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Isn’t It Obvious? Observations on the Ukraine “Crisis”

Do CounterPunch, Janeiro 25, 2022
Por GARY LEUPP





Is it not clear?

In 2020 the dominant faction of the faceless ruling class was leery about a second Trump term. This was principally due to his handling of trade relations with China and Europe, and the threat he posed to its own precarious position, if not to world peace. Trump was certainly a representative of the ruling class—along with all 44 presidents who’d preceded him, that being the sole crucial condition for the job. But was not the ideal representative. Above the interests of the whole ruling class (as crystallized in the one percent of the one percent) he placed his own selfish interests. He was totally corrupt (a quality Wall Street respects), but was not a team-player. He was corrupt in ways that had made him as many enemies as friends in the Fortune 500. Plus, in power Trump had become a hot potato for corporate PR; CEOs had resigned from Trump’s council of business leaders in embarrassment after consumers protested such vile associations.

The ruling class was meanwhile seized with (greater!) dread about a “socialist” becoming the Democratic candidate. While the Sanders campaign was at its height, it signaled its feelings—through its respected spokesperson, Danny Deutsch, who told the Democrats’ (on their own channel, MSNBC) that the American people “would never accept a socialist as president.” The masses were informed by certified experts—experts on politics, like the Pentagon folks are experts in war and State Department veterans experts on how to be a proper imperialist country—that they would never so vote! Because they know or at least will nod their heads when told, that free enterprise is what made our country great!

Thus in this free democratic country, the One Percent used its absolute veto power to curb the rise of the most mass-based democratic campaign in history, ensuring a Trump-Biden match-up.

Is it not obvious?

The most backward of the Democrat primary candidates (with the possible exception of Bloomberg), the most colorless and least energetic, was made king by some timely phone calls placed by Barack Obama, ever a friend of Wall Street. All Biden’s rivals save Sanders quickly bowed out, doing their part, renouncing their own prospects in that noblest of causes: to prevent a “socialist” candidate’s victory.

But these are not stupid people. Aware of the risk of thoroughly alienating the Bernie supporters, the Democratic National Committee offered them a seat at the table. ‘Decent” smiley Biden wooed the new progressive forces in the party, inviting them to shape his administration’s agenda. This was all part of the plan. Biden promised them in exchange for their support a more “left” and “progressive” program than any since the New Deal. Wall Street at least got what it wanted: a Biden victory and period of relative predictability—under a man who’d told them specifically that “nothing will change” during his administration.

Biden quickly announced “America is back!” expecting universal relief, receiving polite applause. He prioritized the repair of frayed alliances. Not only has he staved off socialism—he’s proceeded to comfortably reiterate all the tired old Cold War garbage about a “Free World,” headed by rights by the U.S. President, tasked with preserving “order” and “stability” globally.

Biden met with some skepticism from NATO “partners,” who realize that such talk is what it’s always been: code for U.S hegemony. Eternal hegemony, unaffected by the collapse of rivals and the fall of hostile blocs, hegemony for the sake of hegemony, hegemony craving new justifications as it goes along. Leaders of most NATO states surely realize that Washington is making a fuss about Germany’s purchase of Russian gas through the Nord Stream II pipeline, not out of concern for “mutual security” (that makes much sense to them) but to maintain U.S. leverage over Europe through energy supply.

Still, Biden has succeeded in uniting all the allies around an increasingly belligerent stance towards Russia, while also winning from them an agreement to a clause, in an official statement last June, citing the mounting “threat” of China to a “rules-based international order.” (I’m sure some leaders speaking privately say, ‘Look who’s talking”—but like amoral, unprincipled politicians anywhere they can perceive hypocrisy while formally embracing it. As all the NATO leaders have now done.)

Is it not, then, clear that—as the “left” agenda, which Biden once half-heartedly embraced and never campaigned for actively, collapses—Biden can boast of some limited success in drawing the world closer to World War III?

He can count on nearly all the Democrats to embrace the Big Lies—lies as preposterous as those accompanying the last several wars—even as they stomach the failure of his domestic program. Whether they do so from willful ignorance, dumb-ass patriotism, or craving for the apocalypse, they will support the Decent President, the alternative to the fascistic Donald Trump, as he plods on with the policy of NATO expansion.

Do they not know that Biden’s been the leading proponent of NATO expansion within the U.S. political leadership for many years, before and after the Feb. 2014 coup? Before and after his son Hunter’s appointment to the board of directors of Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company (2014- 19) making $50,000 a month? Do they do not know that immediately after the U.S.-backed Maidan coup spearheaded by neofascists, the U.S. selected the leadership, praising it as “pro-European” (because it supported NATO membership) and ignoring the fact that Ukraine is in fact a divided country that had elected the anti-NATO president that the U.S. targeted for toppling in the name of the Ukrainian people?

