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Cold War Summitry, NATO’s “Rapid-Reaction” Force

Obama’s Rainbow (aka Mushroom Cloud)

by NORMAN POLLACK

Obama in Estonia, Leader of the Free World, Commander-in-Chief of a Global Alliance against ISIS and Russia (conflated into a mélange of Anti-Communism/Counterterrorism), then on to Wales to rally the troops, all sorts of defense-intellectuals bestowing their blessings on a potentially open-ended conflict, NATO itself the willing tool of US hegemonic principle and purpose to shape the world system in its own image and to its own self-interest and advantage.  That much should now be obvious.  NATO from its inception has been an extension of US foreign policy, the military complement of the IMF and World Bank, while the European Union, only slightly less tractable, is a dependable source of support for the stabilization of world capitalism under American leadership, directed to the social-structural control of modernization so as to maintain a de facto colonial relationship to the Third World and the arresting of socialist and/or revolutionary currents wherever they might appear.  A tall order?  Hardly, for the West has come to include Japan, Israel, and in a somewhat grey area, whomever accepts American largesse in drawing the Manichean line with Russia and China, the regnant ideological dualism between Freedom and Slavery.

Things are heating up. First, to set the scene, please join with me in singing (old Leftist) E.Y. Harburg’s lyrics from Finian’s Rainbow, “If this isn’t love, the whole world is crazy / If this isn’t love, I’m daft as a daisy,” except, with apologies to Yip, insert “war” for love, and perhaps rename the musical “Obama’s Rainbow (aka Mushroom Cloud),” for, as Julie Davis and Steven Erlanger, in their New York Times article, “NATO Weighs Rapid Response Force for Eastern Europe,” (Sept. 1) write in their opening sentence: “As Ukranian leaders warned on Monday [Sept. 1] of ‘a great war’ with Russia, NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week were expected to endorse their most concrete response yet to increased Russian military intervention in Ukraine: establishing a rapid-reaction force capable of deploying quickly to Eastern Europe, officials of the alliance said.”  Talk of war is open, as is reference to NATO’s Article 5, and the felicitous phrase now current in policy circles, “the commitment to collective defense,” the term “defense” usually out of place, as witness NATO alacrity in engaging with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fighting America’s proxy-wars as needed.  Too, “rapid-reaction force,” like “defense” and the US Department of Defense, prejudges the case, in which “rapid-reaction” becomes, instead, aggression.

The reporters write: “The new force of some 4,000 troops, capable of moving on 48 hours’ notice, will be supported with logistics and equipment pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia, with an upgraded schedule of military exercises and deployments that are intended to make NATO’s commitment of collective defense more credible and enhance its deterrence.”  Anyone for mission creep?  As for quick deployment, one would think that the prepositioning of logistics and equipment closer to Russia, along with an upgraded schedule of military exercises, would indeed hasten the pace—as well as concern Putin and Russia of US-EU-NATO’s less than peaceful intent.  Finian’s Rainbow opened in New York on Jan. 10, 1947, when Cold War tensions were already running high.  Now is Sept. 2, 2014, and after a seeming relaxation, sporadic at best, we are back at the same old stand, Obama the distillation of Harry Truman-JFK-Bill Clinton, the Democratic Warlord anxious to prove his patriotic mettle, as dangerous to world peace as any Republican coming down the pike.  Here Davis and Erlanger show the forward momentum of the military demiurge (though as good Times’ reporters, that is not their intent—bad, bad Moscow): “The agreement [rapid-reaction force] is planned as the substantive centerpiece of the NATO meeting, which will take place Thursday and Friday [Sept. 4-5] and will be attended by President Obama, who will stop in Estonia before the summit meeting.  His aides said the trip was intended to highlight the United States’ commitment to NATO, and the alliance’s determination to protect all 28 members from aggression—from Moscow or elsewhere.”  Perhaps Ecuador or the South Bronx?  Why disguise the pointed nature of the locus of suspicion, and why disguise NATO’s (really, the US’s) geopolitical and geostrategic ambitions and plans?begging slogans2

The Estonia-stop is for steeling Obama’s will, as if this were needed, for that nation hardly enjoys conjugal friendship with Russia, its PM, Taavi Roivas (whom the reporters describe as “one of Mr. Obama’s proud Estonian hosts”) rolling up his sleeves and declaring: “The summit is very important because Russia thought it can change the borders of a sovereign European country by force, and this is happening not very far from NATO’s borders.  The security situation has changed, and we need to rethink our plans and reinforce our allies, so we can be 101 percent sure that all member states are equally and strongly protected.”  Russia, by definition, is the Aggressor, no word of the worldwide encirclement made up of US military bases, nor interventions, nor even strategic prepositioning of its own.

