Five notes on the U.S. – Russia War

After provoking Russia for thirty years with five NATO expansions toward its borders, the United States finally got the war it sought.

With its surrogate army of Ukrainians busy, the United States then recklessly touched off a chain reaction in world politics and economics. The consequences, as disruptive as 1968, have arrived on every inhabited continent.

1. The U.S. strategy has blown up in its face

In February, Washington launched its all-out “kitchen-sink” economic war against Russia. European junior partners followed suit with six rounds of sanctions. The idea was to paralyze the Russian economy and make its citizens suffer so much they would overthrow President Vladimir Putin.

This plan is not working. The Russian economy did not collapse. In May, the independent Levada Center interviewed 1,634 respondents asking, “Have these sanctions caused problems for you and your family?” 83% said the sanctions did not create “any problems” or “any serious problems” while 16% of respondents said “Yes, very serious” or “quite serious.”

Meanwhile, Levada found President Putin’s domestic approval rating had risen to 83%. That is more than double the current domestic approval rating for U.S. President Joe Biden (39%), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (36%), and French President Emmanuel Macron (36%) — and almost triple that of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (28%), according to Morning Consult.

Meanwhile, havoc from the U.S./European sanctions has already spread worldwide, worsening inflation and shortages of food, fuel, and other commodities, and breaking supply chains. On the horizon are recessions, rationing,

factory shutdowns, famine, and famine refugees.

Washington is also trying to provoke a war with another nuclear power, China. U.S. bases encircle China and U.S. warships and combat aircraft prowl the South China Sea. The Pentagon is advising Taiwan’s military on how to fight China and which weapons to buy from U.S. manufacturers. The U.S. government even calls the entire region “Indo-Pacific” as though the most populous nation on earth does not exist. At home, a hate-China campaign has been underway for years. In eighteen months as president, Biden has announced a more belligerent policy toward China three times, only to have his aides contradict him, with less credibility each time.

2. “The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic”

This was Chuck Jones’ Rule #3 for writing Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. It also applies to the orders now coming from Washington.

The decisionmakers’ names don’t matter as much as how they think, which is clear from the bizarre content of the decisions themselves. They are the product of rigid ideological minds. The ideology is a closed system which spits out an answer, however irrational, to every question.

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “the will to a system is a lack of integrity.” He meant integrity requires questioning one’s own assumptions. These Washington decisionmakers question nothing, and diplomacy consists solely of threats and demands for capitulation. Full speed ahead with Plan A, even after it backfires.

This means Washington will not be able to turn back from its disastrous course by learning and reasoning. It will only stop when compelled.

But compelled by whom? An antiwar movement could do it, but there isn’t one. Skeptical reporting might help, but the dominant news media are more eager for war than the Administration. Democrats in both houses of Congress have voted unanimously for the war. There are some Republicans critics, but too few to make a difference.

In the end, stopping it might require a cascading voter revolt, such as ousting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson first, then German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, then the U.S. Democratic House and Senate majorities, and then Joe Biden.

3. Why is the colossal U.S. military sitting in the bleachers watching the war rage?

Both the United States and Russia have nuclear weapons, and neither wants to commit national suicide. It makes sense to avoid direct engagement. However, the U.S. has had nuclear weapons since 1945, and Russia since 1949. Why did the United States spend the last thirty years goading Russia into a war too dangerous for the Pentagon to fight?

There is another sufficient reason for sidelining the Pentagon: Vietnam’s rout of the U.S. military a half century ago. In 1973, after years of funerals, parents could no longer bear to see more of their children killed in Vietnam, so they obliged Congress to end the military draft. This decision has not been reversed. It looks like the “Vietnam Syndrome” is as close to being permanent as anything gets in politics.

Without a military draft, the number of U.S. active-duty military personnel around the world dropped from more than one million in 1968 to 171,477 today.

This forced U.S. planners to reel in their ambitions. They had to (1) avoid aggression against nations with strong armies like North Korea and Vietnam, and choose instead nearly unarmed opponents like Grenada and Panama; (2) employ surrogate armies, such as Osama bin Laden’s Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria; (3) rely primarily on air attacks since pilot deaths are typically few; (4) use unpiloted drones, which involve no U.S. combat deaths at all, though many remote drone operators suffer disabling mental injuries for the rest of their lives; and (5) wield economic weapons like sanctions and tariffs.

This approach did reduce U.S. casualties, but it also resulted in an unbroken string of U.S. foreign policy failures since 1975. Ukraine is just the latest.

4. A wholesome flux in world politics

At any gathering, if you want people to crowd around listening to you, be sure to sound ominous. Announce “I fear democracy is retreating around the world.” You do not need to have any reasons or facts. Just name a few foreign leaders we are supposed to hate, and people will call you ‘whip smart.’