Yep. Biden can count on the most “woke” cable news anchor to declare that Putin wants to invade, even though Putin says Russia has no intention to invade, but rather it fears for its own security as an anti-Russian military alliance expands to completely encircle it. When Russia does not invade, count on them to say that Biden stood up and forced Putin to back down. If Ukrainian forces attack Donetsk, using the new weaponry flowing in from Britain and the U.S. to reestablish control over the breakaway republics, and the latter urgently renew their appeal for annexation to the Russian Duma, and Moscow does finally grant that admission, and does send in troops—count upon them to call this an unprovoked invasion!

The president can rest assured that no network is going to interview anyone who will throw the conversation off track by mentioning the importance of the Crimean Peninsula to Russia. Since 1783, to be precise, before the authoring of the U.S. Constitution. Or by mentioning (with a large map in the background) that the country of Russia, large though it is, has very few ports for trade or defense. That the fabled Sevastopol is from the Russian point of view an absolutely essential asset. That it was Russian until the Soviet leader Khrushchev in 1954 made the decision to add it to what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 they agreed that Russian forces would remain there until the expiration of a lease.

No, they can’t say that to people. They can’t mention that the post-coup regime in Ukraine planned to expel Russia from the Crimean base and turn it into a NATO one, and that that had been the point at along.

It remains the plan. It’s no secret. In 2008 Moscow informed Washington at the highest level that expansion of NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine would constitute a “red line.” Everybody knows what that means. Here it meant specifically: “Stop expanding your anti-Russian military alliance to surround us; it makes us very, very uncomfortable. You can’t imagine HOW uncomfortable, having never suffered a massive invasion of your country, as we did in 1941, 1914, 1812, 1707, 1605. We don’t like the idea of a country larger than Texas, sharing a long border with us, and linked with us by history and family ties, becoming a repository of NATO weaponry and base for the invasion of our country.”

Washington’s response? NATO announced that Ukraine and Georgia were on the list of countries to eventually be admitted. The Russians, who had suppressed their rage in 1999, when Bill Clinton began the post-Cold War expansion, violating the U.S. promise in 1989 NOT to expand the alliance, suddenly added Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary to the U.S. imperium; the Russians, who had indeed aided the NATO effort in Afghanistan after 9/11, while protesting loudly when George W. Bush expanded NATO to Russia’s very borders—these Russians now made it clear their patience was exhausted.

The brief 2008 Russo-Georgian War resulted in the humiliation of the Georgian forces, the disgrace of the puppet leader, and Moscow’s recognition of the two republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A red line is a red line. The 2014 coup—the most blatant in recent times, says Stratfor—produced a more or less immediate response from Moscow (and from the people of the Donbas region, who are predominantly ethnic Russian). Secessionism, in the face of viciously anti-Russian provisions announced by the new Duma, and the re-establishment of Russian sovereignty over Crimea. Here again, a red line is a red line.

The U.S. media—remember?—as always reported everything exactly backward. The Donbas uprising was not a product of local people’s agency but a Russian invasion! The quick bloodless seize of Crimea was not a defensive move to secure a vital naval stronghold, and keep it from enemy hands, no, no! it was an invasion there too!

Why? The pundits speak: There’s this inherent expansionist streak, they inform us, “in the Russian soul. Russians love strong brutal leaders who abuse them; that’s why they love Putin. Putin wants to revive the Soviet Union, we know he said it, it must be true. Why? Because he hates freedom!”

That is in fact the standard of analysis. You wonder what they pay these assholes. But they get the job done. The old articles of faith survive; it’s amazing how you can take the anti-communism of the 1950s and with a little tinkering apply it to the current situation. Just as the Soviet Union during the Cold War had no intention of invading central Europe, but it was necessary from time to time to spook the masses in the west with such a threat, so now Putin has no intention to annex Ukraine but the U.S. wants to wrap it into NATO.

And (again) Russia has said, from 2008, incorporation of NATO into that alliance is a red line. How many times, Putin asks, do we need to repeat ourselves?

How dare they! as the objective reporter, eyes glaring while following the teleprompter, protests. How dare they tell the Ukrainians who they can ally with! (You’d almost think they have poll numbers on hand showing the universality of NATO support in the country.)

