Every day under Obama the US moves closer to an irreversible trajectory of military provocation which can readily culminate in nuclear war. And official Washington, all three branches of government, seems not to care. Indeed, it is only when POTUS is most saber-rattling, most aggressive in his hostility toward Russia and China, most comfortable in defending secrecy in government, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with NSA in providing massive surveillance of the American people, and with CIA in conducting covert operations toward regime change and armed-drone assassinations, that his ratings go up and his critics hold back. It is as though a political-cultural-ideological predisposition to fascistic assumptions of force and superiority (together, Exceptionalism) holds sway even before the execution of policy. Obama perfectly embodies the requirements of leadership in this historical context and structural framework. He is at once the figurehead for such a systemic configuration that possesses the aura of liberalism (the skillful employment of race to keep liberals in line while muting Rightist attacks that otherwise, had he in fact been radical, would be harsher) yet conjoins militarism to market fundamentalism as an expansionist dynamic to maintain world supremacy.
A figurehead? Only in the sense that he fronts a stage of advanced capitalism which itself, to reach that point, presupposes a tightly organized ruling stratum. I use “stratum” rather than “class” so as to signify the accommodation by upper groups, economic, social, political, of diverse others useful to purposes of social control at home, hegemony abroad—i.e., leaders of the military and intelligence communities as both stabilizing/conservative influences and resources for enforcing group dominance. No longer can one speak of a mere economic elite pulling strings from Olympian heights. The ruling stratum of course is a class anyway; nonetheless it is in need of auxiliaries to firm up support for its protection, increasingly in the form of military power and the technological means of repression. Therefore, welcome to the club, on condition of loyalty to the top—even though personal property and wealth are yet inadequate.
Obama by his actions gives the right assurances, and, following the example set by Bill Clinton, he will undoubtedly “cash in” at the right time, although the theme of self-enrichment is far less important than his present aptitude for service which, far from being hypocritical or subservient, he carries out because he believes so completely in the virtue of extreme wealth and the wealthy, toughened up to meet the challenges of domination. In sum, he is a willing figurehead—the most dangerous kind. Militarism especially attracts him, like a fly to flypaper.
One does not need to place him on the proverbial Freudian couch to see his hatred of Putin, in so many ways different from himself, starting with calmness in the holding of power, personal self-assurance, the non-necessity for demonstrating boldness to the world. Obama’s capacity for hatred, however, extends well beyond Putin, for we see it in the persons of whistleblowers, as though—which may well be true, depending on circumstances—they question his integrity, honesty, intelligence (for the latter, read facileness, cuteness, slipperiness) and raise doubts about his judgment. As in his use of the teleprompter, he lives behind protective psychological walls, seeking to convey the appearance of authority when deep-down there is, as he is fully aware, uncertainty, lack of confidence, knowledge of his fraudulence, most pointedly and perhaps poignantly, his moral emptiness.
Criticism becomes totalized and to be avoided or put down at all costs—totalized in that his personality core is so fragile that he views disparagement of any kind, however slight, as the denial of his very being. And what he ascribes to his own needs he projects on that of the nation, the National Security State an extension of the protective walls around the self. No wonder a morbid fear of transparency, running the gamut from paramilitary operations for subversion and regime change, to withheld reports on collateral damage, to redacted documents on legal advice and authorization for killing Americans, to opaqueness as a way of governance! The liberal mask Obama presents in justification for the Democratic party’s proclivity toward war, intervention, and sacrifice of the class interests of working people and minorities at home, is just that, a mask that covers inner moral emptiness as well as fools the constituency to be addressed and the public at large.
Too harsh? We hear that surges, assassination, spying, must be laid at Bush’s door, hence exonerating Obama (part of the mythology of liberalism and the presumption a black president somehow must stand for social justice). The fact of CONTINUITY demolishes the argument. Obama reversed nothing, actually intensifying the central elements of his predecessor’s policies, whether drones, intervention, support of dictators, or, most important, enlargement of the Cold War structural-cultural framework to include, via deliberate containment policies, the simultaneous confrontation of Russia and China offering a potential for conflagration and more. Bush had his share of nutcakes for aggression (he need only look at himself in the mirror), but an element of realpolitik tempered the most flagrant power-moves. Not Obama, for the elasticity of liberalism allowed for grandiosity on the world stage—doing good by killing the enemies of Virtue. For Team Obama, every war is a “just war,” every expansion of American business testifies to the society’s greatness as the incubator of democracy—our products, corporeal expressions of political idealism, that which is devoted to setting all of humankind free.
