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How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again

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Photo by thierry hermann | CC BY 2.0

United States-of-Americans are routinely told by politicians and corporate media pundits and talking heads that Russia is their enemy – an “adversary state.”  The assertion has been normalized.  It passes without challenge or justification.

Forget for now the question of whether and how “our adversary Russia” intervened significantly on Donald Trump’s behalf in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Put aside the glaring absence of any smoking gun evidence to back that charge up and contemplate the fundamental matter of how and why Vladimir Putin’s Russia became “our enemy” in the first place.

For those of us old enough to remember the long Cold War era, the designation of Russia as a leading global U.S. foe carries no small irony. From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 until the collapse of the officially Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites in the early 1990s, Russia was an ideological and political enemy of the Western capitalist “elite.”

The USSR was no workers’ paradise.  For all its formal allegiance to Marx and Engels, it was a militantly hierarchical class society ruled by a tyrannical state. After World War Two, it held brutal military power over Eastern Europe and East Germany. Still, Soviet-era Russia created an urban and industrialized society with real civilizational accomplishments (including cradle-to-grave health-care, housing, and food security and an impressive educational system and cultural apparatus) outside capitalism.  It pursued an independent path to modernity without a capitalist class, devoid of a bourgeoisie, in the name of socialism. It therefore posed a political and ideological challenge to U.S-led Western capitalism – and to Washington’s related plans for the Third World periphery, which was supposed to subordinate its developmental path to the needs of the rich nations (the U.S., Western Europe, and honorarily white Japan) of the world-capitalist core.

Honest U.S. Cold Warriors knew that it was the political threat of “communism” – its appeal to poor nations and people (including the lower and working classes within rich/core states) – and not any serious military danger that constituted the true “Soviet menace.”  Contrary to U.S. “containment” doctrine after World War II, the ruling Soviet bureaucracy was concerned above all with keeping an iron grip on its internal and regional empire, not global expansion and “world revolution.” It did, however “deter…the worst of Western violence” (Noam Chomsky) by providing military and other assistance to Third World targets of U.S. and Western attack (including China, Korea, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos).  Along the way, it provided an example of independent development outside and against the capitalist world system advanced by the superpower headquartered in Washington.

To make matters worse from Washington’s “Open Door” perspective, the Soviet Empire kept a vast swath of the world’s natural and human resources walled off from profitable exploitation by global capital.

All of this was more than enough to mark the Soviet Union as global public enemy number one for the post-WWII U.S. power elite, which had truly planet-wide imperial ambitions, unlike Moscow.

The Soviet deterrent and alternative to U.S.-led capitalism-imperialism collapsed once and for all in the early 1990s.  Washington celebrated with unchallenged invasions of Panama and Iraq. The blood-drenched U.S. President George H.W. Bush exulted that “what we say goes” in a newly unipolar, post-Soviet world. Russia reverted to not-so “free market” capitalism under U.S.-led Western financial supervision and in accord with the savage austerity and inequality imposed by the neoliberal “Washington consensus.” Chomsky got it right in 1991.  “With the collapse of Soviet tyranny,” he wrote, “much of the region can be expected to return to its traditional [subordinate] status, with the former high echelons of the bureaucracy playing the role of the Third World elites that enrich themselves while serving the interests of foreign investors.” The consequences were disastrous for many millions of ordinary Russians.

The West said, “welcome to the machine” and “enjoy your new freedom to starve and die young.” The Soviet tyranny was turned into an oligarchs’ wonderland, a neoliberal wasteland combining untold new opulence for the fortunate Few with a stark decline in social and living standards for the Many.  Russia remains a capitalist nightmare and plutocrats’ playground.

So, what happened?  How did “our” Cold War super-enemy become “our” brand new top “adversary” all over again, more than a quarter century after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall? The bottom line is that proud, post-Cold War Russia finally experienced too much brazen humiliation and betrayal at the hands of the U.S.-led West. It got up off the canvass under national/nationalist strongman Putin (a former KGB Lieutenant-Colonel wise in the ways of the West) and marshalled enough of still-intact natural and military resources and patriotic to challenge the American Empire’s hubristic claim to the right to rule Eurasia with impunity. “What we say goes” hit a new wall of Russian dignity and power.

One of the many dirty little secrets of the U.S. Cold War was that anti-communism functioned as a pretext and cover for Washington’s Wall Street-fueled ambition to force open and run the entire world system in accord with its multinational corporate elite’s globalist- “Open Door” political-economic needs.  From this imperial perspective, the real Cold War enemy was not so much “communism” as other peoples’ struggles for national, local, and regional autonomy and independence. The enemy remains long after the statues of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin have come down.

It doesn’t matter than Russia is no longer “socialist.” Nationalist and regional push-back against Uncle “We Own the World” Sam has been more than sufficient to get Putin designated as the next official Hitler and Russia targeted as a malevolent opponent by the U.S. elite political class and media. Mike Whitney puts it very well in a recent CounterPunch essay:

“What has Russia done to deserve all the negative press and unsupported claims of criminal meddling?…Just look at a map. For the last 16 years, the US has been rampaging across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Washington intends to control critical oil and natural gas reserves in the ME, establish military bases across Central Asia, and remain the dominant player in an area of that is set to become the most populous and prosperous region of the world…”

“But one country has upset that plan, blocked that plan, derailed that plan. Russia. Russia has stopped Washington’s murderous marauding and genocidal depredations in Ukraine and Syria, which is why the US foreign policy establishment is so pissed-off.  US elites aren’t used to obstacles.”

“For the last quarter of a century – since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union – the world had been Washington’s oyster. If the president of the United States wanted to invade a country in the Middle East, kill a million people, and leave the place in a smoldering pile of rubble, then who could stop him? …Nobody.  Because Washington owns this fu**ing planet and everyone else is just a visitor…Capisce?.”

“But now all that’s changed. Now evil Putin has thrown up a roadblock to US hegemony in Syria and Ukraine. Now Washington’s land-bridge to Central Asia has been split in two, and its plan to control vital pipeline corridors from Qatar to the EU is no longer viable. Russia has stopped Washington dead-in-its tracks and Washington is furious.”

“The anti-Russia hysteria in the western media is equal to the pain the US foreign policy establishment is currently experiencing. And the reason the foreign policy establishment is in so much pain, is because they are not getting their way.  It’s that simple. Their global strategy is in a shamble because Russia will not let them topple the Syrian government, install their own puppet regime, redraw the map of the Middle East, run roughshod over international law, and tighten their grip on another battered war-torn part of the world.”

“So now… Putin must be demonized and derided. The American people must be taught to hate Russia and all-things Russian…Russia must be blamed for anything and everything under the sun…”

Forget the charges of Trump-Russia collusion.  Trump’s main Russia problem is that he came into the White House from outside the elite Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ruling class establishment.  Unlike the plugged-in U.S. power and imperial elite, the orange-haired brute never got the Zbigniew Brzezinski-crafted, David Rockefeller-endorsed CFR memo on the grave peril Moscow still poses to “the international system sponsored by the United States.”  (True, it’s unlikely that Trump could have followed the memo). Candidate Trump showed his lack of ruling class credentials by admiring Putin’s authoritarian manliness and calling for a stand-down from Obama and Hillary Clinton’s reckless, Brzezinski-esque provocation of the Kremlin in Eastern Europe and Syria. He foolishly called for normalized relations with the vodka-swilling Eurasian power that arose from the grave to once again become Washington’s “all-purpose [global] punching bag” (Whitney).

After Herr Donald was ironically installed in the White House by leading Russophobe and  “lying neoliberal warmonger” (LNW) Hillary Clinton, Russia-hating took on a new and seductive political meaning for Democrats and their many U.S. media allies. The Russiagate narrative has proved irresistible to these actors for three basic reasons. First, they have naturally wanted to delegitimize the early Trump administration for standard partisan reasons. They’ve seen tarring Trump as a treasonous friend of a leading “foreign adversary” as useful for that purpose.

Second, highly placed NATO-expansionist New Cold Warriors in both major parties (e.g., John McCain) and the media have wanted to keep the heat on Moscow. The baseless Russia election-hacking and collusion charges have been tools for the New Cold War camp to hedge in Trump’s promises of rapprochement with Russia. The Russiagate scam is part of why Clockwork Orangutan found it necessary to absurdly tell Russia to “give Crimea back” to Ukraine and why he theatrically launched 59 cruise missiles onto a Syrian airbase.

Third, the Russian interference allegation has been made in part to help the DNC and the neoliberal Democratic Party establishment avoid responsibility for blowing the 2016 election. The Democrats ran a wooden, Wall Street-captive, and corruption-tainted candidate (the aforementioned LNW) and a vapid and elitist campaign that couldn’t mobilize enough working- and lower-class voters to defeat the epically noxious and unpopular Trump in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan and Ohio. The “Moscow stole it” narrative is a fancy version of “The dog [bear?] ate my homework” for a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice and environmental sustainability long ago.

The “inauthentic opposition” party (as the late Sheldon Wolin aptly described the neoliberal Democratic Party) would rather not take a long, hard and honest look at what it has become. It does not want to concede anything to those who dream (naively) of turning it into an authentic peoples’ and opposition party with a bold progressive vision and agenda. The “Russia did it” charge works for establishment Democrats hoping to stave off demands from leftish-progressive-populist types in their own party [1].

This perverse political logic works to sustain the strange new neo-McCarthyite anti-Russian madness, which is rooted in the U.S. imperial agenda, not any relevant Russian influence on U.S. life and politics.

Endnote

1/ True to form, de facto Democrat Bernie “sheep-dog” Sanders (“I”-VT) has played along with the Russiagate scam even as it undercuts progressive impulses within and beyond the Democratic Party. Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.  “Bernie the Bomber” (as he was nicknamed by peace activists in his home town of Burlington, Vermont) was a fierce advocate of Bill Clinton’s criminal New Cold War attack on Serbia – and action that was a great provocation of Russia.  Sanders has been a great supporter of the scandal-ridden F-35, scheduled for sale to Germany and other NATO-aligned forces. He has also provocatively called for U.S.- and Western-led regime in Russia-allied Syria.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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