Trump’s Big Lies, and Biden’s

People with eyes to see and ears to hear realize that Donald Trump is a pathological liar. He lies about little things and big things. Some lies seem off the cuff, others well planned. The lie about Obama’s birthplace was one of the latter. It was a racist lie designed to rally racists as the basis for a political campaign.

People paying attention also recall how this century began with George W. Bush promoting Big Lies. These were as blatantly false as any of Trump’s lies, but much more destructive in their ramifications. Bush and his pathological liar partner Dick Cheney declared with absolute assurance that Iraq had been collaborating with al-Qaeda and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Those lies succeeded in unifying U.S. public opinion around the invasion and destruction of Iraq, a long occupation, half a million deaths, waves of refugees, civil war, the emergence of the grotesque ISIL “caliphate.” Remember when Big Lies meant mass death?

When it became clear (by the end of 2003) that there had been no appreciable Iraqi al-Qaeda ties, and no WMDs, the administration acknowledged “intelligence errors” had been made. Gosh. But we gradually realized what had happened: officials including Cheney had pushed fake news through their contacts in the New York Times, then cited “news reports” to support their claims when interviewed by the press. It’s now common knowledge (including among Trump supporters) that the Iraq War was based on lies. Not “mistakes,” mind you, but calculated lies designed to scare Americans into supporting a criminal war. The magnitude of the news hoax was spectacular: hundreds of millions had been snookered by neocon fabrications to endorse the crime of the century.

Thus when Trump started referring to the mainstream press as “Fake News” he was tapping into what have become a deep well of popular contempt and skepticism. There is in fact a lot of Fake News out there.

At present Trump is promoting the fake news that he won the election. Meanwhile the cable networks are reporting as fact that Russia has massively cyber-attacked U.S. government sites. (The estimable Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity [VIPS] has questioned the reports, and published thorough critiques of what was in fact a “Russian hoax”: the accusation of Trump campaign “collusion” with Russia.)

Recall that after Trump was elected, the intelligence agencies of the outgoing administration threw together a report noting that Russian television had favored Trump over Clinton (as though this were shocking) and that Russians had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars posting fake news on social media, mostly after the election. The occasion, ergo, called for sweeping sanctions. Then the Democrats demanded a special investigation, hoping that Mueller would tie Trump to Russia; they were bitterly disappointed when he failed to do so. But then the House impeached Trump over the Ukraine matter. The hearings provided a pulpit for scholars and officials to declare that if we don’t fight the Russians in Ukraine, we’ll have to do it here.

Three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this 1950s-style fearmongering flourishes, just without the anticommunist element—all the more ridiculous because Moscow heads no global movement, mounts no military threat, and simply wants the U.S. to stop toppling its neighbors’ regimes and surrounding it with military bases, pressuring its partners to cancel trade deals,

The Big Lie here was that Russia is “our adversary” because it “opposes our interests” all over the world. (Note the vagueness of the lie. The actual content is: Russia tries to thwart U.S. corporate expansion in some parts of the world, U.S. efforts to seal new military alliances, access new markets and raw materials, etc. The Big Lie is that Russians’ protests against their own military encirclement—by the most ferocious military alliance in history headed by murderous cowboys who lie through their teeth every time they go war—itself constitute aggression. In other words, totally backwards thinking. So it is not a matter of the U.S.provoking Russia by NATO expansion. It’s a matter of Russia (as current incarnation of the old tsarist empire) wanting to expand again, and the U.S.A. from 4000 miles away coming to the rescue of the (imagined) threatened countries. As though Russia would invade Estonia but for the beneficent presence of U.S. troops at Amari Air Base.

It doesn’t make any sense, unless you embrace the religious conception of American Exceptionalism as Biden does.

This Big Lie (about Russia as adversary) was suspended for about a decade (1991-2001) when Boris Yeltsin (the dismally unpopular Russian president who actually bombarded the Russian parliament building in 1995) was in charge, succeeded by Vladimir Putin at the end of 1999. Russia had overtly embraced capitalism and bourgeois democracy; it was now a friend and partner. Relations had been damaged by the NATO bombing of Bosnia (1995), the NATO war on Serbia (1999), and the expansion of NATO to include Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia (1999) in violation of George H. W. Bush’s promise to Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “one inch” towards the east after the reunification of Germany. But in 2001 Vladimir Putin supported the U.S.-NATO effort in Afghanistan.

Despite his deep resentment at the expansion of the anti-Russian military alliance, and the breach in trust, Putin offered to allow NATO transit rights through Russia to Afghanistan. George W. Bush repaid him by adding seven more countries to NATO in 2004, including two (Latvia and Estonia) that border Russia. Then in 2008, the U.S. recognized the Serbian province of Kosovo as an independent country in an egregious violation of international law. In the same year NATO announced plans to admit Georgia and Ukraine, both of which border Russia. Their inclusion would almost complete the encirclement of European Russia. This was too much.

The Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact alliance (with five east European nations) had dissolved itself in 1991. Putin’s Russia had a handful of foreign military bases to the U.S.’s 800. The Russian military budget was less that 20% of NATO’s. The U.S. had broken its word by expanding NATO by ten more nations and now was announcing two more.

In Georgia at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union the districts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia had sought autonomy within Georgia, or inclusion in the Russian Federation. Fighting between Georgian state forces and separatists had drawn in Russian peace-keepers. When the pro-NATO president Mikhail Saakashvili foolishly pounded a South Ossetian position killing Russian troops Putin pounced. Following a punitive 9-day war Russia announced it was recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries, just as the U.S. has recognized Kosovo.

That’s when Sen. John McCain—that monstrous war-monger now lionized as a bipartisan hero—declared “We’re all Georgians now” and advocated U.S. military intervention. That’s when the post-Cold War relationship really soured. If Hillary Clinton, the unreconstructed Goldwater Girl, thought she could “reset” the relationship during the Obama era, while still enlarging NATO (Albania and Croatia on her watch) she was mistaken. If she thought she could improve relations by condemning the Russian elections of 2011 (and by, Putin charges, funding government opponents) she miscalculated. The embodiment of American Exceptionalism, she found no problem with the U.S. interfering in the 1996 election (to help Yeltsin versus the communist front runner) or interfering in Russia again in 2011. But recall her moral outrage at Russians posting Facebook ads favoring Trump!

Georgia has not in fact joined NATO, due in part to rational German reluctance to provoke Russia. Nor has Ukraine joined. U.S. electoral interference in 2005 (“the Orange Revolution”) brought a pro-NATO regime to power in Ukraine, but it was replaced (in a “free, fair” election) by the anti-NATO government of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010. The U.S. spent $ 5 billion to bring Yanukovych down (through the coup in February 2014) and to bring another pro-NATO team into power.

The Maidan coup—backed by the U.S. so openly that the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain were filmed giving cookies to the protestors, and sharing stages with neofascists—was an extraordinary provocation. Ukraine included the Crimean Peninsula, center of the Russian Black Sea Fleet since 1775, site of the wartime conference between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. It had been transferred from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 but Russia had retained control over the military facilities by long-term lease. Now Putin had two options: accept U.S. hegemony over the neighboring country (the largest in Europe aside from Russia, larger than France) and the loss of a key naval port (Russia has so few); or re-annex Crimea, taking advantage of its Russian inhabitants’ enthusiasm for reunion with the motherland, while encouraging ethnic Russian sentiment in the Dionbas region.

The Big Lie in the corporate media was that the Ukrainian people, tired of Russian oppression and aspiring for European Union membership, thwarted in their “European aspirations” by the pro-Russian Yanukovych, rose up in rebellion creating a democracy that the Russians attack because they want to suppress democracy and maintain control over the country. One unspoken Big Lie is that NATO expansion is not the issue. Another is that Ukrainians are united on EU membership, when they are in fact deeply divided.

The Ukraine coup in 2014 was (as you know) followed in months by Joe Biden’s assignment to oversee Ukraine’s anti-corruption drive (required prior to NATO admission). Meanwhile Biden’s son Hunter was appointed to the board of Ukraine’s largest gas company, Burisma, from which he “earned” three million dollars in five years for unknown reasons.

Trump may lie with every breath. But he hasn’t lied much about NATO. He has—intermittently and ineffectively— suggested that NATO may have lost its relevance, and is not worth the expense. This is among his gravest crimes to the Democratic mainstream for whom NATO is a sacred cow.

The ascent of Biden (which will surely happen) will mean the substitution of old lies with new or ongoing lies. These include:

1. The U.S. is the “exceptional” country entitled to use force anywhere, anytime to preserve peace and stability. Its troops are always heroes. “May God bless our troops” Biden concludes all statements, no doubt thinking about his son Beau who “served” in the criminal bloody occupation of Iraq from 2008 to 2009.
2. The expansion of NATO to surround Russia is needed to prevent Russian aggression. (As though the U.S.-NATO bombing of Bosnia and Serbia was anything other than aggression.)
3. China threatens international shipping in the South China Sea and East China Sea such that U.S. warships and aircraft carriers need to patrol these areas and challenge Chinese sovereignty claims.

These lies are even more dangerous than the lie that Obama was born in Kenya, that Mexicans are rapists, that a wall is being built, that Muslims hate Americans, that the kidnapped Central American kids are safe, that the virus will disappear. They are lies that structure U.S. foreign relations, that Trump does not entirely buy. Trump has no coherent critique of them, although he has (refreshingly) pooh-poohed the butthead patriots like McCain and (again) questioned the need for NATO.

