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Thanatos hangs over America, a death-wish based on the inner rotting of conscience predicated on the constant need for supremacy in the world as a test, indeed validation, of the nation’s moral virtue, to be achieved through military power—a greatness no longer assumed and, because of inner decay setting in, cause for fatalistic entropic reaction. Circa 1950: Better dead than red. Circa 2014: Better dead than descend from the pinnacle of global hegemony—and why not bring everyone else with us? Paul Craig Roberts’s article in CounterPunch, Are You Ready For Nuclear War?, (June 3), may perhaps seem unduly alarmist to the uninitiated, but even without Obama-Team national security advisers thoroughly capable of and attuned to such planning, there are indications inhering in Obama’s studied moves aimed toward direct confrontation with Russia and China that carry intentionally the eventuality of a nuclear showdown.
Both on the Pacific Rim and European trips, closely integrated in time and purpose, Obama sounds like—and is scripted to be—the Avenger against a doubting world, not sufficiently appreciative of America the Land of Freedom (subtext throughout, of course, capitalism the sole legitimate world system replicating America’s own political-economic structure and ideological values). Comparing his statements wherever he appeared on those journeys of confidence-building, all to the end of confrontation with China and Russia, respectively, yet tacitly as though enemies-joined-at-the-hip, he sounded like nothing so much as a broken 78 rpm recording, stand shoulder to shoulder, stand shoulder to shoulder, stand shoulder… ad infinitum. Poland, South Korea, Latvia and Lithuania, Philippines—the more the merrier, coupled with checks (the monetary kind) for military hardware, promises of American protection, assurances, backed by military bases, training programs, joint exercises, membership in the extant alliance system (an attack on one is an attack on all), the foregoing packaged with the ascription of Russia and China as expansion-minded and out to do harm to its neighbors (i.e., our “friends and allies”). Chuck Hagel, interviewed on BBC, invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the one for all, all for one provision, stating that “Russia was a threat” to Europe (June 5). Nothing could be clearer.
And then we have Obama in Brussels, same day, demanding of Putin, in a time frame “over the next two, three, four weeks,” complete disengagement—in Peter Baker’s words, from his New York Times article, “With Group of 7 Backing, Obama Gives Russia One-Month Ukraine Deadline, “ (June 5)—from Ukraine, that is, “to reverse its intervention…and help quash a pro-Russian separatist uprising or else…it would face international sanctions far more severe than anything it had endured so far.” Beyond a time frame, actually an ultimatum, Obama stated that “if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia.” No compliance after the time period (“and if he remains on the current course”), watch out Putin, for “we’ve already indicated what kinds of actions that we’re prepared to take.”
G-7 on banners, rostrums, a deliberate flaunting of exclusion, along with D-Day Observance plans to prevent an Obama-Putin head-to-head, calculated further to enhance antagonism, this choreographed trip is a prelude to bolder demands directed to the EU itself to speak with one voice, that of America’s, in viewing Russia as an enemy bent on invasion of the West. Rather than hysteria, the mood favors an incremental rise in tensions, at each step, the concretization of war readiness, naval forces in the Black Sea, a larger US troop presence in Poland, the steady movement eastward to the Russian border of NATO troops, anti-ballistic missile installations ringing Russia, a hostile environment, to say the least, for a peaceful accommodation, one the US and the EU, by their actions, appears not to want.
I am tempted to explain these developments as the psychopathology of capitalism as a system, thanatos the upshot of the desensitization of human feeling when the commodity structure defines the individual as alienated from social relations of equality and justice, in favor of a pervasive solipsism, driven by fear, introjecting the values of ruling groups as compensation for empty lives, turning on one another to rise in the social hierarchy, in the last analysis, killing without compunction, as in Obama’s signature, drone assassination vaporizing a fellow human being so that no reminder of his/her existence remains. But such an explanation is too simple by half; policy trumps psychology, or rather invites a particular mental-set in order to reach fruition. Thanatos is consequence, not cause. Policy is about market penetration, market fundamentalism, market hegemony, to which must be appended the full-scale militarization of political economy, value system, how order is maintained and reinforced.
Mass surveillance in America is less if at all about counterterrorism than about the artificial props which are necessary to keep society from disintegrating in the face of animalistic greed (apologies to animals for the reference), ethnocentric and racial assumptions, the uneven structure of wealth, an underlying repression insinuated into the fabric of status, power, and wealth for purposes of the stabilization of privilege and recognition. America enjoyed world prestige for so long that a decline of any sort is catastrophic. My way or the highway works only so long; as this realization sinks in, America becomes more dangerous. These provocative moves to mount a massive counterrevolution are failing, whether Putin or Xi or both, the counterweight is fast forming its leadership coming from the people themselves with Russia and China the historical vanguard for creating a world system where no single power is able to dominate and unilaterally shape the destinies of humankind.
My New York Times Comment on the Baker article, same date, follows:
I am delighted by Obama’s rhetoric emanating out of Warsaw and Brussels. It confirms my sense of him as global WARMONGER No. 1. His threats, boasts, needling are an accurate reflection of his and the US’s character. We hear rumors now of a veritable cottage industry in Washington of policy wonks working out nuclear first-strike paradigms against Russia and China. Fitting, because the impulse for destruction is present. Obama is far more dangerous with or without preemptive war than any POTUS perhaps ever.
Does saying that make me a red-pinko-commie? No. Until America puts its own house in order, which may well be never again, criticism is justified without necessarily praising those declared to be adversaries and worse.
How square peace with massive domestic surveillance? with the largest military budget in the world? with the use of counterterrorism to violate civil liberties at home, mount unjustified aggression abroad?
Times readers may scream (one yesterday said of my post on Warsaw, Go back to Russia–I’ll donate to your travel)! That’s perfect, the ratcheting up of Reaction, frighteningly similar to McCarthyism–even more pervasive–that I remember in my youth.
As for a Putin-Poroshenko meeting, it will come about soon. As for Obama’s threat of sectoral sanctions, this will backfire, as Germany and France will not go along. It is fitting Obama has Cameron as his new pal–two peas in a pod. Others however will resent the crass bullying. We deserve Obama.
Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at email@example.com.