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Is it war yet?
Yes, in too many respects.
It’s a relentless economic, diplomatic, and ideological war, spiced with (so far) just a dash of military war, and the strong scent of more to come.
I mean war with Russia, of course, although Russia is the point target for a constellation of emerging adversaries the US is desperate to entame before any one or combination of them becomes too strong to defeat. These include countries like Iran and China, which are developing forces capable of resisting American military aggression against their own territory and on a regional level, and have shown quite too much uppitiness about staying in their previously-assigned geopolitical cages.
But Russia is the only country that has put its military forces in the way of a U.S. program of regime change—indirectly in Ukraine, where Russia would not get out of the way, and directly in Syria, where Russia actively got in the way. So Russia is the focus of attack, the prime target for an exemplary comeuppance.
Is it, then, a new Cold War, even more dangerous than the old one, as Stephen F. Cohen says?
That terminology was apt even a few months ago, but the speed, ferocity, and coordination of the West/NATO’s reaction to the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of the Skripals, as well as the formation of a War Cabinet in Washington, indicates to me that we’ve moved to another level of aggression.
It’s beyond Cold. Call it the Warm War. And the temperature’s rising.
The Nerve of Them
There are two underlying presumptions that, combined, make present situation more dangerous than a Cold War.
One is the presumption of guilt—or, more precisely, the presumption that the presumption of Russian guilt can always be made, and made to stick in the Western mind.
The confected furor over the alleged nerve-agent poisoning of the Skripals demonstrates this dramatically.
Theresa May’s immediate conclusion that the Russian government bears certain and sole responsibility for the nerve-agent poisoning of the Skripals is logically, scientifically, and forensically impossible.
False certainty is the ultimate fake news. It is just not true that, as she says: “There is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state is culpable.” This falsity of this statement has been demonstrated by a slew of sources—including the developers of the alleged “Novichok” agent themselves, a thorough analysis by a former UN inspector in Iraq who worked on the destruction of Russian chemical weapons, establishment Western scientific outlets like New Scientist (“Other countries could have made ‘Russian’ nerve agent”), and the British government’s own mealy-mouthed, effective-but-unacknowledged disavowal of that conclusion. In its own words, The British government found: “a nerve agent or related compound,” “of a type developed by Russia.” So, it’s absolutely, positively, certainly, without a doubt, Russian-government-produced “Novichok”….or something else.
Teresa May is lying, everyone who seconds her assertion of false certainty is lying, they all know they are lying, and the Russians know that they know they are lying. It’s a knowledgeable family.
(Video URL. Can”t embed.)
Prince Geoffrey to his mother Eleanor in The Lion in Winter.
It boggles the—or at least, my—mind how, in the face of all this, anyone could take seriously her ultimatum, ignoring the procedures of the Chemical Weapons Convention, gave Russia 24 hours to “explain”—i.e., confess and beg forgiveness for—this alleged crime.
Indeed, it’s noteworthy that France initially, and rather sharply, refused to assume Russian guilt, with a government spokesman saying, “We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made.” But the whip was cracked—and surely not by the weak hand of Whitehall—demanding EU/NATO unity in the condemnation of Russia. So, in an extraordinary show of discipline that could only be ordered and orchestrated by the imperial center, France joined the United States and 20 other countries in the largest mass expulsion of Russian diplomats ever.
Western governments and their compliant media have mandated that Russian government guilt for the “first offensive use of a nerve agent” in Europe since World War II is to be taken as flat fact. Anyone—like Jeremy Corbyn or Craig Murray—who dares to interrupt the “Sentence first! Verdict afterwards!” chorus to ask for, uh, evidence, is treated to a storm of obloquy.
At this point, Western accusers don’t seem to care how blatantly unfounded, if not ludicrous, an accusation is. The presumption of Russian guilt, along with the shaming of anyone who questions it, has become an unquestionable standard of Western/American political and media discourse.
Old Cold War McCarthyism has become new Warm War fantasy politics.
