NATO and the Impeachment Trial

Is it not clear? The impeachment trial underway is all about cementing support for the foreign policy most clearly espoused by (the grotesque) Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), an impeachment manager now appearing all too frequently on cable news. His foreign policy—meaning that of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Joe Biden and all the mainstream Democrats— is all about clobbering Trump for being inadequately anti-Russian (like any good normal American is supposed to be) and not adequately supporting brave Ukraine while the Russians supposedly invade that country (whose very location is a mystery to most USAians) as its people die, fallen to Russian tanks and mortars, daily, as we speak.

The impeachment trial is a virtual celebration of righteous butt-headed U.S. militarism. I’m watching Adam Schiff Friday night from his podium in the Senate trial praising his military veteran father, Jason Crow, Robert Kennedy (on “courage”), and the military in general. Random reflections on military valor and Russian prisons, all somehow connected to a thundering case against Trump for his lack of patriotism. Sickening.

One after another the Democrats have adulated military men and women for their testimonies and (of course) their “service.” Woman and people of color have been especially valued for their eloquent contributions. Black person after black person, woman after woman, military vet after vet, standing at the podium celebrating U.S. imperialism and the fact that so many have served it so loyally—slaughtering Afghans and Iraqis and others so heroically—to defend “our freedoms” before Trump assumed the presidency and embarked on his irresponsible, immoral appeasement policy towards Moscow. That’s the moral arsenal leveled at Trump, standing there telling you that the U.S. military represents good in the world—forget the details about recent history, etc.—while Russia has always been the enemy and Trump is not on our side in this fateful struggle.

But what has actually happened, in the real world? A quick summary of “relevant” events:

In February 2008 the U.S. and its allies recognized Kosovo—which as you recall had been carved out of Serbia by in 1999 by the First NATO War—as an independent state (in naked violation of international law). When the announcement was made, Condi Rice explained it as a “sui generis” thing. (You know—a one-of-a-kind, one-time-only U.S. brutal dismembering of province from a country that had never threatened or attacked the U.S., achieved after bogus accusations of mass slaughter to justify “humanitarian” bombing and ethnic-cleansing partition. Almost forgotten in this country, that war justified by lies told the Europeans as of 1999 that the U.S. would now draw European borders at will, without any other power’s resistance.)

At the same time, at its Bucharest summit in April 2008, NATO announced plans to eventually include Georgia and Ukraine in the (anti-Russian) military alliance. NATO had already expanded from 16 nations in 1999 to 26 in 2008, virtually encircling European Russia. This was the Russia that had been assured by George W. H. Bush in 1989 that NATO would not spread “one inch” eastward after the reunification of Germany.

(It’s probably not taught in most of our high schools that the United States promised the Soviet Union that NATO would not expand, but betrayed the promise and has expanded big-time since 1999. It’s not taught that this expansion—relentless and inexplicable—is at present a major threat to world peace. The kids are left to conclude that the Russians are somehow “expanding”—or at least trying to—while the U.S. through its wars and proxy-wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and the growth of its NATO alliance is up to something other than imperial expansion. And that the measured, defensive responses by Russia in Ukraine and Syria in particular are criminal “interference”—in countries close to Russia, distant from the U.S. which interferes everywhere, anytime. Compare the U.S. media’s treatment of the Russian bombardment of Aleppo in Syria and the U.S. bombardment of Mosul in Iraq. The first depicted as a war crime, the other as liberation with the inevitable, regrettable collateral damage.)

Meanwhile, again in 2008, the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili—who had come to power in a U.S.-backed “color revolution” (the “Rose Revolution”) in 2004—rather foolishly attacked the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers. Moscow, which had so far responded to NATO expansion with verbal protests, now took military action, launching a brief punitive war with Tblisi. It was a warning to Georgia not to join NATO. (Russia had sought to maintain cordial relations with the U.S., even after the alarming expansion of NATO from 1999; Russia had even allowed shipments of NATO arms across Russian territory to Afghanistan after 9/11 to assist what I call the Second NATO War, following the Yugoslav one. But the NATO colonization of Kosovo and announcement of endless expansion were the last straw. Putin responded, quickly and efficiently, in Georgia.)

The rapid hawk Sen. John McCain (now a hero of bipartisan war-worship, admired for his moral authority), declared “We’re all Georgians now”and pushed for war with Russia. Russia—a friend under the drunken Boris Yeltsin, a worthy subject of U.S. electoral interference (1996), was now an “adversary.” (The discredited Saakashvili was later driven from office, lost his citizenship and eventually wound up in Ukraine, becoming a Ukrainian citizen and government official.) Pres. Bush avoided war with Russia. But this was a turning-point in the media depiction of Russia as the threatening heir to the Romanov empire.

