Cheering the Rise of Yet Another Capitalist Empire Hurts You and Me

April 14, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Marxist economist Richard Wolff makes two good points in an April 14 article, The Role of Capitalism in the War in Ukraine.

The first is that the “entire world is caught up in the decline of one capitalist empire and the rise of yet another.” The declining capitalist empire is the United States and the rising capitalist empire is Eurasia, at the center of which lies capitalist China and capitalist Russia. The decline of one capitalist empire and the rise of yet another can be characterized as the emergence of a multipolar capitalist world, to supersede one of US supremacy. This is the condition sought by the multipolaristas, a gaggle of people united by little more than a common abhorrence—not of capitalism, or imperialism, or wars of aggression—but of US foreign policy.

Wolff’s second point is that “a different economic system not driven by a profit motive offers a deeper solution to any on offer at present.” Lenin’s solution is a nonpolar world free from imperialism, in contrast to the multipolaristas’ cheerleading the rise of one capitalist empire as it challenges another.

Among Lenin’s “various definitions of imperialism, one of the most significant characterizes it as the claim of a few chosen nations to base their own prosperity and primacy on despoliation and domination of the rest of humanity. They regard themselves as model nations.” (Losurdo, Class Struggle, 2016, p. 158) We might think, for example, of the “model nation” which launches a crusade against what it says is neo-Nazism in a neighboring country, one intended to impose a Quisling government and integrate the country’s economy into that of the aggressor, or which pursues a humanitarian intervention under the pretext of arresting genocide.

A subsidiary point: Losurdo challenges a commonly held misconception that the Bolshevik leader’s understanding of imperialism can be reduced to a check list of characteristics that define individual states—that Lenin had one definition of imperialism, rather than several. These characteristics have been misrepresented in various places as criteria for determining whether a country is imperialist. In point of fact, they were Lenin’s descriptions of capitalism as a globe-girding economic system in what he called its highest stage—a stage in which capital had become highly concentrated; finance capital is dominant; the export of capital (as opposed to goods and services alone) is important; gigantic international corporations compete across the globe; and a few great powers have divided the whole world into spheres of influence. To repeat: This is a description of an economic system, not of individual countries. Another point: In a world economy of monopoly capitalism, imperialism is inevitable.

Lenin did not reduce imperialism to the export of capital or define it as an exclusively monopoly capitalist phenomenon. Consider these words from Lenin’s volume on imperialism: “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before this latest stage of capitalism and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and achieved imperialism.” (V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, 1939, p. 81-82)

Or this, a shock, perhaps, to those who believe Russia cannot be considered imperialist in any Leninist sense: “[Among] the six powers [that had divided the world], we see, firstly, young capitalist powers (America, Germany, Japan) which progressed very rapidly; secondly, countries with an old capitalist development (France and Great Britain), which, of late, have made slower progress than the previously mentioned countries, and, thirdly, a country (Russia) which is economically most backward, in which modern capitalist imperialism is enmeshed, so to speak, in a particularly close network of pre-capitalist relations.” (V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, 1939, p.  81)

To sum up. A country doesn’t have to be capitalist to be imperialist (imperialism, i.e., empires, existed long before capitalism.) Nor does it have to export capital (imperialism also antedated monopoly capitalism.) To be imperialist, all a nation must do, as Lenin explained, is oppress another nation. The essence of imperialism, wrote Lenin, is the “division of nations into oppressor and oppressed.” (V.I. Lenin, Declaration of Rights of The Working and Exploited People, 4 January, 1929 in Pravda No. 2 and Izvestia No. 2.)

Who exactly is hurt most in the struggles of capitalist empires? The answer is the class Lenin championed: ordinary working people.

In Ukraine, workers are plagued by invasion, displacement from their homes, the danger of death or injury, and the loss of jobs and incomes.

Ordinary Russians will soon struggle with rising prices and lost employment, if they aren’t already.

The working class in Europe, already careworn with declining purchasing power, will soon pay even higher rates for energy, and will be hurt further by higher taxes or reduced services or both as growing military outlays stress government budgets.

Worldwide, the struggle of empires puts upward pressure on prices, for food and energy especially. Hunger will increase. The difficulties of making ends meet will grow.

Finally, the struggle of capitalist empires carries with it the risk of a regional war escalating into a global conflagration. It’s something none of us—most all, ordinary working people—want.

Lenin’s solution, a nonpolar world free from imperialism, is not achievable by choosing sides in the struggles of competing capitalist empires. It’s only possible by doing away with capitalism and empire as institutions of domination and exploitation. And that won’t happen by cheerleading the rise of yet another capitalist empire, or supporting Russia’s efforts to reassert a sphere of influence in Ukraine and carry out a war of aggression on ordinary Ukrainians on the backs of ordinary Russians at the expense of ordinary people in Western Europe, North America, and the whole world over. Nor will it happen by encouraging the co-belligerent actions of the US government and its NATO subalterns in pursuing the US goal of fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian.

As governments representing bourgeois interests compete for markets, investment opportunities, strategic territory, and spheres of interest, it may be fitting to recall an observation of Marx and Engels: “The workers have no country.” Not Russia. Not China. Not the United States.

Pearl Harbor and the Anti-War Movement

By Stephen Gowans

February 28, 2022

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was the culmination, to that point, of the struggle between the United States and Japan for control of China and the Pacific. Pearl Harbor, a naval base located at the US colony of Hawaii (Hawaii did not become a state until 1959), is a synecdoche for a larger Japanese attack on US and British colonial possessions in East Asia and the Pacific. Not only did Japan attack Hawaii on December 7, 1941, home to the US Pacific Fleet, it also attacked the US colonies of Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, Wake Island and the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong.  

Landscape

The United States, Britain, the Netherlands, and other Western powers had increasingly encroached on Japan’s backyard, creating colonies and spheres of influence that not only threatened Japan’s access to the markets and raw materials of East Asia, but also stood as potential threats to Japan’s own sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“In Japanese eyes,” wrote historian John Dower, “it was the non-Axis West that aimed at world domination and had been engaged in that quest, with conspicuous success, for centuries; and it was the value system of the modern West…that explained a large part of its bloody history of war and repression, culminating in the current world crisis.” Later, “the American bombing of Japanese cities was offered as proof beyond any conceivable question of the bestial nature of the enemy.”

In August 1941, Japan laid the ideological groundwork for its impending attack. In a manifesto titled The Way of the Subject, Tokyo pointed to what it saw as a crisis that was enveloping East Asia, one traceable to the value system of the West. Western values included ways of thinking that “regard the strong preying on the weak as reasonable…and stimulate the competition for acquiring colonies and securing trade, thereby leading the world to a veritable hell of fighting and bloodshed.”

If war was to ensue, Japan warned, it would only be because the West had pushed it inevitably along war’s path.

Japan’s neighborhood, East Asia, was teeming with Western military bases and shot through with Western influence. It was a place, complained the Japanese, “where a half million British ruled 350 million Indians, and another few score thousands of Englishmen ruled 6 million Malayans; where two hundred thousand Dutchmen governed a native population of 60 million in the East Indies; where twenty thousand Frenchmen controlled 23 million Indochinese, and a few tens of thousands of Americans ruled over 13 million Filipinos. Eight hundred thousand white men, the tally went, controlled 450 million Asians.”

Tokyo noted that Japan, unlike the United States, Britain, France, and the Netherlands, was linked to the region by natural ethnic and geopolitical ties. As such, and as an avowed opponent of Western imperialism, Japan had an historical mission: to liberate its ethnic brethren—one Asian people—from the yoke of Western colonialism and fold them into a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere under Japanese leadership.

As Japan pushed into China in pursuit of its vision, upsetting Washington’s own designs on the country, the United States imposed an oil embargo. Dependent on the United States for oil, Tokyo cast its gaze upon the oil rich Dutch East Indies, which produced enough oil to satisfy Japanese needs. But Japan would first have to knock out the US fleet in the Pacific, based at Pearl Harbor, if it was to achieve its aim. The result would be the December 7 attack.

Some have argued that Washington deliberately provoked Tokyo to war and welcomed the attack, since it provided a justification for US entry into the war. Public opinion in the United States was against foreign entanglements and Japanese aggression would surely rally US Americans around the flag.  

Historical parallels

There are parallels between the US and Japanese struggle over East Asia, and the current US and Russian struggle over Eastern Europe.

Japan was a weak imperialist power, with limited colonial possessions, surrounded by strong Western powers which had pushed into Japan’s neighborhood over many decades. Tokyo had a number of grievances against its stronger imperialist rivals, and believed that as a Pacific country it had a geopolitical and ethnic affinity with the region. What’s more, Western rivalry threatened Japan’s economic success, since the country depended on access to raw materials and markets that Western powers either controlled, or could soon control. The Japanese, posing as anti-imperialists of the first order, lambasted the West for its imperialism in East Asia—an imperialism which, through successive waves, had pushed right up to Japan’s borders.

Japan’s critique of Western imperialism, did not, however, make Japan any less of an imperialist power itself, however much it might have wanted the world to believe otherwise. Nor did Tokyo’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere liberate the peoples of Asia from imperialism. It only liberated them for a time from Western imperialism, but visited upon them a Japanese imperialism that was even more vicious in some places and at some times than what it replaced.

We cannot know how antiwar organizations operating under principles that guide many North American antiwar organizations today would have responded to the events of December 7, 1941, but we can make a guess, based on the following principles and beliefs that appear to guide these organizations.

  • The existence of US imperialism negates the existence of its rivals’ imperialism.
  • A US rival’s war of aggression is not an attack or invasion or violation of the UN Charter; it is a ‘military operation’, or simply a crisis.
  • US rivals don’t start wars; they’re provoked to war.
  • All blame for a US rival’s war of aggression lies with Western powers.  
  • Accordingly, all responsibility for ending a US rival’s war of aggression lies with Western powers.

In regards to Pearl Harbor, today’s North American antiwar organizations would likely have quite fittingly condemned Washington for its imperialism and provoking a Japanese escalation to war, but at the same time, would likely have either apologized for the Japanese attacks as an unavoidable response to US provocation or would have simply ignored them. A demand would be made that the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, and other Western powers dismantle their colonies and renounce their spheres of influence, but no call would be made for Japan to cease its military operations or refrain from imposing its rule on the territories it attacked.

None of this would comprise an authentic anti-war analysis and set of demands, but would represent a one-sided, anti-Western-war view, that would happily leave Japan off the hook for its imperialism and for initiating a war of aggression.

An organization that is only against the wars of its own country and not those of other countries, is not antiwar, anymore than an organization that is only against the wars of other countries and not its own, has a tenable claim to the title of peace organization.

The War in the Pacific was an inter-imperialist struggle. If North American antiwar organizations operating under their current principles had shaped the view of that war, the story of Japan as a vicious, imperialist power, committed to aggressive war to achieve its aims, would never be told.

The Struggle of Russia and the United States for Ukraine

February 25, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

The “military operation” announced by Russian president Vladimir Putin on February 24, is the latest episode in a struggle between two powers, the United States and Russia, for control of Ukraine. There is little good that can be said about either of these powers.

Russia is no more a progressive state than is the United States, and, indeed, is a good deal less so. The country’s president, Vladmir Putin, an anti-Bolshevik apostle of “traditional values”, i.e., homophobia, misogyny, and religious superstition, is admired by the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps of the world, as well as some supporters of the trucker convoys, for his “anti-woke stance.” Trump thinks the world of Putin, much as US reactionaries of another time admired Hitler and Mussolini for their “strong” leadership and anti-Bolshevism. Putin has little good to say about Lenin and Stalin, disapproving of the Bolsheviks’ nationalities policies and criticizing Stalin for not pre-emptively attacking Nazi Germany. Putin proudly announced that he wouldn’t make in connection with Ukraine what he sees as Stalin’s mistake in connection with Germany.

Nor is Russia any less an imperialist state than the United States, though it is, to be sure, much less powerful than its US rival, far less dangerous, and its domains far less extensive. But it is imperialist, all the same, however much it is opposed to the prospect of its own domination by the United States. For all its anti-hegemonism, Moscow is not opposed to subjugating other countries. Russia intervened militarily in Syria in 2015, not out of a selfless commitment to rescuing the government in Damascus, but to advance Russian aims. Syria is a vassal of Moscow, and while Damascus may (or may not) find the terms of its vassalage preferable to those the United States would impose, it remains a Russian vassal state all the same.

As to Ukraine, it has the unfortunate fate of finding itself in the middle of an inter-imperialist struggle. Through subterfuge and machination, the United States in 2014 installed a pro-US, anti-Russian puppet government in Kyiv. That government has acted to integrate the territory, people, military, and markets of Ukraine into the United States’ informal empire. In insisting on membership in NATO, participating with NATO forces in military exercises along Russia’s borders, refusing to implement the Minsk II agreement, vigorously engendering opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and proclaiming its intention to reclaim Crimea, home to the Russian Black Fleet, the US puppet government in Kyiv has done much to provoke Russian aggression. Indeed, it is difficult to conclude that this wasn’t its aim, since Kyiv played it cards as if it was. Moscow would rather Ukraine be integrated into its own informal empire, the Eurasian Economic Union, though faute de mieux, it has been prepared to accept Ukraine neutrality. An independent Ukraine, one not under the de facto control of Washington, would likely have opted to join neither the (vast) informal empire of the United States nor the (much smaller) informal empire of Russia. But a Ukraine under the informal control of the United States has recklessly crossed so many Russian red lines.

On a moral and legal plane, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is indefensible. Putin’s invoking Article 51, Chapter VII of the UN Charter, (the right of self-defense in response to an attack) is a total farce, as is Putin’s claim that the Kyiv government is a neo-Nazi government and that Kyiv is carrying out a genocide against Russians. These claims demonstrate that Moscow can stoop as low as Washington in inventing totally ridiculous pretexts for wars of aggression. To be clear, there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine, a few in government, and more than a few in the military, but they tend to be Russophobes first and neo-Nazis second; that is, they’re neo-Nazis because they hate Russians—as in, the greatest enemy (the Nazis) of my enemy (Russia) is my greatest friend. That’s not to defend Russophobia, but the neo-Nazi reference is frequently invoked, not out of respect for the truth, but because its utility in shaping public opinion against Ukraine is greater, at least in the West, than pointing out that there are many Ukrainian nationalists who dislike Russia for its history of dominating Ukrainians, some of whom are neo-Nazis, and others who are not. Moreover, the presence of neo-Nazis in government and in the military is hardly unique to Ukraine.

As to Ukraine carrying out a genocide against its ethnic Russian population, this is only true if we accept the kind of infinitely flexible definition of genocide that the United States, in the person of Adrian Zenz, is infamous for deploying against China as an exercise in mobilizing public opinion against a rival. To be sure, the Ukrainian nationalist Russophobes in Kyiv have hardly sought to find an amicable way to co-exist with their ethnic Russian compatriots, but when Putin likens this behavior to genocide, he takes a page from the execrable Adrian Zenz, and shows himself to be just as execrable for doing so.

The Russian president says he has no plans to occupy Ukraine, and this may be true. Certainly, it would ill-serve Russia to become bogged down in a second Afghanistan. But Moscow says it intends to de-Nazify and de-militarize Ukraine, which means, it intends to install its own puppet government in Kyiv, after it jails or murders the Ukrainian nationalists who, whether neo-Nazi or not, are painted with a broad neo-Nazi brush. Thereafter, the Russian president will try to persuade ethnic Ukrainians that they’re part of the same Russian family, and should feel at home with their pro-Russian Quisling government.

The United States’ role in this tragedy is as much about its relationship with its former imperial rivals, Germany, Italy, and France, as it is about its attempts to weaken Russia. These three powers, and the Europe they lead, incessantly threaten to spin out of the US orbit. Increasingly, they talk of strategic autonomy, while pursuing economic integration with Russia and China, to US dismay. Russian aggression provides the occasion to bind Europe more firmly to the United States, by rallying Europe against Russia through the US instrument of NATO, and pressing the continent to sever some economic ties with Russia. Germany will be expected to cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, to its great disadvantage, since it will lose an inexpensive source of energy, and to the great advantage of the US liquid natural gas industry, which will fill the void with a more expensive product. While certification of the pipeline has only been suspended for now, Washington will continue to pressure Germany to cancel the pipeline altogether. The benefits of Russian aggression against Ukraine for the US investor class are so numerous, that champagne bottles must have popped in Washington and on Wall Street when the Russian president announced the beginning of his country’s military operation in Ukraine. European drift toward the Russian economy is eclipsed. NATO is strengthened, with indubitable benefits in new orders from NATO countries for arms from US weapons makers. Calls for more weapons purchases to bolster the US military will escalate; yesterday, for example, a Wall Street Journal op-ed demanded a naval build up. And the arms industry will run at full-tilt pumping weapons into Ukraine to fuel an insurgency, as Washington fights Russia to the last Ukrainian. Wars for which the United States has not participated except to act as an arms supplier have always been kind to the country’s investors; this one promises to be the same. Finally, Russian military operations, along with Western sanctions, will drain the Russian economy, weakening Russia, or at least stifle its growth, and make it less a formidable US rival. How could Wall Street not look with pleasure upon the prospects?

Information warfare

Most Left pundits and “anti-imperialists” thought Russia wouldn’t invade, and that Washington’s warning that an invasion was imminent was utter nonsense, along the lines of the Iraqi WMD scare. Patrick Cockburn, though hardly alone, dismissed the possibility of a Russian invasion, arguing that Russia had assembled too few troops along its borders to invade Ukraine. This was just Washington hype and war hysteria, he wrote. Others took as gospel the words of Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many fakes, disinformation, leaks, slander and lies” she said—a self-referential statement, it turns out. The lesson here is that governments lie but sometimes they don’t, and that it is unwise to assume that governments always lie or that ones that are in the cross-hairs of US aggression don’t. Putin talked of a US empire of lies. He omitted mention of a Russian empire of lies.

Before leaving the topic of information warfare, something ought to be said about RT (Russia Today). RT exists in the first instance to serve Russian ends, and specifically to propagate information favorable to the attainment of the goals of the Russian state. The modus operandi of RT’s US network is to act as a platform for anyone with a compelling critique of US policy or who will go to bat to defend Russia. There may be a partial overlap between the pursuit of Russian state aims, and the provision of progressive discourse and analysis, but no one should be mistaken that RT’s raison d’etre is to promote a progressive point of view. It is doubtful that RT would long provide a platform to persons whose critique of US society and foreign policy was matched by an equally rigorous critique of the Russian side. I may be wrong, but we may soon find out if this is true if anyone tries to advance, on RT, the kind of analysis I’m presenting here.

What ought to be done?

First, Ukraine should be neither the means to US ends nor the means to Russian ends. Ukraine ought to be the means to Ukrainian ends. The country must be allowed to develop independently and to choose its own government freely, without foreign interference or involvement. The country’s leaders must be answerable to the people of Ukraine, not to the president of the United States, nor the president of Russia. To achieve this, Russia must immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine and cease interfering in Ukrainian affairs. The United States and its satellites must do the same. Next, the countries of Europe, along with Canada, must withdraw from NATO. NATO is not a defensive alliance. Europe can readily defend itself against Russia. Its military expenditures are four times greater than those of the Russian Federation, (France’s alone are equal to Russia’s), and France has an independent nuclear force. NATO is a cover for the United States to maintain a military presence in Europe, on the territory of its former imperialist rivals. Al Haig, former NATO Supreme Commander and Secretary of State in the Reagan administration, once acknowledged that US troops are in Europe (stationed at what are called NATO bases to hide the fact that US bases are scattered across the continent) to ensure that European markets remain open to US exports and investment. Fourth, the United States and Canada must withdraw their forces from Europe (and from elsewhere abroad.) North American militaries must be re-oriented to self-defense, not power projection. The same demand must be made of all the world’s militaries; they must exist for one reason alone: to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The struggle against reactionaries who masquerade as anti-imperialists

Finally, regarding the variegated group that calls itself anti-imperialists. Anti-imperialists come in many hues. Marxists of various stripes are almost always anti-imperialist but tend to self-identify as Marxists (Marxists, Marxist-Leninists, Communists, socialists, and so on.) It is taken as a given that if you’re a Marxist, you’re anti-imperialist, and, hence, that the anti-imperialist moniker is unnecessary. But the converse isn’t always true—anti-imperialists are not always Marxists. Some people who self-identify as anti-imperialists, but not as Marxists (and I say some, not all), practice an anti-imperialism of a sort favored by Charles Lindbergh and others in the late 1930s and 1940s, and expressed as America First, a name that has resonance with Trump. Supporters of the America First cause admired Hitler and Mussolini, especially their opposition to bolshevism and the “wokeism” of the day, and opposed US war against fascism in Europe. Their intellectual descendants exist today. Some of them can be found on the conspiracy theory web site, Global Research. They admire Putin’s commitment to “traditional values,” including faith, homophobia, misogyny, submission to authority, and strong leadership. While they call themselves anti-imperialist, they’re really only opposed to US imperialism. The imperialism of Russia and few other countries never shows up on their radar. They are, in reality, anti-Marxist conservatives, who falsely identify as anti-imperialists to create a progressive façade to mobilize the energies of Marxist anti-imperialists to a reactionary agenda. These are the same frauds who have celebrated the far-right truckers’ convoys, and are very likely at this very moment denouncing anyone who has an unkind word to say about Vladimir Putin and his imperialist war on Ukraine. In its statement on the Russian aggression, the Party for Socialism and Liberation argued sagely that the role of anti-imperialists “is not to follow the line of countries in conflict with U.S. imperialism, but to present an independent program of peace and solidarity and anti-imperialism.” That is the hallmark of Marxist-inspired anti-imperialism. We can do without the other kind.

