We here at Trebuchet Magazine like to challenge the standard narrative and report on things that matter in the hope that we can bring a new perspective to a political issue.
But there are times when the established narrative is pretty correct, and when coming at it from an alternative perspective just makes you look like a dick.
Such is the case with some of the recent coverage surrounding the Russian occupation of Crimea. There has been all sorts of chatter on social media questioning how the US or the UK can criticize Russia for its invasion when the ghost of the Iraqi War still haunts the international stage.
Calling Putin out for his actions in Ukraine is in no ways a defense of Western imperialism or regime change. Instead, we should call each example how we see it – as unmitigated violations of international law.
The United Nations is supposed to protect sovereign states from foreign occupation. However, it has rarely functioned as it was intended when the big powers come to play.
In the name of protecting ethnic Russians, Putin sent in the army. Russia had been on a soft-power campaign for years, however, issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians at its Crimean consulate, much like it had in Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Some see this as part of Putin’s grand overarching plan. Some wonder if he’s just flying by the seat of his pants. Either way, it is a gross violation of international norms the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War.
Say what you want about the Iraq War, at least Bush tried to justify its necessity before taking action. Never in modern times has a country moved so quickly or unilaterally to invade and potentially annex a neighboring state, unless you count some of the Soviets’ former abuses like the 1956 occupation of Hungary.
Squaring the Circle
There’s an odd logic that I have seen extremely left-wing people engage in when the issue of Western hegemony arises.
If one placed international policy on a line with liberal ideology on the left and realism ruling the right, there is a certain point where extremely liberal people begin to circle back around into the realm of realist political policy.
To them, everything is the fault of Western hegemony. Africa is poor because of the West. The violence in developing countries is due to colonial arrogance, the mashing together of people from different ethnic, religious, socio, and cultural groups into artificial nations doomed to fail.
I don’t fully disagree with either of those statements. However, to attribute all of a country’s problems to Western hegemony and meddling is not only stupid, it’s also rude and racist.
It ignores the better part of 60 years of independence. It disempowers leaders around the world who play their own political games and may only be nominally beholden to Western opinion. It denies agency to entire populations for their own future and well-being.
Ever heard the phrase, “better the devil you know?” Without losing too much nuance, some world leaders are just that – devils.
It is a form of affected cynicism to scoff at Europe’s condemnation of the current situation in Crimea because of their past misdeeds. It serves nothing and no one and only makes the world worse off.
Warping the Lens
Where this has gone particularly off the rails is in relation to Venezuela. Though the protests there haven’t has as much press as those in Ukraine, they have been very real and have recently turned very violent.
Many hard-core leftists believe that former president Hugo Chavez could do little wrong, that he was fighting against established powers – the wealthy capitalists who for so long had kept the country mired in poverty. Under Chavez, the country made tremendous strides in health and education provision, especially to the poorest of the poor throughout the country.
However, it is also undeniable that his rule became increasingly autocratic and that the country became undeniably more dangerous. He warped the power of the media and constantly used his position to decry imperial American powers.
Again, don’t get me wrong, the United States has a history of doing really horrific things in the Americas, which for over a century it has considered its backyard.
However, ignoring one leader’s autocratic turn because of his social spending, funded mostly through oil revenues, is ludicrous and absurd. His death shook the foundation of Chavismo, its charismatic cornerstone crumbling and leaving current president Nicholas Maduro to continue his policies without Chavez’s popularity.
Quashing dissent in the name of greater democracy is no democracy. Deploying live ammunition against protesters is no democracy, and should be condemned in any scenario.
But what about the bullets and the dogs that the United States used against labor and civil rights leaders throughout the 20th Century? How can the US condemn what it once condoned?
Does that make any of it right?
Fighting for Common Decency
George Orwell famously fell out with many of the most prominent leftists of his time when he questioned the bona fides of Stalin’s Soviet Union. We can look back and see that he was undoubtedly in the right.
He was demonized in his time by leftist colleagues who were so blinded by their hatred for capitalism that they could not see the atrocities committed by those who shared their political and economic ideals.
It’s why we must, as people hold closer to a code than an ideology, a code that says violence is wrong in every example when it is used to oppress the weak. Forget left versus right, capitalism versus socialism and live by the rule that we should do no harm.
If you want to be a positive force in the world, fight for rights. Fight for expression, fight for protection, fight for freedom. And if ever you see oppression in the world, question it, even if it hurts.
It’s easy to play the sarcasm card, or to look for false equivalency. But in the end, who does that help? There’s more to the world than looking smug and finding cynicism in everything.
So join with those protesting for peace in Moscow, the ones who were arrested. Join those who oppose inequality in Venezuela, the ones who have faced death and stayed in the streets. Join anyone who opposes violence and wants to find a place in the world free from anger and oppression.
Fight for the right to always be heard and to always be safe. And then fight for others’ right to always be heard and always be safe. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find our way through.
Sterling Carter writes on the intersection of political economy, arts and culture, and human rights. He has over five years’ experience on African development, violence and conflict with organizations including Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, and Search for Common Ground. He is originally from Flora, Indiana but pulled up stakes long ago.