Containing the U.S.
Containing the United States” is of course a ridiculous and self-contradictory idea in the U.S. and Western ideological and propaganda system. We all know that the United States had to “contain” the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1991, and since then has had the task of containing Russia and China. Only they threaten, bully, aggress, and worry countries like Poland and Vietnam. Obama has had to reassure them both of our steadfast stand against Russian and Chinese military attacks. NATO has of course expanded greatly over the past several decades, despite the deaths of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, but only to contain the renewed Russian—and Iranian, Libyan, Syrian, and other—military threats; and we have “pivoted” to Asia, supported Japanese rearmament, bolstered our own forces in that area and jousted with the Chinese in their coastal waters solely to contain China.
Earlier we had been obliged to contain North Vietnam, or was it the Soviet Union in Vietnam? Or China? Or “communism”? Or maybe all of them? Or none of them, but just needing an excuse to enlarge power? (On Vietnam, but with wider applicability, see Gareth Porter, The Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, University of California Press, 2005.)
The parallel propaganda has taken many forms. One is accepting as a premise that the United States only acts defensively and has no internal forces and interests that drive it to enlarge its sphere of control. I noted in an earlier article how Paul Krugman claims that internal Russian problems may well be the explanation of Russian “aggression,” but how at the same time it never occurs to him that the huge U.S. transnational corporate interests and “defense” establishment, and the pro-Israel lobby’s activities, might possibly make for an expansionist dynamic here (Krugman, “Why We Fight Wars,” NYT, August 17, 2014; Herman, “Krugman, Putin and the New York Times,” Z Magazine, October 2014). This reflects the standard establishment perspective that we are good and only react to evil. This was the view sustaining and justifying the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003. That attack was taken here as not evil but a response to evil, even if involving lies and mistakes, hence not describable as “aggression.” This framing has a long historical record. A classic and enlightening case was the organization and support by the United States of a mercenary army in Somoza’s Nicaragua that, with U.S. help, invaded Guatemala in 1954, overthrew its elected social democratic government and replaced it with a durable, murderous (and U.S.-protected) military dictatorship. This was done based on the lies that the overthrown government was “communist” and that its very existence constituted Soviet “aggression.” The New York Times and its mainstream associates swallowed these lies.
Another key element of establishment propaganda that is always mobilized to make U.S. actions appear properly defensive is the demonization of targeted country leaders, whose villainy shows that they needed containing. We had Saddam Hussein in 2003, Jacobo Arbenz (Guatemala) in 1954, and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) in 1964 and earlier, with Soviet and Chinese demons hovering behind the last two. In the present decade we have had Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad, and standing behind these, but also a major menace on his own, Vladimir Putin. He is a useful demon, but if he did not exist we would find somebody else to serve the function he performs.
The longstanding and incessant demonization of Putin and verbal and policy assaults on Russia (including the shaping of the sports doping scandal) long ago reached comic levels and shows the corruption of both the mainstream media and political system. Russian “aggression” is of course a favorite, resting largely on the zero-casualty reincorporation of Crimea into Russia, following a U.S.- sponsored coup in Ukraine. In contrast, the million-plus-casualty Iraq invasion of choice by this country is never described as an “aggression” in the Free Press, just as the March 2014 coup in Kiev is never called a coup here. John Kerry and Paul Krugman also express regret and indignation that Putin’s Russia fails to adhere to “international law,” notably in Crimea but also in supporting the indigenous rebels in Eastern Ukraine (regularly referred to as “Russian-backed,” whereas the rebel-attacking Kiev government is never called “U.S.- backed,” but after all U.S. backing to the legal government is perfectly acceptable, although Russian backing of the legal Syrian government is not).
There is also the steady attempt to pin the July 2014 shootdown of Malaysian airliner MH-17 over Ukraine on Russian villainy. Immediately after the shootdown John Kerry declared that we had clear proof that the pro-Russian rebels shot down the plane. But he has never yet supplied proof of this claim, and his alleged evidence failed to show up in the inconclusive preliminary Dutch report on the event. Investigative reporter Robert Parry cites a U.S. intelligence report which failed to find that the Ukraine rebels had an anti-aircraft battery capable of reaching the height of MH-17, but the Kiev forces do have such capability. (Parry, “MH-17’s Unnecessary Mystery,” Consortium News, January 15, 2016.) Still, based on Kerry’s and other official claims, the guilt of the “Russian-supported rebels” (and demon Putin) has been swallowed by the mainstream media. The shoot-down has been a propaganda windfall for the Kiev and U.S. governments, so the factor of “who benefits” adds to the substantive case that we have here another serviceable “lie that wasn’t shot down.”