But is it true? Is democracy really retreating?

In Humanitarian Imperialism, Jean Bricmont wrote,

“. . . the major event of the 20th century was neither the rise and fall of fascism, nor the history of communism, but decolonization. . . This process freed hundreds of millions of people from one of the most brutal forms of oppression. It is major progress in the history of mankind, similar to the abolition of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.“

In 1900, there were a dozen empires, mostly centered in Europe. By 2000, all had collapsed except for the United States, which began its own decline in 1968.

The former colonies won the title and structure of nation-states, but they still did not have what is variously called self-government, sovereignty, or independence. The key policy decisions affecting their futures were being made by the White House and its appendages including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Pentagon, and the CIA.

Washington knew if any nation got away with asserting its right to self-government, others would follow its example and the whole imperial structure would collapse. Because of this, the U.S. set a terrible price for breaking out of its economic grip: sanctions, subversion, assassinations, and bombing campaigns.

Things are different in the current U.S. war against Russia and a threatened war against China. Washington’s goal is the same, but it cannot attack either one directly. They both have nuclear weapons, big economies, and military forces strong enough to defend themselves against any attacker, without exception.

In other words, Russia and China can now act independently, refuse to bow to Washington, and get away with it. Other countries have noticed and are starting to do likewise.

* For example, many are no longer reflexively falling into line behind the United States on world issues. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wen Bin noted of 193 UN members, “more than 140 countries with a population of more than six billion have not participated in the sanctions [against Russia].” Six billion people is 76% of the entire world.

* On the issue of suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, only ten of Africa’s fifty-four nations voted with the United States.

* Joe Biden failed to enlist leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in his efforts to isolate Russia and China. ASEAN consists of ten nations with a combined 667 million people. The top trading partner for nine of the ten nations is China. Is it any wonder they don’t want to get involved?

* Even attendance at U.S. events is now in doubt. Joe Biden refused to invite Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to the recent Organization of American States (OAS) Summit of the Americas. In protest, the leaders of Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, and Guatemala refused to attend. With one-third of the Latin American population unrepresented, the conference was widely viewed as a failure. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is now calling for “replacing the OAS with a truly autonomous organism.”

* On May 2, 2022, Brazil’s leading presidential candidate, Lula da Silva, announced that if elected he would create a new Latin American currency, the “Sur,” for Latin American countries to use in bilateral trade with one another, instead of having to trade using U.S. dollars. Lula said the goal was to “be freed of the [U.S.] dollar.”

* In April, Mexico’s Congress approved the nationalization of the country’s lithium exploration, exploitation, and industrialization. Mexican President López Obrador announced Mexico would form a lithium alliance with Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, the three countries with the largest lithium reserves in the world.

Perhaps the independent initiative with the greatest potential so far began in 2009, when Russia and China began meeting with India and Brazil to discuss how to break out of the U.S.-controlled financial systems.

The next year South Africa joined, and the group became known as “BRICS” after the first initials of the five nations. They have been planning new development financing, alternative payment systems, financial settlements in national currencies, and so on. They certainly have the resources to carry out their plans. By 2030, the five BRICS nations will account for half of the world’s Gross Domestic Product, according to projections by the International Monetary Fund.

BRICS has now decided to expand further. This year’s meeting included a special session with delegations from Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Thailand. Argentina has already announced its desire to formally join BRICS, and Indonesia is another likely candidate.

Of course, imperial Washington is not finished yet. Nevertheless, it looks like sovereignty may be to the 21st century what decolonization was to the 20th century. If so, it is worth remembering Jean Bricmont’s observation: “If it is true that national sovereignty does not necessarily bring democracy, there can be no democracy without it.”

In other words, democracy may be advancing, not retreating.

5. What is the next step we can take together?

Given all the above, consider Gerald Horne’s conclusion to his book, Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism:

“This impact of global currents on nefarious domestic trends should remind today’s strugglers that their interests would be better served by spending less time debating with the American Civil Liberties Union about the “rights” of fascists and more time conversing with potential and actual allies in Beijing, Moscow, Havana, Brussels, Pretoria, and elsewhere.”

This is not idle musing. All his writings lead to it. It is a proposal and deserves an answer.

Is Horne right? What do you think?

Paul Ryder has been research assistant to attorney Leonard Weinglass, Pentagon Papers Legal Defense; national staff, Indochina Peace Campaign; policy director for Ohio Governor Richard Celeste; and organizing director for Ohio Citizen Action. He is the principal author and editor of “The Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook” (2006) and co-editor with Susan Wind Early of “Tom Hayden on Social Movements” (2019).