As in my title, I am starting with the larger background for the discussion of Ukraine: 1) proclivities toward war suggests not simply the continuous historical record of interventions, but, in this case, a premeditated framework directed to placing Ukraine in the context of a renewed, or rather, intensified Cold War, absorbing it into the Western orbit for both commercial and military reasons, placing it under IMF discipline and bringing NATO to the border of Russia; and 2) military-corporate globalization suggests, beyond the scope of US-geopolitical intended dominance, the changing character of American capitalism, which despite, or because of, market fundamentalism, is adding a significant component to its internal composition, its structural-ideological militarization.
Ukraine represents a vast ideological battlefield with ethnocentrism (We vs. Them) running in high gear, in which America finds—indeed, has fertilized/ watered—the ideal ground for revitalizing the somewhat flagging spirit of, and concrete preparation for, the Cold War. But WHY now? This boost to the Cold War, rendering it perhaps more than ever crucial, is the US’s perceived declining status (the hidden fear of the political-business-military leadership) as the unchallenged superpower in ordering and principally benefiting from the world system. What I termed “hegemonic exceptionalism,” in a recent article bears on the current situation. For the US, Ukraine has significance in its own right: a market/investment area ripe for economic colonization by America and its “friends and allies,” the corollary, a free-fire zone (figuratively) for the implementation of IMF principles and operations. That itself, a further source of enrichment, ensures wedding “friends and allies” closer to America and its geostrategic (in addition to geopolitical) paradigm of globalization. Opening areas for exploitation renews the bonds of friendship. “Friends and allies” is a formula (the integration of economic and military aims, brought to fruition in NATO) that requires constant reinvigoration: a sharing in opportunities, or what a cynic might declare, plunder.
Please note: when I say above, “perceived declining status,” I mean that the world system is changing. The US no longer exercises unilateral dominance, militarily and commercially, but is part now of a multi-polar international order, with the rise of rival powers and the industrialization of emerging nations. The world is seemingly in rebellion, escaping its grasp; hence, the urgency in advantageously defining and promoting globalization, and placing still greater emphasis on international bodies (the IMF and World Bank) to carry out its policies and wishes.
Point one, then, on Ukraine, market and investment penetration (the purely economic consideration, which also takes in natural-resources extraction), but now point two (the military factor): Whenever EU is mentioned, NATO must be factored into the analysis. Here Ukraine is the vestibule to gaining military access to Russia. America deliberately interferes in Ukraine’s internal affairs for the long-standing purpose, in addition to economic considerations, of, more important still, having missile bases on the Russian border, both for an intimidatory function and as the ideological symbolism of its capacity to act with impunity. Strike fear into the heart of Putin—only, however, US-EU-IMF-NATO apparently have misjudged their man, which becomes totally unacceptable, not least in that perhaps other nations, other leaders, will begin to talk back, begin to question how world power is structured and arranged, how American-centered power politics creates impoverishment, encourages dependence, in nations thus penetrated through America’s commercial-military presence, not to mention the ever-present threat of regime change—as has just occurred in Ukraine—when opposition to hegemonic exceptionalism is expressed.
This is the specter gnawing in the American breast. In more familiar terms, failure in Ukraine calls to mind, and denotes for policy-makers, the necessity of taking a firm stand (the widespread dissemination of the cry for “toughness” and, in Obama-national security-Pentagonese, always enhancing “credibility,” lest the Empire quickly unravel! We are in the midst of the sway over the American mind of the falling-domino theory, a relic of the original stages of the Cold War and then Vietnam, which has been used to whip the American people into line (it, and the pervasive anticommunism it buttresses, has never really left us—as a substratum of political-ideological belief), and ensure a steady spirit of confrontation. Lose here (because Ukraine becomes the geopolitical-ideological contact-point with Russia) and, in true domino fashion, this will start the dominoes falling worldwide—and the Empire shrinking.
Better therefore to be proactive; create the situation of inevitable confrontation (the NATO advances, missiles on Russia’s doorstep, for which Putin undoubtedly would oppose) through the coup d’etat displacing Yanukovych, and in that way ensure the solidification of America’s world position. Russia must be rendered subordinate on the international stage, the operative word heard in policy-circles, “isolated,” but with the hint in the background, “dismemberment” as well. And with this subordination, Putin must be delegitimized and demonized, together a FIRST step to maintaining a global architecture of US unilateral dominance. I say “first step,” because, with Obama, reaffirming American global hegemony seriously enlarges the boundaries of the Cold War mental-set through the inclusion of China as a second primal antagonist—and standing up to China and Russia, in turn, signals to others, on one hand, potential capitalist rivals (such as Japan, EU members themselves), and on the other, emergent Third World nations (along with India and Brazil) in process of industrializing, that market penetration and the activities surrounding it must be conducted within a US-defined framework.
Again, please note: I mention China because I think Ukraine is about more than internal arrangements, the fascistic influences of the spear-carriers responsible on the ground for the coup, which in any case to which Washington gladly cooperates and does not seem at all to object, and is about more than even Russia, as significant as that factor is (for the reasons mentioned); one cannot discount the broader picture, that Ukraine represents—i.e., is symbolic of—the wider global view, always implicit from the start, that the Cold War includes the isolation and containment of China as well. Ukraine is an inseparable link in the chain of wiping the slate clean of putative Evil in the world. Isolating Russia, and not China, accomplishes little, even if, in their franker moments, American leaders recognize that communism, with respect to both, is no longer an issue. What is, is global hegemony, a purpose if not an obsession of the US from which Russia and China stand in the way. That the expanded Cold War includes China’s isolation and containment can be seen in the importance Obama attaches to his Pacific-first strategy, the “pivot” of military “assets” to that theater, which makes China a primary object of concern more than ever before. Here throw in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as frosting on the Cold War cake.
Much of this Imperial-vision rests on holding the line in Ukraine, displaying a requisite toughness, as if to say, the domino-theory is alive, well, believable, and fully subscribed to in American policy. Russia and China, by their very being, signify the de-centering of the global structure of power. It is for this reason that Ukraine becomes a pawn on the world chess board, perhaps the Vietnam of the early 21st Century, except that communism becomes now a fabricated, subliminal issue intended to garner hostility toward Russia and China. No, Putin is not Ho, but Obama is JFK-LBJ rolled into one, though more contemptuous of civil liberties and more personally engaged in pulling the trigger (targeted assassinations) than either of the other two were or thought themselves able to pull off. Putin, not Ho, in the way the latter stood courageously against overwhelming force, is not simon-pure, but his actions here on Crimea are credible and, I suggest, even creditable (admittedly an unpopular view, perhaps even among radicals).
If, as I maintain, Ukraine is incidental to the US confrontation with not only Russia, but also China, we see a cosmic struggle in real time. Add to that US-NATO bases on Ukraine’s eastern border, and perhaps Ukrainian membership in NATO, along with America’s gigantic production and show of military force, even telegraphing to the world that its militarism trumps internal societal well-being (as in sacrifices to the social safety net), and one sees Putin’s every right to be concerned. This flaunting of military power, which the world sees as the deliberate weakening of social obligations to its own population, is taken as a warning of intent to expand, aggress—the serious business of normalizing imperialism in the context of circumscribing dissent at home the better to act on the doctrine of permanent war abroad. America cannot divest itself of, or even step away from, the utility of instilling fear among its own people. We see this with counterterrorism, but antecedently, and to the same effect, with anticommunism. For both, the utility lies in facilitating a further rightward ideological shift than has already been steadily in evidence in the last six-seven decades following World War II.
Instilling fear acts to retard if not paralyze the development of political consciousness. The utility is that of fulfilling the wish-list of America’s corporate as well as military elite, for one the pattern of continued deregulation, monopolization, and pernicious, largely unpunished, conduct ( together providing a basis for the intensification in the mal-distribution of wealth), and for the other, manna from heaven in the showering of billions on ever more lethal weaponry, bases, interventions, nuclear modernization, agility in mounting programs of regime-change (an increasing shift to paramilitary operations) and, withal, the militarization of the American conscience and consciousness, so that anything goes in the fulfillment of American policy: rendition, assassination, torture, espionage, witch-hunts, and now, surveillance and eavesdropping on an unprecedented scale, all made acceptable, even praised, as the body politic march in psychopathological lock-step. To complete this overview, holding the foregoing in mind, I would say a word about the nature of American capitalism, as relevant to what is happening in Ukraine.
Capitalism cannot hack it on its own as the exclusive world economic framework; it requires the global counterrevolutionary intervention of an American-led coalition of compatible political economies all of which subscribe to, the while compelling others to fall in line with, International Monetary Fund rules of the game. The World Bank is handmaiden to the enterprise, but the underlying method of enforcement is American military power, a clear sign of US intention that, not simply capitalism, particularly in its mixed form, but structured around the central principle of privatization and its reinforcing corollaries, is acceptable. Capitalism of the right sort, that is, with built-in factors ensuring social control, both mental and if needed physical, an hierarchical-arranged class system, wealth-concentration and trickle-down forms of presumed societal betterment, and loosely-defined austerity, directed at both “fiscal integrity” and assured shrinkage of the social safety net—the latter especially for habituating working people to an uncritical acceptance of war, submission to business leadership, contentment with their lot and what is defined as the national purpose.
Please also note: I say “loosely-defined austerity” because austerity is CODE for depressing the rights and power of working people. Austerity sounds like an accountant or book-keeper’s call for a balanced budget, but it is in fact an attack on working people and on the public functions of government itself. In America, if austerity had earlier carried the day, there would never haver been a New Deal. By now, we find sufficient continuous impoverishment to suggest the makings of a caste, rather than class, system. At issue with austerity, is wealth-concentration and wealth-distribution. Republicans carry the water for this concept/condition, but Democrats are sipping from the same bucket.
Capitalism in America presumes its own inner vitality. This has been focused on privatization, which is held to be conterminous with freedom and democracy and, by extension, serves to define the core of human potentiality. One might demur, but to no avail, that quite the opposite is true: a privatization of mind which ensures separation, thereby constituting the matrix for alienation rooted in the commodity structure of social relations and human identity. If privatization fails to describe the autonomous individual, the aforementioned inner vitality of American capitalism also is not sufficient for overcoming business-cycle volatility, a condition of underconsumption due to class-structured differences of wealth, income, and power, and tendencies toward, war, intervention, and commercial-financial rivalries.
Hello, then, the Ukraine-Crimea imbroglio, which has been created through the US and Western thirst for market expansion underpinned by America’s own geopolitical strategy vis-à-vis Russia. The latter is perhaps not fully shared by the EU (countries that had experienced war at first-hand 75 years previous), of rolling back Russia, first, then, the big prize, China, by any and all means short of nuclear holocaust—at least for now, given its psychopathological premises of anticommunism, no longer even applicable to those nations, and counterrevolution, still in play in Latin America. I say “at least for now,” because some of the impassioned rhetoric of kill, kill, kill, coming out of Washington and the media suggest a colossal death-wish born of suppressed guilt for the harm inflicted on others, or more straightforwardly, inner emptiness of purpose and spirit, a nihilism in the interstices of militarism woven into its very texture.
To paraphrase Sartre’s thought in his essay, “Portrait of the Anti-Semite,” If the Ukraine Crisis didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, as indeed, through working for the overthrow of Yanukovych, we did! And who better to put in his place than Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, an avowed fascist group, now reported to be planning a name change in order to erase memories of its anti-Semitism and strong-arm tactics. We certainly know how to pick them, a dictator for every occasion, now, no longer a fascistic excrescence of capitalism but incorporated into its body, front and center. In truth, the Obama administration, coasting on its putative sophistication (helped mightily by the liberal rhetoric of Ben Rhodes), is here losing its touch, screaming about Crimea’s illegitimate acts in violation of the Ukraine Constitution, when, shortly before, a duly-elected president was unceremoniously tossed out, thereby triggering this whole series of events. A coup d’etat has been transformed into legitimacy itself (as is any regime change plotted by USG) in this political-ideological universe of inverted meaning. This enables Obama to stand as the champion of democracy and human rights as his skulduggery throws the world out of balance.
Had not America’s animus toward Russia been in the works for some time (say, beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, followed by the Siberian Intervention), one might have thought this drawing of the line in the sand came on suddenly this past week. Instead, we helped to create the situation, knowing full well deposing Yanukovych would force Putin’s hand, a course of action he would not have taken otherwise, in the absence of the coup. Putin had accepted the terms of Yanukovych’s agreement with the EU, which was cancelled when he was forced out of office. The US then stood ready to pounce, in this case its “friends and allies” being among others Svoboda and Right Sector, which not even Washington denies (silently, to itself) their fascist heritage and leanings.
Obama is not alone in supporting this putsch-operation. He never is, given that he surrounds himself by among the most militaristic set of advisers, quite the equal of the earlier Neo-Cons Wolfowitz and Perle, or going back to McCarthy’s dynamic duo Cohen and Schine, seen for some time, including Brennan, Clapper, Rice, Power, and, seemingly new to the game, but making up for lost time, John Kerry. And as the Guardian reported, Hillary Clinton, who deserves the title, all-purpose harridan when it comes to the demonstration of toughness in foreign policy (mine, not the Guardian), in one of her pre-election forays proving to all her mettle, stated in California this week, that Putin reminded her of Hitler. With some backing-and-filling, she said Putin was not Hitler but “reminiscent” of him—she, a worthy successor to Obama who thrives on war. In her case, we recall her advice on the Afghanistan surge, even exceeding the Pentagon request. Undoubtedly she will also continue the onward military thrust to the Pacific, i.e., Obama’s “pivot” to isolate and confront China, the geostrategic framework being applied first to Russia now more than ever with respect to Ukraine and Crimea. Factor in the Congressional War Hawks of both parties, holding that Obama is too soft (excellent testimony to how far Right America has become, when Obama is attacked for losing Ukraine), and a media biased out of mind in its coverage of these events, and one sees what I termed America’s war proclivities, barely if at all concealed in the self-righteous narrative coming out of Washington.
Yes, this is serious business. The US-EU-IMF line-up smells blood: Putin/Hitler (Hillary simply voiced what the propaganda machinery subliminally has been pushing for some time, even the Olympics not providing an interruption) and 1939 all over again, wherein the West must not give in to appeasement, but stand firm against totalitarianism. If only we could see ourselves! Obama, Man-of-War. No, not the Portuguese aquatic nemesis, with its purple balloon and long tentacles, but the ever more venomous kind, tentacles reaching around the world, targeted assassination here, paramilitary operations there, massive surveillance at home, eavesdropping abroad, a CIA, as this week in Washington, covering up its decade of torture, rendition, waterboarding, and POTUS, stomping on civil liberties, as in his use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers, and we, after helping to overthrow the government in Ukraine, claim that Crimea acts unconstitutionally in seeking a popular referendum to get out of the clutches of Kiev. Events are moving quickly. I have two New York Times Comments, one, on Allan Cowell’s article, “As E.U. Meets, Crimea Moves to Hold Vote on Joining Russia,” March 6, the other, perhaps more to the point on Putin’s sense of having been betrayed by the US and the West, given sanction of, and support for, the coup itself, but also the ultimate placement of NATO installations on Russia’s borders, this in addition to accusations of aggression and distortions of the political-ideological composition of the forces which overthrew Yanukovych, on Steven Myers and Steven Erlanger’s article, “Tensions Roil in Crimea Amid Mediation Efforts,” March 8, both of which follow:
The term “consequences,” whether used by Kerry, Cameron, or Rubio, indicates a deep-seated admiration of force and desire for war, a political-ideological blindness, willful blindness, all of which can be said of Obama as well, to the obvious US-EU-IMF power play that with impunity deposed a democratically elected president in Ukraine via organized protests containing verifiable fascist elements from Svoboda, Right Sector, etc. This contempt for constitutional processes, revealing the arch-hypocrisy of the West, only serves to reinforce its powers of denial. Now, Crimea goes to the polls on Mar. 16, and it will be interesting to see the sophistry in condemning that election/referendum while boasting that Kiev is the very model of democracy and constitutionalism.
I hope Crimea pulls out, not because I believe Russia and Putin are virtue incarnate, or because I want the return of Stalinism, but because the West, esp. the US, needs confrontation to awaken them to their thirst for global hegemony. Crimea is about Ukraine, it is about Russia, but it is also about CHINA, to which the US is busily encircling with its “pivot” of military assets and Trans-Pacific Partnership.
America thrives on the Cold War, which has not only never ended but remains the basis for US paramilitary (CIA-JSOC) operations for regime change globally, and the use of counterterrorism as pretext for domestic surveillance and the National Security State. Obama is more a KGB-type than Putin and more war-prone.
Putin is demonized as lawbreaker, war provocateur, Stalin-Lenin wannabe, when, as Myers brings out, the move into Crimea occurred–indeed was even thought of–only after Yanukovych was thrown out. US-EU interpretation to the contrary, this was a COUP! It also destroyed, by his ejection from constitutional office, the agreement already reached with the EU. Internal forces–Svoboda, Right Sector, etc.–did not want the agreement, they wanted instead a takeover–yes, a fascist-inclined takeover. Only then did Putin even begin to act.
When your reporter points to Putin’s disappointment, a good observation, it was because he felt betrayed by the West, including the US, for supporting the coup–and for wanting an IMF-NATO sphere of influence established, wholly disrespecting Russia’s needs. Had the coup not occurred, Putin would have accepted the EU-Ukraine agreement.
Frankly, which side is the aggressor, US-EU-IMF or Russia? The photo of Kiev protesters, with shields and helmets, suggests interference and planning from outside–and the record of fascist leanings by the instigators on the scene is beyond dispute. Putin was right; Yanukovych’s withdrawal of security was a fatal mistake. Evidence of sharpshooters coming from opposition ranks is piling up. An ugly coup for what? Between IMF privatization and installing missiles on Russia’s border we have the answer, a studied return to the Cold War dovetailed with Obama’s Asia “pivot” also to isolate and contain China.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.