No belief has been more costly and deadly than a belief in governments’ veracity. Trusting their governments, people have marched off to die in useless and hopeless slaughter, sunk their savings into depreciating and worthless currencies, consigned their children to propaganda masquerading as education, funded wasteful and counterproductive spending, and looked to their leaders for security they couldn’t provide and expertise they didn’t have. To detail the duplicitous depredations of just our own government would require multiple volumes. However, since 9/11 official mendacity has broken out to the upside. It now poses a deadly threat as the government employs it not just to justify involvement in the Middle East, but to set the stage for confrontation with Russia.
Foreign policy has always been relatively ignored by most Americans, compared to the attention paid to domestic issues. Straight Line Logic articles on foreign policy invariably garner fewer hits than domestic pieces and this one probably will, too. However, ignoring the topic, the American people have ceded foreign policy to an elite with a common mindset and goals. If stated explicitly to them, most Americans would reject both the mindset and the goals, which is where the lies come in. Furthermore, foreign policy has been and will continue to be far more consequential than many of the issues that command Americans’ attention.
The end of World War II found the US in a historically unique position. It had been the head of victorious alliance and its military had suffered far fewer losses than its allies or enemies. It had invented and used the atomic bomb. Of the world’s major nations, it was the only one whose industrial infrastructure was intact. The Bretton Woods’ monetary order had made the dollar the reserve currency. The US was the world’s unchallengeable sole superpower. That changed when the USSR detonated an atomic bomb in 1949, but within its Cold War bloc, the US was the dominant force. US leaders quite naturally came to believe that it was best for both the US and the world that the nations within the US bloc comply with US dictates, and that the bloc itself should continuously confront and challenge the Soviet bloc.
The belief in American superiority was fueled not just by US strength, but by “The Best and the Brightest” hubris of the American elite, analyzed by David Halberstam in his book of that name. The greatest nation on earth was being managed by its smartest, most accomplished people, titans from government, industry, Wall Street, and academia, primarily the Ivy League. The rest of America on the whole accepted both the elite’s characterization of itself and its control of US foreign, military, and intelligence policy. They didn’t have much choice. Most of the available information about foreign affairs—and much propaganda—came from the government, and all the major media organs parroted the party line. There was little difference between the two major political parties on foreign policy.
Vietnam was a watershed. Because it became an unpopular war and a US defeat, it has been shoved down the American memory hole, which is a mistake. One learns more from one’s failures than one’s successes. Vietnam demands far greater scrutiny and analysis than it has been given, and the US has paid a steep price for this analytical neglect. The government wove a web of lies to cover shifts in the landscape that might have, if generally recognized, led to a critical and fruitful reexamination of the US’s role in the world.
At first the US presence in Vietnam fit the Hollywood template: the US was helping beleaguered South Vietnam fight off communist North Vietnam so the South Vietnamese could enjoy the fruits of democracy and liberty. In its hubris, the US government refused to recognize or acknowledge a key reality: like the North Vietnamese government, many in South Vietnam regarded the US not as liberators, but as the latest in a long line of imperial occupiers of the country, strolling to the plate from the on-deck circle after the French had struck out. The North Vietnamese never would have achieved its widespread infiltration of South Vietnam if a large number of inhabitants had not shared its animus towards a foreign power. Hostility increased as the US supported, then assassinated, South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem. It peaked when the US military and the CIA essentially took over running South Vietnam and the ever-escalating war destroyed villages and towns, sizable areas of the countryside, including farmland, and much of the infrastructure there.
Also unacknowledged or denied was the difficulty of fighting a guerrilla war on the guerrillas’ home turf. The story from the military and Washington was that victory was just around the corner, always only a few brigades and a little more funding away. By all conventional metrics North Vietnam suffered horrendous losses. However, it waged an unconventional and ultimately successful war both militarily and politically, gaining, with carrots and sticks, South Vietnamese support, banking on eventual American exhaustion. As US support for the war waned, the rhetoric about winning continued, but the actual strategy became a military and diplomatic effort to find a face-saving way out. By that time, enough of the mainstream media had gone off the reservation on Vietnam that the government’s ability to lie about it had been severely compromised. Alternative “facts,” analyses, and interpretations were widely available and fed the increasing skepticism.
