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Sunday, November 28

Not Clockwork Orange century

"Dear Pundita, I read in the UK Guardian that the Republican Party, the Democrat Party, the state department and George Soros have been meddling in the Ukraine election. Why are Americans meddling in Ukraine?"

I had no choice to put this question to the Peregrine falcon, whose occasional appearances at my foreign policy meetings galvanize the other members of the team to hastily decamp.

The falcon explained that State is not meddling, in their view; they are trying yet another means to prod the Soviet Union and its satellites to sign the terms of surrender. That the Soviet Union no longer exists is considered by State to be a crafty ploy to avoid signing the parchment. To put the falcon's observation another way, the state department has yet to recognize that the Cold War is over.

As for Soros, there's not enough daylight between State and Mr. Soros to see them as separate players; the Clinton-era faction at State that gave Mr. Soros his meddler without portfolio status is still dug in at Foggy Bottom.

With regard to America's version of the Capulet and Montague clans there may be some naive ones among them but the question is what the Democratic and Republican factions meddling in Ukraine really want. Getting answers to that question is not easy.

A more fruitful line of inquiry is whether the Americans are justified in meddling in Ukraine's politics under any circumstance. The U.S. military is today engaged in an internal debate about whether to continue adhering to the rules of engagement while fighting an enemy who breaks all the rules -- and uses the rules against those who adhere to them. The debate could also be applied to U.S. foreign policy.

The exigencies of the Cold War put ethics far down on the diplomat's list. If you're too young to remember those days, read John Le Carre's novels to get a feel for the era. The NATO allies were fighting a very powerful, very ruthless enemy. To the extent there were rules for the Cold War they were designed to be broken. Foreign policy on both sides of the war was the blackest of black arts.

However, that era did not have 24 hour instant global communication in the hands of the public; the era did not have gossip rags run like invading armies and with funds to match. And the Soviet enemy did not make a fetish of morality. The enemy we're today uses the issue of morality as his chief propaganda weapon.

Those who argue that the enemy is a thug behind his mask of morality miss the point. In this war, adhering to ethical conduct is not just the moral thing to do, it is also a big factor for the U.S. in waging a winning war. This is because it's hard to make even an honest mistake without getting caught, and without the mistake being blown up to the proportions of a capital offense. As for unethical or criminal behavior, the fallout from Abu Ghraib and the UN Oil for Food program indicates how hard it is to keep a lid on.

With every month that passes it gets harder in this war, to be a phony under the relentless glare of the media. Right now, the glare works more against al Qaeda and their state sponsors than it does against the USA. If we want to keep it that way we need to take special pains to keep our hem clean.

From that viewpoint it's moot to ask which Ukrainian candidate the US should support because all meddling in Ukraine is Clockwork Orange without the brainwashing techniques. The meddlers' machinations belong to the Cold War era; indeed, Mr. Soros is a textbook illustration of the thinking that dominated the era. In that era people who ran government and formed society's elite believed that the masses weren't sufficiently endowed to arrive on their own at a civilized judgment, let alone manage on their own with running a democracy.

Another question: Does hot war ever give a nation the right to meddle in the effort to stave off the fall of a government that is a war ally? I put this question to the falcon. I interject that it came as a surprise to me that Peregrine falcons are not particularly hawkish in their outlook. I guess if you can cause 90 percent of the wildlife in the Western Hemisphere to dive for cover simply by flying overhead, warfare wouldn't be a big issue for you.

The falcon's fix is that the direct approach is always preferable. I agree. Threats and shameless inducements made out of strategic considerations during hot war are ethically defensible. However, for a government to apply such means to influence an election outcome would be indefensible. Thus, the US should wait on the outcome of another government's election before exerting pressure and trying to strike deals.

And the state department should withdraw their support for the tactic of buying "democracy demonstrations," in the effort to unseat a government or influence another country's election. This is supposed to be Liberty's century, not Clockwork Orange century.
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