Biden, Trump, and the Ukraine Crisis: Losing the Point of 2014 US Policy
US President Donald Trump is currently using US allies in the Ukraine to ‘out’ 2014 business ties between Hunter Biden and a “shady” Ukrainian energy executive, so that the president might bring down Joe Biden as a Democratic contender in the 2020 US election.
Unfortunately, US news agencies are trying to “get at” the very fast, spot story — while ignoring the bigger, more reflective global policy picture. A better American leader (or candidate), for example, would be examining the Obama administration’s 2014 policies in coordination with its EU allies, regarding the real crisis in the Ukraine of that time (and since). This was the subject of news stories in 2014, the time of Hunter Biden’s alleged offenses.
The 2014 crisis was this: Russia and its allies in the Ukraine were fighting popular demonstrations in Kyiv that favored an independent, pro-Western government. Support for this government, at the time, seemed to threaten existing economic relations with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin (notably, perhaps, purchases of its natural gas). Unable to control the revolution, Russian military forces fomented unrest in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine, the Crimean peninsula, and subsequently annexed the region (which, historically, has been very independent).
The issue really made the Western headlines, however, when Somebody (probably in Russia) leaked a telephone conversation between two US State Department officials. The two were discussing their (US administration) support of opposition parties and candidates for the Ukranian Parliament, in the context of trying to ‘democratize’ the Ukraine — favoring pro-Western candidates — in coordination with officials in the United Nations, among others. (The ‘big news’ of that conversation — quite superficially — was when one of the Americans openly said “Fuck the EU.”)
Today’s question, then, becomes: Was young Biden’s private linking-up with the energy firm Burisma in line with US and/or allied European foreign policy at the time? Or not? Was it, perhaps, simply unrelated — just as Donald Trump would like us to believe all his current, private business interests are unrelated to his policies today?* By not examining such unasked questions today — not chasing the local EU-Ukraine-Russia history and story — current “big (US) news” agencies seem constantly oriented around their own domestic bi-partisan fight over the next (whenever) US election — making the US-as-superpower election more important to the fate of “players” on this side of the Atlantic than is really fair. The external effect of such innocent US-centered stories, then, is to quickly “damn both (US party) houses” — and, by extension, all American “better angels,” including the democratic institutions of the United States, which romantic pro-West demonstrators in Ukraine (and elsewhere) hope to build for themselves.
Here, returning to the local story, I defer to the very good analysis of the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus, who said Russia’s release of that 2014 State Department phone call gave remarkable insight — transparency we need so badly now — into how US diplomats then conducted “a foreign policy process, with work going on at a number of levels.” For its part, Russian leaders hoped that their released tape of the conversation would show clear “US meddling in Europe” to justify their own sense of urgency to invade Eastern Ukraine during the election campaign.**
While they might have made a point, Marcus rightfully disparages the remarkable and growing institutional use of leaked information as propaganda or diplomacy — bypassing long-held norms of genuine institutional diplomacy. We are witnessing the the rise of “leak diplomacy” — “disinformation wars,” or manipulated “fake news” propaganda-campaigning, with Facebook, however unwillingly, encroaching on the work of responsible media, as well as on the work of the world’s foreign ministries. Today, this is something which is engaging the former superpowers — now two very non-traditional “pro-business” administrations — of both the United States and Russia, a terrible trend.
And this is what’s startling to West-oriented Europeans, (once again) caught in the middle: In all his “perfect” policy phone calls and tweeting — toward targeting former Vice President Joseph Biden and the civilian/economic work of his son in the Ukraine — US President Donald Trump continues to engage in a dangerous personal propaganda war against his own government and increasingly, from a European point of view, a war against his own people.
*The president is certainly selective in the overseas private business interests that he supports — mostly those that serve his own. In his tweets against Hunter Biden, in other words, we have yet another example of the American president and his Republican Party practicing the Machiavellian political art of projecting their own sins onto others. (This really deserves more media study: For decades, US Republicans have blatantly accused Democratic opponents of various kinds of immorality and corruption — even launching Justice Department prosecutions — to mask their own.)
** Jonathan Marcus, BBC: “The US says that it is working with all sides in the crisis to reach a peaceful solution, noting that ‘ultimately it is up to the Ukrainian people to decide their future’. However this (leaked phone conversation) transcript suggests that the US has very clear ideas about what the outcome should be, and is striving to achieve these goals. Russian spokesmen have insisted that the US is meddling in Ukraine’s affairs….”