The government also misled on the financial dimension of the war. Enamored of America’s wealth and power, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations believed the US could have it all: Vietnam and a dramatic expansion of the welfare state. However, raising taxes would have increased public opposition to one or the other or both. Deficit financing maintained the have-it-all fiction. As with Vietnam, it was left for Richard Nixon to deal with the consequences.
Nixon’s closing of the gold window in August of 1971 should have initiated a long overdue reexamination of the assumption of American omnipotence. The US would no longer exchange gold for its reserve currency. How could it insist that the world dance to its tune after it had broken this most fundamental of promises? The fall of South Vietnam four years later knocked away the US’s other prop, its military. How was it going to guarantee US bloc nations’ security when it couldn’t defeat North Vietnam?
Neither event shook the elite’s belief in American omnipotence, and the right of the US government to order the world as it saw fit. The fall of the USSR in 1991 increased its hubris but presented a problem: no more enemy against which to rally the US bloc. Ordinary Americans asked why Cold War swollen defense and intelligence budgets couldn’t be slashed, and why it was necessary for the US to maintain military bases and commitments around the world. Perhaps the money saved could be used to pay down debt or reduce taxes. The last balanced budget was achieved during the Clinton administration, in part due to a peace dividend that soon vanished.
For the elite, 9/11 was a godsend. However, to justify the subsequent renewal of US global interventionism and a dramatic curtailment of civil liberties, the American people would have to be fed the whopper of all whoppers: that Islamic extremism presented an existential threat on par and maybe even more dangerous than the Communist threat. Of all the world’s Islamic nations, only one, Pakistan, has nuclear weapons, and that is only a handful. The most terrifying weapons non-governmental Islamic extremists have are YouTube beheadings and their ability to brainwash some adherents into blowing themselves up. The religion is riven by a schism between its Sunni and Shiite sects and centuries of intrigue, rivalry, and conflict. If fundamentalists had their way, Islamic governments would return their peoples to economic and social practices putting them more than a millennium behind the developed world. The freedom responsible for mankind’s progress is anathema to them (as was again demonstrated in Paris). Yet, somehow, these retrograde nuts are a threat to conquer the planet.
So on dubious pretexts the elite jumped into the Middle Eastern hornets nest, and not surprisingly the US has been stung, repeatedly, at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of civilian and military deaths and severe injuries. Nobody has yet demonstrated what vital US interest was furthered by its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, because there was none. The neoconservative vision of remaking the Middle East, a pipe dream from the beginning, is now nothing more than a hollow joke.
Some opponents of the invasions have said they were all about oil, but the Middle East is full of oil and nations would have kept selling it to us had we never set foot in the area. Like the South Vietnamese earlier, there are many in the Middle East who are not overjoyed with the foreign presence. Having gone to school on the North Vietnamese, they have proven adept at waging defensive guerrilla war, and at outlasting domestic US support for its government’s involvements.
As the embarrassing Syrian “red line” contretemps demonstrated, the majority of Americans have grown wary of further Middle Eastern forays. Their suspicions are fueled by the internet, where bloggers, alternative media, and videos often reveal “truth” inconsistent with the government-mainstream media approved version. Not even the YouTube beheadings were enough to garner support for sending the military to fight ISIS. Obama had to promise that US troops would not take a combat role, a promise that is surreptitiously being broken.
Nothing, certainly not repeated failure or lack of public support, stops a determined US interventionist from trying again, or even doubling down. It is one thing to wage wars, unsuccessful ones at that, in backward countries in the Middle East. It is another matter altogether to tee one up against Russia. Give the interventionists their best case. Assume that Russia has been actively aiding and abetting rebels in eastern Ukraine, who wantonly shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with Russian assistance. Assume that Russia annexed the Crimea against the will of a majority of the Crimean people, who wished to remain a part of Ukraine, to which it rightfully belongs. Stretch things even farther and assume that Russia is trying to resurrect the old USSR empire, and is conducting or will conduct campaigns of subversion and overt military action in old Warsaw pact nations and the Baltic states. All of these assumptions are open to serious question, but even if taken as correct, cautionary portents abound.