No context. No knowledge. No insight. Just more traditional tribalism, with the most sophisticated people expressing the most naked, often racist, arrogance whenever they talk about the big world in which we live. Thus after the U.S. spends five billion dollars to interfere in the Ukrainian political process to topple a democratically elected president who rejects NATO membership and place a neonazi-backed puppet in power, that post-coup regime becomes the one that REALLY represents Ukraine. Ukraine calling on us to help it versus (more) Russian aggression!

Isn’t it obvious?

The Big Lie about Russia (or China) posing a threat, either to the U.S. itself or to its allies, and the use of that lie (or a whole package of lies) to push for war, is far more dangerous than the lie that Donald Trump “really” won the 2020 election. That the election was farcical I’ll readily grant; they all are. I’m not going to respond to this particular lie, anyway, by counseling people to go out and use their precious right to vote again. In fact, the proposition that, in this society, by exercising the right someone gives you to vote, you obtain the change you genuinely need, has been pretty much discredited by the glorious results of Biden’s victory so far.

Isn’t it clear?

The U.S. is in deep decline. China is rising as an economic powerhouse, indeed the engine of the world economy. The French have urged Buden to realize that from now on there will be three approximately equal main players: the EU, US, and PRC. U.S. efforts to impede the expansion of the Belt & Road initiative have failed, along with the outrageous attempt to shut down Nord Stream II. The U.S., whose more foolish pundits boasted of the triumph of (U.S.) capitalism and the end of history, is not able to command the obedience from its allies it could during the Cold War or even 20 years ago.

The U.S. is saddled with the shameful legacy of wars most of the world condemned. When I was growing up, the Vietnam War tainted the view of many people everywhere of this country. The image has not, I think, improved. The arrogance, and the naked hypocrisy, whenever they talk about invading and partitioning countries—like these are very bad things to do! Do they not know that much of their global audience snickers, asking disrespectful questions about the invasion of Iraq or partition of Serbia? The U.S. has zero moral authority in today’s world.

This is why it’s so important for doddering Biden, tiring perhaps of domestic politics, but content to have fulfilled his main role (as the restorer of normalcy), to turn his hand to the pressing matter of reestablishing U.S. leadership over the world. This man, Decent Joe (who had all the decency to present the Pope with a memento his son had taken with him while fighting in Iraq), who supported the war based on lies in Iraq (a war opposed by NATO members including Germany and France), has vowed that the U.S., not China, “will own” the 21st century. See how he thinks?

It is evil to even aspire to “own” a century. Never mind what it means, exactly. It’s offensive to other countries planning to continue to inhabit the same century. It’s another one of those dumb phrases that drip from the lips of the adherents of “American Exceptionalism” which now, more than ever, is prettification on the basis, ultimately, of religion. Promised Land, Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine…all concepts rooted in the primitive conviction that God gave America the right to settle, conquer, and rule the world.

So when the Pentagon and State Departments correspondents report on the threat of an invasion, assume that they’re actually reporting on is U.S. preparations for war. Do not expect them to have been pulled “left” in any way by developments in the Democratic Party. The belief in a reconfigured anticommunism, in which there is no communism, no movement directed from Moscow or Beijing, no military alliance anything comparable to the Warsaw Pact (which had itself as you know had been established as a modest response to NATO)—there is only an enemy, or country depicted as such, with a nuclear arsenal equal to that of the U.S.And (although they’re not talking about this much) there’s the very real prospect of a Russian-Chinese military alliance. That plus the economic integration of Eurasia could marginalize the Americas in the long term

So the U.S. must stand up! It must say to the world: No! You must not progress independently. We control the monetary system, the banking system. We have all kinds of ways to attain our ends.

One has the feeling this “crisis” in Ukraine (based entirely by media reports that Russia is about to invade, which the Russians have for their part dismissed, not that it matters) is a test of “U.S. leadership” (which is to say, ability to arm-twist Germany in particular and get everybody on board risking war with Russia). Biden wants to look strong. His supporters want him to look strong. CNN and MSNBC join Fox in criticizing Biden’s apparent suggestion that the U.S. could tolerate a small incursion but not full-scale invasion. How quickly did the White House respond with a correction!

When it becomes a comfort for some to hear, once again, that the U.S. will consider any incursion an invasion basis to shut Russia out of the SWIFT international business messaging system, which Moscow will appropriately call an act of war, you know that craziness is not confined to the Trump cultists.

There is little consciousness out there of the biggest lies, the most terrifying threats. Isn’t it obvious that we need a mass, trans-Atlantic campaign against NATO, as the crucial global tool of U.S. imperialism and its necessary ally in World War III?


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 Japan; Male 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

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