Sense and Nonsense About Ukraine

January 21, 2022

By Stephen Gowans

Joe Biden thinks, or at least says he thinks, that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would “be the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II.” Biden is either delusional, or supremely confident in the power of US propaganda to turn black to white, otherwise he couldn’t possibly summon the chutzpah to utter such arrant nonsense. Unless Russia plans (a) to invade Ukraine and then (b) burn it to the ground, as the United States did to North Korea from 1950 to 1953, or napalm and exfoliate the country, as Washington did to Vietnam, or bomb and sanction it into the stone age, as the Pentagon did to Iraq twice, or spend 20 years killing civilians in drone strikes as four US administrations did to Afghanistan, then Russia could hardly match the United States in producing consequential markers on the record of post-World War II war and peace.    

Equally absurd are the remarks of the leader of one of Washington’s favorite lickspittles, the government of Canada. “We are working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression is absolutely unacceptable,” intoned the popinjay Justin Trudeau, a man whose servility to US interests is without limit. “We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full court press to ensure Russia respects the people of Ukraine.” Too bad Canada hadn’t acted to ensure the United States respected the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to say nothing of the peoples of Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Palestine, among others.   

The emperor and his Canadian viceroy

To avoid the terrible fate of being excommunicated from the church of respectable bourgeois politics, Canada’s peace and love party, the NDP, advocated the use of “sanctions” rather than “war” to deter what is said by governments and respectable (i.e., bourgeois) media in the West to be an anticipated Russian “aggression” against Ukraine, thus accepting as legitimate and propagating two spurious claims: (1) that sanctions—which regularly produce death and misery in excess of what is wrought by bullets, shells, bombs, and missiles—are a peaceful and desirable alternative to war, rather than a means of warfare itself, and a particularly vicious one at that; and that (2) Russian aggression lies at the heart of the dispute over Ukraine.

At its base, the conflict between Russia and the United States pivots on the question of security guarantees. Russia has asked for them and the United States refuses to grant them. Why does Russia feel insecure?

For one thing, the country, along with China, is at the center of the US reticle—Russia constituting what Washington calls a “revisionist power.” “Revisionist”, in US hands, means seeking to revise the international rules-based order—an order based on a set of shifting rules of which the United States alone is the architect and which it invokes whenever convenient, for its own benefit. Revising the international order is refusing to do whatever the US commands. The US president, uncrowned king of the world, or much of it, might as well intone, “The international rules-based order, c’est moi.”  US politicians and journalists are quick to use the words “dictator” and “authoritarian” to refer to the targets of US aggression, but, skilled propagandists to a person, refuse to use the words in reference to Washington’s own relationship with the rest of the world. Yet the words fit to a tee. The United States seeks a relationship of prepotency vis-à-vis other countries. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger described the relationship this way, in an amusing 1970s song, sung to the tune Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle came to town

H-bombs in his pocket

Says chum if you don’t toe the line

I’ll blast you with my rockets

To be sure, the dictator’s tools of coercion have always surpassed H-bombs alone and include sanctions (more aptly known as starving people into submission, a favorite of Canada’s “peace-loving” NDP), fomenting rebellions, and declaring US toadies to be the legitimate leaders of countries that defy the US  dictatorship (Juan Guaidó, for example.)

In 2019, the RAND Corporation, the Pentagon’s think tank, drew up a list of measures the United States and its satellites, such as henchman Canada, could take to “overextend and unbalance” Russia as a means of coercing Moscow to toe the US line. The measures were:

  • Expand U.S. energy production to stress Russia’s economy, potentially constraining its government budget and, by extension, its defense spending. By adopting policies that expand world supply and depress global prices, the United States can limit Russian revenue.
  • Increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia to economically extend Russia.
  • Impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy. 
  • Challenge the legitimacy of the state. Create the perception that Moscow is not pursuing the public interest by focussing on widespread, large-scale corruption.
  • Encourage domestic protests and other nonviolent resistance to distract or destabilize the Russian government.
  • Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige. 
  • Encourage the emigration from Russia of skilled labor and well-educated youth.
  • Relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.

The point is that the United States views Russia as a challenge to what the late Hugo Chavez once called the international dictatorship of the United States and Washington has not sat idly by, allowing the challenge to its dictatorship to stand, as evidenced by RAND’s recommendations.

The second reason for Russia to feel insecure, if the first isn’t enough, is that the United States is the world’s greatest menace to peace, contrary to the efforts of Joe Biden, Justin Trudeau, sanctions-loving social democrats, and the Western bourgeois media to flip this reality on its head. The United States’ addiction to war—according to Washington’s own Congressional Research Service, “the US military has waged war, engaged in combat, or otherwise employed its forces aggressively in foreign lands in all but eleven years of its existence”, that is, in more than 95 of every 100 years since 1776—is brushed aside. Twenty years in Afghanistan, the destruction of Iraq, the illegal occupation of Syria, the air war on Yugoslavia, the bombing of Panama and invasion of Grenada, wars on the peoples of Vietnam and Korea, to say nothing of wars of economic aggression on these and countless other countries—all these US aggressions are forgotten. Instead, we’re led to believe that, motivated by a desire to recover territory lost to the Russian empire, Vladimir Putin has asked for security guarantees he knows Washington cannot grant, and will use the denial of these guarantees as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Why the United States cannot guarantee Russia’s security, and why security guarantees are “non-starters”, is never explained. However, the undeniable US record of worshiping Mars is explanation enough: The United States cannot provide security guarantees, because the rules-based international order, of which the United States is the sole architect and its plutocrats the principal beneficiaries, depends on military threat and aggression as its ultima ratio. The alluring goal of integrating Russia into the US economy as a complement to, rather than as a rival of, corporate USA, offers too many lucrative profit-making opportunities for Washington to voluntarily surrender its program of anti-Russian military pressure.

Moscow has presented its request for security guarantees in the form of two proposed treaties, one with the United States and the other with the United States’ instrument, NATO. As far as I can tell, the details of the proposed treaties have never been presented in major US media, perhaps because they contradict the Western narrative of Russian belligerence.

Draft treaty with the United States: 

  1. Russia and the US shall not use the territory of other countries to prepare or conduct attacks against the other; 
  2. Neither party shall deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles abroad or in areas where these weapons could reach targets inside the other’s territory; 
  3. The US shall not open military bases in the post-Soviet countries that are not already NATO members, use their military infrastructure, or develop military cooperation with these states;
  4. Neither party shall deploy nuclear weapons abroad, and any such weapons already deployed must be returned. Both parties shall eliminate any infrastructure for deploying nuclear weapons outside their own territories; 
  5. Neither party shall conduct military exercises with scenarios involving the use of nuclear weapons; and, 
  6. Neither party shall train military or civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons. 

Draft treaty with NATO.

  1. NATO shall not expand further east and must commit to excluding Ukrainian membership; 
  2. NATO shall not deploy additional forces or arms outside the borders of its members as of May 1997 (before the alliance started admitting Eastern European countries); 
  3. NATO shall not conduct any military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, or Central Asia; 
  4. Russia and NATO shall not deploy short- or intermediate-range missiles within range of each other’s territories; 
  5. All parties shall refrain from conducting military actions above the brigade level which shall be confined to a border zone to be mutually agreed upon; and,  
  6. Neither party shall regard the other as an adversary or create threats to the other, and all parties shall commit to settling disputes peacefully, refraining from the use of force.

The provisions of the proposed treaties are in no way aggressive. On the other hand, the expansion of an anti-Russian military alliance up to the border of Russia, a country the alliance-leader, the United States, defines as a challenger to its hegemony, is unquestionably menacing to Russia. As to the canard that NATO cannot possibly pose a threat to Russia, for, after all, it’s merely a defensive alliance, that too depends on historical amnesia. An alliance that was at the center of unprovoked wars on Yugoslavia, Libya, and Afghanistan, is, ipso facto, an instrument of aggression. It is also an instrument of US domination, used (a) to keep Washington’s former imperialist rivals Germany, Britain, France, and Italy under US tutelage; (b) to create markets for US weapons manufacturers by demanding that NATO lackeys buy weapons systems that interoperate with the US military; and (c) to enlist NATO subalterns in the US project of “overextending and unbalancing” states that remain outside the US empire.

It may, contrary to what one reads in the press, be very much in the interest of Washington to provoke a Russian invasion of Ukraine. What better way to overextend and unbalance the Eurasian giant? A Russian invasion of the east European country would be a march into a quagmire. Washington welcomes the opportunity to overextend and unbalance Russia via a Ukrainian proxy—that is, to carry on the US war on Russia to the last Ukrainian. What’s more, and referring back to the RAND Corporation’s proposals, what better way than by provoking an invasion of Ukraine to do the following?

  • Undermine Russia’s image abroad to diminish Moscow’s standing, influence and prestige. 
  • Create a justification to impose deeper trade and financial sanctions to degrade the Russian economy. 
  • Provide a pretext to relocate bombers and missiles within easy striking range of key Russian strategic targets to raise Russian anxieties.
  • Pressure Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2 to increase Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia as a means of economically weakening Russia.

