Thinking Optimistically About Biden’s Credibility Collapse

Day after day, the tired old news anchors repeat last week’s news. The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Coming towards the Ukrainian border, anyway, which is only 4,700 miles away from Boston! Didn’t the beloved St. Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, who served the Democratic Party (and the general cause of U.S. imperialism) in her impeachment hearing testimony, aver—while she trashed Trump—that “if we don’t fight the Russians in Ukraine, we’ll have to fight them here”?

Thus has the Democratic leadership sought to both weaken the grotesque figure of Trump, and to accomplish the (far more profoundly necessary) feat of sustaining U.S. global hegemony at a time of unprecedented challenges to its vicious Exceptionalism. And to its claims to “lead” the world by virtue of the model of its bogus “democracy”—plus its possession of the one “indispensable” military machine required to maintain the peace. Such a demented mentality prevails as it did in all previous presidencies, and it meets with bipartisan support.

No Real Military Threat

The challenges are not, mind you, military threats. The world is terrified of the U.S. military, on whom, at every opportunity, Joe Biden invokes God’s blessings. The U.S. has just proven—or rather, proven over 20 years—that it cannot, even with $ 955 billion in arms and training; even with the deaths of 3502 “allied” troops, mostly NATO members, with the British, Canadians, French and Germans suffering the highest casualties next to the U.S.; even with the egregious deployment of the MOAB “Mother of All Bombs” to terrify the world; even with the deaths of 200,000 Afghans; even while imposing economic dependency and crude measures to create a “democracy” suitable to Washington, it cannot win a war against determined peoples, including Afghans, who resent, perhaps more than anything, the extraordinary, anachronistic arrogance of the U.S. once associated with the (now dead) British Empire.

Still, this military, however dogged by failure as it is and should be, remains far too menacing for Russia to provoke lightly. The U.S. has shown this century that the masses can still be manipulated by lies to support war. Seldom has there been a more spectacular, transparently contrived, effort to justify mass killing than we saw in the Bush-Cheney drive to destroy Iraq. The entire “War on Terror” was a religious farce, rooted in lies, self-righteousness, biblical citations, fuzzy logic, conflation of dissimilar things, and mass ignorance by institutional design. It was horrible, ruinous, generating much more hatred for this country. But there have been no apologies—surely not from Biden, an early and steadfast supporter of the criminal war—so proud of his late son’s “service” in Iraq. I assume Putin has him pegged as an unreconstructed warmonger and longtime advocate of NATO expansion, and truly fears his ability to act on his madness. The Russian leader is not out to provoke the U.S., but rather to respond to ongoing U.S. provocations in a measured way.

No, the threat to the U.S. is not military. Surely not from Russia, which those referring to maps from time to time, these being only a Google click away, note is a European country. It in fact comprises half the geographer’s Europe; it is the largest country in Europe, the next being Ukraine, then France. It is also an Asian country extending from the Urals to the Pacific coast. The Russian Far East is 65% the size of the People’s Republic of China.

The distance from St. Petersburg on the Baltic (Russia’s westernmost city) to New York is 1149 miles; from Vladivostok on the Pacific to Seattle, 4720 miles. Russia in other words is far away. It’s charged by the U.S. media with some irrational, threatening desire to absorb Ukraine, with which it happens to share a thousand year history and 2700- mile long border. None of these talking heads seems burdened by the slightest inkling of Ukrainian history, including the events of 2014.

The talking heads of the U.S. media never mention that in 2010 the Ukrainian people elected as president, Viktor Yanukovitch, in what international observers called a free and fair election, a candidate enjoying widespread support in the Donbas region and elsewhere and committed to friendly relations with Russia. They don’t mention that the U.S. spent $ five billion to support “regime change” through one of those “Color Revolutions” funded by the coup-plot specialists at the National Endowment for Democracy, bringing down Yanukovych in a bloody coup and installing known proponents of immediate NATO membership.

Such details are irrelevant to Mika Brzezinsky, Jose Diaz-Balart, Willie Geist, Chris Jansing, Hallie Jackson, Medhi Hassan, Jonathan Lemire, Rachel Maddow, Craig Melvin, Ari Melber, Andrea Mitchel, Lawrence O’Donnel, Joy Reid, Stephanie Ruhl, Joe Scarborough, Jake Tapper, Katy Tur, Nicole Wallace, Kristen Welker, and Fareed Zakaria. (I leave out the Fox because watching its evil clowns causes me gastritis.)