Probably few propagators of US ideology, from the president down, believe what they are saying and doing. Liberals are as complicit in the Mass Deceit as conservatives. Market penetration, sale of military hardware overseas to “friends and allies,” counterrevolution to thwart popular movements on the Left to head off supposed communist enslavement and sheer chaos, all have a life of their own integral to the profit- and-security needs of capitalism. But they have far greater utility both for profit and security when dolled up in salvational dress. Obama keeps his informational apparatus working overtime, so that information as such is not disclosed. From this brief background, I shall take up Obama’s obsession with besting Putin (luckily for him, not a matter of two out of three falls), and then, in a subsequent article, his cover-up of a war crime (not his own, e.g., drone assassination, but that on Bush’s watch), which, nonetheless, he was able to keep largely under wraps for more than six years. In this case, liberals’ blame is heaped on Bush with no admission of Obama’s silence tantamount to complicity.
With respect to Russia, Putin, and Ukraine, Obama is on the war-path, embarrassingly so, because his call for greater sanctions exceeds that not only of EU members but also the most influential segments of American business, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. This last is unheard of, Democrat or Republican for more than a half-century, suggesting both that for Obama ideology trumps capitalism and—for that reason—he is perhaps becoming a loose cannon (no pun intended), biting the hand of the very power structure on which he and the party system feeds. It is one thing to be unilateral when it comes to global hegemony, quite another when embodied in sanctions, for as one business spokesperson observed, Linda Dempsey, NAM’s vice president for international economic affairs (discounting the sudden love shown American workers): “Unilateral sanctions by the United States end up with other countries and their industries filling the void. The harm and the real impact of those unilateral sanctions is on U.S. industries and U.S. workers. It’s not that we’re out of the market for a year or two. We could get out of the market for decades.” Fighting among thieves warms the cockles of any radical’s heart—here, not Tea Partiers, Republicans, conservative Democrats, but the System Obama seeks to preserve and expand may prove his ultimate undoing.
The quote is from Peter Baker’s New York Times article, “Doubting Putin, Obama Prepares to Add Pressure,” (June 24), where one finds—not perhaps Baker’s intent—the extremism and zealotry that informs Obama’s position, obdurate in tightening sanctions (read also, embarrassing or humbling Putin) no matter what others think. Russia may well be the agency for a fragmentation of the EU or its growing independence from the US, either way a colossal loss of the fruits of the Cold War, including political-economic dominance of Europe itself and advantageous geopolitical placement (NATO as helpmate) in relation to Russia, all because of the Obama administration’s insistence on compliance with its wishes for exclusive superpower status: the globalization of American capitalism conjoined with unchallenged US military supremacy. There is such a thing as grabbing for too much, when the rest of the world is fast catching up. Baker aptly summarizes the administration’s position. It “has drawn up plans to escalate sanctions against Russia by targeting its financial, energy and defense industries, but faces resistance from European allies hoping to avoid a broader economic clash with Moscow that would hurt their own businesses.”
In our haste to see capitalism as an international system, we often forget one of its salient features, that of inter-capitalist rivalries that, historically, have been productive of wars, and, among capitalism’s chief worries, the seeds sown for revolution. None of this, of course, matters to Washington, as it in fact did to Woodrow Wilson, in its pell-mell rush to remain on top, whatever it takes, contemptuous of the UN, international law, distortions of the domestic economy due to extravagant defense spending, and now, massive surveillance and forfeiture to any meaningful claim to having a democratic government. Obama sweetly (when primed) and dutifully presides over the eclipse of democracy, beginning with the attack on civil liberties and winding through the interstices of power, to result in lopsided wealth distribution and pursuit of a military-implemented global foreign policy with impunity, the name of the game being the encirclement of adversaries (China and Russia).