The February 2014 Coup in Ukraine

In Ukraine in 2010 the Russian-backed candidate Viktor Yanukovych won the presidency in a democratic election. While opposed to NATO, he favored EU membership and began negotiations with the organization (assisted by for Trump staffer Paul Manafort). When he concluded that membership would be disadvantageous at the time, and involve a politically untenable austerity program, his opponents faulted him for favoring Russia over Europe. Protests surged. The U.S., which had invested $ 5 billion in regime change in Ukraine (“support for the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations”) redoubled efforts to oust Yanukovych; in Feb. 2014 he was indeed driven from power in a bloody coup.

Now the hand-picked U.S. candidate Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a NATO advocate, became Ukrainian prime minister. While the new regime, actively hostile to the country’s large ethnic Russian minority concentrated in the east, provoked rebellion in the Donbas region, Russia moved swiftly to seize control over the Crimean Peninsula. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has been headquartered there since 1785. The wartime summit between allies Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill took place in Yalta, in Crimea. The loss of Crimea to NATO was from a Russian point of view unacceptable, justifying this pre-emptive action. The U.S. responded to this move, and to Russian support for Donbas separatists, by slapping sanctions on Russia and pressing its allies to do so as well.

On Ukraine Russia has pursued a policy of diplomacy, in tandem with France and Germany, referred to as the “Minsk process” which ended the heavy fighting by 2015. The U.S. however has sought to maintain tensions. Congress’s insistence on providing the Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine (where they are being stored far from the “front” where there is no requirement for them) is predicated on the thesis—so often and vigorously mouthed by figures in the impeachment trial—that Ukraine is under Russian attack and in urgent need of such weapons!

Trump as NATO Skeptic

Donald Trump is well-known as a NATO skeptic. He has indeed questioned the continued “relevance” of NATO in the post-Cold War world. Far more intelligent people (such as the late diplomat-historian George F. Kennan) have questioned the expansion of NATO warning that it could produce a new Cold War. This is certainly happening. Bill Clinton provoked it by his wars in the Balkans designed to create client states (including truly dysfunctional ones like Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina) and more NATO allies hosting bases; and by adding Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary to the anti-Russian alliance. George W. Bush provoked it further by more expansion, bringing NATO to the Russian border with the Baltic states, abrogating arms agreements, recognizing Kosovo wrenched from Russian ally Serbia. Obama made it worse by further NATO expansion, involvement in the Kiev coup of Feb. 18-21, 2014, and the imposition of sanctions on Russia following the annexation of Crimea.

Trump, whatever else one might say of him, is not a neocon New Cold Warrior. The fact that he actually said during his campaign that he’d consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia was treated by the media as (further) evidence of ignorance (from a buffoon saying lots of crazy things); or as dangerous evidence of Russian influence on his campaign. The very treatment of Crimea as a subject for discussion, or the sanctions against Russia as a topic for discussion, requires treatment of NATO as a subject of discussion. But the U.S. mainstream media and the polity do not allow this. Belief in NATO has become part of the national religion. Thus Trump’s occasional statements indicating lack of faith are seized on by his opponents as dangerous to “our allies” and “helping Putin.”

That is the problem—the drive to remove Trump from power, which many Democrats have been chomping at the bit to do, centers around a narrative of Trumpian betrayal of “our allies” (including in this instance Kiev although there is no treaty of alliance between the U.S. and Ukraine) and failure to confront “our adversary” (Russia) in Ukraine. Nancy Pelosi figured the Ukraine “arms for dirt” affair would produce the most damning case to justify impeachment and removal. That Trump would withhold delivery of arms shipments authorized by Congress, to procure information about Joe Biden’s son’s five-year stint as a gas company director in Ukraine likely to show evidence of corruption of some sort, should—she thought—shock a few Republicans into a damning vote. It is not clear that will or should happen.

Dissolve NATO!

