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Obama’s Strangelovean Moment

Hegemonic Glory of US Foreign Policy

by NORMAN POLLACK

This was an interesting week. America seeks the rearrangement of European relations through Obama’s intervention-from-afar in Ukraine, one further notch in revivifying the Cold War in spirit and action; Hagel announces a Pentagon budget, paraded as the reduction of forces, which implements a global strategy of counterrevolution through more precise destructive power; and Obama shifts the onus onto Karzai for jeopardizing a bilateral security arrangement (B.S.A.) on which the US counts for maintaining its influence and power in Asia. Peace is war, under the smiley face of liberalism. The foregoing aspects of American foreign policy, each not momentous in itself, part of everyday life in the National Security State, nevertheless define an integrated pattern of activity geared to the doctrine of permanent war.

Forget the Republicans, convenient whipping boys for Obama and the Democrats’ excesses of militarism in fashioning a long-term capitalistic world order based on American leadership and guidance—the way we were, and are loathe to abandon! The Ukraine has proven a markedly opportune moment to take off the wraps and underscore what should in any case have been confirmed well before the presumed thaw in Cold War relations, namely, America must tenaciously cling to a posture of hostility to Russia, as confirmation of its own moral virtue, the galaxy of interventions notwithstanding (economic-political as well as military in character). Russia, the Evil Empire, justifies (first, validates America’s goodness) the most ambitious rearmament in world history, itself the forward edge and ratifying condition for internal structuring of classes–disguised by a psychopathology of consumerism—which is highly unequal in the distribution of wealth, income, and power, approaching the definition of a CASTE rather than class society.

We love our enemies—they’re indispensable–for what their conjuring up affords our upper groups the formal (massive surveillance) and informal (the political culture of patriotism daily reinforced through government, sport, the media, etc.) social control over the remainder of society permitted them to do under this regimen of wealth and power. Without Russia, and NOW China, how possibly justify global hegemony, or, their existence (as we have portrayed them) habituating us to a condition of fear, the campaign of counterterrorism under whose rug we sweep every kind of abuse, the quiescence needed to erode the social safety net, retard or eliminate a comprehensive welfare framework from job creation to meaningful health insurance, and reaching moral nadir, POTUS authorizing targeted assassination. A world without Russia and China might, Heaven forbid (!), make us look more closely at ourselves and begin to address our social needs.

The Ukraine, beyond its market-penetration value, and its equally important natural resources, is in fact the fixed ground or perhaps staging area for America’s waging a, for now, proxy ideological-political war with Russia, the Cold War carried on by other means, and, the way of stirring up suspicions and conflict, preventing a genuine rapprochement between Germany and Russia, possibly joined by France and other EU nations (which is why Merkel is anxious to give Putin assurances that Germany is not behind moves to attract Ukraine into the EU). Much is at stake for US foreign policy here—more than bloodying the nose of Putin or removing a defensive buffer zone from safeguarding Russia, and even more than the opening of new US investment opportunities (an obsession with Obama, witness the Trans-Pacific Partnership); for such rapprochement might strike a mortal blow at NATO, destroying its original reason for being—long since expanded to the role of sharing troops and resources in American interventions on a global basis.

Opulence, corruption (Yanuckovich) vs. Right Sector, Svoboda fascist groups (encompassing much of the western portion of the Ukraine) is hardly an appetizing choice, yet of the two, the Obama administration in behind-the-scenes intervention and strong diplomatic pressure on Russia clearly favors the latter, as the designated warrior (as in Cold War warrior, using “humanitarian intervention” as her policy schtick) Susan Rice made clear at the beginning of the week. In hindsight, her television interview inaugurated a foreign-policy offensive, followed up by Hagel’s announcement—wholly misinterpreted by the media and The Times—of a muscle-toned military capable of more lethal yet flexible striking power, ideal for redefining the Cold War agenda to embrace the Obama “pivot” to the Pacific directed against China while counting on paramilitary operations (oh, and even, explicitly, cyberwarfare) to keep tabs on the rest of the world, Iran and Venezuela being obvious targets.

Finally this week, also seemingly orchestrated to convey the idea and image of global power, the signal to Karzai, sign on the dotted line a one-sided B.S.A., or else—the or else, a threatened withdrawal of troops that had no right to be there in the first place. Somehow, Obama is pictured as a giant in defense of Western Civilization, Karzai, the superannuated gatekeeper preventing America from completing its mission of bringing freedom to the Afghan people. I cannot say I like or respect Karzai, but, standing up to Obama is surely his finest hour. He has seen enough barbarism, torture, promiscuous slaughter of the innocents finally to stand up for his people.