Or else the airing of truths about Russia is not allowed on bourgeois television. The molders of opinion don’t mention that Moscow, alarmed by NATO’s expansion, informed the Pentagon in 2008 that the addition of either Georgia or Ukraine would be a “red line” for Russia, an intolerable security threat. And that Washington, paying no heed, blithely proceeded to lead the alliance in announcing that Georgia and Ukraine would indeed be admitted! One must understand the brief Russo-Georgia War of 2008 in this light. And similarly, the Russian response to the Maidan putsch in February 2014: seizure of Crimea, Russia’s only southern port since the 1770s, to keep it out of NATO’s hands, and to aid the Donbas region in its declaration of autonomy.

In 2008, Ukraine was only a concern of the new Obama administration in that it had a (supposedly) “pro-Russian” and anti-NATO leader, interfering with the game plan to lasso in Kyiv. There was no talk about a Russian invasion then! But when the U.S. orchestrated the anti-Russian coup, deploying neofascist Russophobes in the process, producing out of the hat a pro-NATO cabinet; when it responded to Moscow’s reactive moves with unprecedented sanctions, demanding all its allies follow along, regardless of the hurt done their own economies; when it provoked Russia by reiterating that Ukraine would in fact join NATO, racing weaponry to the country, dispatching NATO training missions, treating Ukraine as a de facto NATO member, expanding the NATO naval presence in the Black Sea (which is, if you consult the map, rather distant from the North Atlantic that—according to the mythology—it “defends” against something or someone); when it provokes Moscow with the real prospect of nuclear-armed missiles reaching Moscow in minutes from its neighbor—OF COURSE Russia was going to respond. No one should be surprised that it’s done so by amassing 130,000 troops within its border to catch the attention of the world, Biden, and the people of this unhappy country.

Putin is repeating what the Russians have been saying since 1989: do not keep expanding your alliance in violation to Bush’s promise to Gorbachev. Do not expand your antiquated but lethal alliance to our borders! Stop, after Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in 1999! Stop, after Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria in 2004! What is the point in this? Stop telling us it has nothing to do with us, that we’re paranoid, that the alliance is not directed against anybody! We said stop, after Albania and Croatia in 2009! And why the hell do you need Montenegro, added under Trump in 2017? And North Macedonia in 2020! Why do you insist on taking over the once neutral Balkans? How would you feel if we led a military alliance expanding to include Mexico, to protect it from you?

The U.S. has responded at every turn, pooh-poohing Russian concerns and positively discouraging discussion in this country about what NATO actually is. You’d think an “educated citizenry” would debate the merits of retaining the deadliest military alliance ever formed, after its ostensible purposes (anti-Soviet, anticommunist) have become irrelevant; you’d think there’d be some discussion of the results of the only NATO wars to date (Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001-2021, Libya 2011). You’d think there be dissident voices in the media itself; but no, if they exist they are far between or pruned from in the industry for expressing “extreme” views.

One is allowed on cable news to observe that we live in a structurally racist country, even to declare we should defund the police (although this is never treated seriously); the Democratic Party’s media must allow this to sustain the tenuous cooperation between the “mainstream” DNC opportunists and the more “progressive” faction of the party. It’s easy enough for them, at this point, to get loud about anti-racism. But you cannot be articulately anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war in the permitted universe of the mainstream media.

Nor can you say that Biden is like Chicken Little, warning that the sky is falling. Nor can you say his expectation for European deference is like the emperor expecting his subjects to admire his new clothes when he’s down to his underpants. You cannot compare Biden to the Wizard of Oz, who tells Dorothy and her friends to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” You can’t expect MSNBC and CNN to associate themselves with a “far left radical” critique. They have firm instructions on that. In any case, since the war threat is mostly Biden hype, the embarrassment to come, and by far the greater threat to the U.S. ruling class, is the (further) collapse of U.S. credibility, even (maybe especially) in the eyes of its closest post-World War II allies.

