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Hegemonic Exceptionalism

by NORMAN POLLACK

Ukraine came along just as Americans’ fears instilled through the climate of counterterrorism, critically important to inducing complaisance and complicity with respect to US interventions, massive defense spending, and the demiurge for remaining on top (what The Times euphemistically called today [3-5], speaking positively, “credibility and global leadership”), were beginning to flag, a waning interest in global conquest periodically requiring shock treatment to keep intense and self-justificatory. “Came along,” however, is obviously incorrect: America had been fishing in Ukrainian troubled waters for some time, aware of the potential for heightening Cold War tensions at the center of the US’s international posture. Imperialism is not a cliché, but through time and geopolitical-economic experience, its contours must be redrawn to satisfy a meaningful account of its practice. Lenin’s analysis may have accurately described the late-19th century world, say through World War I and into the ‘Twenties, in which markets, investments, and raw materials were driving forces in themselves. Even America, in contradistinction to traditional imperialism involving tariffs and the seeds of war, had its own peculiar brand, what Gallagher and Robinson famously called, “the imperialism of free trade.”

But that has changed, for with markets, etc., has come since World War II a growing ideological factor, the ideology, or better, psychopathology, of power-dominance-recognition, for its own sake, granted as making easier and seemingly legitimizing the traditional form, yet also a reification of toughness fitting an authoritarian collective-personality structure. Domination of others has become habituated in, and the constant expectation of, the American mind-set, whose origins may have rested in capitalism’s shaping of the social structure on hierarchical class lines, salted with the historical presence of slavery then segregation as well as the xenophobic attitude toward immigrants. Whatever the alchemic traces of interior repression—and here the treatment of industrial labor, especially from the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 through Steel (1919) and the Sit-Down later, along with the suppression of the Bonus Marchers in ’32, have to be added to the mix—the predisposition to Exceptionalism, actively translated into power-terms, hegemony pure-and-simple, if need be against all comers, characterizes both policy and societal mentality in increasingly intensified form since the aftermath of World War II.

In a formalistic democracy, violated with impunity at every turn by the leadership structure (invariable bipartisan continuity) itself and speaking for the business and military communities-of-interest as well, shibboleths of freedom remain conspicuous, and simultaneously are negated by the regimentation of mind, with the result—pardon the neologism—of the ideologization of US policy top-to-bottom. Yes, markets, but, e.g., the Trans-Pacific Partnership, like NAFTA before it, and who knows what, with respect to the EU after, serves a greater purpose, as though American capitalism, for starters, must be fully militarized if it is to survive on terms acceptable to its ruling groups. Capitalism and Cold War become reciprocally defined in the modern era. Here Lenin is not abandoned so much as updated, with the ideology of hegemony for its own sake as a motivational factor facilitating yet also TRUMPING the original concerns.

John Kerry, whom we might term an ultra-imperialist statesman, were he not the new version of the Tony-Blair lapdog, is scurrying around Kiev extending promises of billion dollar loan guarantees and showering affection on the new “government” expected to do US-EU-IMF’s bidding, along with his warning statements to Putin of just retribution for Russian (the term “Kremlin” increasingly colors media accounts, perhaps to encourage a knee-jerk reaction confusing “Russia” and “Soviet,” Putin and Stalin) actions in Crimea. Who needs his Assistant Secretary of State’s use of the “f” word, chastising the EU for not demonstrating greater belligerence toward Russia, at the same time practically outlining the new Kiev government leadership which came (magically?) into existence, when Kerry, as Obama’s alter ego, is fully capable of conducting a one-man display of unmitigated hostility gaining the world’s attention? One almost suspects Kerry is using Ukraine to verify his Cold War-hardness credentials, as a means of appealing to a reactionary electorate in a return bid for the presidency.
In fact, everyone seems to be using Ukraine as the validation of America’s greatness. Peter Baker in The Times had some choice quotes coming out of Congress: Dick Durbin, Democratic stalwart, on Putin, “[Kick] him out of the G-8”; Lindsey Graham, “Create a democratic noose around Putin’s Russia”; Marco Rubio, “Revisit the missile defense shield”; Mike Rogers, “Cancel Sochi [G-8]”. Rubio last night (3-4) spoke darkly of making Russia pay “the consequences” for its actions—he and Obama on the same page. Why the need for such validation? Why the recurring use of “TOUGHNESS”? I think psychopathology is an appropriate diagnosis here (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate at my elbow), in which “psychopathy” refers to “mental disorder; esp: extreme mental disorder marked usu. by egocentric and antisocial behavior.” Nicely fits the bill, show toughness in all things, even when, and especially when, your actions are morally and/or existentially wrong, as in: intervention (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of lesser examples, particularly in the Hemisphere), regime change (as now, in Ukraine), targeted assassination (the Obama-Brennan weapon of choice in the War on Terrorism), domestic surveillance and worldwide eavesdropping—you get the idea (!) given the extensibility of the enumeration, much of which remains unknown given USG’s extreme lack of transparency and accountability.

The upshot? More tension, more stirring up of blind anger, more deflection from caring about—let alone wanting to solve—the problems at home, problems largely created by the militaristic patterns of thought (substitute “poor” for “enemy” and callously press down hard) and outright military outlays that have distorted national priorities. Taking a swipe at Putin (or Xi in the background, for surely Team Obama has China in its sights, with treatment of Russia the handy precedent for moving next on China) is psychically more rewarding than meeting the needs of unemployment, infrastructure, health, surcease from ever-panting over the triumphs of war. The greatest danger to America is that democracy will break out at home.