My New York Times Comments concern the following: 1) Steven Lee Myers, “Deeply Bound to Ukraine, Putin Watches and Waits,” (Feb. 24); 2) editorial, “Ukraine’s Uncertain Future,” (Feb. 25); 3) editorial, “A Military Budget to Fit the Times,” (Feb. 26; and 4) Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, “Trust Eroded, Obama Looks Beyond Karzai,” (Feb. 26). In my view, these topics define an interrelated policy context:

I

An informed analysis, very helpful. For some time it has been apparent that US policy is warming up for a New Cold War (if in fact the original had ever subsided), here fishing in Ukraine’s troubled waters and subtly engaged in demonizing Putin. Obama surrounds himself with hawks running true to form, as in Ms. Rice’s case, or Amb. Power–and a National-Security establishment itching for confrontation, not only Russia, but, with Pacific-first, China. In fact, one reason for the present Ukrainian policy is the US conceives Russia and China as interrelated threats, and carries out its position accordingly.

Ukrainian movement toward the EU may prove less decisive than its own nationalistic impetus, which barely conceals darker currents, esp. anti-Semitism. As usual, the US plays ball with any and all who constitute potential allies in its geostrategic paradigm–Ukraine, a choice plum. We can look forward now to more international tension as previewed, before Ukraine, in Putin’s warning about bombing Syria. Obama is a braggart of the first water, and any chance to ingratiate himself further with the military and intelligence communities, as here in facing off with Putin, will be most welcome in the White House.

The doctrine of permanent war–implied by and embodied in targeted assassination–is alive and well, and forms the background to current policy.

II

The editorial resonates with US efforts to rekindle the Cold War. Ukrainian nationalism is made light of, and Putin is here demonized (“perhaps acquired in the K.G.B.”), quite lacking in subtlety. With the IMF, like a vulture poised to strike, it is obvious that the “West” is engaged in expanding the range of privatization and the fulfillment of an US geopolitical strategy intended to contain both Russia and China (the notorious “pivot”) as a means of affirming America’s vision of global hegemony.

The timing is interesting. Sec. Hagel’s plans for troop reductions are coupled with a still larger military budget. Flexibility, greater lethality, a more aggressive posture confirming what is now ingrained militarism, the US drawing the EU further within its orbit as part of the picture. The Ukraine becomes a convenient test case of American influence and power, those named in the editorial making no secret of the confrontational stance toward Russia.

I would like to see cooler heads prevail; the problem is, there are none. The half-trillion military budget complements, and causes, serious cuts in the social safety net. Domestic America is sacrificed to the quixotic demands for political-economic-ideological dominion, and, the grace note to this, a program of massive surveillance the likes of which has never been seen before in America.

We preach respect for civil liberties in the Ukraine and violate it unmercifully at home.

III

The Times is all over the place in its confusion. Scaling down military forces (by 2019!) is NOT a sign of reduction of anything. By your own figures “defense” appropriations will actually increase under the new dispensation. The phrase “weapons modernization,” innocently used in the editorial, says much for what you term “reshaping the military,” Hagel taking directly out of Robert McNamara’s playbook in the Vietnam Era: more bang for the buck.

The streamlining of death, the sophisticated Strangelovean mindset, in which scratch Putin and you find Stalin, scratch Xi and you find Mao–in sum, renewal of the Cold War in high gear. And The Times falls for the so-called reduction of defense spending: a) not a reduction, and b) more aggressively war-prone under Obama than his predecessors,going all the way back to 1950. Sophisticated? Yes, “especially given Mr. Hagel’s proposed INCREASE in investment in special operations, cyberwarfare and rebalancing the American presence in Asia.”

That is why I say “confused,” for by your own admission–to which you are blind–the US is altering geopolitical strategy, every bit as venomous and effective for securing and maintaining global hegemony. And combine this with tried-and-true targeted assassination, and, inseparable from the entire military posture, massive surveillance of the American people, and one has a recipe for nascent fascism–under the banner of Obama-style liberalism.

Analyze Hagel’s budget better, before cheering.

IV
The Times’ reporters, whom I otherwise respect, present here a morality play, all black-and-white, without once explaining the provisions of the B.S.A., how it has been abused in the past both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Karzai’s specific objections to its provisions.

We are entitled to more clarification. But beyond that, The Times uncritically accepts America’s presence in that country in the first place. Is the actual purpose, counterterrorism? Or from its inception, has the purpose of this massive intervention been to counter Russian influence in the region? (The parallel comes to mind of dropping the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to end World War II, but to warn and prevent Soviet influence in Manchuria and the region.)

Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, with its MILITARY attempt to isolate and contain China, is inseparable from maintaining US ongoing presence in Afghanistan and, hence, creating a larger sphere of influence in South and Central Asia. Originally we backed the Taliban, armed them to the hilt, against Russia, arms then turned against us! Hegemony invites all kinds of cruel and contradictory results.

The one-sided B.S.A., akin to US informal dominance in, and freedom to commit crimes in, the country, is not to be admired. Obama creates a vortex sucking in NATO, with obvious global repercussions, including US policy concerning Ukraine. Hagel’s defense proposals nicely complement this globalization of American power.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism.  His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.