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US-EU Prepositioning in Eastern Europe

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While public attention is directed to ISIS the steady build-up to a dangerous, insane-driven confrontation with Russia, part of America’s geostrategic world posture, with a similar if more gradual development directed to China, continues. Imperialism is no longer an adequate designation; not since Hitlerism, a politics of megalomania, having intentional but secondary consequences for economic hegemony, have we seen such uncontrolled passion, largely for its own sake, of global supremacy—and all in the name of democracy, freedom, market fundamentalism, co-equivalent terms for US Exceptionalism. Not alone, we drag a somewhat willing Europe to boot into this phobic design.

This is not Spenglerian pessimism, but a realistic assessment of boots on the ground, American boots, facilitated no longer by Morgan Chase or Boeing and the whole edifice of monopoly capitalism and its integral formation of war production and military spending, the foregoing obviously very much present, but a qualitative jump now in addition: the fascistic ideological component cementing imperialism, capitalism, and a reawakened racism, as though an exhilarating death-wish, compensation for decades of abuse to others, our nation, our environment, guilt in the deeper recesses of the national conscience, had taken over. Americans are on the warpath for wont of constructive engagement with the problems of poverty, societal malaise, a decaying environment, exacting punishment on whomever and whatever calls our bluff.

Excessive bitterness on my part? Let’s look at Eric Schmitt and Steven Lee Myers’s article, “U.S. Is Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in Eastern Europe,” New York Times (June 14), fact-oriented, despite NYT’s and perhaps the reporters’ approval of the flagrant provocation to world peace herein described. Indeed, Russia is always fair game, Putin even more so, in today’s governmental-journalistic rush to judgment. Let Ukraine and/or Crimea become the latest accelerant for rationalizing full-scale war planning and the injection of hysteria into the European and American public, episodes which certainly can bear a far different interpretation singly or together when US-NATO participation is factored in (the coup in one case, demonstrable contempt for the people’s wishes in the other). The article assumes/presupposes Russia’s envelopment of the West, pure and simple: “In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.”

Peanuts? Small potatoes? This of course is already in addition to an elaborate network of bases, missile deployments, troops facing Russia, the explicitness of the present challenge, however, signaling—and intentionally so, judging from Pentagon statements—the first step toward an even more serious (aka, lethal) placement of military “assets” in the East, converting the Baltics into a war theater and stepping up the propaganda offensive in demonizing Putin. (Pope Francis’s recent interview with him given the mental landscape took exceptional courage and portends a role for the Church that has the West gnashing its teeth.) The reporters correctly state that the move “would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe,” an admission which compels one to query, why NATO’s expansion eastward in the first place? Too, the world has seen that from seemingly small seeds (Obama’s “advisers” to Iraq?) luxuriant poisonous foliage often emerges. Heavy equipment requires a human presence; it is not there on gratuitous display.

Ah, the Russian attack on Europe. They write: “It would be the most prominent of a series of moves the United States and NATO have taken to bolster forces in the region and send a clear message of resolve to allies and to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States would defend the alliance members closest to the Russian frontier.” The US is forever sending messages, to friend and foe alike, the two equally important because unified coalition building is essential both to impending fighting and legitimating war itself, the enemy it goes without saying is simply there, taken for granted. James Stavridis, retired admiral, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, is quoted right on point: “’This is a very meaningful shift in policy [more direct NATO activity in the Baltic countries]. It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full-time on the ground, of course.’” Of course! Stavridis wants more—not to worry, he will have his wish. (So much for the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy as a trusted institution of higher learning, just another think tank on a larger scale like the Council of Foreign Relations serving to rationalize government policy.)

The initial move is “small,” yet, they point out, “it would serve as a credible sign of American commitment, acting as a deterrent the way that the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961,” as if to say, recalling the intensity of the early Cold War, and sure enough, we have another think tanker (aptly, Center for a New American Security), Julianne Smith stating: “’It’s like taking NATO back to the future.’” The current atmosphere shrieks with fire-and-brimstone, in diplomatic language to be sure. We are still in the proposal stage; the equipment has yet to be sent. One Pentagon official: “’The U.S. military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies.’” But the way is cleared. They report: “Senior officials briefed on the proposals, who described the internal military planning on the condition of anonymity, said they expected approval to come before the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels this month.”

Our alliance brethren are not wholly innocent nor victims of arm-twisting: “The current proposal falls short of permanently assigning United States troops to the Baltics—something that senior officials of those countries recently requested in a letter to NATO. Even so, officials in those countries say they welcome the proposal to ship at least the equipment forward.” Those like Raimonds Vejonis, Latvia’s defense minister, want the capacity for immediate response, and Mark Galeotti, of NYU, a putative expert on the Russian military, writes, “’Tanks on the ground, even if they haven’t people in them, make for a significant marker.’” Step by step, first the material, then the personnel, at the ready, the pending arrangement: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, “a company’s worth of equipment,” Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and maybe Hungary, “enough for a company or possibly a battalion.” The Pentagon here is deadly serious (pardon the pun), for it is conducting site surveys in the countries involved, transforming the landscape, “working on estimates about the costs to upgrade railways, build new warehouses and equipment-cleaning facilities,” etc., guarding the weapons warehouses going to private contractors.

Moreover, “an interim step would be prepositioning the additional weapons [already after Crimea, the army stored a large supply of weapons at the Grafenwohr training range in southeastern Germany] and vehicles, euphemistically, the European Activity Set of M1-A2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and armored howitzers, “in Germany ahead of decisions to move them farther east.” So much for material, current and proposed, for there are army units—e.g., the Third Infantry Division—which are active in the area, along with “stepped-up air patrolling and training exercises on NATO’s eastern flank” (approved by NATO leaders at last year’s Wales meeting) in keeping with the policy change to the more permanent sense of confrontation. Heather Conley, director of the European Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has it exact: “’We have to transition from what was a series of temporary decisions made last year.’” The pace quickens, despite open violation of the NATO-Russian agreement of 1997 “that laid the foundation for cooperation.” And despite Putin’s recent interview with Corriere Della Serra, in which he stated: “’I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia.’” He said a good deal more in a two-and-a-half hour interview that I will make the subject of another, though related, article.

My New York Times Comment on the Schmitt-Myers article, same date, follows:

If further confirmatory evidence was needed, this article makes clear the US-NATO strategy of, not Kennan-type containment, but outright, dangerous confrontation with Russia, a geopolitical power move fraught with potential cataclysmic effects. Why this madness, unjustified to begin with? Obama has become far more menacing to world peace than his predecessors–and if not he personally, than in his supine willingness to allow the Pentagon and the bipartisan sentiment in Congress to run roughshod over the global system.

Prepositioning by definition is a first step toward the actuality of conflict. It is hardly defensive–as claimed by policy makers. Consider America’s global military posture, vis-a-vis China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the heavy placement of military “assets” in the region, as well as this encroachment on Russia, and the recipe for war is undeniable. The US is spiraling downward into a vortex of messianic, hubristic currents of self-aggrandizement, a nation which exhibits a death-wish (extended to all others, bringing down everyone with us) because of the hollowness of material strivings, the inurement to violence, the satiety of consumption–as many others of the world’s population live at or below subsistence.

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.

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Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

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