The war chorus, music to Obama’s ears, is growing.  Poroshenko: “’Direct, unconcealed aggression [by Russia] has been launched against Ukraine from a neighboring country.’”  Heletey, Ukraine’s defense minister: “’A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War II.’”  As for Obama, “the trip”—they write—“is a chance to show Europeans that he is dedicated to NATO at a time when Russia is challenging the postwar European order, built on the principle of no border changes by force.”  And, I’d add, a chance to show Americans he is truly one of us, dedicated to the proposition of permanent war, a climate in which the softies who want a vital social safety net and welfare sector could not possibly thrive.  Then a favorite I’ve had the privilege of quoting before, Ivo Daalder, former ambassador to NATO and presently head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs: “The tension you’re seeing between Russia and the West is going to be put on display in Wales, and the president is going to be leading that effort.  [Obama] wants to reaffirm the unity and strength of the alliance.”  Anticommunism is back in style, even when communism in Russia is long past.  Tilting at windmills with nuclear weapons will come next to China, part of America’s globalization of Reaction and counterrevolution.

Other dependable voices—James Stavridis, NATO’s commander from 2009 to 2013, and now dean of Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy: “’The really ironic aspect here is that a re-energized, restrengthened NATO is Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare, and yet it’s his tactical actions that have done just that.’”  Ironic—or planned entrapment, beginning with the coup itself?  In the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, NATO pledged no substantial permanent bases in Eastern Europe, to which Anders Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary general, and becoming one of my favorite hawkish voices, shrill even by NATO standards, has gotten around through troop rotations, although prepositioned assets are at-the-ready:  “’[Russia’s] aggressive behavior [will mean] a more visible NATO presence in the East for as long as required.’”  This fits perfectly with the general war setting.   Davis-Erlanger write: “The moves, combined with military exercises and enhanced air patrols over the Baltic States, Poland and Romania are intended to deter Russia and reassure newer members.”

Credibility is the name of the game, always the case in the militaristic-authoritarian mindset, perhaps enshrined in Dulles’s nuclear deterrence and massive retaliation policy, operative before and since his time—here, Robin Niblett of London’s Chatham House: “’This is a credibility summit.  When we say we’re able to do something, we must have the political will and ability to do it…. [The summit will be measured on how] governments use it to wake up and sensitize their populations to the fact that we live in an increasingly dangerous world with real threats to our prosperity and security, and that more money must be spent.’”   The threat, to recall Pogo, is us; in any case, more money to an arms race of our own making.  As Charles Kupchan, senior director for Europe on the National Security Council, put the Obama message to Russia: “’Don’t even think about messing around in Estonia or in any of the Baltic areas in the same way that you’ve been messing around in Ukraine.’”  All that is needed here is for Ben Rhodes to sweeten the inflammatory language with praise of liberal humanitarianism.

***

Russia, of course, is following closely events leading up to the summit.  NYT reporter Andrew Roth, in his article, “Russia to Revise Military Doctrine in Response to NATO,” (Sept. 2), writes that Mikhail Popov, a senior military official, expressed concern that “’changing military dangers and military threats’” posed by NATO’s expansion is “one of the leading military dangers for the Russian Federation,’” in that NATO’s leaders “would seek to strengthen the alliance’s long-term military presence in Eastern Europe by establishing new military bases in the region and by deploying tanks in Estonia, a member of NATO that borders Russia.”  Not wild-eyed speculation, but what Rasmussen and NATO want and presumably why Obama through his belligerent remarks about protecting all 28 NATO nations is making Estonia his first stop before the summit.  (As if Ukraine weren’t trouble enough, now the spotlight shifts or makes room for Estonia as well.)  Popov again, in response to NATO’s eastward thrust: “’We believe that the defining factor in our relationship with NATO remains the unacceptability for Russia of plans to move MILITARY INFRASTRUCTURES OF THE ALLIANCE to our borders, including by means of expanding the bloc.’” (caps., mine)  The continued emphasis on the encroaching military factor, as I read it, is meant to highlight the alternative, nonmilitary relations of trade founded on mutual respect.  This would be far preferable to Putin, yet ideologically anathema to Obama and the West, given the consequent deflation of the war psychology and permanent state of readiness.

