“Pinning Down Putin” Biden, the Democrats and the Next War

The latest Foreign Affairs features a piece by former Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, “Pinning Down Putin: How a Confidant America Should Deal With Russia.” A protege of former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton, she is a notorious “liberal interventionist,” married to neocon pundit Robert Kagan. She is perhaps best known for aiding the neofascist putsch in Ukraine in February 2014 that produced regime change, a revolt in Ukraine’s east, the Russian seizure of Crimea, and Hunter Biden getting offered a seat on the board of Ukraine’s largest gas company making $ 50,000 a month for three years.

The putsch replaced an elected president and cabinet opposed to NATO membership with new leadership that solicited it. The principal interest the U.S. has had in Ukraine all along is the prospect of the country’s admission into NATO. (While actively encouraging and funding the Ukrainian opposition, Nuland explained that the support was for “the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations”—a reference to EU membership. In 2014 President Yanukovych had negotiated, then retreated from, an agreement for EU association. (The austerity program the EU would impose was untenable.) Nuland helped organized a propaganda campaign to depict the president as a Putin puppet choosing Russia over Europe. In reality it was not about EU admission but about NATO aspirations. It was an intervention into a foreign country’s politics relying on tactics of division; Nuland specifically included the neofascist Svoboda Party and Right Sector in her coalition of coup plotters. The U.S. deliberately fanned the flames of toxic Ukrainian nationalism and Russophobia to bring down a government, in order to bring Ukraine into its own military alliance so it might join in future NATO wars which (to remind you) have occurred so far in Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya.

Inclusion into the alliance of the vast country sharing a long border with Russia would largely complete NATO’s encirclement of Russia. There would just remain two other “frontline states” as Nuland calls them (Georgia and Moldova). The original plan was for Ukraine to join, then kick out the Russians from their naval base at Sevastopol (since the 1780s). This would become a NATO base, the Black Sea a NATO lake.

This from Nuland’s point of view is perfectly reasonable. Spending $ 5 billion on regime change was reasonable. It was reasonable to insist in 2014 on the appointment of Arseniy Yatsenyuk as Prime Minister over the EU’s favored candidate. (“Fuck the EU!” she famously told the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on a phone call fortunately intercepted and exposed by the Russians.) She probably did not anticipate that the coup would result in a frozen conflict, with the Donbas region in open rebellion and appealing for Russian support, nor in the prompt and peaceful, preemptive seizure of Crimea. But that does not mean her dream of Ukrainian membership has died.

“Whoever wins the U.S. presidential election this coming fall,” she writes in Foreign Affairs, “will—and should—try again with Putin. The first order of business, however, must be to mount a more unified and robust defense of U.S. and allied security interests wherever Moscow challenges them.”

Where has Russia challenged U.S. security interests? Why, in Ukraine of course! Ukraine, once the heartland of Russia itself (Kievan Rus), governed as a Russian province for 300 years under the tsars, then a Soviet Socialist Republic for seven decades intimately connected economically, culturally and ethnically to Russia. A country with every reason to seek cordial relations with Russia, but which the U.S. wants to detach from it

Russia has challenged the U.S. right surround it with the most formidable military alliance in history, an alliance with no raison d’etre than to project U.S. power in places like Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya and threaten Russia with annihilation. An alliance that should have been retired with the Warsaw Pact 30 years ago but has expended relentlessly occasioning absolutely no criticism in the U.S. press.

In 2008 NATO announced plans to eventually include both Georgia and Ukraine. Meanwhile the U.S. announced that it would recognize Kosovo, a Serbian province that NATO had wrenched free in one of those wars-based-on-lies in 1999, as an independent country. This absolutely plain violation of international law (which Condi Rice explained as a “sui generis” thing), in recognizing the independence of a glorified NATO base run by drug traffickers, caused Russia to respond tit-for-tat. First it invaded Georgia, to punish it for provocations; then it recognized the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.

Nuland’s notion of “robust defense” is really one of world domination. She has not concluded from the U.S. experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere that all U.S. military action produces is mass hatred of the oppressor and general failure. She praises in her article Trump’s decision to retain U.S. forces illegally in Syria to prevent the Syrians from using their own oil. She’s still not given up on Hillary’s cherished dream of regime change, a la Libya. You’d think with her record on intervention she’d be shunned by thinking people.

But no, Nuland’s on MSNBC as we speak, treated deferentially. Is she running for a cabinet post?

Nuland’s Republican husband declined to endorse Trump in 2016, labeling him a “fascist” (as has Albright) and voting for Hillary. They both perhaps see futures in a Biden administration.

