Editor’s Note: Deena Stryker joins FDL Book Salon on Aug 2nd to discuss Lunch With Fellini, Dinner With Fidel.

A soldier leans against a tank in Tahrir

Obama’s riddle: When is a coup not a coup?

You may be noticing the slightly confused expression on Obama’s face when he talks about the foreign affairs these days: he almost seems to be apologizing for contradictions that are obvious to even the most casual observers.

Here’s a sample:

  • Egypt first had a revolution, then a coup: after the revolution there was an election and the Muslim Brotherhood won. After the coup, carried out by the army, there was eventually another election and the head of the army won. Although officially we don’t support governments who come to power through a coup.  Egypt is so important (mainly to Israel) that all we did was hold back a few jets.
  • The Russian speaking inhabitants of Crimea, which was formerly a part of Russia, held a referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia: According to Obama, the referendum was not legal: Russia is fomenting separatism.
  • Scotland has scheduled a referendum for later this year, holding fast to its decision to do so in the face of Great Britain’s assertion that it would be illegal: Obama concedes it’s up to the Scots to decide their future.

What about a state’s right to hang on to territory?

  • NATO reduced parts of Serbia to rubble because it wanted to hang on to Kosovo (albeit in the name of a hundreds of years old incident); with NATO’s help, Kosovo, a majority Albanian speaking province, became independent.
  • Two decades later, NATO accuses Russia of fomenting separatism, violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity by recognizing the majority Russian speaking province of Crimea’s referendum to join Russia, and Obama accuses Russia of being a big country that imposes its will on a smaller one.
  • In the same vein for the seccessionist referenda held in Eastern Ukraine, Obama tells Russia it has an ‘obligation of influence:’ that it can only prove its good faith by convincing anti-fascist Ukrainians to accept a government that was brought to power by a fascist-led coup. Since when are leaders responsible for influencing outcomes?

France 24’s journalists were calling for Putin to recognize Petro Poroshenko as the legitimate president of Ukraine while knowing full well that even before the election he repeatedly declared his intention work with whoever was elected. Recently he noted that Poroshenko didn’t have blood on his hands (how long it will be possible to say that is not certain) and that he was ready to work with him. Putin emphasized that the Ukraine crisis had to be resolved through negotiations, which is what he says about every international conflict, as opposed to American leaders who invariably call for punitive measures and ‘leave no option off the table’.

Finally, there’s the issue of ‘killing one’s own people:’ Assad in Syria has been hammered relentlessly for this, although he is facing a foreign invasion; Egypt’s Al Sissi gets a pass. As for Poroshenko, he is doing the same in Eastern Ukraine, having declared he wanted the area ‘pacified’ before his inauguration, which is imminent! (At least he didn’t yell that they had to be ‘eliminated’ as two other presidential candidates, Right Sektor boss Dmitry Yarosh and Julia Timoshenko did.)

What all this boils down to is that if democracy is to political science what roses are to flowers, whatever its original attractiveness, when it fades, it doesn’t smell very good.

Photo by Sherif9282 released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.