Putin’s proposal for a longer cease-fire in Ukraine has to be denied, else the whole idea of confrontation (including Obama’s various ultimatums) collapses. Not everyone is watching the World Cup; in America, one finds in influential circles a fear of overreach (“business leaders objecting to unilateral actions that would hurt their companies are kicking off an advertising campaign to oppose Mr. Obama’s plans”) which is matched by EU leaders ”reluctant to go along if it looks like Mr. Putin may be backing down.” Here the distortion, not wholly unexpected given Baker’s enjoyment, over most other Times reporters, of access to the inner corridors of power-–not necessarily a deliberate misleading so much as congruent viewpoints which are then equated with journalistic objectivity. He speaks of Putin’s marshalling forces on the Ukrainian border when, in fact, they have been removed, and, possibly unbeknownst to Baker, because occurring simultaneous to his own article, Putin’s clear announcement of the request for an extended cease-fire and other acts to encourage a peaceful resolution of the crisis, especially calling on the Russian Parliament “to rescind formal authorization to intervene militarily in Ukraine.”
From that perspective, Obama’s threats have no point other than to humiliate Putin, increase tensions with Russia, and claim—as US officials were doing—that Putin was motivated solely by expedience in order “to undercut European support for additional sanctions.” Kerry, leading the way for an escalation of sanctions, in discussions first with PM Cameron and then with European diplomats in Brussels, has thrown down the gauntlet, the further claim being that Russia must categorically desist from what has not been proven in the first place, its full-throated support for dissidents in eastern Ukraine. Sanctions appear to follow—the administration having “developed three options for further actions…banning any further interactions with some of Russia’s largest banks; cutting technology transfers to Russian energy and defense firms; and shutting down business with Russian defense companies”—no matter Putin’s course, damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. The real fear in Washington is that Putin is telling the truth and is seeking a peaceful solution. For in that way, it becomes more difficult both to maintain tensions and scare the EU into America’s arms.
Peace is ridiculed as an expedient to those maintaining a confrontational stance in international politics, i.e., the US, and as events play out, even, now moving closer to the present than in Baker’s piece, with Poroshenko of Ukraine signing a trade agreement with the EU (June 27), Putin’s continued pursuit of an overall settlement fails to make a dent in the Obama administration’s belligerent attitude (read, state of readiness). Of the proposed sanctions, Baker readily admits: “Any of these actions would go far beyond the narrow penalties meted out to date against individual Russian officials, businessmen and their companies.“ Yet he still sees the response as measured—it could be far worse, “Iran-style sanctions,” although ineffective given Russia’s “broader economy.” Perceptively he sees the American dilemma: punish Russia, but also “avoid disrupting global markets.”
Obama strikes one as willing to take the risk, vindictiveness trumping all before it—implying that, as an ideologue, he is not quite the puppet we (radical critics) often take him for. One surmises the caution of the business community, where, after all, business is business—on the international level, no matter the lies fed to, and efforts at social control of, the home front. Obama is superb for the latter purposes, but is becoming increasingly problematic (save of course the colossal subsidization of the defense sector) in the realm of international economics. Corporatism, as an expansive force bursting national boundaries, requires both stability and security, and continued intervention endemic to US policymakers, as now the friction developing in US-EU relations precisely over American containment of Russia (with China a next step), is proving deleterious to both. The EU is beginning to emerge in its own right, a fact Washington is doing its best to ignore, especially in its reliance on NATO to do some of its dirty work for it as well as legitimate, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, what is primarily an American operation.
Overreach intuitively seems unlikely in capitalism, yet the realization is slowly sinking in that, particularly egged on by the Congressional Right, Obama ultimately may be bad for business. Deregulation is one thing, fine and dandy, but on the larger canvas of world trade unilateralism breeds either exclusionary measures or political conflict taking, inevitably, economic form. Much of Baker’s article is given over to business restiveness with a confrontational foreign policy. Politically, developing friction with the EU, Obama doing his best to bring Merkel and Hollande over to his side; economically, he notes: “The drive for more sanctions comes as American businesses are growing more vocal in protesting the possibility that the United States may act on its own. While lobbying the White House and Congress quietly until now, leading business groups plan to start a wide advertising campaign voicing their concerns.”
My New York Times Comment on Baker’s article, same date, follows:
Obama has dropped all pretense of constructive leadership and shows himself to be obsessed with confrontation and force. To be to the Right of the NAM and the Chamber of Commerce, esp. for a Democrat, requires some doing. But Obama is now a true ideologue, more warlike, more capitalist, more jingoist, than many traditional conservative groups.