Helled in Contempt
This declaration of diplomatic war over the Skripal incident is the culmination of an ongoing drumbeat of ideological warfare, demonizing Russia and Putin personally in the most predictable and inflammatory terms.
For the past couple of years, we’ve been told by Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Boris Johnson that Putin is the new Hitler. That’s a particularly galling analogy for the Russians. Soviet Russia, after all, was Hitler’s main enemy, that defeated the Nazi army at the cost of 20+ million of its people—while the British Royal Family was not un-smitten with the charms of Hitlerian fascism, and British footballers had this poignant moment in 1938 Berlin:
“War” is what they seem to want it to be. For the past 18 to 24 months, we’ve also been inundated with Morgan Freeman and Rob Reiner’s ominous “We have been attacked. We are at war,” video, as well as the bipartisan (Hillary Clinton, John McCain) insistence that alleged Russian election meddling should be considered an “act of war” equivalent to Pearl Harbor. Indeed, Trump’s new National Security advisor, the warmongering lunatic John Bolton, calls it, explicitly “a casus belli, a true act of war.”
Even the military is getting in on the act. The nerve-agent accusation has been followed up by General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, accusing Russia of arming the Taliban! It’s noteworthy that this senior American military general casually refers to Russia as “the enemy”: “We’ve had stories written by the Taliban that have appeared in the media about financial support provided by the enemy.”
Which is strange, because, since the Taliban emerged from the American-jihadi war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, and the Taliban and Russia have “enduring enmity” towards each other, as Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network puts it. Furthermore, the sixteen-year-long American war against the Taliban has depended on Russia allowing the U.S. to move supplies through its territory, and being “the principal source of fuel for the alliance’s needs in Afghanistan.”
So the general has to admit that this alleged Russian “destabilising activity” is a new thing: “This activity really picked up in the last 18 to 24 months… When you look at the timing it roughly correlates to when things started to heat up in Syria. So it’s interesting to note the timing of the whole thing.”
Yes, it is.
The economic war against Russian is being waged through a series of sanctions that seem impossible to reverse, because their expressed goal is to extract confession, repentance, and restitution for crimes ascribed to Russia that Russia has not committed, or has not been proven to have committed, or are entirely fictional and have not been committed by anyone at all. We will only stop taking your bank accounts and consulates and let you play games with us if you confess and repent every crime we accuse you of. No questions permitted.
This is not a serious framework for respectful international relations between two sovereign nations. It’s downright childish. It paints everyone, including the party trying to impose it, into an impossible corner. Is Russia ever going to abandon Crimea, confess that it shot down the Malaysian jet, tricked us into electing Donald Trump, murdered the Skripals, is secretly arming the Taliban, et. al.? Is the U.S. ever going to say: “Never mind”? What’s the next step? It’s the predicament of the bully.
This is not, either, an approach that really seeks to address any of the “crimes” charged. As Victoria Nuland (a Clintonite John Bolton) put it on NPR, it’s about, “sending a message” to Russia. Well, as Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov said, with this latest mass expulsion of diplomats, the United States is, “Destroying what little remained of US-Russian ties.” He got the message.
All of this looks like a coordinated campaign that began in response to Russia’s interruption of American regime-change projects in Ukraine and especially Syria, that was harmonized—over the last 18 to 24 months—with various elite and popular motifs of discontent over the 2016 election, and that has reached a crescendo in the last few weeks with ubiquitous and unconstrained “enemization”1 of Russia. It’s hard to describe it as anything other than war propaganda—manufacturing the citizenry’s consent for a military confrontation.
Destroying the possibility of normal, non-conflictual, state-to-state relations and constituting Russia as “the enemy” is exactly what this campaign is about. That is its “message” and its effect—for the American people as much as for the Russia government. The heightened danger, I think, is that Russia, which has for a long time been reluctant to accept that America wasn’t interested in “partnership”, has now heard and understood this message, while the American people have only heard but do not understand it.
It’s hard to see where this can go that doesn’t involve military conflict. This is especially the case with the appointments of Mike Pompeo, Gina Haspel, and John Bolton—a veritable murderers’ row that many see as the core of a Trump War Cabinet. Bolton, who does not need Senate confirmation, is a particularly dangerous fanatic, who tried to get the Israelis to attack Iran before even they wanted to, and has promised regime change in Iran by 2019. As mentioned, he considers that Russia has already given him a “casus belli.” Even the staid New York Times warns that, with these appointments, “the odds of taking military action will rise dramatically.”
The second presumption in the American mindset today makes military confrontation more likely than it was during the Cold War: Not only is there a presumption of guilt, there is a presumption of weakness. The presumption of guilt is something the American imperial managers are confident they can induce and maintain in the Western world; the presumption of weakness is one they—or, I fear, too many of them—have all-too blithely internalized.
This is an aspect of the American self-image among policymakers whose careers matured in a post-Soviet world. During the Cold War, Americans held themselves in check by the assumption, that, militarily, the Soviet Union was a peer adversary, a country that could and would defend certain territories and interests against direct American military aggression—“spheres of interest” that should not be attacked. The fundamental antagonism was managed with grudging mutual respect.
There was, after all, a shared recent history of alliance against fascism. And there was an awareness that the Soviet Union, in however distorted a way, both represented the possibility of a post-capitalist future and supported post-colonial national liberation movements, which gave it considerable stature in the world.
American leadership might have hated the Soviet Union, but it was not contemptuous of it. No American leader would have called the Soviet Union, as John McCain called Russia, just “a gas station masquerading as a country.” And no senior American or British leader would have told the Soviet Union what British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson told Russia last week: to “go away and shut up.”
This is a discourse that assumes its own righteousness, authority, and superior power, even as it betrays its own weakness. It’s the discourse of a frustrated child. Or bully. Russia isn’t shutting up and going away, and the British are not—and know they’re not—going to make it. But they may think the Big Daddy backing them up can and will. And daddy may think so himself.
Like all bullies, the people enmeshed in this arrogant discourse don’t seem to understand that it is not frightening Russia. It’s only insulting the country, and leading it to conclude that there is indeed nothing remaining of productive, non-conflictual, US-Russian “partnership” ties. The post-Skripal worldwide diplomatic expulsions, which seem deliberately and desperately excessive, may have finally convinced Russia that there is no longer any use trying. Those who should be frightened of this are the American people.
The enemy of my enemy is me.
The United States is only succeeding in turning itself into an enemy for Russians. Americans would do well to understand how thoroughly their hypocritical and contemptuous stance has alienated the Russian people and strengthened Vladimir Putin’s leadership—as many of Putin’s critics warned them it would. The fantasy of stoking a “liberal” movement in Russia that will install some nouveau-Yeltsin-ish figure is dissipated in the cold light of a 77% election day. Putin is widely and firmly supported in Russia because he represents the resistance to any such scheme.
Americans who want to understand that dynamic, and what America itself has wrought in Russia, should heed the passion, anger, and disappointment in this statement about Putin’s election from a self-described “liberal” (using the word, I think, in the intellectual tradition, not the American political, sense), Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT TV (translator’s errors corrected):
Essentially, the West should be horrified not because 76% of Russians voted for Putin, but because this elections has demonstrated that 95% of Russia’s population supports conservative-patriotic, communist and nationalist ideas. That means that liberal ideas are barely surviving among measly 5% of population.
And that’s your fault, my Western friends. It was you who pushed us into “Russians never surrender” mode…
[W]ith all your injustice and cruelty, inquisitorial hypocrisy and lies, you forced us to stop respecting you. You and your so called “values.”
We don’t want to live like you live, anymore. For fifty years, secretly and openly, we wanted to live like you, but not any longer.