Of these allies, recall that those with the largest concentrations of U.S. troops are Germany, Italy and Japan, the three defeated fascist allies. It seems that regardless of changing circumstances, the Pentagon wants to sustain that presence forever. To protect European security, that is, or so they claim. But the Germans, Italians and Japanese increasingly chafe under the alliances imposed on them during the early Cold War (NATO and the US-Japan Security Treaty). All the more need for Biden to assert his vigorous leadership!

The Threat of Embarrassment

Again: the threat to the U.S., or to Joe Biden and those he represents, is not war with Russia. It’s the embarrassment that’s going to accrue from this effort by a doddering leader, mentally trapped in the late Cold War era, unable to conceptualize Russia as something other than Stage Two of the USSR, to arm-twist the allies to rush weapons to Ukraine and exacerbate the situation. If the Ukrainian president is demanding to know “Where’s your evidence?” you know NATO allies will ask the same question.

The U.S. has cried wolf before. “We have to bomb Serbia—to prevent genocide!” bellowed Clinton, dragging the Italians, Greeks and Spanish along with him, if unenthusiastically. Turned out the U.S. “intel” as usual was wildly wrong (but hey, after the job’s done there’s no need to revisit the details). “We have to bomb Afghanistan!” George W. Bush commanded in 2001, insisting world security was at stake. Twenty years later, the Europeans were left burning with indignation that their troops had been so badly used in a conflict the U.S. had completely miscalculated, before ending the disaster without so much as consulting them.

“We have to bomb Iraq now!” Bush followed up in 2003, embarrassed when Germany, France and Belgium (realizing the U.S. was lying) refused to participate and deprived the U.S. of depicting that massive crime as a NATO operation. “We have to bomb Libya!” exclaimed bloodthirsty Hillary Clinton, trotting out another genocide lie to lead NATO into a war with a government the British, Italians and French had actually cultivated. What happened after Gadhafi’s murder, and the descent of North Africa’s most developed country into tribal chaos, was, according to Obama, Europe’s responsibility! Europe (peoples and governments both) become increasingly annoyed by U.S. wars based on lies and the expectation that Europeans become involved in them. (Yes, I’ll grant that British Prime Minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy shared leadership with Obama during the assault on Libya.) Or deal with the influx into Europe of refugees created by U.S. wars in Southwest Asia and North Africa.

The embarrassment underway has hardly been acknowledged by the U.S. media. But it is the embarrassment that comes from exposure. What does it mean when Ukraine’s President Zelensky (whom I have seen up to now, and continue to see, as essentially a U.S. puppet, favored by Washington for his overt support for NATO membership) repeatedly criticizes Biden for raising fears on the basis of intelligence that, he protests, has not been shared with Ukraine? What does it mean that neither Ukrainians nor Russians, according to polls, expect the outbreak of war? What does it mean when airhead U.S. news anchors roll their eyes in consternation that Zelensky isn’t being a team player, challenging, as he’s dared to do belatedly, the U.S. media hysteria?

Russia, quite understandably, accuses Washington of “scare-mongering,” repeating it has no intention to invade. I myself think it unlikely Russia will invade, and so its continued failure to do so—which one senses genuinely disappoints Mika and Joe and all, who’ve spouted the State Department talking points conscientiously and look positively puzzled that no invasion’s come, and incredulous that the Ukrainian people themselves are in a “state of denial”—gives the lie to their ceaseless beating of the war-drums.

The embarrassment will be the revelation that Biden—-desperate to reverse the slide in U.S. influence in the world (which he attributes less to the emergence of three main economic power blocs, and the decline of the U.S. economy, than to the undiplomatic, incompetent and “aberrant” President Trump), and thinking that by dint of his virtues he could “revive” the NATO alliance, force the Germans into “lockstep,” intensify anti-Russian feelings, cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and pave the way a little further down the road for the encirclement of Russia via Ukraine and Georgia—took a gamble and it didn’t pay off. He overplayed his hand.

Far from invading, the Russians have chided Washington for accusing them falsely. The Biden team responds by reiterating: it looks like the Russians are about to invade. This becomes the story: Russians poised to invade Ukraine! Biggest military buildup in Europe since World War II!

But reports from Ukraine support the Russian claims, and the people do not appear concerned. How infuriating! Don’t the Ukrainians know how they’re in danger? It seems that the more the evidence accumulates that this was a fairy-tale threat— deployed by a president chosen by Wall Street, lacking a base and sagging in the polls, to manifest his “leadership” over a united Europe and again assail the Nord Stream 2 pipeline on behalf of U.S. energy companies—the more the “liberal” media hypes the peril.