Thus while the political consciousness of the masses has taken a leap in recent weeks, in response to the racist police murder of George Floyd, and white people have come to grasp as never before the reality of institutional racism and need to tear down its symbols, the Democratic Party foreign policy establishment is stuck in its Cold War Russophobic mentality.

It would not do to tear down Andrew Jackson statues while initiating another imperialist war. These wars are usually racist wars, by the way. Vietnamese, Korean, Afghan and Iraqi lives don’t matter to the U.S. military, not even enough to keep count of civilian dead.

Remember when (2010) Chelsea Manning leaked that video of U.S. bombers blowing away civilians and laughing about it? It was like a cellphone video of a police murder, clearly revealing a horrible crime. In consequence Manning was imprisoned, and Julian Assange arrested and tortured in British custody. Why? Because they had embarrassed the U.S. about its crimes.

As we better grasp the evil of police violence let us not neglect the problem of those military crimes. The entire Iraq War was a crime. You obscure that fact when you tell an Iraq vet “Thank you for your service.” We do not say that to German veterans of the Second World War, because their service was to to an evil regime. The Bush-Cheney regime was also fundamentally evil. The destruction of Iraq alone was an incalculable yet unpunished atrocity.

Joe Biden was a leading advocate of the Iraq War and defended it for years after 2003. He does not know the meaning of the word “anti-imperialist.” He questions the wisdom of some decisions, like Obama’s failed “surge” in Afghanistan after coming to office. But his soul is the soul of capital. Why is it that right after the pro-U.S. coup in Ukraine his son was given that lucrative job—for doing nothing, apparently, for three years—while Vice President Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s point man on Ukrainian corruption? Biden is the very personification of the business-as-usual Democratic Party Establishment, a dyed-in-the-wool Wall Street military-industrial-complex operative. He will no more defund the Pentagon—that Martin Luther King identified as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” as of 1968—than he’ll support the defunding of police departments. He will not announce the pullout of the troops in Syria, or complete the planned pullout from Afghanistan. (His hawkish advisors want to maintain 4000 troops at Bagram Air Base.) He may finally try to implement his plan for the division of Iraq into three countries.

The Democrats’ perception of the Ukrainian situation was expressed by multiple witnesses at the impeachment hearings who declared (as Stanford Prof. Pamela S. Karlan put it) it’s “just our national interest to make sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so we can fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.” That such statements aren’t widely met with ridicule due to their sheer idiocy tells us that the Democratic Party remains a fundamentally conservative and militarist party.

It’s a party delighted to receive the support of hundreds of former Bush-Cheney Republicans like Robert Kagan who unite in favor of the bipartisan tradition of maintaining global hegemony through war or the threat of it. A party so deeply racist and reactionary that it actually advocated the U.S. transfer of its embassy in Israel to the city of Jerusalem occupied by the apartheid state before Trump opted to make the move. Recall how Nancy Pelosi applauded the racist, anti-Palestinian move.

Biden’s handlers are apparently telling him that all he needs is to hide out until the election while Trump makes an ass of himself, railing against anarchists, agitators, Marxists, Black Lives Matter (for “hate speech”), people who hate “our” history and want to suppress it, etc.. He must occasionally appear on camera, reading a statement about inclusion, justice, racial equality, etc. to maintain the impression that he’s the better of two evils. But he’s basically saying: “Vote for me, because I’m not Trump! And I’m still cognizant enough to record the messages my speechwriters write!”

But what are you gonna do in Syria, Joe? Are you gonna repeat Obama’s performance in Libya? Or Bill Clinton’s in Serbia? Democrats tend to go to war in their first terms, even as they posture as the party of masses. One hopes that just as people are realizing that the U.S. ruling class has always been racist, and used racism to keep people down, so U.S. “foreign policy” has always been based on oppression. But you don’t get that, do you Joe?

The first U.S. overseas war was fought to secure Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam and Hawai’i as colonies. The Spanish-American War of 1898 was a racist atrocity start to finish. So were the Korean and Vietnam Wars. That schools are named for generals in these wars is as sickening as the fact that schools are named for slave-owners. As we invent a new politics that truly challenges the legacy and reality of racism we should also reject capitalist imperialism, which is every bit as great an evil.

Defund the police. Defund the military too. Withdraw all troops from three countries who have demanded their withdrawal: Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Withdraw all the troops from Germany, Japan, South Korea. Tear down not only statues of Columbus and Andrew Jackson but military monuments glorifying generals and criminal wars. Don’t rename military bases; shut them down.

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: gleupp@tufts.edu