We have no more respect for you, and for those amongst us that you support, and for all those people who support you. …
For that you only have yourself to blame. …
In meantime, you’ve pushed us to rally around your enemy. Immediately after you declared him an enemy, we united around him….
It was you who imposed an opposition between patriotism and liberalism. Although, they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive notions. This false dilemma, created by you, made us chose patriotism.
Even though, many of us are really liberals, myself included.
Get cleaned up, now. You don’t have much time left.
In fact, the whole “uprising”/color revolution strategy throughout the world is over. It’s been fatally discredited by its own purported successes. Everybody in the Middle East has seen how that worked out for Iraq, Libya, and Syria, and the Russians have seen how it worked out for Ukraine and for Russia itself. In neither Russia nor Iran (nor anywhere else of importance) are the Americans, with their sanctions and their NGOs and their cookies, going to stoke a popular uprising that turns a country into a fractured client of the Washington Consensus. More fantasy politics.
The old new world Washington wants won’t be born without a military midwife. The U.S. wants a compliant Russia (and “international community”) back, and it thinks it can force it into being.
Consider this quote from The Saker, a defense analyst who was born in Switzerland to a Russian military family, “studied Russian and Soviet military affairs all [his] life,” and lived for 20 years in the United States. He’s been one of the sharpest analysts of Russia and Syria over the last few years. This was his take a year ago, after Trump’s cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al Shayrat airfield—another instant punishment for an absolutely, positively, proven-in-a day, chemical crime:
For one thing, there is no US policy on anything.
The Russians expressed their total disgust and outrage at this attack and openly began saying that the Americans were “недоговороспособны”. What that word means is literally “not-agreement-capable” or unable to make and then abide by an agreement. While polite, this expression is also extremely strong as it implies not so much a deliberate deception as the lack of the very ability to make a deal and abide by it. … But to say that a nuclear world superpower is “not-agreement-capable” is a terrible and extreme diagnostic.
This means that the Russians have basically given up on the notion of having an adult, sober and mentally sane partner to have a dialog with…
In all my years of training and work as a military analyst I have always had to assume that everybody involved was what we called a “rational actor”. The Soviets sure where. As were the Americans.…
Not only do I find the Trump administration “not agreement-capable”, I find it completely detached from reality. Delusional in other words. …
Alas, just like Obama before him, Trump seems to think that he can win a game of nuclear chicken against Russia. But he can’t. Let me be clear here: if pushed into a corner the Russian will fight, even if that means nuclear war.
There is a reason for this American delusion. The present generation of American leadership was spoiled and addled by the blissful post-Soviet decades of American impunity.
The problem is not exactly that the U.S. wants full-on war with Russia, it’s that America does not fear it.2
Why should it? It hasn’t had to for twenty years during which the US assumed it could bully Russia to stay out of its imperial way anywhere it wanted to intervene.
After the Soviet Union broke up (and only because the Soviet Union disappeared) the United States was free to use its military power with impunity. For some time, the U.S. had its drunken stooge, Yeltsin, running Russia and keeping it out of America’s military way. There was nary a peep when Bill Clinton effectively conferred on NATO (meaning the U.S. itself) the authority to decide what military interventions were necessary and legitimate. For about twenty years—from the Yugoslavia through the Libya intervention—no nation had the military power or politico-diplomatic will to resist this.
But that situation has changed. Even the Pentagon recognizes that the American Empire is in a “post-primacy” phase—certainly “fraying,” and maybe even “collapsing.” The world has seen America’s social and economic strength dissipate, and its pretense of legitimacy disappear entirely. The world has seen American military overreach everywhere while winning nothing of stable value anywhere. Sixteen years, and the mighty U.S. Army cannot defeat the Taliban. Now, that’s Russia’s fault!
Meanwhile, a number of countries in key areas have gained the military confidence and political will to refuse the presumptions of American arrogance—China in the Pacific, Iran in the Middle East, and Russia in Europe and, surprisingly, the Middle East as well. In a familiar pattern, America’s resultant anxiety about waning power increases its compensatory aggression. And, as mentioned, since it was Russia that most effectively demonstrated that new military confidence, it’s Russia that has to be dealt with first.
