Blinken to Germany: Stop Nord Stream II!

New secretary of state Anthony Blinken visited Europe last week in an apparent effort to strengthen NATO after a period of presumed drift during the Trump years. Among other things he urged Germany to cancel the Nord Stream II pipeline project that will bring cheap natural gas from point A on the Baltic Sea coast (Vyborg, Russia) to point B (Grieswald, Germany). It is a clear instance of free trade between capitalist countries, for mutual advantage. The project costing 10 billion Euros, begun in 2012, is 95% complete. Blinken like his predecessor Mike Pompeo asked Angela Merckel to cancel it and she said Nein, ich kann nicht. End of story.

Blinken told Dana Bash on CNN that the U.S. must work with its allies—a jab at Trump who supposedly didn’t do so. Especially its closest NATO allies, with whom it must coordinate to “confront China” as Beijing’s GDP comes to equal the U.S. figure. He added that the Nord Stream II project was just one issue on which allies can disagree. It is a virtual admission of defeat.

Why does the U.S. oppose Nord Stream II? It was opposed by the Trump administration too. Trump, whose soul (Marx would say) is the “soul of capital,” argued that the Germans should buy (more expensive) U.S. gas to help pay back America after ripping off its taxpayers for decades. Blinken’s approach is different. He trashes the agreement because it helps the sanctions-strapped Russia by expanding the market for its prime trade good, and reduces German dependence on U.S. for its energy supply.

Russia is being sanctioned primarily over Ukrainian events, following the U.S.-backed putsch in Kiev in 2014. This was designed to bring Ukraine into NATO. Trump was not inclined to fast-track the admissions process but Biden is eager to do so. Thus Blinken adds another reason for U.S. opposition to Nord Stream II: it will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in provisioning gas to central Europe, denying Kiev revenue.

Meanwhile Blinken unveils a new geopolitical theory, observing that conflict is no longer between “democracy and communism” but “democracy and autocracy.” I do believe that’s a theme in Plato’s Republic (ca. 375 BCE). So there’s this age-old ahistorical conflict that has nothing to do with class oppression and structural racism but with freedom versus tyranny, the colonists against the king, the simple choice between good and evil.

Today on the evil (autocratic) side stand Putin, Xi, Khamenei, Maduro, the Cuban Communist leadership—but also, surely, U.S. allies Erdogan, Duterte, Bolsonaro, the Saudi crown prince, the Egyptian junta? The fact is, U.S. capitalism aligns naturally with its autocratic allies, as naturally as with its democratic ones. Why did Biden among his first moves “send a message to Iran” (by criminally killing Iraqis in Syria) while announcing support for the Saudi kingdom versus Iran? Why did he immediately embrace the move of the U.S. embassy in apartheid Israel to Jerusalem, saluting Zionist autocracy at the expense of Palestinian hopes for democracy?

“Democracy” has no more to do with the current geopolitical dynamics than it did was I in elementary school getting taught about Freedom versus Communism in the world. In the real world the struggle is between capitalism and its opponents. Blinken implies (correctly) that the international communist movement is not at present a threat to U.S. imperialism. (Trumpist idiots have so conflated “communism,” “socialism,” “radical liberalism,” “anarchism,” “Antifa,” that you’d think that Biden’s win abetted by Bernie and AOL is a sort of Bolshevik Revolution. In the absence of communists fascists try to create them. But it is true that the “Communist threat” as perceived by the U.S. bourgeoisie as late as the 1980s has receded, even while Marxist ideas have become more current and acceptable and championed by millions of young people in this country.)

Blinken knows that traditional anticommunism is no longer saleable, even in relation to the PRC which (unlike Russia) retains its formal adherence to Marxism-Leninism. One cannot represent economic competition with China as a contest between capitalism and socialism (“communism”); it is capitalism versus capitalism. Blinken cannot define the problem so simply or accept moral equivalence. For him the problem is the autocrats of this world, who reject our American values (based on the European Judeo-Christian tradition and the Constitution) and want, as an alliance of dictators, to create a global alliance to oppose “U.S. national interests” (like control over the world banking system).

Blinken sounds resigned to the fact that Germany will make its own decisions about its trade relations with neighboring Russia. He perhaps hoped that his NATO visit would be met with rapturous joy at a return to normalcy in the world following what Biden calls the Trump “aberration.” Instead he found a Europe impacted by four years of U.S. political instability, shocked at the emergence of a large neofascist political base, disconcerted by policy inconsistencies and the personal vileness of the U.S. leader. If Biden and Blinken think everything can go back to normal, and U.S. retain its hegemony (as in vetoing an energy agreement between European neighbors, as an assault on “democracy”). they may be disappointed.

Eurasia is rising; America in decline. Trump in his own way did weaken NATO, even if he forced some countries to grudgingly raise their military budgets. He weakened it by nakedly expressing the instrumentalism that has characterized the relationship since 1949. Why should the U.S. pay for the defense of Europe against Russia when the Cold War is over and there is no real threat of Russian expansion? Why should there be tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Germany eight decades after World War II and four decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Even if Trump’s underlying concern was stupidly “populist” (why should the U.S. taxpayer pay to defend these freeloaders?), he did in unprecedented fashion raise doubts about the ongoing mutual need and relevance of the alliance. That much (an example of Hegel’s “cunning of reason” in history) was good, a moron by accident voicing the truth.

Blinken is back to NATO advocacy on ideological grounds, but they are not Truman’s grounds. Truman founded NATO as an organization to use any means necessary to destroy Communism. Blinken is tasked with the project to rethink it as the bulwark of global democracy versus Autocracy, as though the latter ever constituted an ideology or coordinated bloc. He basically declares the bankruptcy of the Democrat-bipartisan American-Exceptionalist ideology designed to unite the people of this country behind the next imperialist war requiring NATO participation against “autocrats” in Syria, Iran, or Libya, or against Russians in east Ukraine. It is a primitive school-boy vision of reality, shared by the myopic Biden and his acolyte Blinken, that prettifies the warmongering U.S. while challenging the rest of the world to show its democratic credentials. It is as much an assault on our intelligence as Trump’s conception of a world divided between those ripping us off and laughing at us and those who loyally buy our warplanes.

One can only hope that Germany will effectively stymie Biden’s expected move to pull Ukraine into NATO, committing German troops to the war (to recover the Donbas, as well as Crimea) that might follow. And that as Blinken is exposed as an early proponent of the Iraq War, and enthusiastic supporter of the savage destruction of Libya by NATO in 2011, his entire effort to reconstruct the architecture of U.S. hegemony will fail.

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: