For America, the prospect of the structural-ideological constancy of war preparation and occasional conflagration is a delight, conviction, compulsion. For how else demonstrate hegemony? How else, by arrogating to itself guardianship—and chief beneficiary—of the world system, legitimate, affirm, and secure the fruits of Exceptionalism? Beginning in the late-19th century, with the fusion of capitalism and national power, already prefigured in domestic expansion and railroad development, the earlier phrase, “Manifest Destiny,” albeit hackneyed and contrived from day one self-serving a ruling-class-in-formation and conveying moralistic ethnocentric content, accurately described the grandiosity of public policy to follow (up to the present and no doubt future). The psychopathology of the winner-take-all mental set fulfilled by the militarization of US capitalism has, since the end of World War II, created a closed system in which anticommunism—now counterterrorism—becomes CODE for stifling alternatives to ascendant monopoly capital and the internal regimentation of political-social thought.
Whether war is an unquestioned good in its own right, for which all societal resources are pressed into service (including the inevitable shrinkage in scope and quality of the social safety net), or itself merely the mechanism for ensuring the intact foundations of an hierarchical social order based on the internal discipline of its people—no questions asked in the operations of the System, from its process of wealth-concentration to its economic denigration of working people, to, of course, the prohibitive costs in the maintenance of a War Machine—is a moot point, so close has war and its preparation been mixed into the national experience. For the broad sweep of contemporary history, there is no better introduction than Arno Mayer’s article, “The Ukraine Imbroglio and the Decline of the American Empire,” in the Apr. 18-20 issue of CounterPunch. This clear-headed, wise assessment of the direction the US is taking should rightfully concern every American because it captures the ideological bind in which the country finds itself due primarily to where its own hubristic power arc has brought it. I marked a single sentence going unerringly to the heart of the matter: “Though largely subliminal, the greater the sense and fear of imperial decay and decline, the greater the national hubris and arrogance of power which cuts across party lines.”
Beware the wounded Behemoth, far more dangerous than when in good health. More than ever, precisely because the global context of power relations is becoming transformed through the rise of a multipolar world, and hardly unrelated, America’s own overextension, taking military and paramilitary form, of protecting and enforcing its privileged position (exacerbating already present contradictions in the political-social organization of advanced capitalism, not the least being, in light of class structure, a proneness to underconsumption), systemic cracks are now painfully evident, driving policy to assume a dangerous, almost devil-may-care, character. Obama is riding the wave of a senescent if not crumbling system. Massive surveillance and drone assassination are marks of desperation (as well as criminal in intent). And at this moment, we have Ukraine, almost as though a predestined gathering place for the working out of global tendencies—the parties acting their expected parts.
Thanatos hangs over American society like a pall for all the wrongs it has committed. This, too, may be subliminal at first, but I differ with Mayer only in that the decay and decline he speaks of possesses clear recognition in policy circles (again bipartisan in nature and content). Bullies run scared when truly found out, raising the prospect of greater opposition or that hegemony comes with unacceptable costs, such as the dangers of nuclear war. Here the devastation to human lives might give little pause, but, oh, the destruction to property, the very essence of the moral life, now that’s another matter. Property uber alles! Yes, Thanatos: When the lifeblood of a nation is drained by pointless capitalist striving, let alone visions of global supremacy, what is there left but a colossal death wish. Practically everything about present-day America points to the murderous-and-suicidal syndrome, a gnawing destructiveness of self which has eaten away conscience and reason, and left an all-pervasive emptiness of soul to be filled by hatred and violence. How else intervention disguised as humanitarianism, accounting for the death of countless thousands? How else POTUS selecting targets from a hit list as candidates for assassination?
And how else stirring the bloody cauldron of confrontation with Russia? I refer to Peter Baker’s article, “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin,” New York Times, 4-20, because Baker, like David Sanger, appears specially privy to USG deliberations and as an authoritative voice of the paper’s editorial policy. The article is chilling. Obama’s nihilism (which The Times shares) with respect to dancing on the edge of mortal disaster is presented in the most prosaic terms: “Even as the crisis in Ukraine continues to defy easy resolution, President Obama and his national security team are looking beyond the immediate conflict to forge a new long-term approach to Russia that applies an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment.” US post-World War II redux, “to counter the Soviet Union and its global ambitions,” as though America had none (!), Obama “is focused on isolating” Putin’s Russia “by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state.”
Baker and TheTimes regard this as a good thing (as Baker’s loaded language and the editorial position reveal—e.g., editorial, “Mr. Putin’s Power Play,” 4-16), envisioning a post-Russia world of America’s global hegemony. Even if “the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine” is resolved,” Obama “will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides say.” For the remainder of his term he will “try to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause,” (we, of course, create none, including the coup itself) and “preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin….” “Master of the Kremlin” hardly conforms to the vaunted journalistic formula of, “all the news that’s fit to print.” Nor does Baker’s selection of Russian “experts,” who, as in the case of Ivo Daalder (whom I quoted in an earlier article), spew anti-Russian hatred and applaud administration hard-line policy. Here Daalder (now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs): “If you just stand there, be confident and raise the cost gradually and increasingly to Russia,” this may not solve the Crimean and Eastern Ukraine problems. “But it may solve your Russia problem.” Weaken it, ignore it, skip over it, on the road to China, where the real action lies. Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, the so-called “pivot,” is, in fact, the power-context for understanding US Russian policy under Team Obama.
