Biden’s Brinksmanship

Photograph Source: Maryland GovPics – CC BY 2.0

During one of my more despondent moments a couple months ago I reached out to a friend in Belfast, wanting to know how he deals with reality under the circumstances, when everything you fought so hard for seems to have been for nothing.  All we can do, he said, is leave bread crumbs for the next lot coming down the trail, in the hope that the crumbs might be useful.  A healthy, long-distance view to adopt for a middle-aged revolutionary who has come to terms with the limits of their influence, I’m sure.

In that spirit, I write as a 54-year-old person who has been diligently consuming a wide variety of news sources on a daily basis since I was 12:  we’ve been here before.  The details have changed, but the pattern is firmly established.

It would be completely MAD to go to war with Russia — that is, it would be an invitation for the world to finally learn the true meaning of the acronym that used to be as commonly used as acronyms like SALT, START, or ICBM — Mutually Assured Destruction.  But in our corporate and so-called public media landscape today, in the media consumed daily by so many millions of Americans (not to mention people in the UK, Australia, and many other countries in similar straits), there will be no reminders of this critical concept, which was once known as a doctrine, one that was dominant in the halls of power in both Washington, DC and Moscow for much of the twentieth century.

Up until President Biden’s recent, singular press conference, it seemed there was some awareness of the concept in the mind of the commander-in-chief, at least.  He did threaten all kinds of economic sanctions — which can themselves be considered acts of war, depending on the particulars — but he clearly and verbally broadcast the red line, that US troops would not be sent to Ukraine.

Whether it was related to anything that happened as a result of so-called gaffes he committed at the press conference or not, things changed afterwards, both in terms of messaging, and in terms of a massive increase in the amount of weaponry being sent to Ukraine, along with a sudden mobilization of thousands of US troops to be sent to former Warsaw Pact countries like Romania and Poland, which are now members of NATO.

With that press conference, the US media seemed to fully commit itself to an upcoming conflict with Russia.  As anyone living here who is one of the millions consuming CNN, PBS, or NPR can attest, Russian troop movements, Putin’s expansionist plans, and all other things Putin dominate the news coverage these days.  The very diverse group of reporters representing these modern American media networks are still given the same set of retired military generals, ambassadors, and CIA analysts to interview.  Completely absent are any voices of opposition to US imperialism, NATO expansion, or NATO aggression.  In fact, these concepts are only mentioned when they are being ridiculed, as mythological notions put forward by the Kremlin in order to deflect the blame for the responsibility they supposedly have for creating the whole situation in the first place.

As I observe our propaganda machine go into war-fever overdrive, I try to imagine what it must be like to be one of these relatively young, aspiring reporters for NPR, given one retired State Department official after another to interview for another three-minute segment, in which there’s no time to get beyond the softball questions, even if they might have the flexibility to go off-script for a moment.  I can only imagine what it must be like to try to do journalism under such restrictive conditions.  What impresses me the most about our propaganda, though, is the extent to which so many of those involved with disseminating it seem to believe it themselves.

And as I see the war fever being thus systematically whipped up by the publishers-that-be, I think of the other times I witnessed this phenomenon set in.  The difference this time is only that the stakes are so much higher — namely, the continuation of life as we have come to know it.

As I listen to the latest interview with another hawkish-sounding member of the Congress from one party or the other, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that the same person conducting this interview was only months ago interviewing the parents of yet another Black man gunned down by the police on the streets of this country, and discussing institutional racism, systematic police brutality, mass incarceration, and related subjects.  Now we’re hearing about repression in Russia, and China, but gone is all the national self-examination that appeared to be the order of the day as long as Trump was in the White House.  Now, the US is the heroic global defender of democracy and freedom and intersectionalism, facing off against the macho, maniacal mastermind of Moscow.

In the past, when there has been a constant drumbeat of this kind of rabidly pro-war coverage in the US media, what has come next has been a war.  It was like this in 1990 and more so at the beginning of 1991, when the US destroyed Iraq from the sky, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.  It was like that again for years after 9/11, reaching its peak in the months leading up to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

In the period since then, there have been quite a few mea culpas from major news media figures of the day, for so rabidly supporting Bush and Cheney in justifying any war crimes they thought were justifiable, in the name of freedom and democracy.  A lot of those journalists retired.  And now here we are again.

I don’t know what’s coming next.  I do know that Biden supported all the wars that were initiated by administrations of both parties since he became a politician.  I also believe he understands how different this situation is, with the adversary being a country with thousands of nuclear weapons currently ready to launch at a moment’s notice, aimed at the United States.  Whether he thinks this kind of brinkmanship will serve his domestic political agenda or not, I only hope he has more sense than his hero, President Kennedy did, when JFK took the world closer to nuclear holocaust than ever before, or perhaps since, in October, 1962, with exactly the same kind of brinkmanship that Biden is displaying right now.

David Rovics is a frequently-touring singer/songwriter and political pundit based out of Portland, Oregon.  His website is