Our beautifully democratic wars

8 Aug
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945
Of course the people don’t want war. That is understood … But after all it is the leaders who determine the policy and it is a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Herman Goering, on trial for his life at Nuremberg

This week, for the seventy-fifth anniversary of America’s militarily unnecessary1 use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima, John Pilger wrote an excellent piece on the horrors of that day and its long bleak aftermath, linking them to the insanity of the drive currently underway for war on China.

(It’s in Consortium. The days are gone when Guardian or Mirror gave house room to Pilger.)

Our passive consent is once more being manufactured for another Empire Strike. Vilification of China in mainstream Western media, right wing and ‘liberal’ alike, is the new normal. Even the de rigeur demonising of Putin now takes second place to evidence-lite tales – “… intelligence sources say … it is believed that …” – of dastardly doings by the Yellow Man2 in Beijing.

(Though of course, Moscow – knowing its turn would come next – could hardly sit idly by as full scale war was waged on China.)

Slavoj Zizek said it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Since its non negotiable demands for profits appear as existential truths – “of course we can’t produce wealth if it isn’t profitable to do so … of course we can’t feed the world, have clean streets or breathe clean air: who will pay for such things?” – an obscene global order is defended as far from perfect, to be sure, but the best one attainable by mere mortals …

… while those, like Jeremy Corbyn, who beg to differ draw the fury of an establishment which, however divided on lesser issues, will close ranks on matters of non negotiable importance ….

… ditto those, like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping, whose very acceptance of the logic of capital in its monopoly phase of imperialism puts them on a collision course with Wall St, Washington and their junior partners in London and Paris …

… ditto those like Julian Assange, who breach media omerta to deliver hard evidence on how the state monopoly on violence is actually exercised, and for that crime must be humiliated, reviled and finally broken.3

That closing of ranks by our rulers is why the substantive positions of the Daily Mail on the one hand, Guardian on the other, are essentially the same in respect of those named in the previous three paragraphs. Sadly, such unity is widely taken, including by people who deem themselves critical thinkers, as a sign of incontestable truth.

Even when such ‘truth’ cannot stand up to the slightest scrutiny. This from my post of July 15:

Try today’s Guardian and tell me where – in the story on Russian state-sponsored hackers targeting Covid-19 vaccine researchersor that on Russia interfering in the 2019 election – an iota of evidence is produced.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve had not a single reader take me up on this. The two articles – and countless others which make up a relentless demonising of America’s greatest military rival and its greatest economic rival – are spun from thin air by intelligence sources and journalists who have shown time and again they are not to be trusted.

I’ve written many posts, most frequently on Syria, about “our” wars on the global south, waged in the name of lofty ideals but always, in ways direct or indirect,4 in the interests of profit.

But now we are not speaking of states helpless in the face of the West’s might. Moral aspects of 500 years of colonial then imperialist5 bullying aside, the difference between Latin America and the Middle East on the one hand, China and Russia on the other, points us to the reality that not since 1945 has a Western power confronted an adversary of remotely comparable weight.

So why now?

One answer is that the MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine is being challenged, in the corridors of US power, as never before. See this piece from 2014 by former Reagan appointee, Paul Craig Roberts. Those within the Beltway, and across the Potomac in the Pentagon, who believe a nuclear war with Russia and/or China can be won are no longer outliers on the far fringes of Sensible Discourse.

(Witness presidential contender Hillary Clinton’s plan to impose no-fly zones on Syria, a move that could not but provoke head on confrontation with Russian forces there at the behest of its lawful but equally demonised government.)

Here’s a second, complementary, answer from my January post, Talking WW3 Blues.

I can think of no precedent for a pre-eminent world power sitting back as the economic basis of its military might ebbs away. And Russia and China have time on their side.

Let’s take Russia first. This from a 2018 piece, again by Paul Craig Roberts:

Two factors are driving the world to nuclear war. One is the constant stream of insults, false accusations and broken agreements that the West has been dumping on Russia year after year. The other is Russia’s response, or, perhaps more correctly, the lack thereof.

… the Russian government’s factual, diplomatic, and legal responses actually produce more provocations and insults. See here and here and here.

Russia should turn her back on the West. The future lies in the East of which Russia is a part. She should focus on the partnership with China, and relationships in the East, and stop responding to blatantly false accusations and provocative insults.

Russia can be part of the West only by surrender to Washington’s hegemony. [Russia should] by now have figured out that Washington is determined to marginalize and isolate her, discredit her government, dislodge Putin and install a puppet [or] failing these efforts, push her to the point that her only alternatives are to surrender or go to war.

Did it ever occur to Lavrov or Putin that Russia’s President would be called a murderer by a British foreign secretary, on the basis of a fabrication created by the British government?

Are Lavrov and Putin finally getting the message that it is self-defeating to appeal to facts and law when the West has no respect for either?

Like his fellow Reagan appointee, Russia expert Stephen Cohen – and for that matter Reagan himself – Roberts had thought the cold war over with the fall of the USSR. Which goes to show that none of these three – for two of whom I have considerable respect – truly understood what the first cold war was about. Here’s something I wrote three years ago:

Suppose the old cold war was not about ‘defending our freedom’. Suppose it was instead about one sixth of the world’s land mass – its vast resources and markets – being closed off to Profit. Why suppose any such thing? Because for reasons beyond my current remit, capitalism’s inner laws of motion demand ceaseless accumulation, even as they drive a tendency to falling profits. I haven’t the space here to prove these things, nor do I ask anyone to accept them on my say so. I ask only that for purposes of inquiry we suppose  them true. Things that don’t otherwise make much sense suddenly snap into focus.

Reagan won the old cold war for western capitalism. He forced the USSR into ever greater arms-spend when every rouble on defence bled the Soviet economy whereas, such is the insanity of capitalism, every dollar the Pentagon spent boosted a $10trn for-profit arms sector, biggest driver of the US economy. By this and other means – sanctions, funding terror in Afghanistan, manipulating world oil prices – Washington, aided by the USSR’s ossified leadership and brittle top-down economy, prevailed. Such was Reagan’s vacuity, and such the figurehead nature of his office, he genuinely believed the cold war over.

And so for a while it seemed. As free-market capitalism sent Russia into a tailspin of chaos and gangsterism, Yeltsin did everything asked of him. He did his own rolling over on Yugoslavia, its dismemberment exposing Russia while unleashing the corrupt state of Kosovo. With touching faith he believed Clinton on NATO ‘not advancing an inch’, and opened up the economy. That’s where things went off-script for the West.

I don’t doubt that squadrons of glassy-eyed Chicago Schoolers really do buy their own voodoo economics. I’m even prepared to deem some at least of the IMF Taliban naive enough to toke the smoke on liberalisation as economic cure-all. But to believe the same of the wolves of Wall Street? Sorry, no can do. For them, liberalisation means nothing if not boosted bottom lines and eye-watering bonuses. Read Naomi Klein: a good writer who documents meticulously. Chapters 10-11 of The Shock Doctrine chart exactly what went down in Russia. The fruits of privatisation, you see, had been stamped ‘for western hands’. Instead – this is funny if you’re in a good mood – they were trousered by ex KGB; the now semi-feudal oligarchy that blossomed and flourished under Yeltsin.

In comes strongman Putin. He cracks down on corruption (but must play a long game, so is with breathtaking chutzpah accused of deeds done by his predecessor to nods in Washington). He fixes a torched economy, allowing him among other things to beef up defence – now why would he want to do that?  With Russia once more a global player, he stands up to NATO and effects his own rapprochement, with China, in part discussed in Perilous Days. All this, mind, coinciding with the slow economic decline – making it triply dangerous – of the most powerful and reckless nation on earth.

As you see, I’m less inclined to look favourably on Reagan than Roberts and Cohen are. Less inclined too to take the West’s rationale for Cold War 1 at face value. On the other hand I’m kinder on Putin and Lavrov, whom I watch with guarded approval.

(Not that this matters much. As with Syria, my alarm and disgust at Western recklessness and venality are not premised on a Russia pure as the driven snow. And as with Assad, my refusal to damn Putin is not premised on his combining wisdom, nerves of steel and a pure heart with the strategic vision of a chess grand master.)

But what about China? This from The Guardian two weeks ago:

It has taken too many horrors, but at last the world is paying heed to China’s treatment of the Uighurs. Satellite pictures of detention camps, and procurement requests for spiked clubs, have been supplemented by leaked internal documents warning “allow no escapes”, and growing testimony from relatives and former inmates whose desperation has overcome their fear of retaliation for speaking out.

And this from The Grayzone last December:

Claims that China has detained millions of Uyghur Muslims are based largely on two studies. A closer look at these papers reveals US government backing, absurdly shoddy methodologies, and a rapture-ready evangelical researcher named Adrian Zenz.

You believe the Guardian if you like. For me, its credibility on matters of core importance ran out years ago. But even if every word on the Uighurs, the Spratly Isles (Washington’s ‘justification’ for insane but not illogical acts of provocation in the South China Sea), on TikTok and Huawei spyware and all the rest of the Empire Narrative were true, they’d add precisely nothing to our understanding of why America, its lesser partners riding its coat tails, is gunning for China.

Are we seriously expected to buy Washington’s concern for human rights?

Here are Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies, writing in CounterPunch on the eve of that seventy-fifth anniversary of the Japanese people’s living nightmare:

… until recently, Western firms were glad to make the most of China’s huge pool of cheap labor, weak workplace and environmental protections, and growing consumer market …

So what has changed? Companies like Apple, once glad to outsource US jobs, are now confronting the reality that they have also outsourced skills and technology.

The global rollout of 5G is a flashpoint not because EMF radiation may be dangerous, a real concern, but because Huawei and ZTE have patented critical infrastructure, leaving Silicon Valley in the unfamiliar position of playing catch-up.