“Strobe Talbott, the original choreographer of NATO expansion in the post-cold war order,” as  M.K. Bhadrakumar describes him, has “triumphantly congratulated Blinken and Jake Sullivan for cornering Russia.” And well he should. In Ukraine, Washington has created an anti-Russian state on Russia’s border, which, while not formally integrated in NATO, is a de facto NATO asset. Left alone, Ukraine poses a threat to Russia. Invaded by Russia, it remains equally a threat.   

Provoking a robust Russian reply to an advancing and predatory NATO offers other benefits to Washington as well. France and Germany—the principal EU actors—evince a growing desire to achieve a strategic autonomy that would allow them to take advantage of the economic opportunities a closer relationship with Russia would create. Growing Russian-European economic integration would disadvantage US corporations. For example, in preference to reliance on Russian natural gas, Washington has pressed Europe to purchase liquid natural gas from the United States, even though the cost is much higher. Washington has also balked at the prospect of EU military autonomy on the grounds that it would cut US arms companies out of contracts for military provisioning. In other words, the United States uses its dominance over its former imperial rivals to tilt the field in favor of corporate USA (and also to keep former and therefore potential future imperialist rivals in check.) There’s a cost, then, of belonging to the US empire—sacrificing one’s own economic interests to those of the US plutocracy. A Russian invasion of Ukraine would provide Washington with a moral argument to pressure Germany and France into renouncing their growing openness to Russia in favor of more openness to corporate USA, while cementing Europe’s place in the US empire and countering the gravitational pull of Russia on European economies.  

Russia is clearly threatened by the United States and its NATO alliance, and the treaties proposed by Russia to guarantee its security would desirably stay the hand of an aggressive Washington, to the benefit not only of Russia, but to those of us who live in NATO countries who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, from the US plutocracy’s continuing predatory advance on its rivals. It is not Russians who are our enemy. Our enemies are the leaders of the column in whose ranks we are invited to march.

+++

Coming soon. The Killer’s Henchman: Capitalism and the Covid-19 Disaster. Available for pre-order from Baraka Books.

Did Putin order the assassination of Alexei Navalny?

By Stephen Gowans

September 25, 2020

The question of whether the Russian president ordered the killing of a marginal Russian politician is unclear; at the moment, there’s no evidence he did, only an accusation by the United States. And since Washington has a clear political motive to blacken the reputation of the president of a country it deems a peer competitor, its accusation, unencumbered by evidence, can be readily dismissed. What’s not so readily dismissed, however, is the reality that the US government and major Western news media are using the events surrounding the alleged poisoning to call for the cancellation of a pipeline that would transport Russian natural gas directly to Germany. The cancellation would simultaneously hurt Russia and benefit the United States. Washington proposes to sell liquefied natural gas to Germany, at a higher cost to Germany than the Germans would pay to import natural gas from Russia. The cancellation of the pipeline and its replacement by US LNG shipments, would bind Germany more strongly to the United States, by making the country more dependent on the United States for its energy needs, and less dependent on Russia, while creating a handsome profit-making opportunity for US energy and shipping firms. Putin had a very weak motive to eliminate Navalny. The latter is a marginal opponent, but the United States has a strong motive to create a pretext to call for the cancellation of the pipeline; the cancellation would open the door to US LNG sales to Germany. That motive may have impelled Washington to use the Navalny incident to opportunistically accuse Putin of an attempted assassination and to call for the cancellation of the pipeline in retaliation, or worse, may have involved the United States in faking an assassination attempt, relying on the complicity of Navalny, who has in the past received US government funding.

Introduction

I can’t know whether Alexei Navalny, a low-profile Russian politician, was the target of a Putin-ordered assassination attempt, but I do know that the account offered by Western governments and news media, alleging that the Russian president or his underlings ordered Navalny eliminated, is far from convincing. Indeed, the narrative is nonsensical, and requires the suspension of critical judgment to be believed. To this point, it is nothing more than an accusation without evidence.

The fact of the matter is that the events surrounding the collapse of Navalny on an airplane and his subsequent hospitalization in Germany are murky. There are many questions about the Navalny affair that remain unanswered, observed The New York Times in a September 22 editorial. “And this will likely remain so. Chief among them is whether President Vladimir Putin ordered or approved the attempted assassination.” [1]

Basis for the accusation

On what basis does The New York Times raise the question of whether Putin tried to murder Navalny?

To begin, we’re told that it “is now an established fact, confirmed by laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.” [2] Embedded in this observation is an insinuation, namely, that if Novichok was developed by the Soviet state, then only the agents of its successor state, Russia, could have used it. This was the argument used by the British government to explain a previous alleged Novichok poisoning—that of Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence agent who spied for the British, was caught and jailed in Russia, and later released in a prisoner exchange. Since no one else had the means and motive to do this, argued London, the Russian state must have been involved.

It needn’t be pointed out that it doesn’t follow as a logical necessity that because the nerve agent was developed in Russia that it remains exclusively in Russian hands. For “a number of years specialists from Western states and relevant NATO centres have been developing chemical substances related to the ‘Novichok’ group,” contends The Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union.  The Mission claims the United States “has issued more than 150 patents for combat use of the mentioned chemical substances.” [3]

The claim, of course, may or may not be true; I’m in no position to verify it. But arguing that because Novichok was made by Soviet scientists that only Russian agents could have used it, is akin to attributing the death of anyone who has ever been killed by an AK-47 to Moscow, since the machine gun was developed by a Soviet engineer. It also converges on blaming the Swedish government for every hit and run death involving a Volvo.

Considering that Putin was accused in the West of ordering Skripal’s assassination, it would seem highly unlikely that Novichok would, at this point, be the murder weapon of choice for Russian assassins. “The perpetrators knew that Novichok had been identified in the attack against Mr. Skripal,” observed the Times, “and that its use was a violation of international law.” [4] This, the editorial board offered as evidence of Putin’s culpability. But far from inculpating the Russian president, the Times’ observation seems, on the contrary, to point to a different explanation: That whoever poisoned Navalny (if indeed he was poisoned) did so with the intention of framing Moscow. Novichok, as a consequence of the Skripal case, and the ‘Made in the USSR’ label stamped on it by Western officials and news media, has turned the nerve agent into a Russian calling card. Only the most incompetent assassin would leave a calling card behind as an identifier. Indeed, if we’re to believe the conspiracy theory favored by Western governments and news media, we must believe that Russian intelligence is so incompetent that it’s (i) incapable of  successfully carrying out assassinations (both Navalny and Skripal survived their putative poisonings), and that (ii) it has a self-defeating penchant for littering crime scenes with signs the West can use to point an accusatory finger at Moscow.

What’s more, how credible is a narrative that relies on a nerve agent as a murder weapon? A bullet to the head, a garrote around the neck, a stiletto to the heart, or maybe even a plastic bag over the head, followed by dismemberment by a bone-saw, much favored by Mohamed bin Salman’s henchman, are surely simpler and more effective ways of eliminating a political foe. Death by Novichok has a Hollywood feel about, more James Bond than reality.

Chauvinist hypocrisy

Significantly, MBS, the day-to-day ruler of the Saudi feudal tyranny, can order the carving up of a critic, Jamal Khashoggi, and still The New York Times editorial board eschews any reference to the Saudi government as a regime, in contrast to the fondness it has for tarring with the R word any state that refuses to genuflect to US global primacy, Russia included.  Neither do the same Western officials and news media demand accountability of MBS, a US client, as they do Putin, the head of a government which does not bow to the international dictatorship of the United States.  

That Navalny survived his poisoning, as did Skripal, despite the lethality of the nerve agent—surely low probability events—invites another question: How likely is it that an assassin’s target would survive poisoning by a deadly toxin? Is it not reasonable to ask: Were Navalny and Skripal really poisoned by Novichok? If so, has the nerve agent’s deadliness been accurately described?  

Navalny: US hero, Russian nobody

Western officials and news media present Navalny as a major political figure in Russia, but in seven polls conducted from April 2014 to December 2019 by The Levada Center, a Russian polling organization, Navalny’s support never exceeded 2 percent of Russian voters. [5] According to Fred Weir, the veteran Russia correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, “Navalny, who is part of the extra parliamentary opposition, he’s kind of like, say, the Communist Party would be in the United States. Or something like that. He’s definitely on the margins.” [6] Which invites the question: Why would the Russian president seek to assassinate a figure who’s definitely on the margins? Doing so would only raise Navalny’s meager profile, and provide ammunition to Western governments and news media to further their war on Russia. “Navalny,” concludes Weir, “is little more than a nuisance, and I can’t believe that Putin would rocket him to the top of the world political agenda through a botched attempt to assassinate him or even an effective one.” [7] This would be self-defeating. The preferred Western narrative demands that we suspend critical judgment to believe that Russian assassins are the world’s most incompetent, incapable of successfully carrying out their missions, and that Putin is an inept practitioner of the political arts.  

Nord Stream 2

As Navalny rockets to the top of the world political agenda, his name is invoked increasingly in connection with Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to carry natural gas from Russia directly to Germany, by-passing such US clients as Ukraine. The pipeline, nearing completion, will join Nord Stream 1 as a second direct Russia-to-Germany route. US president Donald Trump has criticized Berlin, opining that the pipeline should never have been allowed to have been built, and has vowed to impose sanctions to stop it. Germany’s purchase of Russian natural gas, Trump charges, will make the US satellite “captive to Russia” and enrich Moscow. [8] The reality, of course, is that the pipeline will make Germany less captive to the United States. Furthermore, Nord Stream 2 will allow Germany to reduce its imports of Persian Gulf oil, eroding US oil company profits. Successive US administrations, reported The Wall Street Journal, “have pushed Europe, and Germany in particular, to create the infrastructure required to receive shipments of liquefied natural gas from the U.S.—a potential source of large revenues” for US big business, as an alternative to buying from Russia. But liquefied natural gas “from the U.S. needs to be shipped over the Atlantic and would be considerably more expensive than Russian gas delivered via pipelines. A senior EU official working on energy regulation said Russian gas would be at least 20 percent cheaper.” All the same, Washington wants Europe to “agree to some sort of racket and pay extortionate prices,” as one EU official put it. [9] In order to maintain Germany’s energy dependency on the United States, Trump has ordered the Germans to stop Nord Stream 2, and a plan is being bruited about in Washington to sanction companies involved in the pipeline’s construction.

As Canadian journalist Eric Reguly explains:

“U.S. President Donald Trump has condemned the project, and several senior Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz, have called for sanctions against the German port that is helping to build the pipeline. The Novichok poisoning in August of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has heightened calls outside and inside Germany to kill Nord Stream.” [10]

Navalny may very well be an instrument of a racket developed by Washington to coerce Germany into paying extortionate rates to US energy firms. The New York Times editorial board has added its voice to the growing chorus of calls for “the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” [11] and for the silent but implied call for the purchase by Germany of US liquefied natural gas. How convenient that there’s a surplus of US natural gas ready to be transported across the Atlantic if and when the pipeline is cancelled in retaliation for Putin’s alleged assassination of a political opponent.

In contrast, the Times has not called for an end to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and US senators haven’t demanded that the United States impose sanctions on the Saudi kingdom, even after US intelligence concluded that MBS ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; indeed, even after the kingdom’s de facto ruler ordered the assassination of not a single man but a whole nation when he initiated an unprovoked war on Yemen. To be sure, the complication here is that the war on Yemen is led from behind by Washington [12] and arms sales to the Saudis are highly lucrative and a source of Brobdingnagian profits for the US arms industry. By comparison, Russian natural gas sales to Germany deny US investors a profit-making opportunity, while at the same time increasing German dependence on Russia while concurrently reducing it on the United States. What’s more, while there is credible evidence MBS ordered the Khashoggi dismemberment, there is no evidence that the attempted assassination of Navalny was ordered by Putin. 

The US-Navalny nexus

It should be pointed out that while Navalny is a marginal figure in Russia, he is a figure to which the US government is willing to give money. As evidenced by the contradictory way he his portrayed by Western news media and his derisory status in Russia, Navalny’s significance is many times greater in the West than it is in his home country. He is Washington’s man.

The National Endowment for Democracy, a discreditable organization created by the US government to overtly undertake civil interventions abroad that the CIA once undertook covertly, has provided Navalny with financial assistance, according to The New York Times. This was reported under the headline, “Russia isn’t the only one meddling in elections. We do it too.” [13] In an August 2007 article titled “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique reported that the NED “was created in 1983, ostensibly as a non-profit-making organisation to promote human rights and democracy. In 1991 its first president, the historian Allen Weinstein, confessed to The Washington Post: ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.” [14] In other words, the NED overtly works to destabilize governments Washington doesn’t like, namely, those that in the interests of democracy refuse to submit to rule from Washington. That US meddling in other peoples’ affairs is carried out under the bold guise of promoting democracy and human rights reveals the boundless hypocrisy of the US government. Navalny is an instrument of this apparatus, a tool for Washington to try to destabilize a country it regards as a peer competitor, and to use in the project of upending a pipeline project that favors Russia at US investors’ expense.

Assassins R US

The spectacle of US officials and news media expressing moral repugnance at the assassination of political opponents is, frankly, vomit-inducing. The US government runs the world’s largest assassination program. The Pentagon and CIA, working together, regularly assassinate by means of drone strikes anyone who takes up arms against the United States’ political, military, and economic domination of their homeland—a domination which challenges the concepts of democracy, self-determination, and human rights. One particularly gruesome weapon used by US assassins is named appropriately, the Ninja; it’s a “modified Hellfire missile” which carries  “six long blades tucked inside, which deploy seconds before impact to slice up” its prey, [15] recalling the bone-saw used to slice up Jamal Khashoggi.

Conclusion

The Russian president “had the greatest motive, means and opportunity” to attempt an assassination of Navalny, reasons the New York Times editorial board, pointing to Putin as the perpetrator of a botched assassination, and demanding that he be held to account (by, inter alia, cancelling Nord Stream 2, thus preparing the way for US energy and shipping companies to step into the breach and profit handsomely.) The reasoning is flawed. While the Russian leader may have had the motive, means, and opportunity, others also had the motive, means, and opportunity, and perhaps to a greater degree. It doesn’t make sense for Putin to have targeted an inconsequential opponent unless he is a fool; indeed, such an act would be self-defeating, and no one questions the nous of the Russian president. Moreover, it makes no sense that if Navalny were truly the object of an assassination attempt that Russian operatives would use Novichok, since Western officials and news media had already run a campaign, in connection with Sergei Skripal, to indelibly stamp “Made in Russia” on the toxin. As mentioned above, using Novichok would be akin to leaving a calling card, an act more befitting agents trying to frame Russia than Russian agents trying to evade detection. At the same time, the US government, which decries Russia as a peer competitor and has entered into a low-level war against it, has its own motive. It is forever on the look out for opportunities to demonize the Russian president, in order to justify new actions to weaken Russia, including calling for the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, an event that should it transpire will create an important profit-making opportunity for US businesses. The events surrounding the Navalny incident offer a pretext for actions by the United States against Russia and on behalf of US investors. The possibility that the affair is a politically motivated operation run by Washington in aid of US corporate interests (both directly in securing a market for US LNG exports and indirectly in keeping one economic competitor, Germany, under the US thumb, and another, Russia, deprived of natural gas revenues) cannot be easily dismissed.

1. The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Thinks He Can Get Away With Anything,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2020.

2. Ibid.

3. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union Comments on the situation with Alexey Navalny, Sep 15, 2020, https://russiaeu.ru/en/novosti/permanent-mission-russian-federation-european-union-comments-situation-alexey-navalny .

4.  The Editorial Board

5. https://www.levada.ru/en/2020/02/18/presidential-election-2/

6. Aaron Maté, “In Navalny poisoning, rush to judgment threatens new Russia-NATO crisis,” The Grayzone, September 6, 2020.

7. Ibid.

8.  Emre Peker, “Trump slams Germany over gas imports from Germany,” The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2018.

9.  Bojan Pancevski, “Trump Presses Germany to Drop Russian Pipeline for Trade Deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2018.

10. Eric Reguly, “A dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean has brought Turkey and Greece close to war once again. But this time it’s different,” The Globe and Mail, September 11, 2020.

11. The Editorial Board.  

12. Stephen Gowans, “The US-Led War on Yemen,” what’s left, November 6, 2017, https://gowans.blog/2017/11/06/the-us-led-war-on-yemen/

13. Scott Shane, “Russia isn’t the only one meddling in elections. We do it too.” The New York Times, February 17, 2018.

14. Hernando Calvo Ospina, “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique, August, 2007, https://mondediplo.com/2007/08/04ned .

15.  Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Commandos Use Secretive Missiles to Kill Qaeda Leaders in Syria,” The New York Times, September 24, 2020.

How the US intends to keep its group of corporate marauders on top

March 24, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

On March 22, The Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Gordon reported on how “Marines plan to retool to meet China threat.” What Gordon refers to as China’s “threat”, turns out to be the threat of China being in a position to defend itself. [1] Here are annotated excerpts from Gordon’s article.

[Over the past decades] China and Russia worked on systems to thwart the American military’s ability to assemble forces near their regions. … If war broke out … China could … keep U.S. warplanes at bay.

Russia similarly would use the surface-to-surface missiles, air defenses and antiship missiles deployed in Kaliningrad and on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea…

The Chinese and Russian advances [in self-defense] led the Pentagon to conclude that the U.S. was entering a new age of great-power conflict [which is to say, an age in which the US would no longer be able to easily dominate China and Russia militarily.]

[In response, the US Secretary of Defense at the time James] Mattis oversaw the development of a new national defense strategy, which asserted that the long-term competition with China and Russia was the Pentagon’s top priorit[y].

[As part of the new military strategy all] branches of the armed forces are honing new fighting concepts and planning to spend billions of dollars on what the Pentagon projects will be an era of intensified competition with China and Russia [aimed, from the US side, at overcoming China’s and Russia’s ability to keep US forces at bay.]

Among an array of new high-tech programs, the Air Force is developing a hypersonic missile that would travel five times the speed of sound…

The Marine Corps is … developing the ability to hop from island to island in the western Pacific to bottle up the Chinese fleet.

Why does Washington feel the need to bottle up China’s fleet and assemble forces on Russia’s perimeter? Perhaps the 2017 US National Security Strategy explains.

Marines

The Strategy defines the world as “an arena of continuous competition” among three great powers: The United States, China, and Russia. China and Russia are designated as ‘revisionist” powers. They are “revisionist” because they seek to “revise” the international order—one in which the United States has political, military, and economic primacy. In this world, China and Russia seek “to shape a world consistent with their…model…to promote their own interests at the expense of…America and our allies,” according to Mattis. [2] At the root of the competition is a battle for economic supremacy. “We must do everything possible,” said Mattis, “to advance an international order that is most conducive to our … prosperity.”

The Strategy’s specific grievances with China pivot on the Communist Party’s challenge to US business interests. China is deemed a threat because it “subsidiz[es] its industries, forc[es] technology transfers, and distort[s] markets,” and resolves to make economies less open to US free enterprise. Free enterprise, the Strategy says, is central to who US citizens are as a people. What this really means is that free enterprise is central to who the owners of free enterprise are as a class.

The Strategy’s principal concern is that China is expanding the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reordering the Asia-Pacific region in its favour at the expense of corporate America.

Additionally, Washington opposes China’s challenge to the Monroe Doctrine, the nineteenth century instrument of US imperialism which effectively declares Latin America a US sphere of influence. China, the Strategy complains, seeks to pull Latin America into its orbit through state-led investments and loans.

US planners define Russia as a great power competitor for many of the same reasons. Russia, the Strategy says, seeks to establish spheres of influence near its borders, contest US geopolitical advantages, and bolster communist Cuba while supporting socialist Venezuela.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy echoes the National Security Strategy’s themes:

The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers …. [China] continues to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future…[At the same time, Russia] seeks [to] change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favour … China and Russia are now undermining the international order … by … undercutting its principles and “rules of the road.”

The late John McCain, a principal figure of the US foreign policy establishment, explained what the rules of the road are and where they come from. “We are the chief architect and defender of an international order,” wrote the US senator, “governed by rules derived from our political and economic values.” He added: “We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules.” [3]

Failure to meet US defense objectives, the Strategy declares—that is, failure to enforce the US rules of the road—“will result in … reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.”

The United States, then, is planning for wars, which, if they happen, will be wars of industrial extermination, undertaken for the sole purpose of ensuring its group of corporate marauders stays on top. How many of us want to get dragged into global conflagrations to ensure that US investors continue to receive the lion’s share of the world’s potential profits?

1. Apropos of this are the remarks of China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

China’s National People’s Congress has never introduced any bill on the internal affairs of the United States. However, the US Congress has reviewed and adopted one bill after another that blatantly interferes in China’s internal affairs. China has never sent its military vessels and aircraft to the neighborhood of the United States to flex muscles, yet the US naval ships and airplanes have been flexing muscles at China’s doorsteps. China has never sanctioned any US businesses. On the contrary, we welcome US businesses to invest in China, and we have provided them with a sound business environment. However, the United States has tried every opportunity and means to suppress Chinese companies. It has introduced unilateral sanctions against Chinese companies by exercising long-arm jurisdiction, and tried to limit China’s development rights. So talking about threat, it is not that China is threatening the US, but the US is threatening China. [Emphasis added.]

2. “Read Jim Mattis’s letter to Trump: Full text,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
3. John McCain, “John McCain: Why We Must Support Human Rights,” The New York Times, May 8, 2017.

How an evidence-free CIA finding alleging Russian interference in the US election was turned into an indisputable ‘truth’

December 17, 2016
Updated December 18, 2016

By Stephen Gowans

Only a few days ago the New York Times acknowledged that the CIA finding that the Kremlin hacked the Democratic National Convention’s computers with the intention of influencing the US presidential election was based, not on evidence, but conjecture. Today, the newspaper’s reporters have forgotten their earlier caveats and have begun to treat the intelligence agency’s guess-work as an established truth.

Emblematic of the newspaper’s approach of acknowledging the uncertainty of many intelligence assessments only to quickly throw caution to the wind to embrace them as certain facts, was a December 15 report by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo in which the two reporters wrote that the “hack influenced the course, if not the outcome, of a presidential campaign.” [1] The sentence is astonishing for not only stripping the CIA finding of its immanent uncertainty, but in venturing well beyond the intelligence agency’s judgement to aver what no one could possibly know, namely, whether the release of DNC e-mails influenced the presidential campaign.

york-headquarters-building-newThat it did, and at Clinton’s expense, is, of course, the conclusion the Democrats, if not a faction of the US ruling class associated with the Clintons, would like the US public to arrive at. In this, the New York Times has provided signal assistance as the unofficial propaganda arm of the US ruling class’s Democratic Party wing. Yet, we don’t even know if the DNC e-mails were hacked let alone by agents of the Russian government. One alternative explanation is that the e-mails were leaked by someone inside the DNC. Nevertheless, Goldman and Apuzzo claim to know far more than anyone could possibly know: that the CIA’s analysis is true despite the agency’s own admission of uncertainty and that, additionally, the Russian government intended to influence the outcome of the campaign and that its efforts bore fruit.

New York Times reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger were slightly more circumspect than the omniscient Goldman and Apuzzo, but nevertheless wrote of “Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election,” as if this is not a matter of conjecture but established fact. They also mentioned Trump’s refusal “to accept Moscow’s culpability,” as if Moscow’s culpability is indisputable. [2] Sanger is a member of the Wall Street-directed foreign policy think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, of which most members of the Obama cabinet are also members, as were occupants of the most significant offices of the US state, going back to at least the Carter administration. [3] The CFR is likely the body through which the anti-Trump faction of the US ruling class organizes itself.

Let’s recall how much uncertainty underlies the CIA finding which the New York Times now accepts as fact, in the same way the newspaper quickly accepted as fact an equally tentative, and evidence-free US intelligence finding that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in its war against Al Qaeda and the Islamist group’s allies, offshoots and auxiliaries. Today, “Assad’s use of chemical weapons” is bandied about in the Western media as if it were an incontrovertible fact, belying the reality that the US intelligence finding on the matter was based on belief, not evidence, and that there was, by Washington’s own admission, no “smoking gun.” What’s more, the idea that the Syrian military would use chemical weapons, which are less effective than conventional arms, when doing so would have crossed a redline drawn by Washington, and invited a more muscular US intervention in Syria, never made sense.

The US newspaper of record reported that “two Russian hacking groups” were “found at work inside the D.N.C. network,” “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” Cozy Bear, according to the newspaper, “may or may not be associated with the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B” (emphasis added.) Fancy Bear, it turns out, also may or may not be associated with the Russian government, in this case, “the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency.” Nevertheless, the New York Times revealed that both groups are “believed” by Washington to be Russian government operations (though they may or may not be.) [4]

How was this belief arrived at? Through a process the New York Times describes as attribution, “the skill of identifying a cyberattacker.” This is a fancy way of describing conjecture. Attribution is “more art than science,” the newspaper concedes, while acknowledging that it “is often impossible to name an attacker with absolute certainty.” [5] Finding water with a divining rod, and predicting the future with a Ouija board, are also more art than science, and both involve the process of attribution, the skill of identifying hidden water and hidden events, though it is often impossible to find water, and foretell the future, with absolute certainty. Divination and CIA analyses apparently have much in common.

Given that the CIA analysis appears to be more art than science, and more conjecture than evidence, how do we get from the multiple agnostic claims that a) the Russian government may or may not have initiated a cyberattack against the DNC; b) it’s impossible to say with certainty that it did; and c) it’s all guess work, to a definite declaration, as appeared in the New York Times on December 13? “Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.”

The FBI began investigating the allegation that Russia meddled in the election over the summer. [6] The bureau doubted “the CIA had a basis for coming to (its) conclusions.” [7] As a consequence, the organization refused to “sign on to the public statement attributing the hacking to Russia.” [8]

The reasons for the FBI scepticism were outlined by the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau on December 11. The reporters wrote that the CIA’s conclusion “is based on “circumstantial evidence…that others,” namely, the FBI and the CIA’s sister intelligence organizations “feel does not support firm judgments.” [9] “People familiar with the hacking investigation long have said that…it would be difficult to prove in court,” added the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris. [10] Intelligence “findings are more grounded in analysis” wrote Harris, as opposed to “the evidentiary standards the FBI typically uses.” [11] One of the “core realities of intelligence analysis,” reported Mazzetti and Lichtblau, is that they “are often made in a fog of uncertainty…based on putting together shards of a mosaic that do not reveal a full picture, and can always be affected by human biases.” [12] Echoing this, Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous wrote that officials “are frequently looking at information that is fragmentary. They also face issues…that (make) it hard – if not impossible – to conclusively detect the Kremlin’s elusive fingerprints.” [13] (Note that in this sentence the truth of what is to be proved in already assumed, namely, that the Kremlin’s fingerprints are present—it’s just difficult to detect them.)

In short, the FBI “wants facts and tangible evidence.” The CIA “is more comfortable drawing inferences.” The FBI thinks “in terms of…can we prove this.” The CIA makes “judgment calls.” High confidence for the CIA “doesn’t mean they can prove it.” [14]

Other intelligence agencies, apart from the FBI, also doubted the CIA’s judgment call.

The CIA analysis “fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies,” reported the Washington Post, owing to “disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment.” [15] One disagreement related to the absence of “specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin” directing the hacking. It seemed that the people the CIA suspected of carrying out the hack were not employees of the Russian government. [16]

This called into question an earlier, October 7, finding from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In a joint declaration, the US intelligence czars said they were “confident that the Russian Government directed the … compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” But the intelligence community’s confidence didn’t rest on direct evidence. Nothing tied the suspected hackers to the Kremlin. The finding was, instead, based on a belief—“that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities” and that “the alleged hacked e-mails … are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.” [17] In other words, the intelligence community had no proof.

The October 7 statement also referred to the hacked e-mails as “alleged,” suggesting that despite its claimed confidence, Washington wasn’t even sure the DNC servers were hacked. The e-mails could have been leaked from within.

It is a reality of everyday life that decisions are made in the face of uncertainty. We can’t always defer action until evidence accumulates. For this reason, the US intelligence community’s efforts to arrive at a judgment based on fragmentary evidence and analysis is perfectly reasonable. But once decisions that are, in effect, working hypotheses become received doctrine—when “the DNC servers may or may not have been hacked, and the Kremlin may or may not be the perpetrator” becomes — “Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S,” as the New York Times put it— the process degenerates into propaganda.

None of this is to acknowledge the sheer hypocrisy of the US government accusing the Kremlin of interfering in the US election when no other country has as extensively meddled in the electoral outcomes of foreign countries as has the United States. The New York Times offered a token admission of US culpability. “The United States, too, has carried out cyberattacks, and in decades past the C.I.A. tried to subvert foreign elections,” wrote Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane. [18] A few days later, Sanger expanded on US subversion of foreign elections. It “is worth remembering that trying to manipulate elections is a well-honed American art form,” Sanger noted.

The C.I.A. got its start trying to influence the outcome of Italy’s elections in 1948, as the author Tim Weiner documented in his book “Legacy of Ashes,” in an effort to keep Communists from taking power. Five years later, the C.I.A. engineered a coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s democratically elected leader, when the United States and Britain installed the Shah.

“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” the agency concluded in one of its own reports, declassified around the 60th anniversary of those events, which were engineered in large part by Kermit Roosevelt Jr., a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.

There were similar interferences over the years in Guatemala, Chile and even in Japan, hailed as a model of post-World War II democracy, where the Liberal Democratic Party owes its early grip on power in the 1950s and 1960s to millions of dollars in covert C.I.A. support. [19]

Since World War II, Washington has grossly interfered in the elections of 30 foreign countries. Over the same period, the US government has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments and attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders–different means to accomplish the same end, namely, interfering in the politics of foreign countries. [20]

And while in decades past it may have been that the “CIA tried to subvert foreign elections,” as the New York Times acknowledges, what isn’t mentioned is that in recent decades foreign election meddling has been transferred to the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy. The organization’s first president acknowledged that the NED’s role is to carry out overtly the task of influencing foreign elections that the CIA had once done covertly. The NED has been active in attempts to influence electoral outcomes in Serbia, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. The NED interferes in the elections of countries in which the sitting government has refused to fall in behind the United States as self-appointed leader of the international order, preferring self-determination and sovereignty. So Washington has manoeuvred to install biddable governments in these countries that are amenable to acquiescing to US leadership, which is to say, submitting to the international dictatorship of the United States.