It is imperative to degrade and humiliate Russia—Obama’s repeated statements about its weakness in connection with Crimea—to clear the decks (pardon the pun, but naval power, e.g., nuclear powered aircraft carriers, is integral to the pivot) for action in establishing a vast sphere of influence in the Pacific, head-off a planned Russia-China Eurasian Bloc, and do to China what he wants to do to Russia, that is, isolate it, weaken it, make it submissive to America’s financial-commercial-military global leadership. Thus, Baker continues, to rub salt in Russia’s wounds, the US wants to nominate John Tefft as ambassador to Moscow: “When the search began months ago, administration officials were leery of sending Mr. Tefft because of concern that his experience in former Soviet republics [Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania] that have flouted Moscow’s influence would irritate Russia. Now, officials said, there is no reluctance to offend the Kremlin.” Obama’s put-up-your-dukes foreign policy, as here, claims the intellectual parentage of George F. Kennan, “retrofitting” it “for a new age,” which Baker uncritically passes on without taking the measure of Kennan’s complexity. The account verges on never-never land when he writes, “The administration’s priority is to hold together an international consensus against Russia, including China, its longtime supporter on the United Nations Security Council.” Unfortunately for Obama, China is not Kiev.
I include three pertinent NYT Comments, one, on the editorial, “Mr. Putin’s Power Play,” 4-16, the second, on Baker’s article, 4-20, both in response to what I see as TheTimes’s utter capitulation to the reactionary forces of impending conflict, and the third, specifically on this less than admirable sell-out, David Herszenhorn, “Russia Is Quick to Bend Truth About Ukraine,” 4-16:
NYT’s raucous voice in stimulating a New Cold War does its journalistic history a dishonor. No mention of US-Obama Eurasian policy already implemented through the Pacific-first strategy intended to weaken simultaneously both Russia and China. USG presently escalates its foreign policy well beyond Kennan–and perhaps even Dulles. Take off your blinders and study the evolution of containment, the progression of unilateralism, the American demand for unchallenged preeminence: political, economic, ideological, military.
I hope Lavrov rejects the Geneva meeting as the stacked deck that it is. Obama is gambling on destabilizing the global economy as well as risking further interventions (not to say, the main point: confrontation with Russia), all for the sake of keeping the US as a single-centered world system in face of global realities. Gnash your teeth, but Putin is emerging as the voice of sanity and responsibility, Obama, the pettifogging miscreant with a hand on the Bomb. I shudder at the way America is behaving under his rule.
The policy of isolating Russia is more dangerous and far more stupid than what Geo. Kennan envisioned for containment. Obama’s rigid anticommunism (the ideological salience of his whole foreign policy, even though communism is off the table) makes Reagan a statesman. Obama covets war. Shallow, irresponsible, a phony of the first water in domestic policy, the best one can say for him is a) his consistency in across-the-board furtherance of wealth-concentration and monopoly capital, and b) a misguided global hegemony, which Kennan recognized to be both impractical and deleterious of solid international relations, even among allies. Those surrounding him give meaning the claque of Neo-Cons.
I hope Russia reciprocates, drastically cutting natural gas supplies to the West, rejecting the new ambassador, and pushing ahead, WITH CHINA, the Eurasian trading bloc as an antidote to a US-centered global system. The idea that China would go along with Obama is sheer madness (what I meant by stupidity), for the reverse will happen. After decades of friction between Russia and China under Stalin and Mao, the US is forcing a true rapproachement, and thereby creating precisely the multipolar world it has been America’s endeavor to prevent. Obama and his team (from Biden and Rice to Brennan and Rhodes) will go down in history as miscreant in their one-sided definition of America’s national interest. Conquest is easy, honoring the fruits of civilization less so.
One-sided journalism, neglecting US long-term support for regime change in Ukraine and undoubted fascistic elements and influences among Kiev policy-makers. Heartbreaking that NYT stoops so low, in support of USG attempts at crippling Russia and breaking an impending Eurasian economic framework–all to ensure American unilateral global dominance. Demonizing Putin assuredly plays well in America, far less so in the world.
There will be blowback, including the much-feared Russia-China rapproachment which until recently had a history, under Stalin and Mao, of friction and conflict. Obama’s Pacific-first strategy merely adds fuel to the fire of global tensions–perhaps the reason for the policy. Divide and conquer, at the expense of potential global conflagration!
Here Ukraine is America’s testing ground for asserting geopolitical hegemony, and neither Russia nor China will obligingly lay down and play dead. At home, counterterrorism suffices as the mechanism for engineering consent to foreign policy, however interventionist, and massive surveillance by NSA further ensures the quelling of critical awareness. Post-Cold War America is possibly more totalitarian, under Obama, than we’ve witnessed in the last five decades. Ignoring coups, US deployment of military “assets” worldwide, CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations (likewise global), all part of the interpretive context affecting Ukraine, does a disservice to Times readers.
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.