Credibility and conciliation have become polar opposites, to the US-EU-NATO complex of interests, the latter, conciliation, being construed as a sign of weakness, no, weakness as such, summoning fears of a Communist takeover presided over by the twin ghosts of Stalin and Mao—adversaries to be dredged up, to justify unlimited capitalist expansion, intervention often for its own sake, and for distractive purposes as a means of social control locking the population into the existing structure of power.  Foreign Minister Lavrov pointed out that “a recent initiative by the Ukrainian government to shed its nonaligned status and to join NATO could scuttle efforts to negotiate a peace settlement between Kiev and separatists [Roth’s term following Western media practice, not mine] in southeast Ukraine.”  A correct assessment, in that a peace settlement has been consistently discouraged by Kiev and, in the larger picture, would jeopardize the raison d’etre of NATO, to contain, weaken, and perhaps ultimately dismember Russia.

Putin, envisioning for months the kind of summit at hand, stated as early as April, “’When the infrastructure of a military bloc approaches our borders, we have grounds for apprehensions and questions.’”  He further recognized the narrowing of Russia’s options in light of NATO’s maneuvering: “’We wanted to support the residents of Crimea, but we also followed certain logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO sometime in the future… [and]NATO ships will dock in Sevastopol, the city of Russia’s naval glory.’”  Nationalistic, undeniable; but battleships, carriers, guns trained on Russian soil—who can blame him?

Coming to the present, one sees the alacrity with which Putin’s demonization gathers steam.  Ian Traynor, writing in The Guardian for Sept. 2, quotes him, according to the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, as saying, in a telephone conversation with Jose Manuel Barrosa, outgoing president of the European Commission, “The problem is not this [the possible presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine], but that if I want I’ll take Kiev in two weeks.” That is, if he so gave the orders, which he did not.  There was no denial; rather, that the remarks were taken out of context.  Moscow thought the leak offensive.  The interesting point, though, was the somewhat exaggerated response at an EU summit Aug. 30.  As Traynor reports: “Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, attended the EU summit and painted an apocalyptic picture of the conflict, with EU leaders dropping their usual public poise in a heated debate.”  Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania’s president, held that Russia was “’at war with Europe,’” while David Cameron saw this as Munich all over again, and Angela Merkel feared that Estonia and Latvia would be next.  Putin, meanwhile, despite The Times’ talk of a “Revised Military Doctrine,” has kept his counsel, and Popov merely observed: “Nato’s planned action… is evidence of the desire of US and Nato leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia.’”

Not only did Putin not order an attack on Kiev, but Lavrov, speaking for the Russian position, sought in his meeting with Moscow students precisely the path of conciliation, as seen in Shaun Walker and Dan Roberts’ article in The Guardian, “Russian foreign minister calls for immediate ceasefire in Ukraine,” (Sept. 1), in which uppermost was the protection of the civilian population.  Lavrov: “’They [Ukrainian forces] must leave positions from which they can harm the civilian population.  I very much count on today’s negotiations being devoted above all to the task of agreeing an immediate ceasefire, without conditions.’”  In contrast, I give the last word to Sen. Robert Menendez, Democrat, of New Jersey, and chair of Foreign Relations, as quoted in Neil MacFarquhar’s NYT article, “As Ukraine Talks Resume….” (Sept. 1), speaking at a Kiev news conference: “’ From my perspective this is a Russian fight against Europe being fought out on Ukrainian territory.’”  According to the account, “he also accused Russia of blocking attempts to find a peaceful solution.”  Tell me, how does Menendez differ from McCain, who also paid homage to Kiev?

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.