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The Road From Baghdad to Crimea

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Pro-Western demonstrators sit after being overpowered by pro-Russia demonstrators after clashes at the local administration building in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014.
Pro-Western demonstrators sit after being overpowered by pro-Russia demonstrators after clashes at the local administration building in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014.
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"You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext." ~~ US Secretary of State John Kerry

March marks the 11th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. With Russian forces taking up key positions in Crimea, and US rhetoric sounding as self-righteous as ever, it might be a good time to lament the credibility America left behind in Baghdad.

It would be a substantial understatement to say that Putin and the Russians are trampling on the sovereignty of the Ukraine and their right to self-determination. Although as Juan Cole points out, Ukrainian sovereignty, in historical terms, is fledgling at best. Nonetheless, there's nothing like armed Russian troops on your streets to put independence in perspective.

Is the situation "volatile" and "dangerous?" Potentially but not necessarily. One key factor in how quickly or seriously the situation escalates will be determined in significant measure by the rhetoric used by the US and the EU.

The US government for its part has been quick to denounce what President Obama called "a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." The problem is, what standing does a US president or secretary of state have to question a Russian act of territorial aggression in the shadow of the American invasion of Iraq. When John Kerry said, "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext," he might have added, "but we do."

As the Bush administration steamrolled toward military action in Iraq, marginalized voices of opposition in the US and around the world warned that, if the US went ahead with its planned invasion of Iraq without building a true international consensus or presenting a viable rationale for the assault, America would lose its credibility and its ability to play a leadership role in world affairs.

The pretext for US invasion of Iraq was quintessentially as trumped-up as any case for war has ever been. The arguments about weapons of mass destruction, nuclear and chemical arms, and a bevy of other ludicrous claims by Bush administration officials, now categorically debunked, have not been forgotten by other nations. They are George W. Bush's gift to American international incredibility that keeps on giving.

By comparison, the Russian military incursion into Crimea, however heavy-handed, is certainly supported by greater logic than the utterly baseless US invasion of Iraq. In fact there is very real popular support in Crimea for Russian military intervention. Not surprising, given that an estimated 59 percent of the population of Crimea is ethnic Russian. While the US chose to overrun the nation of Iraq literally a world away, Russia is at least asserting itself on its own doorstep.

There are security interests close at hand and of significant concern to the Russian Federation involved in considering the Ukrainian Revolution. Particularly in the Crimea. Events there clearly and directly impact Russian affairs in a material way. Russia presently has an estimated dozen or so military installations in Crimea, the most noteworthy of which is the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. The base is at this time beseeched and control is contested. Interestingly, thus far no shots have been fired. The situation highlights, however, the extent to which Russia is engaged in Crimea and compelled to remain so. None of which was true when the US and to a lesser extent the UK chose to invade Iraq, a war of choice, not of necessity.

The Obama administration touts the ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych by Ukrainian opposition demonstrators as a perfectly legitimate political event. However, they actually know quite a bit more than they are letting on. As Robert Parry points out, Yanukovych's overthrow was not nearly as spontaneous as the US government is now publicly portraying it. Yes, the US was involved, as were other less than stellar players including, according to Parry, neo-Nazi factions working to effect the regime change the West now applauds.

While there is little doubt that many Ukrainians want closer ties to the EU and the West -- particularly those in the western regions that border Western Europe -- Crimea and the eastern territories bordering the Russian Federation have far stronger ties and sympathies with Russia. Their solidarity with Russia should not be dismissed by Western governments or the obedient Western press.

The US, the EU, and their press oracles should have more carefully considered the direct impact of Ukrainian destabilization on Moscow. Left with no choice but to act, Putin will most certainly act. When the Russian Federation decides to invade a sovereign nation on the other side of the planet as the US did in Iraq, then the current dire rhetoric we are hearing might be justified.

In the meantime, the world powers that be might do well to keep their trumped-up pretexts in check. Right now Russian forces are not shooting and not -- yet -- moving west. The West should find a way to work with that while it has the opportunity.

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Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, now the founder, editor and publisher of Reader Supported News:

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