Last December, Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, told a group of Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion to promote the country's "European aspirations." She also personally encouraged anti-government protesters in Kiev by passing out cookies and discussed in an intercepted phone call who should serve in the new regime once President Yanukovych was gone.
Last month, when snipers opened fire and the violence killed both protesters and police, Kerry's State Department was quick to point the finger of blame at the democratically elected President Yanukovych, although more recent evidence, including an intercepted call involving the Estonian foreign minister, suggests that elements of the opposition shot both protesters and police as a provocation.
Nevertheless, the State Department's rush to judgment blaming Yanukovych and the gullible acceptance of this narrative by the mainstream U.S. news media created a storyline of "white-hat" protesters vs. a "black-hat" government, ignoring the many "brown shirts" of neo-Nazi militias who had moved to the front of the Kiev uprising.
As the crisis worsened, Putin, who was focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, appears to have favored some compromise with the protesters, urging Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the opposition and European nations on Feb. 21 accepting a cutback in his powers and moving up elections that would have removed him from office constitutionally.
But Putin reportedly warned Yanukovych about another element of the deal in which Ukrainian police pulled back. That created an opening for the neo-Nazi militias to seize government buildings by force and to force Yanukovych to flee for his life. Under the watchful eye of these modern-day storm troopers -- and with pro-Yanukovych officials facing physical threats -- a rump parliament voted in lock step to go outside the constitution and remove Yanukovych from office. [For a thorough account of the uprising, see "The Ukrainian Pendulum" by Israeli journalist Israel Shamir.]
A Murky Reality
Despite the many violations of democratic and constitutional procedures, Kerry's State Department immediately recognized the coup government as "legitimate," as did the European Union. In reality, Ukraine had experienced a putsch which ousted the duly elected president whose political support had come from the east and south, whereas the Kiev protesters represented a minority of voters in the west.
Faced with a violent coup on its border, Russia continued to recognize Yanukovych as the legal president and to urge the reinstitution of the Feb. 21 agreement. But the West simply insisted that the coup regime was now the "legitimate" government and demanded that Russia accept the fait accompli.
Instead, Russia moved to protect ethnic Russians in Crimea and in the eastern Ukraine. That, in turn, brought charges from Kerry's State Department about Russian "aggression" and threats that a secession vote by the people of Crimea (to leave Ukraine and rejoin Russia) was illegal.
What should now be obvious is that Secretary Kerry and his team have been operating with a self-serving and ever-changing set of rules as to what is legal and what isn't, with the mainstream U.S. press tagging along, conveniently forgetting the many cases when the U.S. government has supported plebiscites on self-determination, including just recently Kosovo and South Sudan, or when the U.S. military has intervened in other countries, including wars supported by Sen. Kerry, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and so forth.)
But another reason why the Ukraine crisis represents a make-or-break moment for Obama's presidency is that he is facing extraordinary attacks from neocons and Republicans accusing him of inviting "Russian aggression" by making deals with international adversaries, rather than making war against them.
So, if Obama hopes to continue cooperating with Putin in efforts to resolve disputes with Iran, Syria and elsewhere, he is going to have to explain bluntly to the American people the real choices they face: continued warfare and costly confrontations as advocated by McCain and the neocons or compromise in the cause of peace, even with difficult adversaries.
At this point, it looks as if Obama will again try to finesse the crisis in Ukraine, embracing Official Washington's false narrative while perhaps holding back a bit on the retaliation against Russia. But that sort of timidity is what put Obama in the corner that he now finds himself.
If Obama hopes to give himself some real maneuvering room -- and have a lasting influence on how the United States deals with the rest of the world -- he finally has to speak truth to the American people. He finally has to find his voice as Eisenhower and Kennedy did.[For more of Consortiumnews.com's exclusive coverage of the Ukraine crisis, see Neocons Have Weathered the Storm"; "Crimea's Case for Leaving Ukraine"; "The 'We-Hate-Putin' Group Think"; "Putin or Kerry: Who's Delusional?"; "America's Staggering Hypocrisy"; "What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis"; "Ukraine: One 'Regime Change' Too Many"; "A Shadow US Foreign Policy"; "Cheering a 'Democratic' Coup in Ukraine"; "Neocons and the Ukraine Coup."]