Saturday, December 04, 2004

My Letter to Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof's column in today's New York Times is about the Ukrainian elections and the differing responses of Europe and the United States to the news that the Ukrainian Supreme Court overturned the election results and ordered a new run-off election.

As I have said before in this blog, I am a big fan of Kristof's writing and points of view, but I think in today's column he failed to grasp the larger issues behind the tepid U.S. reaction to events in the Ukraine that are truly a triumph for democratic values in that republic.

I e-mailed Kristof with my thoughts, and I've decided to post part of the content of that e-mail here.

Mr. Kristof,

I enjoy your column immensely and find it consistently intelligent, humane, and engaging. I almost always agree completely with your point of view and your conclusions, but in your column today, titled "Let My People Go," I think you missed the boat a little bit about the reasons behind the White House's muted reaction to the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the election results and order a run-off election.

I don't think that Pres. Bush and his closest staff members, in their heart of hearts, are truly happy about the overturning of the election results. From what I have read and heard, Yanukovich supports Washington's policies more strongly and unequivocally than Yushchenko does. Plus, Pres. Putin and Pres. Bush are friends: Putin strongly supported a Bush victory in the recent elections and Bush has said publicly that he considers Putin a good friend. I think it's almost a no-brainer that Bush wanted Putin's choice in the Ukraine elections to win.

Of course, Bush can't say that out loud, for obvious reasons. He doesn't want to look like he is opposing democracy and democratic values. But I think that explains the muted reaction to the Supreme Court's decision.

Also, Mr. Kristof, don't you think that there might also be an element of embarrassment at work here? The past couple of weeks' events in the Ukraine, and the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the election results, shows up the United States so stunningly that maybe it even gives the White House a bit of pause. (Maybe.) The comparison between the Ukrainian people's fearless support for free and fair elections, and their Supreme Court's willingness to invalidate election results and order a run-off election because the voting was marked by massive fraud; and the 2000 Presidential elections in the United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed concerns of massive fraud in Florida, ordered the recount stopped, and declared Bush the winner, could not be more stark. I might also point out that a battle has been going on in Ohio over probable vote count irregularities since the election, and Ohio residents are not pouring into the streets by the hundreds of thousands and blocking access to government buildings, as Ukrainians have been doing. Could it be that Americans take democracy a little too much for granted? -- something that Ukrainians, who have only enjoyed freedom and independence for 13 years, are less likely to do.

If Pres. Bush HAD strongly and forcefully applauded the Supreme Court's decision yesterday, it would make him look like the biggest hypocrite who ever lived. I'm almost glad he had the sense not to put himself into that position.
Of course, it's not only ordinary Americans who take democracy for granted, or who are more likely to recognize and talk about struggles to uphold democracy in other countries, but rarely in their own. The mainstream media is guilty of this, too. For the past two weeks, articles about the challenge to the Ukrainian elections have been front-page news almost every day, accompanied by banner headlines, photographs, and video links. Conspicuously missing has been any significant mention of the serious allegations of election fraud in the presidential election just passed. Right now a battle is going on in Ohio to get a recount of the Ohio vote and an investigation into other possible voting irregularities, and the article linked here was buried in a sidebar list of Reuters and AP stories.

One of the speakers at the Ohio rally opened her address to the crowd with: "Welcome to the Ukraine." But the only parallel is the election fraud. The massive and overwhelming public outrage is in the Ukraine alone.

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