The incessant wave of sanctions and expulsions is the bully in the schoolyard clenching his fist to scare the new kid away. OK, everyone’s got the message now. Unclench or punch?
Let’s be clear about who is the world’s bully. As is evident to any half-conscious person, Russia is not going to attack the United States or Europe. Russia doesn’t have scores of military bases, combat ships and aircraft up on America’s borders. It doesn’t have almost a thousand military bases around the world. Russia does not have the military forces to rampage around the world as America does, and it doesn’t want or need to. That’s not because of Russia’s or Vladimir Putin’s pacifism, but because Russia, as presently situated in the political economy of the world, has nothing to gain from it.
Nor does Russia need some huge troll-farm offensive to “destabilize” and sow division in Western Europe and the United States. Inequality, austerity, waves of immigrants from regime-change wars, and trigger-happy cops are doing a fine job of that. Russia isn’t responsible for American problems with Black Lives Matter or with the Taliban.
All of this is fantasy politics.
It’s the United States, with its fraying empire, that has a problem requiring military aggression. What other tools does the U.S. have left to put the upstarts, Russia first, back in their places?
It must be hard for folks who have had their way with country after country for twenty years not to think they can push Russia out of the way with some really, really scary threats, or maybe one or two “bloody nose” punches. Some finite number of discrete little escalations. There’s already been some shoving—that cruise missile attack, Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet, American attacks on Russian personnel (ostensibly private mercenaries) in Syria—and, look, Ma, no big war. But sometimes you learn the hard way the truth of the reverse Mike Tyson rule: “Everyone has a game plan until they smack the other guy in the face.”
Consider one concrete risk of escalation that every informed observer is, and every American should be, aware of.
The place where the United States and Russia are literally, geographically, closest to confrontation is Syria. As mentioned, the U.S. and its NATO ally, Turkey, have already attacked and killed Russians in Syria, and the U.S. and its NATO allies have a far larger military force than Russia in Syria and the surrounding area. On the other hand, Russia has made very effective use of its forces, including what Reuters calls “advanced cruise missiles” launched from planes, ships, and submarines that hit ISIS targets with high precision from 1000 kilometers.
Russia is also operating in accordance with international law, while the U.S. is not. Russia is fighting with Syria for the defeat of jihadi forces and the unification of the Syrian state. The United States is fighting with its jihadi clients for the overthrow of the Syrian government and the division of the country. Russia intervened in Syria after Obama announced that the U.S. would attack Syrian army troops, effectively declaring war. If neither side accepts defeat and goes home, it is quite possible there will be some direct confrontation over this. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t.
A couple of weeks ago Syria and Russia said the U.S. was planning a major offensive against the Syrian government, including bombing the government quarter in Damascus. Valery Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff, warned: “In the event of a threat to the lives of our servicemen, Russia’s armed forces will take retaliatory measures against the missiles and launchers used.” In this context, “launchers” means American ships in the Mediterranean.
Also a couple of weeks ago, Russia announced a number of new, highly-advanced weapons systems. There’s discussion about whether some of the yet-to-be-deployed weapons announced may or may not be a bluff, but one that has already been deployed, called Dagger (Kinzhal, not the missiles mentioned above), is an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile that files at 5-7,000 miles per hour, with a range of 1200 miles. Analyst Andrei Martyanov claims that: “no modern or perspective air-defense system deployed today by any NATO fleet can intercept even a single missile with such characteristics. A salvo of 5-6 such missiles guarantees the destruction of any Carrier Battle Group or any other surface group, for that matter.” Air-launched. From anywhere.
The U.S. attack has not (yet) happened, for whatever reason (Sputnik reporter Suliman Mulhem, citing “a military monitor,” claims that’s because of the Russian warnings). Great. But given the current state of America’s anxiously aggressive “post-primacy” policy—including the Russiamania, the Zionist-driven need to destroy Syria and Iran, and the War Cabinet—how unlikely is that the U.S. will, in the near future, make some such attack on some such target that Russia considers crucial to defend?
And Syria is just one theater where, unless one side accepts defeat and goes home, military conflict with Russia is highly likely. Is Russia going to abandon the Russian-speaking people of the Donbass if they’re attacked by fascist Kiev forces backed by the U.S.? Is it going to sit back and watch passively if American and Israeli forces attack Iran? Which one is going to give up and accept a loss: John Bolton or Vladimir Putin?
Which brings us to the pointed question: What will the U.S. do if Russia sinks an American ship? How many steps before that goes full-scale, even nuclear? Or maybe American planners (and you, dear reader) are absolutely, positively sure that will never happen, because the U.S. has cool weapons, too, and a lot more of them, and the Russians will probably lose all their ships in the Mediterranean immediately, if not something worse, and they’ll put up with anything rather than go one more step. The Russians, like everybody, must know the Americans always win.
Happy with that, are we? Snug in our homeland rug? ‘Cause Russians won’t fight, but the Taliban will.
This is exactly what is meant by Americans not fearing war with Russia (or war in general for that matter). Nothing but contempt.
The Skripal opera, directed by the United States, with the whole of Europe and the entire Western media apparatus singing in harmony, makes it clear that the American producers have no speaking role for Russia in their staging of the world. And that contempt makes war much more likely. Here’s The Saker again, on how dangerous the isolation the U.S. and its European clients are so carelessly imposing on Russia and themselves is for everybody:
Right now they are expelling Russian diplomats en masse and they are feeling very strong and manly. …
The truth is that this is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. In reality, crucial expert-level consultations, which are so vitally important between nuclear superpowers, have all but stopped a long time ago. We are down to top level telephone calls. That kind of stuff happens when two sides are about to go to war. For many months now Russia and NATO have made preparations for war in Europe. …Very rapidly the real action will be left to the USA and Russia. Thus any conflict will go nuclear very fast. And, for the first time in history, the USA will be hit very, very hard, not only in Europe, the Middle-East or Asia, but also on the continental US.
Mass diplomatic expulsions, economic warfare, lockstep propaganda, no interest whatsoever in respectfully addressing or hearing from the other side. What we’ve been seeing over the past few months is the “kind of stuff that happens when two sides are about to go to war.”
The less Americans fear war, the less they respect the possibility of it, the more likely they are to get it.
Ready or Not
The Saker makes a diptych of a point that gets to the heart of the matter. We’d do well to read and think on it carefully:
1. The Russians are afraid of war. The Americans are not.
2. The Russians are ready for war. The Americans are not.
Russia is afraid of war. More than twenty million Soviet citizens were killed in WWII, about half of them civilians. That was more than twenty times the number of Americans and British casualties combined. The entire country was devastated. Millions died in the 872-day siege of Leningrad alone, including Vladimir Putin’s brother. The city’s population was decimated by disease and starvation, with some reduced to cannibalism. Wikileaks calls it “one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history [and] possibly the costliest in casualties.” Another million-plus died in the nine-month siege of Stalingrad.
Every Russian knows this history. Millions of Russian families have suffered from it. Of course, there was mythification of the struggle and its heroes, but the Russians, viscerally, know war and know it can happen to them. They do not want to go through it again. They will do almost anything to avoid it. Russians are not flippant about war. They fear it. They respect it.
The Americans are not (afraid of war). Americans have never experienced anything remotely as devastating as this. About 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, 150 years ago. (And we’re still entangled in that!) The American mainland has not been attacked by a significant military force since the War of 1812. Since then, the worst attacks on American territory are two one-off incidents (Pearl Harbor and 9/11), separated by seventy years, totaling about six-thousand casualties. These are the iconic moments of America Under Siege.
For the American populace, wars are “over there,” fought by a small group of Americans who go away and either come back or don’t. The death, destruction, and aroma of warfare—which the United States visits on people around the world incessantly—is unseen and unexperienced at home. Americans do not, cannot, believe, in any but the most abstract intellectual sense, that war can happen here, to them. For the general populace, talk of war is just more political background noise, Morgan Freeman competing for attention with Stormy Daniels and the Kardashians.
Americans are supremely insouciant about war: They threaten countries with it incessantly, the government routinely sells it with lies, and the political parties promote it opportunistically to defeat their opponents—and nobody cares. For Americans, war is part of a game. They do not fear it. They do not respect it.
The Russians are ready for war. The Nazi onslaught was defeated—in Soviet Russia, by Soviet Citizens and the Red Army—because the mass of people stood and fought together for a victory they understood was important. They could not have withstood horrific sieges and defeated the Nazis any other way. Russians understand, in other words, that war is a crisis of death and destruction visited on the whole of society, which can only be won by a massive and difficult effort grounded in social solidarity. If the Russians feel they have to fight, if they feel besieged, they know they will have to stand together, take the hits that come, and fight to the finish. They will not again permit war to be brought to their cities while their attacker stays snug. There will be a world of hurt. They will develop and use any weapon they can. And their toughest weapon is not a hypersonic missile; it’s that solidarity, implied by that 77%. (Did you read that Simonyan statement?) They may not be seeking it, but, insofar as anybody can be, they are ready to fight.
Americans are not (ready for war): Americans experience the horror of was as a series of discrete tragedies visited upon families of fallen soldiers, reported in human-interest vignettes at the end of the nightly news. Individual tragedies, not a social disaster.
It’s hard to imagine the social devastation of war in any case, but American culture wants no part of thinking about that concretely. The social imagination of war is deflected into fantastic scenarios of a super-hero universe or a zombie apocalypse. The alien death-ray may blow up the Empire State Building, but the hero and his family (now including his or her gender-ambivalent teenager, and, of course, the dog) will survive and triumph. Cartoon villains, cartoon heroes, and a cartoon society.
One reason for this, we have to recognize, is the victory of the Thatcherite/libertarian-capitalist “no such thing as society” ideology. Congratulations, Ayn Rand, there is no such thing as American society now. It’s every incipient entrepreneur for him or herself. This does not a comradely, fighting band of brothers and sisters make.
Furthermore, though America is constantly at war, nobody understands the purpose of it. That’s because the real purpose can never be explained, and must be hidden behind some facile abstraction—”democracy,” “our freedoms,” etc. This kind of discourse can get some of the people motivated for some of the time, but it loses its charm the minute someone gets smacked in the face.
Once they take a moment, everybody can see that there is nobody with an army threatening to attack and destroy the United States, and if they take a few moments, everybody can see how phony the “democracy and freedom” stuff is and remember how often they’ve been lied to before. There’s just too much information out there. (Which is why the Imperial High Command wants to control the internet.) Why the hell am I fighting? What in hell are we fighting for? These are questions everybody will ask after, and too many people are now asking before, they get smacked in the face.
This lack of social understanding and lack of political support translates into the impossibility of fighting a major, sustained war that requires taking heavy casualties—even “over there,” but certainly in the snug. American culture might be all gung-ho about Seal Team Six kicking ass, but the minute American homes start blowing up and American bodies start falling, Hoo-hah becomes Uh-oh, and it’s going to be Outta here.
Americans are ready for Hoo-hah and the Shark Tank and the Zombie Apocalypse. They are not ready for war.