None of the foregoing is to suggest that Washington is getting its comeuppance. On the contrary, there’s no evidence that Russia intervened in the US election, much less that the DNC servers were hacked. (A group of former US intelligence officers believe the e-mails were leaked. [21])

The incident should remind us that the US government often makes allegations on the basis of nothing more than conjecture, which “can always be affected by human biases,” as the New York Times concedes, [22] or political pressure, as the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq affirms. No less worthy of our attention is the reality that the mass news media have agendas which comport with the interests of their owners, that their owners belong to the economic elite, and that the economic and political elites are intertwined. This explains why the mass media act as conduits of propaganda through which evidence-free intelligence findings are regularly disseminated to the public to manufacture consent for, or at least acquiescence to, elite agendas; Iraq’s non-existent WMD are emblematic of a fiction attributed to an intelligence “failure” that was used as a casus belli to rally support for war.

One can only guess—like the CIA guessing at who leaked the DNC e-mails and why—that there is a struggle within the US ruling class over the outcome of the US election, with the faction to which the Clintons belong resolved to prevent Trump from becoming president, or, at least, undermining his presidency. The reasons are likely due to intolerance of Trump’s promised departures from core US foreign policy tenets, especially his professed desire to treat Russia as a partner rather than adversary, his repudiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and other heterodoxies.

1. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “U.S. faces tall hurdles in detaining or deterring Russian hackers,” The New York Times, December 15, 2016

2. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger, “Obama says U.S. will retaliate for Russia’s election meddling,” The New York Times, December 15, 2016

3. Laurence H.Shoup. Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014, Monthly Review Press, 2015

4. Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane, “The perfect weapon: How Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.,” The New York Times, December 13, 2016

5. Ibid.

6. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau, “C.I.A. judgement on Russia built on swell of evidence,” The New York Times, December 11, 2016

7. Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers in Russia’s motives un 2016 hacks,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2016

8. Shane Harris, “Donald Trump fuels rift with CIA over Russian hack,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2016

9. Mark and Lichtblau

10. Shane Harris, “Donald Trump fuels rift with CIA over Russian hack,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2016

11. Harris, December 11, 2016

12. Mazzetti and Lichtblau

13. Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers in Russia’s motives un 2016 hacks,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2016

14. Ibid

15. Adam Entous, Ellen Nakaskis, and Greg Miller, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House,” The Washington Post, December 9, 2016

16. Ibid

17. “Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security,” October 7, 2016

18. Lipton, Sanger and Shane

19. David E. Sanger, “Obama confronts complexity of using a mighty cyberarsenal against Russia,” The New York Times, December 17, 2016

20. William Blum, “The Anti-Empire Report,” No. 146, November 6, 2016

21. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, “US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims,” Common Dreams, December 15, 2016

22. Mazzetti and Lichtblau

The War over South Ossetia

By Stephen Gowans

On August 4, 2008, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin phoned US assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried to complain about the build-up of Georgian troops in the vicinity of South Ossetia. [1] Two days later, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, having evidence that Georgia planned a military strike before the month was out, told Denis Keefe, Britain’s ambassador to Georgia, that a Georgian invasion was imminent. [2]

Georgia had increased its military budget from $30 million to $1 billion per year, under its US-aligned president, Mikhail Saakashvili, relying on deep infusions of aid from Washington. [3] A country of only 8 million, Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to help US forces occupy Iraq, the third largest occupation force in the oil-rich country, after the US and Britain. Tbilisi “considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for ‘national reunification’ – the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.” [4]

Georgia’s attack was emboldened by three US moves: the sending of “advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise” in July “with more than 1,000 American troops”; Washington’s “pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit;” and the US “loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.” [5]

On the eve of the war, Russia convoked an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, presenting a resolution that called on both sides to renounce the use of force. [6] The US, Britain and France refused to back the resolution, arguing that it was unbalanced. Only South Ossetia and Russia should be called upon to renounce the use of force, they said. Georgia should be allowed to defend herself. [7]

The above shows that far from restraining the Georgian hand, the US was facilitating, even encouraging, an attack; that the South Ossetians and Russians anticipated an attack and that the Russians used their position at the United Nations to try to stop it; and that the West was setting the stage to blame the attack on the victims.

The war was swift, and for the Georgians, ignominious. Georgian forces were rapidly pushed back, their positions easily over-run and much of their equipment captured or destroyed. In the end, Saakashvili would rail against Russian aggression, and wonder histrionically who was next.

The Russians did not strike first, as Georgian officials now claim. The New York Times cited evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that Georgia’s military began to pound South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire, after Saakashvili gave the order and before Russian troops entered Georgia. The result was hundreds of civilian deaths. Among the targets of the Georgian assault was a Russian peacekeeping base. There “has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages,” reported The New York Times. [8] Moreover, an unnamed senior US official told the newspaper that Russia’s response didn’t look “premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” adding that “until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.” [9]

On August 26, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. Meanwhile, Saakashvili vowed to rebuild his army to try again at a later date. [10]

Origin of Tensions

Ossetians have their own language and, in recognition of this, enjoyed autonomy within Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia, too, was an autonomous region. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia declared the autonomous status of both regions to be void, and attempted to integrate them. This sparked fighting between the Georgians on one side, and the South Ossetians and Abkhaz on the other. The two regions “settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers,” in which both enjoyed a de facto independence. But “frictions with Georgia increased sharply in 2004,” when Saakashvili was elected,“ pledging “to restore Tbilisi’s rule over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” [11]

Pipelines

There are two overland routes for pumping petroleum resources from the oil- and gas-rich Caspian basin to markets in Europe: through Russia, and alternatively, through Western-built pipelines that run through Georgia. Washington would like Caspian oil and gas to be delivered to European markets through the pipelines Western oil companies control in Georgia; Moscow would like Europe to continue to rely on pipelines that transit Russia. [12]

Two Western pipelines run through Georgia: “the 1,000-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line, which can deliver up to one million barrels of crude a day from the Azerbaijani coast on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia and Turkey to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea”; and the BP-operated Western Route Export pipeline, capable of carrying up to “160,000 barrels of oil a day from Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa.” [13]

For Washington, the routes through Georgia represent a way of checking “Russia’s control over pipelines and energy resources.” Pipeline projects through Georgia are valued owing to their potential “to loosen Russia’s grip over European energy supplies”, and to fatten the bottom lines of US oil companies. [14]

From Moscow’s perspective, control of Georgia and its pipelines puts it in a position to establish an “energy chokehold on Europe.” [15]

Georgia, then, is of strategic importance to Washington because Western oil companies can transport “oil, and soon also gas, that lies not only in Azerbaijan, but beyond it in the Caspian Sea, and beyond it in Central Asia” to European markets, through Georgia, thereby cutting the Russians out of the action and giving Washington control over Europe’s energy resources. [16] Equally, Georgia is of strategic importance to Moscow for the same reasons.

Encircling Russia

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the United States found itself in a unique position. As the lone remaining superpower, it had the potential to dominate the world for the foreseeable future. To maintain its primacy, it would have to prevent potential rivals from growing strong enough to challenge US pre-eminence. The route to remaining top dog lay in unchallenged military supremacy, and the determination to use military force to eclipse the rise of potential competitors.

The Pentagon set out its strategy in the Defense Planning Guide, a 16-page Pentagon policy statement leaked to The New York Times, on March 18, 1992.

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival…First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.
We must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [17]

In 2000, a group of US ruling class activists established The Project for a New American Century, a think-tank whose aim was to press the Clinton administration to more closely follow the 1992 Defense Planning Guide’s blueprint for US primacy. Members of the group — investment bankers and CEOs who had circulated between top jobs in Washington and corporate America — furnished the personnel for key positions in the Bush administration and would soon become the principal architects of the war on Iraq. They urged the Pentagon to eclipse the rise of new greater power competitors, and to adopt this as its main 21st century mission. [18]

Russia was, and remains, of particular concern to the US ruling class. While weak compared to the Soviet Union, it remains the country most able to challenge the US. To preserve US military pre-eminence, Washington seeks to build a ring around Russia, integrating countries on Russia’s periphery into the Nato military alliance. Despite promises that it would not expand toward Russia’s borders, Nato’s policy since the demise of the Soviet Union has been to aggressively expand, dismissing the alarm raised by Russian leaders as paranoia. Expansion serves the purpose of hemming Russia in militarily and expands markets for US arms manufacturers who supply the standardized military equipment Nato countries buy as part of the alliance’s equipment interoperability requirement.

A continuing strategy

While it seems as if Washington’s encirclement strategy is new, dating from the early aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, it is, on the contrary, an extension of a Western policy pursued since the beginning of the Cold War.

The Cold War, remarked R. Palme Dutt in 1962, was “directed against the Soviet Union” since it, and the countries it liberated in WWII “remained…completely independent of American domination and control. The aims of American world domination required the overthrow of this independent power.” [19] The new Cold War is no less directed at Russia, and is no less perpetrated by the US, than the old one (or the continuing one) was.

These “ultimate major aims,” Dutt continued, “required as their presupposition and first step the building up of a coalition of governments and armed forces under American control.” The “long-term strategic plan required the preliminary conquest of (the Soviet Union’s) periphery, and establishment of a chain of bases and hinterland territories from which to launch the offensive.” [20]

Thus, it has been US policy since the beginning of the Cold War to encircle Russia with a chain of bases and armies under US domination. The strategy was not born in 1992 and cannot be said to be the brainchild of neo-conservatives of either the Bush I or Bush II administrations. Its origins stretch back to the 1940s.

In the West, the spat between Georgia and the Ossetians appears to be rooted in longstanding ethnic animosity, but in Russia, it is seen quite differently. Russians understand that the United States is gradually encircling their country, and that Georgia is an important link in the chain. [21] Russian president Dmitri Medvedev complains of “being surrounded by bases on all sides” and of the “growing number of states…being drawn into the North Atlantic bloc.” [22] He and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin protest vehemently against US plans to site antimissile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Russia’s doorstep. They fear, justifiably, that the missile shield is aimed at Russia, and provides the US with a new offensive capability.

Saakashvili and the Rose Revolution

Mikhail Saakashvili is typical of local rulers Washington brings to power to act as its proxy on the ground. He is US-educated, fanatically pro-American, and implicitly shares the imperialist values of his backers in Washington. It is not by chance that the Saakashvili government enthusiastically pledged troops to the occupation of Iraq, and named a street in honor of George W. Bush.

With aid from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Saakashvili was carried to power by the so-called Rose Revolution of 2004, a US ruling class-financed overthrow movement that forced Georgia’s then president Eduard Shevardnadze, to step down. Soros’ intimate connection to Saakashvili’s rise to power is evidenced in his helping finance the Georgian government once Saakashvili was installed in the president’s office, and in Georgia’s designation as Sorositan by critics of the financier’s meddling. [23]

Washington was happy to partner with Soros to rid Georgia of Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister who was too close to Russia and not close enough to Washington. Intent on extending its ring of armies and military bases around its potential great power competitor, the US finagled Shevardnadze’s ouster and replaced him with the biddable puppet, Saakashvili.

The name for our profits is democracy

While the official propaganda holds Saakashvili to be a champion of democracy, the real story is quite different. The Georgian president is in reality a champion of Western investment interests who is prepared to suspend political and civil liberties to crush opposition to his pro-US economic policies.

The World Bank recognizes Saakashvili’s Georgia to be “the number one economic reformer in the world,” having climbed to 18th place from a shameful 112th under Shevardnadze, by creating “a friendly business environment.” Saakashvili earned the bank’s high praise by replacing Georgia’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax; [24] privatizing publicly-owned assets; and gutting the civil service. The latter action sparked huge street protests last autumn, which Saakashvili put down with riot police, rubber bullets and truncheons, charging that the protesters were planning to stage a coup, with Russia’s collusion. [25] Ruling with an iron fist, he had no qualms about dispatching masked police officers to ransack an opposition television station, forcing it off the air. [26] Soon after, he declared a state of emergency, suspending advocacy rights and freedom of assembly – an action which, had it been done by his predecessor Shevardnadze, would have called forth howls of outrage and new infusions of aid for pro-democracy activists from Western governments, imperialist foundations and billionaires. On Saakashvili’s watch, by contrast, abridgments of civil and political liberties are met with fond reminiscences of the Rose Revolution and paeans to Saakashvili’s pro-American leanings and supposed democratic credentials.

Saakashvili won snap elections held two months after he cracked down on protestors, but his victory was secured under a cloud of accusations of blackmail and vote-buying. The government accused two opposition leaders of treason, charging they were conspiring with Russia to overthrow Saakashvili. [27] Having himself come to power with the aid of outside forces, Saakashvili more than anyone else knew the danger of foreign-directed overthrow movements, and perhaps knew better than others, how to defeat them.

Post Rose Revolution

Once Saakashvili had been installed as president, Washington scaled back funding to the civil society organizations that had been instrumental in destabilizing Shevardnadze’s rule, shifting aid instead to building up the central government, now under Saakashvili’s control. [28] Achieving the policy aim of installing a local proxy quite naturally led Washington to channel funding away from the manipulated “pro-democracy” civil society groups on the ground who paved the way for Saakashvili’s rise to power, to the government forces that would secure the friendly economic and military environment Washington desired. In other words, once civil society served its purpose, it was cut free.

Today, Rose Revolution true-believers are embittered. “Georgia is a semi-democracy. We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another,” laments Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the Rose Revolution-funding Democratic Party-arm of the NED in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” [29]

Naïve do-gooders who thought money pitch-forked into the coffers of civil society groups by wealthy individuals and the US government would create democracy in Georgia now complain that Georgia under Saakashvili is no better, and probably worse, than it was under Shevardnadze.

Mitchel, for example, points out that under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, the government was too weak to crack down on dissent, and the parliament could lay a restraining hand on the president. Under Saakashvili, the media have far fewer freedoms, civil society has been weakened, the government is strong enough to crack down on dissent with ease, and the parliament is less able to restrain the president. As regards elections, they’re run no better under Saakashvili. [30]

Exporting color revolutions

The Los Angeles Times of September 2, 2008 ran a story on Nini Gogiberidze, a Georgian who “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.” She is not, predictably, deployed within her own semi-democratic country, working to bring down the liberal democracy-disdaining Saakashvili.

Gogiberidze’s salary is paid by the Soros-linked Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, funded by the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, headed by John McCain, a friend of Saakashvili. Freedom House, a US ruling class organization that is interlocked with the CIA and is headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, also chips in.

Gogiberidze is hardly the kind of grassroots, left-leaning, radical democracy activist one is led to believe make up the officer corps of the Soros-funded international army against autocracy. Like one of her Zimbabwean colleagues, who is a white conservative businessman with a penchant for good manners and the British royals (who we’re to believe is working underground to overthrow the Mugabe government because he’s keenly interested in democracy), Gogiberidze sounds more like a conservative interested in promoting Western economic interests on behalf of Uncle Sam. She studied at the London School of Economics and is married to an investment banker. She’s also on the payroll of US ruling class foundations. Moscow “views the so-called color revolutions as US sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments” Washington is unfriendly to “and install American vassals.” [31] Is it any wonder?

The Los Angeles Times reporter who brought the Gogiberidze story to light, mocks Moscow’s assessment of the color revolutions, while at the same time documenting the manifold connections Gogiberidze and her fellow color revolutionaries have to US ruling class organizations. The only way to square this circle – to explain how color revolutionaries can be on the regime changer’s payroll while mocking the idea that color revolutions are US-sponsored plots to overthrow governments Washington has targeted for regime change – is to believe billionaire financiers, CIA pass through organizations, and foundations dominated by US investment bankers and CEO’s, are really concerned with promoting democracy.

Conclusion

US ruling class activists and George Soros, sponsored dupes in Georgia to overthrow the Shevardnadze government to bring the ardently pro-US, pro-foreign investment, pro-imperialist Mikhael Saakashvili to power. Since ascending to the presidency, Saakashvili has gone on a neo-liberal binge, privatizing formerly publically-owned assets, replacing the country’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax, and firing civil servants in heaps. While this has earned him the admiration of the World Bank, it has created unrest at home, which Saakashvili has put down with truncheons, rubber bullets, police attacks on opposition media, and abridgements of political and civil liberties.

At the same time, Saakashvili has acted to further his US-sponsor’s military designs, deploying 2,000 Georgian troops to Iraq, bulking up his military, clamoring to join Nato, and keeping Russia off kilter with incessant threats to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia militarily, now acted upon.

The great democrat, in the eyes of color revolution hagiographers, is hardly a democrat. Leaders who deploy troops to occupy conquered countries, who attempt to integrate regions that don’t want to be integrated, and who limit political and civil liberties when they threaten to derail the building of a business friendly environment, are not democrats, no matter how many dollars their supporters receive from Freedom House, George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The US seeks to expand its sphere of influence to hem Russia in militarily in order to preserve US pre-eminence; to draw new countries into the Nato alliance to expand markets for US arms manufacturers; and to secure new markets and investment opportunities for US investors and corporations in countries whose economic ties have historically been oriented toward Russia. Russia seeks to resist the encroachment, to hang on to as much as the former Soviet sphere of influence as possible.

To expand its influence into the former Soviet domain, Washington deploys a number of tactics. In Belarus, it sponsors a civil society-based overthrow movement to destablize the Russia-aligned government of Alexander Lukashenko. In Ukraine, it sponsored the Orange Revolution to force the Russian-aligned leader Viktor Yanukovich to yield power to the US-oriented Viktor Yushchenko. Washington is very likely to have sponsored, encouraged and aided the secessionist movement in Chechnya, with the aim of breaking the territory away from Russia.

To maintain, or in an attempt to restore, its influence in these regions, Moscow backs Lukashenko in Belarus and Yanukovich in Ukraine, facilitates Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s remaining independent of Georgia, and militarily crushed the Chechen secessionists.

The struggle to expand spheres of influence (the US) and to maintain or restore them (Russia) inevitably leads powers to take hypocritical positions: the US insists on Georgia’s territorial integrity (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) but denies that of Serbia (Kosovo); Russia insists on its own territorial integrity (Chechnya) but denies that of Georgia.

There is no doubt that the US is the more aggressive party in this clash, but it can be, because it is by far the stronger of the two. The jingoist depiction in the Western media of Russia as provoking a new Cold War and seeking to expand militarily into neighboring countries is without foundation and is an inversion of reality. The US pursuit of a Cold War against Russia has been carried on without interruption since the 1940s. It is not Russia that is aggressively acting to expand its sphere of influence, it is the US. And yet this reality is so infirmly grasped that it is possible for the leader of a country whose scores of thousands of troops occupy conquered Iraq and Afghanistan to lecture Russia that countries don’t invade other countries in the 21st century.

The Rose Revolution was not a people power-driven rebellion against autocracy but a movement of dupes sponsored and manipulated by Washington whose purpose was to pave the way for the rise to power of a US-educated lawyer with connections to Washington and Wall Street.

Saakashvili is not a hero of democratic reform, but a representative of US ruling class interests who is prepared to suspend civil and political liberties, tinker with elections, and commit war crimes if that’s what it takes to secure his patron’s economic and military objectives.

Russia did not initiate an attack on Georgia. Georgia launched an artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of South Ossetia and on Russian peacekeepers before Russia entered Georgia.

The US did not try to defuse tensions in the region; it has actively moved to inflame them.

Russia has not provoked a new Cold War; the US has allowed the Cold War is had pursued against Russia since the 1940s to heat up, using its puppet, Saakashvili to fan the embers.

1. RIA Novosti, August 4, 2008.
2. RIA Novosti, August 6, 2008.
3. Russia Today, August 8, 2008. US assistance to Georgia is about to increase significantly, with Washington announcing on September 3 that it is hiking economic aid to Georgia to $1 billion per year from $63 million in 2007, placing the country among the top recipients of US aid, along with Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Colombia: The Guardian (UK), September 3, 2008.
4. New York Times, August 10. 2008.
5. New York Times, August 13, 2008.
6. Independent (UK), August 8, 2008.
7. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
8. New York Times, September 3, 2008.
9. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
10. New York Times, August 26, 2008.
11. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
12. Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2008.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Zbginiew Brzinski, quoted in Serge Halimi, “The Return of Russia,” MRZine, August 28, 2008,
http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/halimi280808.html .
17. Nato in the Balkans, International Action Center, New York, 19998. p. 4.
18. http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf
19. R. Palme Dutt, “Problem of Contemporary history,” International Publishers, New York, 1962.
20. Ibid.
21. View of Russia’s representative to NATO, New York Times, August 28, 2008.
22. New York Times, August 28, 2008.
23. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
24. “The political realities of ‘democratic’ Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
25. New York Times, August 12, 2008.
26. New York Times, August 14, 2008.
27. “The political realities of “democratic” Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
28. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/23/AR2008082301817_pf.html
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.