My New York Times Comments follow, this time the most recent first, then arranged chronologically, all part of a seemingly renewed Cold War that never ended in the first place. On (I) editorial, “A Rational Response to Ukraine’s Crisis,” 3-5-14; (II) editorial, “Russia’s Aggression,” 3-3-14; (III) Peter Baker, “Pressure Rising as Obama Works to Reign In Russia,” 3-3-14; (IV) Steven Lee Myers, Ellen Barry, and Alan Cowell, “Citing ‘Coup” in Ukraine, Putin Reserves Right to Use Force,” 3-4-14.

I

Ah, but the US does have an “interest in turning Kiev against Moscow.” The Times blithely ignores America’s role–by now well-documented-in if not creating then certainly exacerbating the tensions, indeed Cold War tensions, in Ukraine as an EPICENTER for stimulating an East-West conflict bordering on confrontation. The Times refuses to concede the illegality under international law of the Kiev government. It also patently overlooks the–again well-documented–fascist underpinnings of the opposition forces and even leadership.

Why this journalistic charade? Isn’t it evident that Ukraine-Crimea is on a continuum with Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of the pattern of US hegemonic political-ideological momentum, and that, as we see in Obama’s “pivot” to the Pacific and Hagel’s budgetary priorities the US is pursuing a global geostrategic vision/paradigm of continued intervention and the preparation for and execution of a state of permanent war? Strangely, that may sound radical to say, but yet goes to the heart of Obama’s, his national-security advisers’, and military planners’ foreign-policy framework.

The US needs a self-imposed damoclean sword, to keep its confidence high (The Times even dwells on the importance to America of CREDIBILITY, code for toughness and forcible imposition of US demands), insinuate the texture of fear into the American mind-set, and therefore justify outlandish military expenditures and concrete expeditions. Massive surveillance, anyone?!

II
“Russia’s Aggression” is a provocative title to the editorial, considering that Yanukovych was the victim of a coup (no other word will do). Why such one-sided treatment? Why fail to address–at least investigate–the role of the US in exacerbating tensions, along with its quick recognition of the Kiev govt? Do you think Putin would have taken the actions he did, had not Yanukovych been illegally thrown out (remember he WAS democratically elected)? And nowhere is there discussion of the IMF, circling like a vulture ready to pounce.

Let the US and EU pick up the tab for Ukraine’s indebtedness, and let it become absorbed into NATO, so that missiles could be placed on the border of Russia. Surely that is what Obama wants. Yes, tensions are increasing. John Kerry has become America’s Tony Blair, a lap dog for POTUS, issuing threats, talking tough.

US-EU-Kiev knew the coup would elicit Putin’s response. Perhaps that was what was wanted, as a way of putting America on a still firmer war footing, more than already in the political-ideological context of counterterrorism. Yes, we must demonize Putin, to hide the actions of Obama, ranging from targeted assassination to massive surveillance (one, making Obama a certified war criminal, the other, making him guilty of violating civil liberties unparalleled in US history).

Perhaps NYT has become jaded with respect to freedom and democracy. Sorry A.O. Sulzberger isn’t around, as when he published The Pentagon Papers, to see.

III

My original posting, last evening, in response to this editorial, was unable to take into account overnight articles, notably, Peter Baker’s, “Pressure Rising as Obama Works to Reign In Russia,” in which we see more clearly Obama’s deep-seated grounding in Cold War mentality, as though hoping for a Crimea so as to press confrontation with Russia, always implied in his presidency.

Now his critics want more, including Durbin, a bipartisan show of toughness loathsome in its jingoistic gut-reactionary, yes, fascistic, display of war-readiness, to which POTUS subscribes while pretending coolness. Baker’s quotes from Rubio, Corker, Graham, are right out of the Hitlerian playbook: the sweet smell of aggression, smashing Putin’s face in a rage of self-righteousness.

Russia intervention in Crimea: what was US intervention with overwhelming force in Iraq and Afghanistan–a boy scout outing? Our president sponsors drone assassination. We intervene in countless areas, including Ukraine itself, to bring about regime change and clamp down IMF prescriptions on those economies. We allocate yearly nearly a half-trillion to defense and have near-200 global military bases. Washington, under Obama even more ambitiously than Bush, demands and seeks to maintain world hegemonic leadership in political-economic-military-ideological terms, what Fulbright called an arrogance of power, yet far greater than he could imagine. Here Kerry as errand boy for imperialism is a disgrace. War, anyone?!

IV
How take US position seriously until it admits Yanukovych ouster was in fact a COUP in violation of international law, until US admits that Kiev government gained power through Western Ukraine elements composed in fact of FASCIST units (now sitting in the Parliament) whose antecedents go back to Waffen SS units and the clear evidence of anti-Semitism (“Jews Live Here” painted on buildings in the region) in their activities.

Putin’s remarks are so much more cogent than Obama’s deceptive blather, including both his rejection of US-Western intimidation as in politicizing the G-8 meeting and his disavowal of the desire to widen the conflict and open fire. The US is looking for trouble. It requires an exercise in demonization in order to inflate its own national self-esteem. Not coincidentally, the Ukraine situation occurs at the same time as Afghanistan seeks to come out from under US military penetration.

The Empire is experiencing fissures. Exceptionalism is being questioned, as is the divine-right of intervention. Fittingly, Putin is the only world leader denouncing fascism, while Obama openly supports it (under the euphemistic label of “freedom fighters”). Yes, his comment, “All threats against Russia are counterproductive and harmful,” signals a willingness to stand up to America, which in turn exposes US gut-reactionary striking out at whatever impedes our global hegemonic claims.

Whether Ukraine or Venezuela, subverting constitutional government, anyone?!

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.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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