You Get What You Play For
“Russiagate,” which started quite banally in the presidential campaign as a Democratic arrow to take down Trump, is now Russiamania—a battery of weapons wielded by various sectors of the state, aimed at an array of targets deemed even potentially resistant to imperial militarism. Trump himself—still, and for as long as he’s deemed unreliable—is targeted by a legal prosecution of infinite reach (whose likeliest threat is to take him down for something that has nothing to do with Russia). Russia itself is now targeted in full force by economic, diplomatic, ideological—and, tentatively, military—weapons of the state. Perhaps most importantly, American and European people, especially dissidents, are targeted by a unified media barrage that attacks any expression of radical critique, anything that “sows division”—from Black Lives Matter, to the Sanders campaign, to “But other countries could have made it”—as Russian treachery.
The stunning success of that last offensive is crucial to making a war more likely, and must be fought. To increase the risk of war with a nuclear power in order to score points against Donald Trump or Jill Stein—well, only those who neither respect, fear, nor are ready for war would do such a stupid and dangerous thing.
It’s impossible to predict with certainty whether, when, or with whom a major hot war will be started. The same chaotic disarray and impulsiveness of the Trump administration that increases the danger of war might also work to prevent it. John Bolton may be fired before he trims his moustache. But it’s a pressure-cooker, and the temperature has spiked drastically.
In a previous essay, I said that Venezuela was a likely first target for military attack, precisely because it would make for an easy victory that didn’t risk military confrontation with Russia. That’s still a good possibility. As we saw with Iraq Wars 1 (which helped to end the “Vietnam Syndrome”) and 2 (which somewhat resurrected it), the imperial high command needs to inure the American public with a virtually American-casualty-free victory and in order to lure them into taking on a war that’s going to hurt.
But the new War Cabinet may be pumped for the main event—an attack on Iran. Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton are all rabid proponents of regime-change in Iran. We can be certain that the Iran nuclear deal will be scrapped, and everyone will work hard to implement the secret agreement the Trump administration already has with Israel to “to deal with Iran’s nuclear drive, its missile programs and its other threatening activities”—or, as Trump himself expresses it: “cripple the [Iranian] regime and bring it to collapse.” (That agreement, by the way, was negotiated and signed by the previous, supposedly not-so-belligerent National Security Advisor, H. R. McMaster.)
Still, as I also said in the previous essay, an attack on Iran means the Americans must either make sure Russia doesn’t get in the way or make clear that they don’t care if it does. So, threatening moves—not excluding probing military moves—against Russia will increase, whether Russia is the preferred direct target or not.
The siege is on.
Americans who want to continue playing with this fire would do well to pay some respectful attention to the target whose face they want to smack. Listen to Vladimir Putin talking to Western journalists in Saint Petersburg in 2017 (Really, watch the twelve-minute video. There’s an adult in the room.):
We know year-by-year what’s going to happen, and they know that we know. It’s only you that they tell tales to, and you spread them to the citizens of your countries.
Your people in turn do not feel a sense of the impending danger–and this is what worries me.
How can you not understand that the word is being pulled in an irreversible direction. That’s the problem.
Meanwhile they pretend that nothing’s going on. I don’t know how to get through to you anymore.
Russia did not boast or brag or threaten or Hoo-Hah about sending military forces to Syria. When it was deemed necessary—when the United States declared its intention to attack the Syrian Army—it just did it. And American 10-dimensional-chess players have been squirming around trying to deal with the implications of that ever since. They’re working hard on finding the right mix of threats, bluffs, sanctions, expulsions, “Shut up and go away!” insults, military forces on the border, and “bloody nose” attacks to force a capitulation. They should be listening to their target, who has not tired of asking for a “partnership,” who has clearly stated what his country would do in reaction to previous moves (e.g., the abrogation of the ABM Treaty and stationing of ABM bases in Eastern Europe), whose country and family have suffered from wartime devastation Americans cannot imagine, who therefore respects, fears, and is ready for war in ways Americans are not, and who is not playing their game:
(Video URL. Can’t embed.)
2 Though it’s ridiculous that it needs to be said: I’m not talking here about the phony fear engendered by the media presentation of the “strongman,” “brutal dictator” Vladimir Putin. This is part and parcel of comic-book politics—conjuring a super-villain, who, we all know, is destined to be defeated.