Ukraine, the New Cold War and the Politics of Impeachment

In October 2019, with the impeachment of Donald Trump already underway, wealthy ‘centrist’ Democratic Party donors began to fret over the Democrat’s prospects in the 2020 election. Since then Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick, both Wall Street Democrats with deep pockets, have entered the race. Meanwhile, the Senate impeachment schedule will keep Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in Washington— and away from the campaign trail, well into the early state primaries.

The idea that any of this was accidental, the Senate schedule, the well placed call for centrist candidates in Pravda (the New York Times), the entry of billionaire candidates whose ‘centrism’ is code for service to the oligarchs, or the use of impeachment to bury the left’s agenda, think again. From Hillary Clinton’s declaration in 2016 that Russia stole the election through impeachment, the Democrat’s strategy has been to use reactionary nationalism to sideline dissent.

As evidence, the central finding of the impeachment inquiry to date is that Ukraine is woefully undersupplied with the weapons needed to fight ‘Russian aggression.’ ‘We’ learned that despite Pentagon rumblings at the time, the Obama administration did its patriotic duty by selling ‘non-lethal’ military equipment to self-described fascists in Ukraine. Mr. Trump’s crime was that his ham-fisted shakedown effort stood between the Ukrainians and American ‘freedom missiles.’

To be clear, Donald Trump has a lot to answer for. He appointed neocon warmonger John Bolton, meaning that he has his name on the U.S. backed coup in Bolivia, the attempted coup in Venezuela and the genocide in Yemen that he inherited from Barack Obama. But if these are a problem— and they are, so is the Obama / (Hillary) Clinton coup in Ukraine. If Mr. Trump had outright stopped the delivery of U.S. weapons to Ukraine, he would have made the world a better place.

The question not being asked is why it was politically, legally or morally justified for the U.S.— the Obama administration, to 1) use NGOs and the CIA 2) to join with real and virulent Ukrainian Nazis to 3) oust the Democratically elected president of Ukraine 4) in order to install a puppet regime that answers to the national security state? Passionate assertions that Donald Trump is corrupt face the question back: what part of this entire operation isn’t corrupt?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. Viktor Yanukovych may well have been corrupt, but he was first and foremost the duly elected President of Ukraine who came to power in a free and fair election. Prominent Americans, American NGOs and the CIA instigated and ‘managed’ public opposition to Yanukovych and Obama’s lieutenant, Victoria Nuland, decided who was to represent U.S. national security state interests in the new Ukrainian government.

In history, the coup in Ukraine represented a continuation of the American neocon project of surrounding Russia that began with Bill Clinton’s unilateral abrogation of an agreement made between the George H. W. Bush administration and Mikhail Gorbachev that the U.S. wouldn’t move NATO toward Russia’s border. In exchange, the Russians would not impede the re-integration of East and West Germany. Russia did its part. The U.S. under Bill Clinton didn’t. Why this matters is that thanks to belligerence, paranoia and a munitions based economy, the U.S. led the nuclear arms race to the point where clear and open dialog is needed to avoid accidentally igniting a nuclear war.

In an act of provocation, Mr. Clinton moved NATO to Russia’s border as American neoliberals who had been brought over to provide economic guidance looted the country. When Boris Yeltsin resigned as President in 1999, Vladimir Putin stepped in— per the Russian Constitution, as acting President. Mr. Putin began a series of reforms that included booting the Clintonite economic advisors out of Russia and clawing back some of the stolen booty from Russian oligarchs.

As the New York Times reported contemporaneously, around 2013 Bill and Hillary Clinton leveraged Ms. Clinton’s position as Secretary of State to provide political services to Vladimir Putin in exchange for large cash contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Additionally, as the New York Times reported at the time, Hunter Biden’s ‘job’ with Burisma was well understood to have created ‘the appearance’ of corruption for the Obama / neocon project in Ukraine.

A screenshot of a cell phoneDescription automatically generated

Graph: the remarkable confluence of states with large proven oil reserves with targets of American regime change efforts produces questions in the realms of both politics and economics. Who in the U.S benefits— and who pays the price, for military control of global oil and gas production? Additionally, in what sense is this military control of oil and gas distribution capitalism? And as a primary input into most economic production, how does U.S. military control of oil and gas not skew every related market? Units are millions of barrels. Source: EIA.

That the Times is now calling its own reporting ‘conspiracy theories’ illustrates the political angling that has consumed it. Repeated characterizations of well researched reports of Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton (see here, here and here) and the corrupt use of political power by Joe Biden in Ukraine vis-à-vis his son Hunter (see here) as conspiracy theories that have been debunked simply aren’t true. Read what the Times calls debunking here. Endlessly repeating that something has been debunked isn’t evidence.

It is against this backdrop that assertions that ‘the national interest’ was served by the U.S. coup in Ukraine run up against a long history of American foreign policy serving more pecuniary interests. Russia is a petrostate, its main cash product is oil and gas. The shortest route to Europe from the oil producing regions of Russia is through Ukraine. Hemming Russia in by bringing Ukraine into NATO— a subtext of impeachment, is as much about controlling the flow of Russian oil as it is about realizing residual Cold War geopolitical objectives.

South of Ukraine lie Syria, Iraq and Iran. The American neocons didn’t squander a few trillion dollars on bloody, seemingly pointless, slaughters in Iraq and Syria to let Russia— who imperial geography favors, supply Europe with oil and gas. This isn’t to deny the power of half-baked bullshit about freedom and democracy. But as the alliance between American neocons and Ukrainian Nazis illustrates, the political optics are managed through the New York Times and the Washington Post, not on the ground in resource-rich countries.