The current US campaign against Russia uses economic sanctions. If the situation deteriorates into a military confrontation, a US victory is problematic. The results could be catastrophic, including the use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s massive size would give it a massive home field advantage, as Napoleon and Hitler discovered. They would probably ally with neighbor China. Both countries are increasingly resisting the American elite’s vision of global domination. The last year the news has been filled with stories of new cooperative ventures—political, economic, and military—between the two nations. Both are attempting to strengthen ties with their less powerful neighbors, offering various carrots in exchange for closer cooperation. The goal is the formation of a Euro-Asian axis strong enough to rival the US-European axis. The ultimate countermove to US domination has been strategies to develop trade, particularly trade in oil, denominated in rubles and yuan rather than dollars.
Cursory examinations of a globe and the world almanac support the conclusion that the envisioned Euro-Asian axis is no pipe dream. Russia and China, and the nations contiguous to them, contain a significant percentage, in many cases a majority, of the world’s population, resources, and land mass. This Soviet-Chinese bloc also borders the Middle East, giving it a huge advantage in any future conflict in the area, if it choses to get involved. (Which it probably won’t unless absolutely forced to do so. The Russians and Chinese have stayed out of overt military involvement in the Middle East, wisely choosing to let the US waste its time, money, soldiers’ lives, credibility, and military might in the region.)
The precipitous decline in the price of oil may just be the unhindered workings of the price mechanism in a market with a glut of supply, dwindling demand, and many producers who must keep producing even though in the long-term it is uneconomic after all costs are accounted for. This remains the most plausible explanation, but there are also a plethora of theories that “explain” the decline in terms of non-market forces. The most credible so far is that the US and Saudi Arabia are teaming up to put Russia out of business and drive Putin from power. That theory was propounded by Mike Whitney in a piece, “Is Putin Creating a New World Order? Oil Price Blowback,” which first appeared on counterpunch.org and was featured on SLL (and has been denied by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal).
Putin has been the spearhead of Euro-Asia, including the moves against the dollar. He is a formidable challenger to an US-centered world order, especially since he’s teamed up with China. He has outplayed the US government at every turn and has embarrassed an obviously overmatched Obama. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that Obama would sacrifice US fracking industry, which he doesn’t like, and that the Saudis would bear a temporary financial hit, to get rid of Putin, who is allied with Saudi enemies Iran and Syria.
Whether or not that is the case, official US antipathy towards Putin, and a desire to see him driven from power, are unmistakable. Which means the government’s pounding drums on Ukraine, faithfully amplified by the mainstream media, are, in all likelihood, pretexts. In other words, the elite are again lying to sell the public on yet another foreign intervention, this one far more fraught with danger than previous failures.
Let’s drop the earlier, favorable-to-the-interventionists assumptions. The US’s fingerprints are all over the coup that ousted democratically elected president Victor Yanuyovch, after he veered from joining the US-EU orbit and instead accepted an offer of various commercial and financial benefits from Russia. There are ample indications of significant neo-Nazi elements within the movement that took control of the Ukraine government. That government is now nothing more than a US puppet, beholden to the US and other western governments for financial life support for its withering economy. The proof offered that Ukrainian separatists shot down Flight 17 is not conclusive, and the Russians have counterclaimed that the Ukrainian government shot it down, though that claim also requires a dose of salt. Satellites can read and photograph license plates from thousands of feet above the earth, but the photographic proof for the US claim that Russia has moved troops and military equipment into eastern Ukraine has been scant.
So the justifications for what could become the most consequential war the US has ever fought are among the flimsiest ever offered. The policy-making elite has envisioned a US-dominated world since the US assumed the pinnacle of power after WWII, and probably even before then. The post-WWII preeminence upon which that vision rested was never going to last. It was called into question with the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb and completely discredited decades ago when Nixon closed the gold window and the US withdrew from Vietnam. There is no reason the American bloc and the emerging Russo-Sino bloc could not come to a modus vivendi, perhaps even to their mutual benefit (idealism never completely dies). However, that would require abandonment of the elite’s untenable vision, and that won’t happen until after at least one more disastrous US intervention, if not in Russia, then somewhere else.
ONCE UPON A TIME AMERICA MINDED ITS OWN BUSINESS