegal invasion and occupation?
The fact that after WW2 Greece has historically been much more threatened by our NATO ally Turkey than the Warsaw pact countries to our north (Albania and Bulgaria) and that the US actively supported a military coup in an allied country must be some sort of cosmic joke.
This is not any attempt of “whataboutism”. There’s no doubt that what’s happening right now in Ukraine is an illegal and criminal invasion. It’s just about questioning the legitimacy of our claim, as the free world, to be the defenders of international law, freedom and justice. It’s about acknowledging that our track record in this respect is very selective and spotty at best. It’s about admitting to “do as I say, not as I do”. And to the fact that this tactic legitimizes any bending, breaking or stomping the rules to the ground, either by friends or foes, whether we like it or not.
The moral high ground which the West is supposedly standing on? It’s not nearly as high as we think it is.