Also, if 5G is built by Huawei and ZTE instead of AT&T and Verizon, the U.S. government can no longer require “back doors” for the NSA to spy on us all, so is stoking fears that China could insert its own back doors. Left out of the discussion is the real solution: repeal the Patriot Act and ensure technology used in our daily lives is secure from the prying eyes of all governments.

China is investing in infrastructure across the world. 138 countries have joined its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and sea.

Obama and Trump tried to “pivot to Asia” to confront China. The US military-industrial complex needs more substantial enemies to justify budget-busting costs. Lockheed Martin is not ready to switch from billion-dollar warplanes, on cost-plus contracts, to wind turbines and solar panels.

The only targets to justify a $740-billion military budget and 800 overseas bases are Russia and China. Both expanded their military budgets after 2011, when the US and allies hi-jacked the Arab Spring to launch proxy wars in Libya, where China had substantial oil interests, and Syria, a long-term Russian ally. But in 2019, China’s military budget was $261 billion. That of the US is $732 billion. The U.S. still spends more on its military than the ten next largest powers combined.

Russian and Chinese military forces are almost entirely defensive, emphasising anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems. Neither Russia nor China has invested in carrier strike groups or U.S.-style expeditionary forces to attack countries on the other side of the planet. But they do have the means to defend themselves from U.S. attack and both are nuclear powers, making a major war against either a more serious prospect than the US has faced anywhere since WW2.

China and Russia are deadly serious about defending themselves, but it is U.S. imperialism and militarism driving the escalating tensions.

In fact, as with Stephen Cohen and Paul Craig Roberts, Benjamin and Davies are accurate but incomplete in their reasoning. For a deeper analysis try Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar, the American economist Michael Hudson and Greece’s former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The first two – see my January Reads post – locate the stepping up of Sinophobia within the context of Eurasia rising, and consequent threat to dollar hegemony.

So does the third but, see the Global Minotaur, he points also to a reality not widely grasped. China’s domestic markets can’t yet absorb the vast profits its capitalists accumulate, courtesy China’s role as workshop of the 21st century world. As with other capitalist economies, these profits are recycled through the US economy in the form of Treasury Bonds. This places China (and others) in a weirdly love-hate dance with what Valery Giscard d’Estaing called America’s exorbitant privilege. An elephant-in-the-room truth about the US Economy, the first in history to make colossal debt an advantage,6 is that it will never buy back those bonds – though for now it does pay interest on them. 

Washington, in its lawless arrogance, could easily fabricate a pretext for turning off the tap altogether. One way of looking at the Belt and Road Initiative Benjamin and Davies cite is as evidence of Moscow and Beijing making precisely the tilt from the West (and dollar hegemony) which Paul Craig Roberts advocates but fails to see is already happening.

So let’s set aside the blather on human rights, electoral interference (on which Israel and USA have far darker records) and fictitious aggressions. Let’s instead get real on what is happening and why.

The stakes could hardly be higher.

* * *

  1. Eisenhower: ‘The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing …’ Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to Roosevelt and Truman: ‘…  the barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan …’ More here. A far likelier reading of those atrocities is that, as cold war dawned, America was showing the USSR what it and it alone could do.
  2. Only the very naive would fail to note the deep wells of orientalism now being tapped in the manipulations of our narrative managers in respect of China.
  3. It’s mooted by some that all charges against Assange may be dropped. It’s too early to call but I see the logic. Mission accomplished: a chilling message sent to the world. Fuck with the US Empire at your peril.
  4. Direct gains to imperialism may include oil (as resource or commodity) or arms-length access to cheap labour. Indirect gains may include oil (as leverage). This from Stephen Gowans’ book, Israel: a Beachhead in the Middle East:‘The purpose of dominating another country is to secure opportunities for business. The dominated country may provide direct opportunities, or be a stepping stone to profit-making opportunities in a third country [which] may become the target of an imperialist power because favorably placed. Perhaps it bounds important shipping lanes and is prized as a naval base from which the movement of goods can be protected from rival imperialist powers that might choke off the flow. Or perhaps the aim is to position military power at a shipping choke point. Or maybe the territory is close to enticing targets that could be absorbed through military coercion. Maybe the dominated country is close to another imperialism and attractive for encircling it. There are scores of reasons why an imperialist power might dominate a country that offers no immediate or direct economic benefit, but all are traceable to a perceived economic advantage for the dominating country’s major investors.’
  5. For my purposes the distinction between colonialism and modern imperialism (the north-south export of monopoly capital, and south-north repatriation of profits) can be reduced to that between direct rule and financial domination. Both necessitate, in logic and in historic fact, military and other forms of technological asymmetry.
  6. Washington’s capitalising on immense levels of US debt is a variant – given attendant realities of military supremacy, Bretton Woods, Nixon’s decoupling of the dollar from gold, petrodollars and the sheer size of the US economy – on the maxim that if I owe you ten thousand pounds I have a problem. But if I owe you ten million it is you that has the problem.

2 Replies to “Our beautifully democratic wars

  1. Great post SCS. A tour de force. What a difference it would make if this could be read world wide. What a tragedy that it won’t be.

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