Why Bush Should Wear a Blue and Orange Tie

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

Will Bush stand tall for Ukraine’s “orange revolution" Nicholas Kristof asks in his New York Times Saturday column? I hope not. If anything, he should wear a blue and orange tie to express his respect for the democratically mature fashion in which the Ukrainians handled the post-election period along with his support for a unified Ukraine irrespective of the identity of the ultimate winner. Elections should not be allowed to be seen as dangerous precursors to political fragmentation. Moreover, unlike Vladimir Lenin, Viktor Yushchenko did not storm the Winter Palace. On the contrary, he firmly announced that the crisis is not worth a single human life. Similarly, unlike the czars, Leonid Kuchma did not order the security forces to fire at the protestors. Nor did the supporters of the two camps clash in the streets or try to blow each other up. What the supporters of both camps demonstrated was their insistence that the person who received the majority of the vote will be given the opportunity to rule the country. That was the reason Viktor Yushchenko did not try to take over the government but followed the example of George W. Bush and took his case to the country’s Supreme Court.

This move unexpectedly thrust the judicial branch into the limelight and provided it with a unique opportunity to assert its independence and importance as an arbiter of political fair play, a Ukrainian version of the famed American decision, Marbury vs. Madison (which claimed that the Supreme Court had the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional). The judges demonstrated that they were up to the task by carefully weighing the evidence and deciding promptly that since it showed that the elections were “marred by systematic and massive violations,” the election would have to be rerun by December 26. Indeed, the Ukrainian people, far from attempting to overthrow their system of government, insured that the procedures designed to secure its integrity be followed. Consequently, while acknowledging that Yushchenko has increased his popularity in the past two weeks, Viktor Yanukovich decided to participate in the rematch. "There's no other way but to participate and win," Yanukovich spokeswoman Anna Herman told journalists. Given the close past relationship between President Kuchma and Yushchenko, the 2004 Ukrainian revolution is rather reminiscent of the American"Revolution of 1800," in which the election of Thomas Jefferson saw power pass peacefully from one party to another.

If the strengthening of the judicial branch of government may have been an unintended consequence of the crisis, the strengthening of the legislative branch was one that representatives of the two Viktors negotiated, with the help of EU Representative Javier Solana and Polish Prime Minister Aleksander Kwasniewski. Indeed, it was part of a package designed both to ensure cleaner elections and more evenly balanced relations between the Ukrainian legislative and executive powers. After all, one way in which democracies make transfers of power palatable is by limiting the size of the loss. Thus, a party may lose control of the executive branch, but retain a measure of influence in the legislative branch. Excessive centralization of power in the hands of the executive has been one of the unattractive hallmark of Kuchma’s Ukraine as it is that of many other former Soviet Republics, most especially Putin’s Russia. Unfortunately, the legal victory went to Yushchenko’s head, and he is trying to back out of the package deal. President Bush should not only not encourage him by wearing an orange tie, but should discreetly set him straight and help the Polish and European mediators fashion a new compromise.

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of such an adroit handling of the Ukrainian crisis. It is vital not only to the successful spreading of democracy but also to the prevention of an increasingly bitter and alienated Russia. As some Russians analysts realize, Putin made a serious mistake by showing his preference for Yanukovich so openly. As Izvestia noted Saturday, “if Russia wants to help Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych win the next round, ‘the 'Russian friends,' from the political scientists to mayors and parliamentary deputies, must be persuaded not to interfere so arrogantly and so unceremoniously in the affairs of another state." After all, as Bush acknowledged to the Canadians, “it is not easy to live in the shadow of the elephant” and Russia is Ukraine’s elephant. However, just as Canadian resentments of the U.S. do not necessarily prevent close relations between the two American neigbors, so Ukrainian resentments should not preclude close ties between the two European ones. The world will be much better off if the Russian nationalists do not succeed in selling the country a new version of the German “stab in the back” theory.

Unfortunately, the European Union's toughly worded non-binding parliamentary resolution on December 2nd not only demanded a re-run of Ukraine's presidential election and threatened sanctions if the government used violence against opposition protestors, but specifically criticized Vladimir Putin for claiming that the West was fomenting unrest in the former Soviet republic and stressed that “Russia carried a great responsibility for the situation in Ukraine.”

In response the Duma issued an angry statement that the Parliament’s "one-sided approach" could lead to "dangerous actions ... massive disturbances, chaos and a split." Indeed, read the statement, if the situation gets out of control, blame will lie with "the external forces that are exerting a destructive influence on events." The Russian Foreign Ministry also slammed the European Parliament's resolution. "European lawmakers should have acted as an arm of law, but they appear to ignore law in pursuit of concrete goals," the ministry said. "There is no democracy or law in the decision of the European Parliament, and double standards are being applied once again."

Ironically, apart from unnecessarily alienating the already humiliated Russians, the European posturing failed to convince either East Europeans or Middle Easterners that they rather than the Americans are committed to democratic change. In an article entitled " Ukraine, Poland, and a Free World," Marek Matraszek writes:

This outlook in turn presages a crucial shift in the balance of power in Europe–United States relations. Apart from Poland and fellow central European states, the Bush White House and the National Security Council contain the only serious policymakers who understand the need to encourage Ukraine’s real political independence.

Ukraine, central Europe and the U.S. share a common interest in the Ukrainian revolution’s success: first, because all three share the same fundamental belief that liberal democracy is better than authoritarianism, including in its capacity to ensure stability; second, because they recognize that a liberal, independent, western–oriented Ukraine is the only long–term guarantee that Russia too will slowly start to shift in the same direction.

The victory of this political fellowship and strategic perspective will mark the final defeat of the classic Franco–German, “old European” view that the only way to deal with Russia is to flatter its leadership while ignoring or finessing its authoritarianism at home and imperial reflexes abroad. Even before Ukraine, it had been clear that this strategy was a failure: now, Russia needs from the west the language of liberal Anglo–Saxon democracy, not of continental raison d’etat.

In a similar vein, the UAE outlet, Khaleej Times Online, published a comment by Mohammed A. R. Galadari entitled, "A lesson to All from Ukraine." He writes:

DEAR readers, when America takes interest in something, it happens. See how the Bush administration has taken a tough stand over the election row in Ukraine, and how, and thanks to the US, a dictatorial regime is not able to get way with allegedly fraudulent actions in the presidential run-off there.

The regime has virtually collapsed, under the impact of the US-led pressure that was brought to bear on it, and with the parliament passing a no-trust motion against it. This, despite the overwhelming support that it enjoyed from Moscow. I hope America will act the same way with other wayward regimes as well.

An old Jewish tale tells of a man who repeatedly turned to G-d with the same complaint: “King of the Universe would it hurt some universal plan if you arranged for me to win the lottery?” Finally, heaven's voice answered: “How about meeting me half way by buying a lottery ticket?” By carefully monitoring the voting and then peacefully insisting that the rules be meticulously followed, the Ukrainians purchased a ticket to democratic reforms and earned the respect and the aid of the democratic world. If the people living under “other wayward regimes” wish to follow suit, they, too, must purchase their own tickets.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

This fawning over Bush bears little resemblence to the "facts on the ground" in Ukraine. A commentary on Bush's wardrobe would have been more useful, and fit the headline better.