March Madness: #1 seeds go to the U.S. and Russia in Ukraine

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., March 17, 2014 – March Madness is in the air and spilling into international politics. Is Ukraine the site of the global Final Four, or is it just another early round battle of a few lower seeds that serve as sacrificial lambs for the two heavy favorites? Do you even remember how the countries made it into the “tournament”?

In case you have forgotten, the recent upheaval in Ukraine began when its duly elected President Yanukovych refused to sign a trade agreement with the European Union (EU) in favor of pursuing stronger ties with Russia. In effect, he issued an Executive Order with which his political opposition disagreed. Protests ensued; violence erupted; Yanukovych was forced from office; new elections were scheduled; and the world took sides.

Russia, as you might expect, sided with the ousted regime; claiming that the overthrow of President Yanukovych was an illegal coup d’état. Then, it launched a more subtle coup d’état of its own in trying to wrest the Crimean region of Ukraine. This ultimately led to a separate election in which Crimea’s heavy Russian ancestry voted to secede from Ukraine.

The United States and EU praised the first coup d’état as a democratic revolt. Then, they collectively denounced Russia’s coup d’état-lite initiative and the subsequent “democratic” election that transpired in Crimea as “illegal.”

Are you confused yet?

Apparently, the only consistency of global foreign policies is their maddening inconsistency. Here are the general principles:

  • A coup d’état is a bad thing that flies in the face of democracy … unless it promotes democracy.
  • A democratic election is a good thing … unless it doesn’t go your way; then, it’s a bad thing.
  • Major Powers do not want their sovereignty challenged, but they want the right to interfere in the socio-economic and political decisions of other nations that are somehow superficially deemed to be “less sovereign.”
  • Major Powers do not care about the socio-economic and political decisions of other nations … unless there is money to be made or prestige to be secured from their intervention.

Does this bother you?

Let’s do a little exercise. Let’s substitute the United States for Ukraine.

First, pretend our President unilaterally rejected a trade agreement via Executive Order (not that our President would ever use such a dictatorial power since we’re a Nation of Laws). Then, assume that there is a Party within our country that strongly disagrees with the President’s action and takes to the streets to protest.

Next, as occurred in Ukraine, assume that violence erupts between the protesters and the police (again, this is just theoretical since our country is immune to violence).

Should President Obama step down or be forced from office under such circumstances? Should he be driven into exile and new elections scheduled?

What if New York rejected the action because of its deep commitment to the President and his Party; a commitment that was nearly equivalent to an ancestral level of devotion? Should democracy apply or should the right to an election be denied?

Then, suppose an adjacent foreign country with ancestral ties and pronounced socio-economic and political interests (like Canada) began moving troops on shore ostensibly in support of the right of New Yorkers to pursue a democratic election to determine whether they chose to secede from the Union. To complicate the matter, assume that Canada already had a military base within the State of New York.

Finally: How would you feel if Russia and the EU announced sanctions against Canada? Would it make a difference if you happened to be Canadian?

Of course, this hypothetical could be flipped by substituting Russia for the United States, President Putin for President Obama, and Ukraine for Canada (perhaps wanting to annex the territories extending from Moscow to St. Petersburg for itself after overthrowing Putin).

Are your answers different depending on your nationalistic perspective? If so, is it possible that you may have been swayed by the carefully orchestrated propaganda that dominates the media these days?

If such international crises were addressed with the clarity and purity of purpose of the NCAA’s version of March Madness, would the world be better served?

Try to imagine a global reality in which all countries play by the same rules, the definitions of what is fair and just do not shift based upon imperial design, and the peoples’ best interests prevail over the political and monetary interests of a few.

Instead, we are subjected to a geo-political version of March Madness in which countries are allowed to interpret the rules in any way that favors their interests … and we wonder why justice seems to be so arbitrarily applied.

Only the Naismith Trophy and bragging rights are at risk in the basketball tournament that occupies our attention. Deplorably, lives are at stake in the game our world leaders prefer to play.

Perhaps we can get them to take a page from the NCAA and agree to a set of definitions and rules that apply uniformly. Maybe if we made it fun, they would comply.

What if we created a decision tree with respect to the Ukrainian crisis that only offered two choices for each step of each round of decisions that ultimately culminated in an equitable resolution? Then, our global leaders could “fill out their brackets,” and whoever won the “pool” would be awarded one of those nice shiny medals they so often bestow on their peers. It may not work in the long term, but at least it might provide enough time for the people of Ukraine to settle their own issues.

The alternative is for all sides to throw billions of dollars at the crisis, impose damaging sanctions, and threaten military actions that put us all at risk. Assuming it’s not illegal to take a vote, which approach do you favor?


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities Digital News (CDN).