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Why US media more obsessed with Indonesia than Ukraine




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By Tom Plate

Viewed from Los Angeles, tiny Ukraine seems much, much farther away and remote from our core national interests than, for example, gigantic Indonesia. So perhaps something is wrong with us on the West Coast of the United States and maybe we simply fail to understand history.

This past weekend, the American mass news media, which is anchored on the East Coast of the US, in New York and Washington, was all over the “Crisis in the Crimea” like a rash on a baby. American television became Putin-obsessed, as if the Russian President were the new Hitler and President Obama a Neville Chamberlain, the vaunted Munich appeaser of Nazi evil. You know, it’s Her Putin with his finger on the trigger … today Kiev, tomorrow London.

Yes, the USA West Coast perspective on global developments really is different and I would argue you don’t have to be naïve to remain calm about Crimea.

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Doesn’t anyone remember his or her Machiavelli (I’ll bet Putin has read his)? “Only annex contiguous provinces,’ the Prince was advised by the Italian geopolitical grandmaster. For many Russians, Putin – hate him or love him – is their Prince, and in the grand scheme of the future, Crimea, a contiguous province now evidently annexed, will remain Russian, one way or the other — just as Sevastopol will remain the home of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet.

In fact, snow will fall on Los Angeles before Russia’s heavy shadow will not fall on the Ukraine. If Washington wants to upend this inevitable, if amoral, outcome, it must gear up for a major war in Eastern Europe. It is that simple.

In the absence of that Western intervention, which of course would be a folly – even more so than the US invasion of Iraq – the Crimean Crisis is relatively marginal in importance compared to other Presidential-level problems on the world stage. For in the natural evolution of geopolitics in the 21st century, Eastern Europe is not nearly as important as East Asia.

We here in Los Angeles live aside a different ocean than our friends on the East Coast, and so try to avoid the chloroform of conventional wisdom that wafts back at us like foul weather from Washington and New York. I am quite serious about this. In general we believe that our established has skewed priorities. For example, we believe that which way Jakarta evolves and leans is more important to US national interests than which way Kiev evolves or leans. In effect our world on the West Coast is much larger and more inclusive than the world of the East Coast.

Recently, a magazine influential in the Asia Pacific  put Indonesia (“Emerging Giant”) on its cover as its big story. What were the editors thinking, eh? Who cares about Indonesia when you have Kiev to worry about? The answer is that the with-it editors of Global Asia, based in Seoul are facing the realities of the future and are not glued to the past, as are many US editors.

(Quick fact run: Indonesia has a population of 250 million – far more than Russia’s at 142 million and the Ukraine’s at 45 million. Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country. It has well more than twice as many as Egypt, for example.)

US media reporting mirrors the basic contours of US foreign policy. They are planted like fence posts in the soil of the past – in the geopolitical mire of the prior century. The consequence is that all too often the US media presents the public not with news but in effect with “olds.” Those of you who do not reside here in the US and therefore are not subject to the neurotic obsessions of the should count yourself lucky. For all its vaunted “freedom,” it is too often a prisoner of the olds.

Of course we West Coasters – with our quaint Pacific perspectives – start by making an assumption. It is that the 21st century will prove to be the Asian century, just as the 19th was the European one. To relate to the future you have to break with the past. In other words, to us here, the Ukraine and its back-and-forth ping-pong ball relationship with Russia is about as relevant to what lies ahead as the future of dial-up computing.

I guess that makes us a little weird … or what?


Professor Tom Plate is the author of “In the Middle of the Future” and the ‘Giants of Asia’ book series (Marshall Cavendish Publishers), which includes “Conversations with Thaksin.” © 2014, Pacific Perspectives Media Center.

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