It seems evident that Barack Obama today still does not understand how much he owes to President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. If he did, and if the cease-fire and negotiation terms Mr. Poroshenko has signed with the country’s pro-Russian insurgents in the Southeast of his country and their friends in Moscow continue to hold, he would thank the Ukrainian president for an invaluable gift of peace to Americans and NATO, as well as to his own countrymen.

President Obama said not long ago that his foreign policy principle was “not doing stupid stuff.” At about the same time his State Department and CIA were conspicuously guiding and supporting a coup d’état in Ukraine that was the exact contradiction to the Obama policy statement. The Ukrainian Parliament’s first post-coup act was to pass a resolution outlawing the use of the Russian language in Ukraine, which is the native language of more than a fifth of the population of a country that has always been intimately involved in the history, religion and culture of the Russian nation. Nothing could have been more stupid.

The result of that coup has been a civil struggle inside Ukraine, pitting a significant fraction of Ukraine’s Russian-speakers, semi-clandestinely backed by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, against the nation’s majority.

The Obama administration instantly reacted with a full-blast Cold War propaganda campaign identifying this uprising of Russian-language militants as an Hitlerian invasion of Ukraine which must immediately be repulsed by the patriots of Ukraine, backed by NATO, the United States, and the European Union (itself implicated in the February coup, and even having its own candidate to replace the totally disreputable but properly elected president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych — who had grabbed the last plane out of Kiev).

The American Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Victoria Nuland, was on the scene in Kiev to witness the coup, and — for God’s sake! — pass out cookies to the militants who had been organized to carry out this violent uprising. Everyone now knows of her phone call to the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which she dismissed with an obscenity the European Union and its candidate, and identified the (successful) American candidate to lead the post-revolt government.

Marvelous to say, this rather seedy-appearing fellow, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was within the fortnight dining in the White House with President Obama to receive hearty congratulations on the workings of democracy in Ukraine. I said above that nothing could have been more stupid than banning the Russian language. I was wrong. This much-publicized civil coronation by the American President of “Yats,” as Secretary Nuland calls him, was more stupid.

It seemed proof that Barack Obama was fully informed on what his foreign policy agencies were up to in Kiev on that night in February. Having respected Mr. Obama and supported his election, I had until the events in Kiev done him the courtesy of thinking that Secretary Nuland, Senator John McCain, and later in the piece, CIA Director John Brennan, had arranged this affair with their friends at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, to spare Mr. Obama the embarrassment of approving their ridiculous, illegal, and deeply damaging American act.

I had until recently felt that Mr. Obama, a man with little or no experience in foreign affairs, had prudently left the conduct of America’s wars to the generals — on condition that they ended them before he left the White House, which they had seemed to be doing — and foreign policy and diplomacy to the neo-conservative officials he had named to high posts as a gesture of political accommodation and good will toward Washington’s influential covey of Hawks.

Obviously I was not alone in my error. The distinguished University of Chicago “realist” political historian John Mearsheimer, lays it all out in the current Foreign Affairs, as does Stephen Cohen, the expert historian of Russia at Princeton, in several recent articles and lectures on these events. Anyone who has had a connection with American “democratization” programs, as I have had, will have sensed from the start what was going on in Ukraine.

Fortunately (one hopes, for Ukraine’s sake as well as the West’s) an election was held to name a new president, won by Mr. Poroshenko, a politically-connected plutocrat and confectioner (The “Chocolate King”) with commercial interests in Russia. Mr. Poroshenko immediately demonstrated the intelligence, and compassion for his people, to propose a cease-fire in the civil war, with subsequent political negotiations and compromises with his Russophile and Russophone citizens (and their military supporters, who include little green men accompanied by heavy weapons from Russia, travelling while on vacation).

Both sides seem in agreement that a settlement must bring expanded political rights and representation for the Russophone Ukrainians of the east and southeast of the country, with respect for their customs and culture.

Meanwhile, the Russian people, according to the foreign press, are defying western sanctions and rejoicing at Vladimir Putin’s adroitness and sang-froid in reuniting Crimea with Russia in retaliation for the international inconvenience caused by the Obama administration’s dangerous effort — unexplained as yet to its own citizens — to push NATO’s military borders up against those of Russia, apparently to undermine that country’s government. This surely may be called “doing stupid things.”

Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at

© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.