Putin Draws Attention to NATO

In the meantime Putin has gotten what he wanted: not “attention” in a general sense but attention to the fact that Russia cannot, any more than any other self-respecting country, accept encirclement by a hostile military alliance. Such a threat justifies a defensive military build up along the border, partly as an effective defense against invasion and (I think, mostly) as a plain statement to the world that it must listen to Russia’s protests about NATO expansion.

Given that most Americans don’t know what NATO is, that move itself provides an educational moment. Europeans have long debated the merits of NATO membership; majorities of those polled in 2020 in France, Spain, Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey do not support its continuance. But people in the U.S. have, not so much been brainwashed about NATO as they have been kept in the dark about it all along. It’s perhaps perceived along with UNESCO and UNICEF as a humanitarian institution. But it’s an imperialist death machine that we should act to dissolve.

Joe Biden is at present fulfilling the vital service of acting out hubris in full view. He wanted to be the Leader of the Free World, presiding finally in the liberation of Russia—or at least its final humiliation. And presiding over the chastening of Germany, which has so dared provoke U.S. state and corporate wrath by tightening economic cooperation with a neighboring country! He fails at both.

Russia will continue to be a powerful sovereign state, resistant to the Nuland recipe for regime change (as used in Ukraine), capable of reconfiguring its trade patterns if necessary, strengthened by the quasi-alliance with the PRC. Europe will continue to echo all pronouncements about alliance unity, while noting that “unity” means a unanimous vote, of which the U.S. can’t be assured.

Europe will conclude, as hyped war fears recede, that the U.S. whipped up a tempest in a teacup, in order to re-consolidate the Atlantic Alliance versus Russia, if not both Russia and China (which is suddenly a security threat to Europe, because Biden says so)! It will be observed that Biden acted to ratchet up tensions with minimal consultation, even with the Ukrainians, to their mounting annoyance. Europeans will note that Biden seems unable to understand how his country’s influence has sharply declined.

Biden underestimates the damage done so far, not just by Trump (by showing U.S. allies how nastily ridiculous U.S. leadership could be) but by Biden in his cocky expectation that other NATO leaders, relieved that the Evil One is gone, would rejoice in his own presidency and respect his judgment. Having alienated Berlin by his arrogant insistence that it either cancel Nord Stream 2 or stand accused of dividing the alliance; and Paris by his sabotage of a NATO partner’s submarines deal; and both by an Afghan pullout ignoring their own stake in the “allied” matter, it takes some chutzpah to expect European acquiescence to the “Leader of the Free World” as he contemplates using Allied forces against Russia to further expand the U.S. empire. Or to use fear to unite, before being entirely embarrassed.

Instead of strengthening NATO, Biden has in this manufactured crisis drawn attention to it, and to its ongoing illogic. Barely half the Ukrainian population last year told pollsters they support NATO. Towards Russia there are feelings more complex and historically rooted than Biden can imagine, despite his personal interest in curbing “corruption” (sufficiently to meet Germany’s standards) so it can join NATO whether the people want it or not. Again: Biden has been one of the most strident NATO expansionists in government since the Clinton administration; this cause is dear to him, far dearer than any infrastructure or voting rights bills passing through Congress.

Biden is surely resigned at this point to a lackluster presidency with minimal accomplishments, his major achievement being to stay the course under Wall Street, while using Trump-fear to avoid a split in the party. He will say he tried to be the most progressive president ever but was thwarted by disunity among the ranks. All the more necessary to produce a foreign policy success, or something that can be spun as such. “I forced Putin to back down!” he will boast. All the above-mentioned critical minds (again: Mika Brzezinsky, Jose Diaz-Balart, Willie Geist, Chris Jansing, Hallie Jackson, Medhi Hassan, Jonathan Lemire, Rachel Maddow, Craig Melvin, Ari Melber, Andrea Mitchel, Lawrence O’Donnel, Joy Reid, Stephanie Ruhl, Joe Scarborough, Jake Tapper, Katy Tur, Nicole Wallace, Kristen Welker, Fareed Zakaria and their inbred former Pentagon, former State Department, and former intelligence officers “experts,” and coterie of “chief foreign correspondents” like Clarissa Ward, Richard Engel, Christiane Amanpour and Andrea Mitchell) will repeat this. Biden showed American resolve!