Back in the U.S., as dismaying as it may be for those hoping to dislodge Mr. Trump from office, doing so may have to wait. Although it couldn’t possibly have been known ahead of time, the House is controlled by Democrats, but the Senate is controlled by Republicans. I know, I know, so many moving parts. And as passionately as the American left wants to elevate Mike Pence to the office of President, Senators, Republican and otherwise, understand the political value of partisan rancor.

There are at present two strands of Clinton era liberal chatter motivating the push for impeachment— fealty to the ‘rule of law’ and stopping ‘corruption.’ These both depend on the theory that the state is a legitimate and neutral social arbiter. Democratic elections give it legitimacy, goes the theory. And democratic legitimacy implies that it is socially neutral, goes the theory. The liberal qualification goes like this: elections aren’t perfect, and neither is fealty to the law. But they are all that stand between ‘us’ and tyranny and chaos.

If one looks at the U.S. Constitution as the basis for both this legitimacy and social neutrality, it is a document written by oligarchs to liberate themselves from the British proscription against owning slaves. ‘Freedom to’ was the freedom to own slaves, subjugate women and exploit ‘free’ labor. Rich, white, men gave themselves the right to vote. The American House of Lords, the Senate, was to ‘balance out’ the popular will expressed through population-based representation in the House of Commons (Representatives). The Senate wasn’t popularly elected until the early twentieth century.

Following the Civil War, ‘the law’ was used to recreate the levers of the economic exploitation of slavery outside of its formal institution. Black Codes, convict leasing and Jim Crow were variants of the systematic repression of former slaves and their descendants for the purpose of extracting unpaid labor. ‘The law’ was a tool of the powerful that was used against the powerless. The modern police emerged from slave patrols that ‘managed’ and reclaimed the ‘property’ of slavers. The police exist in the present to protect property and the order of its distribution.

A current example of the relation of law to power can be found through the legalization of bribery within the political class. Thomas Ferguson has spent a career demonstrating the relationship between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes. Adam Schiff, Donald Trump’s primary antagonist in Russiagate, and now impeachment, is wholly owned by the defense industry. His interest in selling American weapons to Ukraine ties directly to campaign contributions he receives from the corporations that manufacture these weapons.

If fealty to the law were applied, all of the senior members of the George W. Bush administration plus those in oversight positions in Congress would be in prison for the U.S. War of Aggression against Iraq and illegal torture. This would include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, as a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, was told about the CIA’s illegal torture program and signed off on it. The history of the rich using the law as a lever of social control renders the liberal theory of it implausible, no matter how passionately it is argued for.

There are several reasons why this matters politically. Impeachment has nothing to do with fealty to the law when half or more of the country can list the crimes committed by the prosecuting party that went unpunished. If you want to claim political legitimacy for a process, start with your own party. Doing so might be politically suicidal— I don’t believe that it would be, but that is the point. If fealty to the law is really the concern, then that necessarily takes precedence over political considerations.

A Brief, Selective History of American Law and Order

As it turns out, the ‘October Surprise’ that helped Ronald Reagan win the 1980 presidential election really happened. In 1979 Ronald Reagan sent William Casey, who would become his Director of the CIA, to Tehran to offer weapons to Iran if Iran would continue to hold the American hostages until after the presidential election. Iran did so, Mr. Reagan was elected, and a short while later his Vice-President, ex-Director of the CIA George H.W. Bush, arranged to have illegal chemical weapons delivered to Iraq as the U.S. armed both sides in the Iran-Iraq War.

Congress prohibited Mr. Reagan from arming the Contras and it cut off funding for that purpose. So Oliver North, Mr. Reagan’s military fixer, arranged for the CIA to trade guns for cocaine that was distributed in the U.S. The Contras were in fact a terrorist organization trained at the School of Americas, run by the CIA, who blew up schools, roads and water treatment facilities as they butchered the civilian populations of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The CIA’s cocaine fueled the crack epidemic that devastated poor communities across the U.S.

When George W. Bush was appointed by Reagan-Bush appointees on the Supreme Court to the presidency in the disputed 2000 election, he set about realizing the neocon’s long-stated goal of launching a war against Iraq. He used the pretext of the 9/11 attacks, partially funded by business associates of the Bush family in Saudi Arabia, along with manufactured evidence of Iraqi WMDs, to launch an illegal war that killed somewhere between 500,000 and 2.5 million people.

Now, those were crimes.

Back in the present, despite the Democrats very effective marketing campaigns of Russia! and Trump Goddammit, Trump!, the world still seems remarkably like is was in 2016. Three years of increasingly shrill assertions haven’t made the establishment Democrats one iota more attractive. I can’t imagine that Barack Obama saying that he is going to take Bernie Sanders out has had an effect other than to make people want to start lighting shit on fire. I’m not suggesting that people do this. But that is the feeling.

The establishment Democrats are determined to have it their way. Screw democracy, screw the will of the people, screw the wellbeing of the people, screw acting on the people’s behalf, they’re going to elect themselves a billionaire. And, they’d be fine with a right-wing rebellion— rich people love fascism. We’re on our own. Work for Bernie. Vote for Bernie. Thanks for the political clarification Obama!


Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.