For some reason (and there must actually be one although what it actually might be eludes me), the government of the United States of America, in particular John Kerry’s State Department, the CIA, the NSA and for all anyone can tell, the Centers for Disease Control, were all caught by surprise by the Russian incursion into the Crimea.
Since our President frequently absents himself from national security briefings, he is about the only person drawing a government paycheck who has any understandable (not acceptable, but at least understandable) excuse for being clueless. No one told him what was likely to happen in Ukraine or Crimea because no one in the State Department or in the intelligence community could find him to pass along the information, nor was it being covered on ESPN.
In the unique bubble that covers Washington, there is a charming delusion that once an election is held, democracy is considered to be firmly in place. The fact that they operate on that delusion is particularly odd, since the real movers and shakers in this administration are Democrats and they are also from deep blue states where elections often are somewhat less than pristine. If elections do not indicate pure democracy in places like Chicago, why would these people think it operates any differently in Kiev, Cairo, Islamabad, Kabul or Simferopol?
Almost exactly three years ago I wrote an essay during the height of the so-called “Arab Spring” that asked one, simple question: Is There a Cry for Democracy in the Middle East? The simple answer that I proposed was “Are you kidding, or is that a trick question?”
Crimea has been dominated by a foreign power for centuries. Where sprang a desire for true democracy? All the good people of Crimea (and Ukraine itself) have no first-hand knowledge of how a democracy is supposed to work. They are more used to being dominated and having all decision made with a view to accommodating the desires of the dominator with absolutely no regard for those dominated.
And yet, after seeing how effective Iraq and Egypt have been installing democratic governments, our government seems to keep desperately holding on to their mantra of “But they had an election, didn’t they?”
Democracies do not spring full flower into being overnight. Look at our own country. It took us from 1608 with the founding of Jamestown in Virginia until 1789 to work out our constitution. That’s 181 years of practice, and we’ve still had to amend the constitution twenty-seven times! We had 181 years to develop the ability to rule ourselves without a king or dictator, so why would we expect a single election to embed democracy anywhere else?
Cairo and Baghdad should have been a warning about what might happen in Ukraine and Crimea. Yes, the former Russian territories aren’t carrying the additional burden that Iraq and Egypt shoulder, since neither is an Islamic nation. Still it would have useful if anyone in the administration had remembered what Mark Twain once said: “History never repeats itself, but it sometimes rhymes.”