Let us say you are someone like me. I think NATO should be dissolved, as the Warsaw Pact was. It serves now merely as an instrument of U.S. imperialist power; the destruction of the modern Libyan state was a U.S./NATO operation. Likewise the failed operation in Afghanistan. One shouldn’t just question its “relevance” but ask what it was ever relevant for; it was never deployed in combat during the Cold War (1945-89) and first deployed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1999s, in a country that had been neutral through the Cold War. The ferocity that could have been unleashed on Leningrad or Moscow was visited on Belgrade during 78 days of bombing in 1999, the first aerial bombing of a European capital since 1945, and to do what? To sever Kosovo from Serbia so it could become a massive U.S. military base.

If I do not support NATO, I do not support Washington’s plan to expand it to surround Russia. I do not support U.S. efforts through the “National Endowment for Democracy” or covert operations to produce “color revolutions” to bring U.S. puppets to power who will request NATO admission. I do not think the world would be better off with Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia added to the NATO map.

Perhaps Trump agrees with me in part. But, under pressure to at least aver support for NATO’s purposes, he bullies foreign leaders to announce an increase in their military spending, modestly increasing the alliance’s total budget ($ 900 billion in 2017, as compared to Russia’s $ 66 billion) such that he can boast he’s strengthened NATO more than anybody, ever. He depicts this spending as a concession to him, a recognition by the allies that they have been ripping off the American taxpayer by their failure to buy more (U.S.-produced) weapons. The argument makes no sense. NATO specified a goal of military spending at 2% of GDP but few NATO nations meet that goal. Democratic legislators must, after all, discuss and allocate budgets and there is no general perception in Europe that military budgets must be raised as demanded by the U.S. president.

Trump relates to NATO as a grudging participant, posturing as an aggrieved victim of Europeans’ laughing exploitation, finally laying down the law and making them pay. As for the vision thing? He has none, other than self-promotion.

The Republican Party program plank famously removed in the 2016 convention called for U.S. military aid to Ukraine, such as had been withheld by the Obama administration (for good reason, perhaps). When after the election charges of “Russian collusion” haunted Trump, the Congress passed the bill authorizing weapons sales and Trump signed it. After his election he dropped his NATO skepticism, boasting in Poland about his leadership of NATO, etc. But he shows no eagerness to expand the alliance beyond tiny Montenegro which joined in 2017. That much is good.

On Ukraine, one hears the Trump has a negative view of the country in general, for some reason; he may indeed believe that Ukrainian parties attacked him in the 2016 (if only by leaking the Manafort documents that led to his resignation as campaign chair). In any case we know that, having authorized the weapons sale felt no urgency to deliver the munitions, and hoped to garner useful dirt on Hunter Biden in exchange for the arms. This is Trump the corrupt businessman, acting normally, seeking quid pro quo. He doesn’t even see it that way; he may genuinely think he was doing the righteous thing, fighting corruption. It’s clear in any case that he saw political opportunity in investigating Biden, which may yet indeed occur and aid Trump politically.

The Parade of Democrats Thanking Imperialist Military Pawns “for Your Service”

From my point of view, Trump opportunistically sought to attain two goals: fulfill the arms delivery promise (and thus pose as friend of Ukraine standing strong against Russia—no president ever stronger against Russia!) while getting scandalous details about Biden’s son that will help him win a second term. In so doing he gave the Democratic Party leadership a case it thought would bring him down. In prosecuting the case, they have dipped deep into the national religion of unthinking patriotism and abject deference to anyone we can religiously “thank you for your service.”

Witness after witness in the impeachment trial have described a Ukraine under Russian invasion. (Sometimes someone slips and says “Soviet” rather than “Russian” which tells you something about the persistence of Cold War mentality.) It is a hot war. The missiles are urgently needed. The Russians, if we don’t fight them in Ukraine, we’ll have to fight them here. Eminent figures from the State Department have lambasted Trump for not being adequately aggressive, “playing into the hands” of Putin.

It has become a trial of Trump not as the racist, misogynist, ignorant, bigoted, brutal, corrupt thug that he is, but Trump as Putin puppet and amoral politician willing to let Ukrainian patriots die at the hands of Russians (or Ukrainian ethnic Russians, the distinction lost on the likes of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of NY). It’s a trial to trash Trump while trumpeting the enduring worth of NATO and “our alliances,” and Ukraine as a future NATO member, while identifying Russia as the enemy who we need to encircle—for some (by no means obvious) reason.

If it does not result in the removal of Trump (it won’t) it will at least have achieved one of its managers’ goals: to by shaming Trump elevate NATO in the esteem of the masses, who presently have only a vague understanding of what it is. By evading any discussion of the February 2014 coup, they conceal the U.S. project of integrating Ukraine into NATO short-term and so avoid any con sideration of legitimate Russian security issues. The whole procedure becomes a festival of Russophobia.

