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Obama on a Roll

Massing for Global Confrontation

by NORMAN POLLACK

This was the week to bring Europe and the US into a unitary mold of fighting trim. If Crimea had simply been offered to Russia as bait to be nibbled, then Russia hauled in, the result could not be better. As it is, the US structured the Crimean coup in anticipation of Putin’s necessary response, not, as in American practice, to show toughness and demonstrate credibility, but, admittedly more prosaic, to prevent the movement of NATO forces, via Ukraine, to the Russian border. US gamesmanship had for its purpose to reenergize the West and make it, according to Obama, more aware of its “responsibilities” in helping shoulder the burden to confront the Soviet Union (oops, Russia) with the drawing of another red line. Obama in Brussels, exhibiting a necromantic aura, yet one—all the more chilling–garbed with winning smile and glad hand, invites Europe into participation in America’s favorite ritual: the reaffirmation of war as a permanent foundation for the expression of Exceptionalism. By implication, without an Enemy by which to differentiate one’s own moral goodness, the ideological house of cards would collapse. War is the glue cementing the national character.

The walk-ons in this high drama, like Poland and Lithuania, must feign panic, enabling the US to send in fighter jets and missile systems in defense of freedom, while Germany, Britain, and France are asked to cough up more troops and appropriations to assist in the noble cause. Obama, Nobel Peace Prize as the credential validating statesmanship from which he has derived astonishing mileage (however much his vitiating its meaning), is on a mission to gather a Grand Alliance in opposition to Russia. His message to Europe is one of simple exhortation: Rearm, Stand Firm, Advance, Conquer, through sanctions if possible or more active means if necessary. Deny the use of force, whilst building prodigiously (embarrassing the EU and NATO to fall into line) from ground up its basic components, and hence creating the context for its potential use. Russia becomes the Goths of our time, entitled to no mercy—or even negotiations. Do I exaggerate?

The week began with excluding Russia from the Group of 8, so abrupt and categorical the change that by two days later, Group of 7 became a routine designation. The next day, Obama designated Russia “a regional power,” yet still pressed the EU and NATO to expand the latter’s military capabilities. And with an appearance at Flanders Fields the day after, he conjured up the specter of mass deaths in World War One as somehow connected to Russia’s actions one hundred years later in Crimea, given its tenuousness a linkage based on innuendo (his way of instilling fears), the propaganda technique of choice perfected in the campaign of counterterrorism. And by the close of the week, he was emphasizing two conflicting world views, invoking the Iron Curtain, expecting images of slavery to dance before our eyes, on one side, as meanwhile pristine democracy lies on the other—very much the unreconstructed Cold Warrior at every turn.

But beyond carefully drafted rhetoric, there is the reality of confrontation, Crimea, I strongly suspect, the pretext for the reincarnation of Dulles’s rollback theory and practice, and even then, never forsaking the “pivot”—as though back to a two-directional war paradigm and orientation. Only now, Russia itself is receding from view, replaced in geopolitical thinking by China as Enemy # 1 (conceptually, fairly crude, an undisguised encirclement backed as well by the Trans-Pacific Partnership), the furor over Russia in Crimea a means of strengthening the US military even more, though resources will merely add to the Pacific-first strategy. These are indeed exciting times, America as the fusion of three closely integrated formations, all significantly accelerated by Obama and the Democrats: the National Security State, the Garrison State, and the Surveillance State, all structurally simpatico with the highest stage of wealth-concentration in American history, the distillation therefore of the militarization and financialization of US capitalism.

My New York Times comment on Michael Shear and Paul Baker’s article, “Obama Renewing U.S. Commitment to NATO Alliance,” (March 27), which serves as an example of the week’s reporting, follows, same date:

Wonderful NYT, Go for it, treat Obama as a distinguished world leader and a demigod, replete with Shear’s “neutral language,” to wit: “Russian aggression,” “ways of reassuring Poland,” “intended to explain and honor Europe’s role in the global democratic movement,” “threatens to undermine the rules that free nations have fought to establish,” etc. Never mind drone assassination, the invasions into Iraq and Afghanistan, global paramilitary efforts toward regime change, the undisputed Nazi/fascist elements in Ukraine, who led the coup and have high places in the interim government; the move to place NATO forces on the Russian border. Never mind any of that. Just stick to your guns (bad pun) and fuel the American psychosis of permanent war.

Demonize Putin and Russia, otherwise Obama’s rhetoric today about a US-NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe might sound shrill. Beat the drums, turn on the patriotism spigot. Even allow a source pushing the administration line anonymity despite widespread quotation. Was it Rhodes? Readers are entitled to know the identity of officials, those whom you permit to hide–consistent with Obama’s despication of transparency.

NYT once stood for responsible journalism under A.O.S. and Scotty. Where are we now but in the slime of White House propaganda. If you present news coverage, get rid of emotionally-loaded descriptions and one-sided interpretation–that, or forfeit your place in the front-ranks of journalism.

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.