Make It Hurt

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

By Robert C. Koehler

“After Russia invaded Crimea, a senior American official vowed to ‘make it hurt.’ More than two weeks later, Moscow has given no sign that it feels any pain, and the challenge for President Obama is whether he is willing or able to inflict enough to change the Kremlin’s calculus.”

This is the New York Times, of course, yet again parroting the insecure right, ignoring history and reducing the terrifying complexity of international politics – and the great global longing for peace – to a lethally simplistic game of winning and losing. It’s the kind of coverage we get in every political crisis, inevitably shutting down whatever collective intelligence we’re capable of manifesting and reducing the public to spectators at a geopolitical wrestling match.

Forget history; ignore reality. Once again we have good vs. evil popping up in some previously unknown corner of the world. Our side is the pro-democracy side, no matter that the neo-Nazi movement Svboda is part of the mix that overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

Voices of sanity are nowhere to be found – that is, unless one takes the trouble to look. Consider, for instance, this statement by the International Peace Bureau (reprinted at

“It should be obvious to all but the most hawkish politicians that the number one priority in the coming days and weeks must not be point-scoring and lecturing one’s opponents but dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. . . . (T)here is no alternative; Russia and the West have to learn to live and talk with each other and indeed work together for mutual benefit, as well as resolving the fate of Ukraine.

“Meanwhile,” the IPB statement continues, “there is much to be done at the citizen level.”

I have to admit being taken aback by those last few words. Citizens playing a role in an international crisis? Despite the fact that the Western world allegedly consists of democracies, individual citizens are generally asked to do very little in the way of taking care of the public realm, especially at the geopolitical level, beyond participating in the abstract ritual of voting – reducing their hopes for the future to an X on a punch card. And thus the “will of the people” can be at once honored and ignored.

The statement cites a plea by Pax Christi International “to religious leaders and all the faithful in Ukraine, as well as in the Russian Federation and in other countries involved in the political tensions” – I would simply include in this plea every concerned human being – “to act as mediators and bridge-builders, bringing people together instead of dividing them, and to support nonviolent ways to find peaceful and just solutions to the crisis.”

The idea that the world we create at a personal level can influence if not determine the sort of world we create at the national and international level seems naïve, perhaps, unless one looks at the default alternative, consigned to us by the media: that our role is to be a spectator in the global wrestling arena.

Dialogue and diplomacy are extensions of mediation and bridge-building at the personal level. Perhaps if such work were regarded as a citizen’s responsibility, it could not be so easily dismissed in the reporting of global affairs – nor could war be declared by a few absurdly powerful leaders, with the rest of the world simply following along without choice and reaping the consequences.

As East-West animosity regroups around Ukraine and the ghost of the Cold War comes back to haunt us – with nuclear weapons left over from that era as potentially part of the stakes – the last thing we need is a foolish game of global chicken determining the course of events. The last thing we need is a military solution.

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, writing recently at Common Dreams, deflated the self-serving simplicity to which the militarists have reduced events in Ukraine and the Crimea by reminding us that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe over the last two decades is a betrayal of a guarantee the United States made to the Soviet Union after the Soviets withdrew militarily from Germany in 1990. The expansion of NATO was not supposed to happen.

And Jack Rasmus, also at Common Dreams, pointed out that President Yanukovych’s rejection of the International Monetary Fund’s loan offer to Ukraine in December, in favor of a deal with Russia, which set off the protests against him, wasn’t simply a rejection of increased ties to the European Union but rather a rejection of the austerity the EU arrangement would have imposed on Ukraine, which included cutting pensions and privatizing government assets and property. The country, he noted, “offers an especially attractive economic ‘plum’ ripe for picking by Western multinational companies.”

None of these factors justify Russia’s military bullying and takeover of Crimea. Rather, they showcase the complexity of the whole crisis, which must be addressed diplomatically and will only be exacerbated by simplistic attempts by either side to inflict pain on the other.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at