As the establishment’s devil-of-the-decade it was inevitable that Putin would be brought into the U.S. electoral contest of 2016 and tied in to the domestic devil-du-jour Donald Trump. WikiLeaks was the recipient and immediate source of a massive trove of documents taken from the files of the Democratic National Committee, that revealed the extent to which the members of that committee worked to undermine the Bernie Sanders challenge to Hillary Clinton. The leading media, like the NYT, instead of featuring the evidence of bias and dirty tricks of the DNC insiders, focused on the source of the leak to WikiLeaks. The Clinton camp, Obama officials, and media quickly claimed that the hacking and leaks came from “Russian intelligence,” aiming at discrediting Hillary Clinton and damaging her electoral chances. So the dirty tricks could be virtually ignored and Putin once more shown to be an evil force.
The evidence for Russian, let alone Putin, involvement in this case was problematic. Would Russian intelligence use internet vehicles that could be easily traced by U.S. government-affiliated internet searchers? Could the source be Russians unaffiliated with the Russian government? (This is the theme of Madhav Nalapat’s “2014 Ukrainian coup behind anti-Hillary DNC email hack,” Sunday Guardian Live, July 31, 2016.) Would the Russian government be so stupid as to risk exposure with a tactic that was extremely unlikely to influence any U.S. electoral outcome? It is reminiscent of the alleged Soviet attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, which would surely have had negative effects on Soviet interests if successful. This plot was non-existent, but was a wonderful propaganda coup for the U.S. war party, with the (once again) cooperation of the NYT and its associates.
A potentially severe problem for Clinton is that her foreign policy record is abysmal, that she is an established hawk whose electoral victory will almost surely lead to a quick escalation of war in Syria and confrontation with Russia (see Gareth Porter, “Hillary and Her Hawks,” Consortium News, July 30, 2016). The Neocons who helped engineer the Iraq war and supported George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are firmly in her corner. She is fortunate that the mainstream media have given her a free pass on these crucial matters. In one kindly headline the NYT says “Clinton Calls for ‘More Love’; Trump Sees ‘an Attack on Our Country” (July 9, 2016). Despite his many repellent statements and proposals, whereas Clinton has called Putin “another Hitler” and shows not the slightest interest in a new detente, Trump has expressed admiration for Putin, suggested that he could do business with him, and called for a reduced U.S. presence abroad and a greater focus on U.S. internal needs.
This altered priority system would actually fit more closely the public interest revealed in polls, but not the desires of the massive war party, including the Neocons, nor the drift of the real Hillary Clinton program. This may contribute to the mainstream fury at Trump and fondness for Clinton as well as to the media’s refusal to allow a debate on these important foreign policy issues.
Instead the media have chosen to feature Trump as an admirer and agent of Putin, an alleged Manchurian Candidate, and Putin allegedly interfering in the U.S. election by trying to discredit Clinton and pushing for a victory for his ally Donald Trump. The foolish Trump not only swallowed the claim that the Russians were guilty of producing the WikiLeaks hacked documents, he urged Putin publicly to do more of the same.
This has allowed mainstream liberals to denounce Trump as a traitor (among them, Kali Holloway, “Donald Trump: Traitor, Liar, Danger to the World,” Alternet, July 31, 2016). And Trump has allegedly allied himself with a “dictator” and “strongman,” and a man “who doesn’t worry about international law” (Paul Krugman, “The Siberian Connection,” NYT, July 22, 2016). Gee, Paul, if Putin doesn’t worry about international law could he be taking Hillary, Obama, Bush, etc. as models? Your irony here is comical. Does the United States intervene in foreign elections? It did so massively in getting Yeltsin reelected in Russia in 1996 and it has done this with great regularity. I even coined the phrase “demonstration elections” to describe the numerous cases where it organized elections to show the U.S. public that U.S. interventions were well received and honest (they weren’t; see Herman and Brodhead, Demonstration Elections, South End Press, 1984; Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, chapter 3).
With Hillary Clinton about to be elected and some advanced cadres of the war party preparing to take charge, who is going to contain the United States? The U.S. political system has failed its populace and the world and has imposed no brakes on the war machine. The UN and EU are still too much under the U.S. thumb. Russia and China are too weak and with too flimsy an alliance system to threaten U.S. hegemony and do more than make direct U.S. aggression against themselves very costly. We can only hope that compelling internal problems and the rising costs of enlarging and even preserving imperial power will cause even leaders of the war party to follow that segment of the Trump program that calls for turning to internal problems.
Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and a writer and media analyst.. His most recent book is The Politics of Genocide (with David Peterson).