Insanity is at the wheel.
The U.S. Air Force launched a Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last Thursday, the U.S.’s second ICBM launch in one week. The missile, fired from a bunker in California, was aimed at an area of ocean near the Marshall Islands. The acknowledged purpose of the launches was intimidation of Russia.
According to a recent New York Times editorial on the administration’s requested “defense” budget, Russia is seen by the Pentagon as the primary threat to U.S. security. The editorial agrees, “We must deter Russian aggression.” Such a declaration is merely a parroting of the Pentagon’s and the Obama administration’s claims that Russia has acted aggressively, and it is the sort of jingoistic nonsense by which newspapers prepare a public for war.
The only instances of Russian aggression the editorial adduces are Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014, Russia’s supposed involvement in the civil war in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s involvement in the war in Syria, and Russian defensive missile buildups in its own territory and, now, in Syria. Let us look at each of these acts of “aggression.”
First, the missile defense systems. These are in Russia and in Crimea, which is now part of Russia. And they are in Syria, where Russia is involved in an air war. The Times frets that some of Russia’s missile defenses could reach into Polish airspace. Well, that is where a NATO air and missile attack would likely originate. The Times‘s hypocrisy here, which is the administration’s hypocrisy, is bald.
In Syria, an ally of Russia, the Russians have called Washington’s bluff and taken up the fight against ISIS. That they have been more effective in this fight than have U.S. air strikes suggests the U.S. really does not want to destroy ISIS, which is doing Washington’s dirty work of fighting for regime change in Damascus. In any case, neither Washington nor the New York Times can accuse Russia of “aggression” in Syria that is any more aggressive than Washington’s aggression in Syria.
Ukraine’s problems run deep, and all tunnels lead to Washington. In March of 2014, a video was leaked of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland admitting that Washington had spent $5 billion in an effort to influence the political future of Ukraine, a country on Russia’s border. In February of 2014 those $5 billion paid dividends in the form of a right-wing coup led by two parties, Svoboda and Right Sector, groups that have been openly fascist. A common chord among the new U.S.-backed leaders was their bellicose nationalist and anti-Russian rhetoric.
In view of these events, a wave of panic swept through eastern Ukraine, including Crimea where the population is approximately 63 percent ethnic Russian. Looking for protection, Crimea held a referendum on politically joining Russia in March of 2014. The results of the referendum and the conditions under which it was held have been hotly disputed. All mainstream media accounts, however, acknowledge that a majority of those who voted supported joining Russia. All such sources also note that Russian soldiers were in Crimea, though their purpose and conduct before and during the referendum are in dispute. Nevertheless, the administration and the mainstream media characterize these events as Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ignoring any participation by the Crimean people.
In eastern Ukraine, where the majority of the population are Russian speakers, resistance to the post-coup government in Kiev has been portrayed by Washington and the U.S. mainstream media as rebellion against a sovereign and legitimate government, even though that government ousted by force a democratically elected leader in Viktor Yanukovytch.
Certainly Russia benefited from the accession of Crimea. It helped secure its continuing rights to use Sevastopol, Russia’s only seaport on the Baltic, as home to its Baltic fleet. But let us grant every claim Washington makes about the annexation of Crimea and Russian participation in the civil war in eastern Ukraine as acts of Russian aggression. What would this mean?
In the Obama administration’s and the Pentagon’s representation of events, Russia is “an existential threat” to the security of the United States, and its aggression in Crimea is the main evidence of this threat. Such a geopolitical narrative is, as I have said, nonsense. The U.S. intervention in Ukraine is an act of aggression against Russia itself, in response to which any Russian action—legitimate or illegitimate—facilitating its annexation of Crimea must be seen as defensive in nature. Ukraine borders Russia, and the U.S.- and German-backed coup is one step in a series of steps taken in recent years to encircle Russia militarily. Other steps include a massive escalation in the arming of Poland and Estonia, which are intended to serve as forward bases for NATO hostilities with Russia.
Imagine that a country more wealthy and militarily powerful than the United States has meddled in the internal politics of Mexico and orchestrated a coup, putting in place a rabidly anti-American military government. Now imagine that the foreign power—Russia if you like—has begun a massive armament campaign in its ally Canada and has conducted war games near Windsor, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia. Would not Americans be apt to find such activities “aggressive”? While the analogy ultimately fails geographically—where is our Crimea?–it should serve to clarify just who the aggressor is.
One need not be—and I am not—a fan of Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchy to recognize that “Russian aggression” is a pretext for what is clearly a U.S. aggressiveness vis a vis Russia. The reason for U.S. aggression is its desperate attempt to maintain global dominance even as its economic might wanes, falling into the shadow of rising economies such as China, India and even Russia. The only clout the U.S. has at its disposal to maintain its hegemonic status is its immense military. Hence its provocations of Russia and, in the South China Sea, of China.
Here is Robert Work, the US deputy secretary of defense, in an interview immediately after Thursday’s missile launch, specifically naming Russia and China and describing the test firings as “a signal … that we are prepared to use nuclear weapons in defense of our country if necessary.” Russia and China, one recalls, are also nuclear powers. During the Cold War, such bellicose posturing was called brinksmanship. It was madness then, and it is madness now.
An important difference between those tense decades and our own moment, however, is that then the U.S. was economically healthy, though the seeds of de-industrialization and decline were sown as early as the Sixties. Today, the American corporate and financial elite and the politicians who represent them see that they are riding on a soap bubble. Not only the American economy, but the U.S. currency itself is threatened by rising economies and economic alliances like the BRICS nations.
Worse, from the perspective of heightening military tensions, it is ultimately global capitalism itself that is entering an existential crisis. As it does so, fault lines are appearing everywhere, such as among the nations of the European Union. For industrial nations facing economic calamity, war with its consumption of materiel and its promise of new markets and access to resources has always been a siren’s song. In this context, it is worth noting that last week’s issue of Germany’s Der Spiegel featured a bombastic article essentially calling for war with Russia. Whether this bit of propaganda was placed in the magazine from Germany’s own sense of adventurism or in concert with its NATO ally the United States, the lunacy of the proposition is the same.
We must take seriously the bluster of men like Work and U.S. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and chief of the U.S. European Command, who said recently that “the US and NATO must take a 360-degree approach to security—addressing the full spectrum of security challenges from any direction and [ensuring] we are using all elements of our nation’s power.” While such bellicose rhetoric can sometimes be chalked up to salesmanship when the time for approving a Pentagon budget rolls around, the firing of ICBM’s last week was real. The U.S. meddling in Ukraine is real, as is the advanced weaponry delivered to Poland. And no less real are the U.S. naval incursions into waters claimed by China in the South China Sea. These are material provocations the responses to which neither the White House nor the Pentagon can control or predict.
With the exception of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, we have never been so close to nuclear war. Only madmen would bring us to this pass. Will we trust those madmen to pull us back from catastrophe just in time? With the certain disasters headed our way as a result of climate change, how careful will our rulers be with the planet and our lives? What motivates, what deters such people?
We cannot say for certain. But there are clues. For instance, we might imagine what that $5 billion of our tax money spent on destabilizing Ukraine could have done for the schoolchildren of Detroit and the people of Flint, and for Americans in other crumbling cities for which we are told, so often that we begin to believe it, there is no money to help. In any case, while it is difficult to understand insanity, it is easy to picture what insanity is capable of.
Photo Source: jamesdrewjournalist.com