Trump will not be removed. But bipartisan Russophobia will be further deepened, NATO further lionized and immunized from criticism. Trump’s popularity may dip some but he will retain his solid 40%, showing the limited impact of Russophobic propaganda on his base. One is asked at this point to side with Trump or with an opposition (having learned nothing from recent and ongoing wars) uniting around Clintonesque militarism. That’s the kind of militarism inscribed in the cultic status the military has acquired in this country; the more vicious and unjustified the war, the veteran is praised for his or her “service.” (How was “service” of U.S. soldiers in the immoral war based on lies in Iraq in 2003 different from “service” of Germans in the immoral war based on lies in Stalingrad in 1944?)

The fact that John Bolton—perhaps the most hideous war-mongering neocon crazy of them all—is being upheld by Democratic politicians and their media representatives as a “respected” career official, an “adult in the room” in the Trump administration as national security advisor, mainstreamed as a valuable witness in the impeachment proceeding, illustrates the polarization. The Democrats’ dream is for Bolton to team up with Pelosi to destroy Trump, on the basis of his Ukrainian dealings—to reveal if not his Putin dependency his shameful lack of support for an anti-Russian friend and ally.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the other day told an interviewer that the Democratic Party is not a “left” party but a “center-conservative party.” This is certainly reflected in its foreign policy views. It unites in opposition to imagined Russian expansion, while NATO expands. It warns of the Russian military threat, while Russia reduces its military budget and responds cautiously and proportionately to provocations such as massive NATO maneuvers in Poland. It shamelessly uses ignorance and paranoia to depict Trump as a Russian agent. It is basically a tool of U.S. imperialism.

Arouse the people’s indignation against Trump—because he’s pro-Russian! He denied the besieged Ukrainian people, even now facing Russian invasion, desperately needed aid to save lives! Unforgivable “breach of power” by weakening a strategic ally under attack!

Adam Schiff’s tremulous voice rings in my ears as I write. I suppose it produces deep indignation among those predisposed to embrace the New Cold War delusion, “support our troops” and generally keep the party on the Obama-Clinton-Biden NATO-expansion course. This was expressed by John Bolton acolyte Fiona Hill, who’s spewed indignation at Trump for being inadequately anti-Russian, among others during the hearings.

So: how to conceptualize the problem of Trump? As a moron and thug? Or as (to use Biden’s term) an “aberration” from the American norm in not being overtly, convincingly anti-Russian, pro-NATO and on board the traditional bipartisan Cold War program?

And how to understand the Democratic leadership, which AOC calls “center-conservative”? As similarly moronic and thuggish? That it surely is; just listen to Sen. Crow spew his crap. As convincingly anti-Russia? You bet! Is there any hint in this prosecution of any awareness of imperialism, any critical analyses of NATO, any memory of the U.S. war crimes in this century alone, no. What we have is an attack on Trump for not being Hillary Clinton, not being sufficiently anti-Russian or adequately willing to provide missiles to hit Russian tanks. It has nothing to do with my concerns or values, and might backfire on its managers.

Were Trump removed, succeeded by Pence, we would be no better off. But again, I don’t think it will happen. Trump will survive; the lines will be redrawn; society will become more polarized. Trump’s consistent fan-base, which as time passes more and more deserves the description of “deplorables” since its members can’t plead ignorance or caprice any more, will remain at a disturbing 40%.

The Democratic leadership, fuming at its failure to topple the president, railing against the stupidity of its Republican peers,will have to choose whether to bank on Biden, candidate of the party’s conservative (brain-dead, patriotic, stubbornly and stupidly Cold Warrior) right or a candidate lacking a conspicuous warmongering taint. Biden (who cares what his son did in Ukraine?) voted for and warmly supported the Iraq war-based-on-lies for two years after the crime was committed. He’s an altar boy of U.S. imperialism. So is Buttigieg, who never stops boasting about his deployment in Afghanistan in 2014 as an intelligence officer, as though it were by some stretch of the imagination a good thing for Afghans, or anyone else.

Those consciously anti-imperialist in this country, who feel compassion for military families without elevating them to hero-status (and recognizing that U.S. soldiers are often sent to fight wrong un-heroic wars), should vote if they vote at all in the presidential election to end the U.S. war culture and slay its sacred cows. NATO is a bigger threat to the world than Trump, and the militarist cult of loyalty surrounding it worse than a temporary personality cult.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and 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 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: