Scott Ritter: “no changes for Europe”

21 Jan

From time to time I find cause to cite Scott Ritter, the former UN Weapons Inspector who drew the wrath of the US Empire by refusing to go along with a WMD casus belli  for the invasion of Iraq, shown by subsequent events to have been both asset grab …

… and show of force by the US and lesser partners in a region under potential challenge from China’s One Belt One Road.

He remains a thorn in the side of DC and Pentagon. As such he joins other gamekeepers-turned-poacher – Craig Murray, Peter Ford, Philip Giraldi, Edward Snowden, Paul Craig Roberts and the late Stephen Cohen spring immediately to mind – who besides bringing sorely needed sunlight to bear on the deeds of those who purport to serve us, also function as canaries – forgive if you can my avalanche of metaphors – in the coalmine of Western democracy.

The overwhelming majority of information is classified to protect political security not national security – Julian Assange.

Yesterday, as the new figurehead for America’s rulers was sworn in, Ritter wrote a piece in RT with the catchy title, The US has a broken political system and is about to be usurped by China – what Europeans really think about America is telling. While Biden’s inauguration is the start point, and corporate media downplaying of deep state continuity the leitmotif, Scott Ritter’s focus is on an important but – by me at any rate – neglected aspect. I refer to tensions between American and European imperialism. He begins, oddly enough, by echoing corporate media insistence on Trump’s presidency as egregious, but soon gets to the commonalities.

A recent survey commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations has found that most Europeans look to Germany rather than the United States as their most important partner, having lost faith in America’s ability to elect leaders who share their continent’s vision and values.

In the context of the inauguration of the 46th US president, such a finding stands as a stark reminder of the unhealed scars that four years of an “America first” focus by Trump have left when it comes to America’s relationship with the world. It also suggests it will be difficult for Biden’s administration to salve the underlying wounds and get America back on the track of being the global leader it aspires to be.

The polling reveals that Europeans think the US political system is broken, that China will soon be more powerful than the US, and that they want to stay neutral in any future conflict between Washington & Moscow or Beijing.

The survey, however, misses the mark in so far as it posits the notion that there are discernible differences between one US president and another regarding US policy toward Europe.

The reality is that there is no difference between the foundational policy objectives of Trump and Biden, or for that matter between any US president and another. For anyone occupying the White House, the world is always viewed through a US-centric lens which operates on the premise that what is good for the US, as the world’s indispensable power, is good for the rest of the world. Even when it isn’t.

This reality was underscored in an interview given by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017, to the French newspaper Le Figaro. “I have already spoken to three US presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why?” Putin asked. “Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.”

[At time of posting, an abridged version of Putin’s words is on this site’s masthead.]

Anyone who thinks that US-European angst was invented by Trump need only look back at US-European relations over the past two decades for evidence to the contrary. In early 2003, when responding to European qualms, led by France and Germany, about the US-led rush to war with Iraq, the then-secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed the premise of the question, saying, “You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east and there are a lot of new members.” Rumsfeld’s remarks infuriated France and Europe and led to a rift between the US and NATO that kept the latter organization out of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The relationship between then-president Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often held up as the ideal when it comes to US-European relations. In his book, ‘A Promised Land’, Obama heaps praise on the German leader, downplaying the fact that their relationship was not always a bed of roses. Merkel, Obama noted, initially viewed his strong speeches and “exaggerated rhetoric” with “skepticism.” According to Obama, this was a good thing. “For a German head of government,” he observed, “an aversion to possible demagogy was probably a healthy attitude.”

Obama’s memoir, however, missed the wood for the trees when it came to fundamental problems underpinning US-German (and by extension, US-European) relations. Merkel took umbrage at Obama’s small-mindedness, believing that he was “too willing to cede American moral high ground in the name of a supposed pragmatism that was in fact more like amateurism,” according to a 2015 Politico article.

A pair of spying scandals, one involving the CIA’s recruitment of a German government official, and the other the NSA’s eavesdropping on the personal cell phone conversations of Merkel herself, only furthered the fact that the US did not treat Germany like the friend it claimed it was.

In the end, while Obama was able to repair his personal relationship with Merkel, the lack of trust between the US and Germany/Europe remained. To put a finer point on this matter – Trump did not invent US-European angst; he just refused to cover it with flowery language and empty platitudes.

This gap between politicized rhetoric and the actual deeds that define American foreign policy was perhaps brought out best by someone who is not counted among America’s friends. “All American presidents commit crimes and end up taking the Nobel Prize and appear as a defender of human rights and the ‘unique’ and ‘brilliant’ American or Western principles,” Syrian President Bashar Assad told the Syrian press in 2019, “but all they are is a group of criminals who only represent the interests of the American lobbies of large corporations in weapons, oil and others.” Trump, Assad noted, “speaks with transparency to say, ‘We want the oil.’” 

“I tell you,” Assad went on, “he [Trump] is the best American president. Why? Not because his policies are good, but because he is the most transparent president,” adding coyly, “What do we want more than a transparent foe?”

Selling opaqueness as clarity was on display during the confirmation hearing of Anthony Blinken, Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state. “We do have a big task ahead of us in restoring, revitalizing those relationships. I do think it starts… with showing up again,” said Blinken. “Some of our allies and partners question the sustainability of our commitments based on the past few years and that’s going to be a hard hill to climb.” 

Blinken’s focus on confronting both Russia and China underscores the blinkers he and Biden are wearing when it comes to articulating how they would define and execute American foreign policy. Here, the observations of both Putin and Assad bear notice.

First, there is virtually no daylight in terms of substance when it comes to Trump’s confrontation of Russia and China and the policies proposed by Blinken. And second, by pretending that a Biden administration would be any different that Trump in this regard, Blinken only reinforced the reality that Trump’s greatest sin from a foreign policy standpoint was not the substance of his policies, but rather their presentation.

The European Council on Foreign Relations survey suggests that Blinken faces an impossible task when it comes to his stated objective of repairing US-European relations. There is no appetite in Europe for a return to the kind of bipolar world that defined the Cold War-era – Europe simply will not join in any US-led effort to face off against either China or Russia in such a black and white, good-versus-evil type confrontation. Europe, according to the survey, is likely to remain neutral in any ideological conflict between the US and either Russia or China (or both).

Worse, from the perspective of the US and the Biden administration, Europe is more likely to take its cue from Berlin than Washington, DC. While many observers view these trends as a symptom of four years of Trump’s “America First,” the reality is that they are linked to a deep-seated disease that has infected US-European relations for years prior to Trump.

Europe and the world have learned from the transparency of the Trump era to see through the veil of flowering rhetoric that American politicians have previously employed to disguise the US’ intent. Having learned this lesson, Europe is not inclined to simply return to the ways of the past. As the saying sort of goes, once pecked by the US eagle, twice shy.


6 Replies to “Scott Ritter: “no changes for Europe”

  1. Regardless of source of origin the comparison point about transparency and opaqueness in terms of the Trump presidency and the emerging Biden one (along with the related one of policy continuity) highlights several simple truths falling firmly within the boundaries of the reality based community.

    One of which being the level of denial of that reality as the simplistic student politics level Liberal Identity Left fall obediently into line with the narrative of the Neo-Liberal and Neo-Conservative nexus which has emerged over the past four years. Providing a handy and massive fig leaf cover for Conservatives to paint this narrative not as Neo-Liberal/Neo Conservative but as “The Marxist Left.”

    Whilst many left media sources and voices providing alternative narratives remain under constant threat following the lists, such as ProporNot from 2016 which sought to de-platform and Cancel left narratives from all social discourse, the focus, since the banning of Alex Jones, has been on anything related to Trump and many of the former working class base of Obama who finally got the message and switched to Trump after four decades of being pissed on and patronised by professional middle class post modernist pousers who think sticking a label on themselves and self-identifying as “left” actually means what it says on the tin.

    The level of naivety on display of giving the Neo-Liberals and Neo Conservatives a totally free pass and seeking to further de-legitimise half the US population as a single blob of beyond the pale “Other” in need of political reeducation, expunging from history or outlawing completely – no job, no shelter, no voice, no rights (because dress it up in whatever fancy language you want that’s what it boils down to) – suggests ostriches will be replacing turkeys as the go to metaphor come next Christmas.