Biden on the other hand accepts American Exceptionalism, is eager (partly to just define himself against Trump) to confront Russia with sharp language, even harsher sanctions—and efforts at NATO expansion. He’s not necessarily more “hawkish” on China than Trump but he did tell Japanese Prime Minister Suga the other day that the U.S. would join with Japan to defend the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) islands in the East China Sea in the event of a war. Since the Japanese claim to the islands is dubious (according to my understanding of the history they have in fact been Chinese islands since the 1390s claimed by Japan only in 1895) this is highly dangerous. (Before Hillary Clinton was secretary of state the U.S. position was to have no position of Senkaku sovereignty. Since the Allies forced Japan in 1945 to renounce sovereignty over all territories gained (through imperialist wars) from 1894, you’d think these islets would have been included. But while Japan withdrew from Korea, Manchuria, the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific,Tokyo continued to claim the uninhabited East China Sea isles as part of Okinawa Prefecture.

A few rocks off Taiwan might seem a small issue. But it is infuriating to many Chinese that islands historically theirs are claimed and militarily “defended” by Japan, whose military killed around 6 million Chinese during the Second Sino-Japanese War. There is no reason for Biden to side with Tokyo on this issue, other than to signal China that the U.S. sides with all its opponents as a matter of principle.

MSNBC, the DNC’s unofficial organ, has been emphasizing the heroic role of Harry Truman, the U.S. president who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slaughtered 5 million in the Korean War, and established NATO in 1949. Truman’s being praised for his anti-communism; he used all means necessary including election rigging, political assassination, military suppression (of the heroic Greek Communist movement, etc.), coups, and propaganda to counter the menace of Soviet Communism! And in that, he’ll be a model for Joe Biden!

Now, what would Truman’s efforts 80 years ago against global communism have to do with Biden today? Putin is not Stalin. Stalin was the leader of the world’s first socialist country, that had experienced dramatic growth in the 1930s, was able somehow to defeat the Nazi juggernaut losing 20 million in the process but emerging with the world’s second largest economy and scientific community able to test a nuclear weapon (1949) and launch Sputnik (1957). Stalin was the acknowledged leader of a global movement that by 1949 included the People’s Republic of China. Truman, a small-minded racist Missouri politician, asserted U.S. power in Europe because Europe was exhausted and in ruins, receptive to the Marshall Aid offered in exchange for anticommunist alliances.

That world is gone. The Communist Bloc peaked in the 1950s, then deteriorated as a result of the Sino-Soviet split. Russia is not today the center of a global alliance based on shared ideology. It is a proud old European country with a glorious culture and unique experience of (for a time) successful socialist construction. Russia is now governed by a conservative political party, headed by Putin, linked to the Orthodox Church. Why should Biden model himself on Truman in today’s world—other than to promote and expand NATO? And not even to fight a supposedly threatening ideology but rather to surround a non-threatening country with no comparable military alliance and making no threats on its neighbors?

The ‘Back to Normal” drive underway by the Democrat center-right pro-imperialist mainstream is designed to return the people’s attention to the need for America to responsibly use its power—to maintain the long-term bipartisan strategy of “full-spectrum dominance” (control of the world). Biden is much more rooted in “Shock and Awe” terror than Trump. His normalcy will be Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama normalcy. And Bush-Cheney normalcy; did not Joe not just endorse the invasion of Iraq put passionately promote it, long after it was clear it had been based on lies?

To those breathing a sigh of relief that the Trump era’s over and normalcy’s returned, I suggest the old normalcy was terrifying and it’s returning. Watch Biden’s comments on Ukraine and Georgia; he’s known as a keen advocate for NATO expansion and will want to define himself further as such in distinction from “Putin’s puppet “Trump. Watch what he says about reversing Trump’s “irresponsible” withdrawals from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and maintaining bases in these countries (to “protect our freedoms,” “aid our allies,” prevent our heroes from dying in vain, or whatever). Watch what he has to say about China’s Uighurs, the Hong Kong protests, and Chinese “aggression”in its own waters.

And ask: what does this career imperialist with a particular veneration for the military give to the anti-imperialist voters who only participated in the vote to topple Trump? How is Biden an improvement? Because he seems “decent” (like many old doddering folks), has been packaged as “compassionate” (I’ve even seen “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” see Isaiah 53:3), and has pragmatically appointed an ethnically and gender diverse cabinet of like-minded pro-imperialist “centrists” in a concession to identity politics (if only to discourage critical thought about capitalism and imperialism)?

Whose lies are bigger, or worse?

Sen. Ladda Tammy Duckwort of Illinois is a half-Thai American. In 2004 she was sent as an Army reservist to bomb Iraqis (whom, you recall, were resisting the criminal invasion based on lies supported by Joe Biden). She chose to fly helicopters. She lost her right leg while it was shot off by Iraqis in their airspace over their criminally invaded country.

Duckwort was under consideration for a cabinet post, due to her being a woman, and half-Asian. Wouldn’t that be progress in itself?

No. A half-Asian woman proud of her service bombing Iraq in 2004 is no better than a white Blackwater mercenary proud of similar feats. And Biden is no better than Trump and in some ways much worse.

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: