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Liberating Europe from Russian Gas

Photo by cea + | CC BY 2.0

Congress has responded to the president’s apparent intention to improve ties with Moscow with a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, which Trump has now signed into law. (There was no choice. Trump governs under the cloud of Russian “collusion” and Congress could override a veto.) The law does not just punish Russia, but its European trading partners, most notably Germany, which imports over a third of its natural gas from the nearby country in the natural, normal way.

But U.S. policy now, under the Trump administration, is to promote U.S. energy exports to Europe to replace Russian ones. It is both old-fashioned Cold War Russophobia and old-fashioned inter-capitalist, inter-imperialist contention.

The sanctions bill has been promoted as one that appropriately penalizes Russia for its international misbehavior. The always-cited examples being the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the (alleged) invasion of Ukraine in 2014. (As though these in any way rival in their impact and ramifications of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, based on lies, in 2003, or the U.S./NATO-led assault on Libya sold in the UN Security Council as a “humanitarian” intervention supported by Russia, that turned out to be a grotesque regime change operation culminating with Hillary Clinton’s public orgasm following Muammar Gadaffi’s sodomy-murder. “We came, we saw, he died!”)

Hillary Clinton on Gaddafi: We came, we saw, he died

Russia is always depicted in the corporate media as an “adversary.” It acts, we are told ad nauseam, against U.S. “interests” around the world. Its involvement in Syria is (to support the survival of the secular modern Syrian state against the most savage opponents imaginable) is somehow objectionable (whereas U.S. bombing of Syria, condemned by Damascus as a violation of Syrian sovereignty and clearly in violation of international law, is treated as a matter of course). Its role in the bombing of Aleppo, resulting in the reconquest of the city from al-Nusra and its allies, was depicted by the U.S. media as a bad thing. Meanwhile U.S. bombing of Mosul, to retake that city from ISIL, is treated as heroic, however many thousands perish in “collateral damage.” Anyway CNN won’t cover it and has fewer reporters on the ground there than RT does.

Russia is depicted as “provocative” when it mobilizes military forces within its own territory (and Belarus), in response to massive NATO exercises involving 31,000 troops in Poland last June that the German foreign minister criticized as “warmongering.”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev matter-of-factly tweeted: “The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to Congress in the most humiliating way.” But where will this power lead?

The concept, as articulated by Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Hoeven in a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed, is to “liberate our allies from Russia’s stranglehold on the European natural-gas market.” But as the Washington Post has observed, “The problem is that Europeans don’t necessarily want to be liberated. Russian gas is much cheaper than American LNG, and could become even cheaper to undercut the United States if it entered the European market. American LNG suppliers prioritize their own profits over America’s strategic advantage anyway, and are likely to want to target more lucrative markets than Europe, such as Japan. Finally, the Russian gas supply is likely to be more reliable than the United States’, since it involves predictable long-term contracts, whereas U.S. production capacity rises and falls, as it becomes cheaper and more expensive to extract American unconventional hydrocarbons.”

The McCain-Hoeven piece was of course written before there was any talk about Russian “election meddling.” But that issue was used to justify the sanctions bill. That, plus miscellaneous Russian actions, basically in response to U.S. actions (as in Ukraine, where—as everyone should know—Hillary Clinton’s crony Victoria Newland helped organize a putsch in February 2014, designed to pull Ukraine into NATO, although that effort has failed and anyway lacks German support).

The U.S. at this point (under Trump) is taking actions towards Russia that recall those of the Truman administration. The warm, fuzzy (and miserable, abjectly weak) Russia of the 1990s under Yeltsin is now a reviving world power within an emerging Eurasian trade system. The relationship between Russia and China will stay strong even if the U.S. takes measures to sabotage trade relations between Russia and Europe.