    Simply because experience and the historical record show that such Purity Spirals always and inevitably result in engulfing those useful idiots who were the most ardent proponents at the begining. Those such as Glenn Greenwald and Caitlin Johnson who continue to occupy the reality based media narrative by pointing this reality out, along with its divide and rule objective, don’t seem to be getting much traction with the naive woke so called “left” determined to divert attention from what Ritter drags out into the open. Even Michael Moore and Richard Murphy have succumbed to this simplistic nonsense.

    Keep taking the red pill

    • I think Mr Ritter overstates the extent to which Europe, Germany included, is thus far ready to defy Washington and Wall Street. But the trends he points to are real. As is the continuity of deep state rule in America (and, though not his focus, Europe) beneath the window dressings of democratic change.

      As you imply in your first paragraph, he is also right to focus on the transparency aspect. I use the analogy of a sophisticated heist, its skilled perps obliged to bring along a loud mouthed amateur whose antics draw attention to and so jeopardise the blag.

      (It’s worth remembering that for once the US charade of electing a POTUS didn’t go as planned. The ruling classes as a whole wanted HRC but, as with Brexit and almost with Scottish independence, they’d underestimated just how angry the globalisation losers in the West now are.)

      • Not quite sure what you mean by “almost Scottish independence”. The impetus for Scottish independence is driven by the inadequate representation of Scottish interests in the UK parliament. This is inevitable under the present, or any conceivable replacement system such as a federal state, as the population of England is approximately 56 million, as opposed to Scotlands 5.5 million. Any attempt to rectify this disparity would a) unjust to England, and b) be (rightly) objected to by the much larger English electorate.

        But Scotland is an old and well established country, with it’s own law system, literature, traditions, language and culture. These differences from English culture demand to be recognised and maintained, rather than being subsumed into the status of a mere sub-section of England.

        I don’t imagine that Marxist theory would be sympathetic to such independence as a general principle, but as a tactical move it could be advantageous for the working class in Scotland, where overall there is more awareness of economic disparities than in many large areas of England. That’s not to say that there is any more chance of a revolution here than anywhere else, but it does mean that there is a better hope for a socialist government here in an independent state, than there is of the ‘Labour’ party in England ever managing such a thing. (See Corbyn and the successful attempt to debar him from office).

        Additionally, if it helps any critical comrades, look at it as the (almost) final dissolution of the remnants of Empire. Only NI, Wales, the Malvinas and the Chagos Islands to go, after Scotland.

        After independence I imagine that the SNP would lose a large amount of its present support, and for parties of the left (and right) to emerge. But as the tory party has been losing ground here steadily since the 1950’s, the left should beat them hollow. The present decline of ‘Scottish Labour’ is more to do with it’s continuing support for imperialism than anything else.

        The argument that ‘Labour’ in the UK needs Scottish seats to win is fallacious – this has happened (I think without referencing it), only once.

        Hope this clears things up!

        • I accept all you say Jams. You write as if I’m anti-independence. I’m not. Mine’s a different point. As with Trump and Brexit, the appetite for an independent Scotland took our rulers aback. In all cases unique factors apply. But one commonality, I say, is a rejection of a neoliberalism that is synonymous with globalisation.

          All three scenarios have powerfully specific elements. And all are poorly targeted. That’s inevitable when class and anti-imperialist perspectives are absent. Bourgeois nationalism always betrays. That doesn’t mean condemning those with faith in it. As with Irish nationalism, and the self determination question thoroughly gone into by Lenin and Luxemburg, we need a nuanced and dialectical approach here.

          Brexit was bubbling away. SNP policies shared with English Leavers and Remainers the same confusions. With the EU an element of the Scottish Referendum equation, and a major plank of SNP appeal, the vote for independence was every bit as much of an instinctive and paradoxical rebellion – at once for and against neoliberalism – as was the vote for Trump. In neither case do I suggest that those confused instincts, and any paradoxes arising, constitute all there is to say. Just that they form the context of my reply to Dave.

          Hope this clears things up.

            • Understood Jams. I apply more rigour above the line to make myself clear. Since BTL exchanges are often an important input to my thinking and writing both, I ought to approach them with the same care. That would not guarantee unambiguity (nor does it do so ATL) but might lower the frequency of its opposite.

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