Washington’s record on forcible territorial change is exceedingly weak.
The Trump administration is continuing the policy of its predecessor regarding the Crimea issue. U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley is the latest official to confirm that point. In a speech on February 2, Haley emphasized that the United States intended to maintain economic sanctions against Russia until Moscow returned the peninsula to Ukraine. “Crimea is a part of Ukraine,” she stated bluntly. She reiterated Washington’s firm position in remarks to the UN Security Council on February 21.
That stance is nearly identical to the Obama administration’s policy. Former secretary of state John Kerry blasted Russia’s action from the outset. “You just don’t in the twenty-first century behave in nineteenth-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext,” he fumed. “Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations.”
I’ve written elsewhere how the Trump administration’s stance on Crimea epitomizes the president’s rapid retreat from foreign-policy realism. But the Crimea case also illustrates a long-standing problem with U.S. foreign policy: a willingness to employ blatant double standards.
Numerous U.S. officials over the decades have insisted that territorial changes achieved through military force are illegitimate, and that Washington will not countenance such behavior. Crimea is merely the latest application of that policy. George H. W. Bush took an uncompromising stance regarding Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, and unlike the Obama and Trump administrations, even waged a war to reverse the result. Addressing a joint session of Congress to justify America’s entry into the Persian Gulf War, he stated: “A puppet regime imposed from the outside is unacceptable. The acquisition of territory by force is unacceptable.”
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