Last fall I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study with the CAPA program in London. During my time there I met people from around the globe who opened my mind to a vision of the world through other countries’ and cultures’ eyes.
Many people I met in London and traveling around Europe expressed their love for how optimistic America is. These same people, though, were quick to give harsh critiques of the U.S.’s role in the world, letting me know that we are too focused on trying to exploit other countries in order to serve our own self-interests, not what is best for the world at large. This seemingly prevailing criticism of my country’s perceived selfishness struck a chord with me.
One weekend in the Czech Republic, I went to a pub in Prague and met many locals. One of them, as soon as he found out I was American, said, “Have you come to invade or overthrow our government? It seems your country has a habit of doing that fairly often these days.” This man may have had a few drinks, but in no way does that diminish the history behind his sarcastic remark.
Since 1945, the United States has played a large role in overthrowing more than 50 foreign governments, according to The Centre for Research on Globalization. At least 14 of these governments were democratically elected, including Iran, Guatemala, Congo, South Vietnam and Chile. The most recent was in Egypt.
All of these governments at the time of U.S. involvement had their own pitfalls, some more obvious and unjust than others. But the covert ousting of regimes by our government remains controversial at least, and evidence of reckless Western imperialism at worst.
I’m convinced this mindset of our country, which sometimes seems hell-bent on imposing its geopolitical dominance around the world, is playing out once again, this time in Ukraine. After Ukraine’s president rejected a trade deal with the European Union (EU) in favor of stronger ties with Russia, the U.S. and EU supported protesters in eventually overthrowing a democratically elected government, The Guardian reported.
I feel strongly that the Ukrainian government’s oppression of its people’s voices on the matter was not the only reason for U.S. involvement, as Washington and Brussels have led the public to believe. The other goal here is to expand global markets and Western influence further, right up to the border of Russia.
Expanding global markets sounds great in theory, but in practice it violates multiple treaties signed at the end of the Cold War.
The German Institute for International and Security Affairs says that when the former USSR leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to Germany’s reunification back in 1989, he did so with agreement from the U.S. that there was to be “absolutely no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction one inch to the east of Germany.” Then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker assured him that this would be the case indefinitely.
Since that moment, more than 20 years have passed and the foreign policy expansion efforts of the U.S., EU and NATO have proven this agreement to be, for their part, nothing but a lie. This is the kind of thing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he spoke of “the Western arrogance of feeling it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them.”
The protesters that the United States and EU supported in Ukraine toppled Viktor Yanukovych’s Russian-favoring government. These same opposition elements now have an increasing influence in the country’s destabilized political landscape. As the Washington Post and The New York Times have reported, many of these people support the ultra-right-wing nationalist Svoboda Party, with its racist and even neo-Nazi ideology.
So much for democracy, freedom and human rights prevailing as the reasons for involvement in yet another international crisis.
Those of us in the millennial generation need to pay close attention to our nation’s hypocrisy-ridden past and to ongoing crises such as that in Ukraine.
In London I took a media ethics course in which I studied Noam Chomsky, the MIT linguist and political critic, who said, “One cannot necessarily allow the state to define what is legal; now the state has a certain power to enforce a certain concept of what is legal. But power does not imply justice or correctness even.”
I am not saying Putin is great. Far from it. But since this is our future in a democratic society, we should be aware of and have a say in what our government does and doesn’t do.
Senior radio/TV major
printed in the 4/16/14 edition