In Brussels, Belgium, yesterday, President Obama explained the clear distinction between the U.S. invasion of Iraq, to free a nation of 25 million from a totalitarian dictatorship, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, to annex land and 2.5 million people into Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship.
Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I participated in that debate and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.
It is true that Crimea voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine, but secession is illegal in every nation without approval of the legislature, or, in dictatorships like Russia, without approval of the dictator.
It’s too late now to reverse the annexation of Crimea. The West’s complacent fantasies made it easy for Putin to get away with this international crime. The saddest part is, for the adult population of Crimea, that referendum probably was the last time they’ll ever see an election that gives them more than one option.