THE PLATE COLUMN: Should Crimea Be Such a Priority?

SYNDICATED COLUMNIST TOM PLATE WRITES — 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 we simply fail to understand history?

This past weekend, the American mass news media, which is anchored on the East Coast of the United States, 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 Adolf Hitler and President Barack Obama a Neville Chamberlain, the vaunted Munich appeaser of Nazi evil. You know, it’s Herr Putin with his finger on the trigger … today Kiev, tomorrow London.

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 U.S. 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 U.S. news media have skewed priorities. For example, we believe that which way Jakarta evolves and leans is more important to U.S. 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 recently 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, South Korea, are facing the realities of the future and are not glued to the past, as are many U.S. editors.

Quick fact run: Indonesia has a population of 250 million — far more than Russia’s at 142 million and 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.

U.S. media reporting mirrors the basic contours of U.S. 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 U.S. media presents the public not with news but, in effect, with “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, Ukraine and its back-and-forth ping-pong ball relationship with Russia are about as relevant to what lies ahead as the future of dial-up computing.

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

Tom Plate, a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, now Loyola Marymount University’s Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies, is a columnist and journalist whose works appears in newspapers in the U.S. and Asia, including the Columbia Daily Tribune, in the famous college town of Columbia, Missouri.

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