Meanwhile, the sanctions law has produced general European outrage. This is not the anti-Trump outrage that accompanied his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. It is outrage at the U.S. legislature for its arrogance in demanding Europe shoot itself in the foot, to show Washington deference. In other words, the entirety of the divided, troubled U.S. polity is seen as a problem. This is as a new Pew Research Center report showing that only 49% of the world’s people now hold a positive view of the U.S.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern have publicly condemned the law, which could prevent them from benefiting from the planned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, declaring: “we cannot agree with threats of illegal extraterritorial sanctions against European companies which take part in the development of European energy supply.” Brigitte Zypries, head of Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, says the new sanctions are “against international law, plain and simple… Americans cannot punish German companies because they [do business] in another country.” The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Austria, Italy and Spain have protested. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said the bill could have “unintended unilateral effects” on the EU’s energy security, adding, “America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last.”

This is not just a provocation of Russia, but of the whole world. It’s leveled by a bipartisan effort, and general (although insane) consensus that Russia is trying to revive the Soviet empire, is constantly interfering in foreign countries’ elections, and represents an “existential” threat to the U.S. and its freedoms, etc. (Because—reputable media talking heads opine routinely—Putin hates freedom and wants to oppose it, by electoral interference in Germany, France, Italy, etc.)

U.S. politicians—many of whom who do not believe in global warming or evolution, and cannot find Syria or Ukraine on the map—have boldly gone where no one has gone before: to risk a trade war with traditional allies, to force them to more firmly embrace the principle of U.S. hegemony. This when the U.S. GDP has dropped below that of the EU, and U.S. clout and credibility in the world—in large part due to global revulsion at the results of U.S. regime-change wars—is at low ebb.

Medvedev predicts that “relations between Russia and the United States are going to be extremely tense regardless of Congress’ makeup and regardless of who is president. Lengthy arguments in international bodies and courts are ahead, as well as rising international tensions and refusal to settle major international issues.” No bromance here.

Meanwhile Sen. Lindsey Graham—an extreme reactionary and warmonger now lionized my the mainstream media as some sort of “moderate” and adult in the room—informs NBC’s Today Show that reports that “there is no military option” on North Korea are “just false.”

“There is a military option: to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea itself. He’s not going to allow — President Trump — the ability of this madman [Kim Jong Un] to have a missile that could hit America. If there’s going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die over here — and he’s told me that to my face.”

Because you see, North Korea threatens the United States (as opposed to the reverse). At least, this is what every cable news anchor wants you to believe. Don’t think about the 40,000 U.S. troops in South Korea (why, when South Korea has a massive, well-trained military, and there are no foreign troops in the north?), or the massive annual joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, or THAAD, or the Bush/Cheney sabotage of north/south rapprochement and collapse of the multi-lateral nuclear agreement. Don’t talk about the whole history of U.S. hostility to the north.

The U.S. has told Pyongyang it must not continue its nuclear program designed to defend itself. Thus in Graham’s view it invites justifiable annihilation. The glint in his eye when he says that is scary. So is the Today Show’s Matt Lauer respectful reception of his assertion that Trump may have to choose between “national security” and “regional stability”—which is to say, between risking the possibility that the west coast could be hit by a hypothetical North Korean nuke in the future, and attacking it—so rationally, so necessarily, so justifiably, so well-explained, so popularly applauded—producing, however unfortunately, the death of half a million East Asians.

Trump told that to Graham, “to his face” he testifies.

Meanwhile we’re told that Russia threatens the U.S.—in places like Syria and Ukraine. And Iran threatens the U.S., just by being what it is. And China threatens the U.S. (because of island-building or something). Mexico (according to Trump) threatens the U.S., by sending us rapists and drug-traffickers, while Canada threatens us by exporting to us its lumber. It’s not just Trump railing about how the world laughs at us, takes advantage of us, treats us so unfairly. Both branches of government agree that the U.S. is a victim.

1,800 U.S. nukes are on high-alert status. Russia has a comparable number. All the people “over there”—on the Korean peninsula, or who knows? Central Europe—could be destroyed by a military option, for not obeying a weakening power. I don’t think it will happen. But then I don’t know just how unhinged and amoral Trump is, and how he relates to his generals.

And the now overt, standard, crazy Russophobia of the media and the liberal shift towards McCain-mentality (as though it should be the comforting, default and responsible worldview) is scary. So is Trump’s inevitable capitulation to the Russophobes.

One can only hope that Europe says no, and that U.S. demands and overreach in time undermine the metastasizing NATO alliance, the central problem to begin with.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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