But meanwhile—this is perhaps Biden’s nightmare—people in this country will be asking: What is this NATO, anyway? And why must it expand? What countries has Russia invaded, while the U.S. has invaded half a dozen countries, disastrously, to no good effect, never apologizing? What to the people of these countries, such as the Ukrainians, have to say about their “security” and about NATO? Why does Biden seem to assume that there is broad support for NATO membership in Ukraine? Why did the Ukrainian leadership have to plead with Biden to quit the baseless rhetoric? And why didn’t NATO dissolve along with the Warsaw Pact over 30 years ago? The fact Fox News sometimes asks some of these questions recently does not mean the rest of us shouldn’t.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Wormtongue

Once upon a time Anthony Blinken—now Biden’s secretary of state in the Hillary mode, then merely his foreign policy Wormtongue—urged the Delaware senator to support the war on Iraq, based on lies. Biden enthusiastically followed this council, only at a late date conceding he might have been mistaken. That is the quality of Biden’s mind. America must lead, he reasons, and terrify the rest into obedience. God bless our troops for making it happen!

In his cluelessness Biden overreaches. He does not understand the world has changed, the U.S. has declined, young people have grown critical of imperialism as they realize what it is. Russophobia as a facile substitute for the ideology of anticommunism has excited little enthusiasm; it is merely bourgeois nationalism based more purely on a form of anti-Slav racism. Russians are inherently expansionist, media experts inform us; it’s in the blood. And Russians crave strong dictatorial leaders; it’s the tsarist and communist legacy.

That such overt, essentializing, dehumanizing images of Russians are still readily deployed from the arsenal of the warmongers, even as the mainstream anchors who empower them celebrate their own sudden recognition of structural racism, suggest that imperialism if not racism, and even if it is itself an expression of racism, is more resistant to critique in this country.

Wall Street loses little at this point by recognizing the truth that the history of profitable enterprise (capitalism) in this country is rooted in slavery as well as wage-labor, and indeed industry was capitalized by the former. It can accept revisions of history that the Trumpite white nationalists cannot, supposing that perhaps history doesn’t matter much anyway to their bottom line. It can accept any number of “progressive” politicians of color; it backed one in 2008. It can accept Black Lives Matter, until its leaders start citing Marx. But it cannot accept a frontal attack, even at the level of analysis, on imperialism and thus capitalism. That would be heresy.

It could never accept a “socialist” president, because, it tells the people, the people would never vote for a socialist. But it can accept a president hell-bent on “making America great again,” every bit as much as his predecessor, so long as that greatness keeps the teetering empire intact, unified by Goeringesque fear.

My Optimism

But back to my optimism. This episode, rather than consolidating NATO unity, will likely weaken the alliance as the allies discover that the U.S. and its corporate media once again undertook to prepare the grounds for war by spreading disinformation and bending their arms to win their cooperation. How many Germans want to die to realize Biden’s imperial objectives? How many more economic joint projects must they clear with trans-Atlantic boss to ensure their realization? Comments from the French foreign minister and trade minister suggest the French are tired of Washington’s high-handedness and serious about creating a pan-European force free from U.S. manipulation.

Biden’s Chicken Little act, if it turns out to be such, may constitute a turning-point in the U.S. relationship with the rest of the capitalist world. His demand that Europe maintain sanctions on Russia, to punish it for actions many Europeans understand if not endorse, until Crimea is reunited with Ukraine, is unsustainable over time. His insistence that allies join him in suppressing the rising China, while two-thirds of the EU countries have signed on the Belt & Road initiative, is as ludicrous as it is dangerous. The whole concept of demanding obedience from allies, such as the U.S. could generally extort throughout the Cold War, is offensive to the present-day thinking mind.

Thus some good may come of this protracted, fake crisis. And don’t tell me that if Biden is humiliated, Trump will come back to power like Lord Voldemort, and so Biden must be supported as the lesser evil. When it comes to war and peace, Biden’s no improvement over his predecessor. Indeed he’s worse, potentially much, much worse. It’s good to wake up to this reality.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He 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