Also more foolhardy, for he is now distancing himself from the EU–and worse, marching toward the edges of what seems his intent: to provoke submission from Russia, and then China (given his Pacific-first strategy), all at the risk of nuclear war.
Bad enough we as a nation have to endure massive surveillance of our own people, bad enough to have Kerry smother Sisi with love as journalists go to prison, bad enough that Obama is back to drone assassination and the use of the Espionage Act to prevent revelations of USG wrongdoing. But to an overt face-off against Putin when Putin has not given cause, is ugly, bizarre, madness, as though Obama wills intervention and war as politically expedient and somehow economically rejuvenating.
Radicals are passive and give Obama a free pass. Ironically, we must look to the business community to curb his appetite for war. Obama’s national security advisers to a person represent what we tend to call the Neo-Cons, passionate in their quest for US UNILATERAL world dominance. The world, however, is changing, multipolar, tired of living under Cold War assumptions. Soon, America in splendid isolation.
As for Putin’s peace overtures, which policy makers derisively termed a “charm offensive,” there are ample signs of a constructive posture. E.g., Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew Roth’s NYT article, “Putin Presses Extension of Cease-Fire in Ukraine,” (June 24), enumerates concrete steps which needed to be taken in his view, beginning with, on the 24th, pairing the call for the extension and the rescinding of the March resolution for authorizing armed force in Ukraine.
Predictably, the US interpreted the actions as fear of sanctions (my own: in Cold War parlance, Putin blinked first, thus whetting Obama’s appetite for turning the screws tighter), yet Putin, speaking in Vienna, despite provocations, took the high road and urged Poroshenko to make the cease-fire longer and, more important, lead to something more. In Putin’s own words: “To declare a cease-fire is not enough; it is necessary to start substantive talks on the nature of the problem.”
Then at a news conference, he clarified further—neither Russian take-over of Eastern Ukraine nor encouragement of a breakaway state, but, in the reporters’ account, “greater autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk,” Constitutional changes to which Kiev appeared “amenable.” They correctly observed, “Mr. Putin said declaring a cease-fire and asking the rebels to disarm without addressing their long-term political grievances would yield nothing.” To Obama, federalization, or even simple legal guarantees, is to compromise with the Devil. His fear is that Poroshenko will not be as compliant, i.e., anti-Russian, as was originally hoped. Obama may be right. [No, written the 25th; Poroshenko has ended the cease-fire on the 30th, and July 1 sees massive Ukrainian air and land attacks in the East.] Putin, again at the news conference: “If we see there are substantive talks, so that people in eastern Ukraine can finally understand how their legal interests will be guaranteed, then there is a high possibility of success.” Comparing the respective approaches to the Ukrainian situation of Obama and Putin is to see the difference between setting a war trap and reaching out to the parties in a spirit of conciliation.
Putin does not want war. It’s doubtful that Obama fully reciprocates that sentiment. The reporters, perhaps in spite of themselves or Times policy, bear out the preceding: “Mr. Putin said he was pleased by the first contacts on Monday [June 23] between the Kiev authorities and the rebel representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk. ‘No big agreements were reached, but the fact that the dialogue has begun is a highly important moment,’ he said.” Obama doesn’t do “dialogue,” thought a sign of weakness at best, and instead takes on the role ordinarily assigned to Putin, the supposed KGB bully (for KGB substitute the letters, CIA or NSA), who is internally strong enough to engage for peace without fear his manhood is being questioned. On disarmament he observes, the reporters continue, that Ukraine “had not done enough to disarm a rabidly anti-Russian group called Right Sector. Without that, Mr. Putin said, it did not make sense to call on the militias in the east to disarm.”
Those Monday discussions indicate a widening of the Putin-Obama gulf, for as the reporters make clear, “Russia had been pressuring Ukraine to talk directly to the rebels”; moreover, “Putin’s public move to take the Russian armed forces out of the equation [something fellow Times reporters were loathe to admit, if at all] was evidently a means to endorse the first results from the talks.” Horror of horrors, Poroshenko is going soft on us—is a new coup in the offing? They close: “The Poroshenko peace plan proposes amnesty for rebel fighters who have not committed serious crimes, as well as safe passage for mercenaries seeking to return to Russia. He also calls for decentralization of the national government, which would allow for greater self-rule in the east, a critical Russian demand.”
Yes, on the 27th, as Andrew Higgins and David Herszenhorn’s NYT article heading makes clear, “Ukraine Signs Trade Agreement with European Union,” but the finer points hardly suggest an unqualified Obama victory over Putin and Russia. Russia, of course, was angry, envisioning the West’s attempt at absorbing into its orbit not only Ukraine but Georgia and Moldova, as part of a concerted effort to dismember the Russian Federation piece-by-piece, a not unreasonable assumption because generally bruited about in Neo-Con circles (though not mentioned by the reporters, themselves not even willing to credit the fact of a coup, simply saying that Poroshenko “won Ukraine’s presidential election in May to fill a post left vacant by Mr. Yanukovych’s flight from the country in February”). Angered, too, again not mentioned, that Ukraine would make possible the movement of NATO forces to the Russian border. But perhaps, contrary to US-EU hopes and expectations, Ukraine may want to opt out of the Cold War framework and current power-struggle. Poroshenko stated, “We use this possibility [trade agreement with the EU] to modernize the country. But we need only one thing—peace and security.” That which, one surmises, is not readily to hand when foreign troops (EU, as we’ll see, is not inviting Ukraine into NATO) are massed on the Russian border.
As of June 27, there is hope the cease-fire will be extended, perhaps indefinitely, to give negotiations a chance.
History is full of surprises; projections can prove futile. Knowing of the resumption of Kiev’s offensive, Poroshenko’s contradiction of earlier statements, and, brought out by Herszenhorn’s article, “Fighting Intensifies in Ukraine After Cease-Fire Is Ended,” (July 1), the readiness to label protesters in the East as terrorists (Poroshenko even considering the establishment of martial law), it is obvious that Putin’s overtures have come to naught and we are back to square one. I want to remain with Putin on the eve of termination, though, to make clear where I think responsibility for the crisis lies, not with Putin, but Kiev, the right-wing forces therein vocal, the US behind the scenes, and, occupying a middle position, the EU, led here by Germany and France, which through the 30th had engaged seriously with Poroshenko in peace discussions. Thus, a final look at Putin, before the Ukraine offensive.
Putin appears less concerned about the trade deal than the underlying political dynamics, in which, as he sees it, the West, rather than encouraging Ukraine with respect to trade relations, is forcing it to choose between the West and Russia, implying it cannot look in both directions and be neutral and autonomous. Implicitly Putin rejects the ideological dichotomy, you’re either for us or against us, and wants instead a Ukraine non-hostile to Russia in the context of independent action. He blames the EU for creating the crisis (also the 27th): “The acute crisis in this neighboring country seriously troubles us. The anti-constitutional coup in Kiev and attempts to artificially impose a choice between Europe and Russia on the Ukrainian people have pushed society toward a split and painful confrontation.”
Poroshenko’s initial renewal of the truce implied that he viewed the trade agreement as just that, affecting trade and not part of an anti-Russian mobilization of forces to promote confrontation. When a Putin senior adviser, Sergei Glazyev, charged the Kiev government was “Nazi,” Putin’s spokesperson contradicted him, stating this was “not the official position” of Russia—perhaps further indication Putin seeks an accommodation rather than war with the Ukrainian government. Meanwhile, for reasons external to the trade accord, the EU has made clear in Brussels, the reporters write, “There is no chance of the European Union admitting Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova as members any time soon. Public opinion in Europe is hostile to any further expansion of a 28-nation bloc that is already widely seen as too big and too unwieldy.”
As for NATO, the US seemingly faces disappointment there too; instead of quick membership opening the pathway for an armed presence on the Russian border, the EU also is slowing down on that count. Here, Georgia is the subject, but a precedent is thereby set for considering Ukraine or not: “Russia has long viewed the European Union as a stalking horse for NATO but, in a move that could help allay such concerns, NATO foreign ministers decided in Brussels earlier this week that a summit meeting in September will not approve offering Georgia a formal step to membership.” Further sanctions against Russia, announced EU leaders in Brussels, would also be held in abeyance. Yet, positions change. With a resumption of warfare, the EU may welcome the chance to expand NATO operations. All bets are off.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.