Amazingly, the presidential election of 2024 isn’t that far away, and already the Democratic Party is doing its best to remove democracy from the process. Once again, the DNC is uniting behind Joe Biden who, if reelected, would be 86 if he finished his second term of office. Already South Carolina has been awarded the first primary in place of New Hampshire, since Biden performed much better in SC than in NH in 2020. Already the DNC has announced it wants no primary debates even though Biden faces at least one challenger of substance, Marianne Williamson. Already Democrats are being told you shouldn’t want a younger, more dynamic, more progressive candidate, that more candidates and more choice is bad, that no possible mainstream candidate is better than Biden, and anyway Democrats can’t be distracted by choice when the Republican candidate is likely to be Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis.
At the same time, Kamala Harris remains Biden’s heir-apparent, even though Harris is both politically unpopular and ham-fisted. As Krystal Ball, who can’t be accused of being anti-women, explained, Harris lacks political talent, full stop. Like most VPs, she has accomplished little, but when she has taken center stage, she hasn’t inspired confidence. Nevertheless, she’s important to the image of the party and its alleged commitment to diversity. Old white guy Joe needs to be balanced by a younger woman of color irrespective of her lack of political acumen and her lackluster record in office.
Sadly, we’re at a place where to critique Joe Biden is to be accused of ageism; to critique Kamala Harris is to be accused of both racism and misogyny. To ask for more candidates, more competition, more democracy is to be accused of being an operative for Trump. So it’s likely Biden/Harris again for 2024, like it or lump it.
The last true liberal/progressive Democratic nominee who tried to bring real hope and change to America was George McGovern in 1972. Nixon trounced him, of course, and Democrats at the top abandoned “leftist” notions for a pro-business, pro-banking, pro-military, and pro-money agenda, as implemented by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Both were two-term presidents, both were good at posing as champions of regular folk while implementing agendas that were old-school Republican. Meanwhile, the real Republicans drifted ever further to the right.
America today is stuck with two rightist parties, a uniparty of sorts, where the agenda favors the richest few versus the poorest many, the powerful versus the powerless. Sure, the Democrats profess they are more “woke” and are willing to talk about systemic racism, sexism, LGBTQ issues, and so on, while the Republicans, incredibly, are both more populist and more willing to question massive spending on weapons and war. Yet both parties remain bought and paid for, serving the interests of the big-money owners and donors. In short, 2024 promises a rigged deal, not a new one, no matter which major party candidate wins.
And that’s a shame, because America needs a New Deal for the poor, the powerless, the workers, the regular folk, but they’re not even allowed to have a candidate, let alone a choice. At this moment, the most likely “choice” is between Biden/Harris and Trump/DeSantis, and if you think either ticket will support meaningful change…
Establishment America is bereft of new ideas and new possibilities; thus, the dynamism of our nation is dying, smothered by greed and cynicism. It’s “no change” Biden versus “very unstable grifter” Trump, or possibly “younger grifter” DeSantis. What a choice!
So, who would I vote for if the election were held today? Marianne Williamson. She’s not perfect (there is no perfect candidate), but she’s articulate, empathetic, and open-minded. Better yet, she’s not bought and paid for. If I were a Democrat (I’m not), I’d vote for her just because the establishment dismisses her as an unserious crystal/aura lady. Imagine: she dares talk about love and compassion and pursuing peace. We can’t have that in America!
I hope Williamson gains traction within the party, enough so that the DNC can’t suppress debates, because real debates would reveal what many have already noted: that Biden has slipped too much to be entrusted with the presidency for another four years. Yet, unless he collapses on stage, or even if he does, the DNC will continue to prop him up as vigorous and able to serve.
That ongoing sham reveals a harsh reality: who is president doesn’t really matter in America when the candidates and their staff are pre-selected by the real power centers like Wall Street and the National Security State.
Bank failures are never encouraging, and the recent failure of Silicon Valley Bank points to the instability of our American moment. President Biden made a short speech to affirm depositors would get their money back, only to exit the stage without taking any questions from reporters. As Biden slowly walked away from the podium, closing carefully the door behind him, I couldn’t help but see the whole act as symbolic of a tired America that has lost its way.
Yes, Biden acted to reassure markets and to rescue affluent depositors, yet he hardly reacted at all to the recent train wreck that poisoned East Palestine, Ohio. If only the train wreck had struck a major bank …
Tallying up Biden’s broken campaign promises, another one, an especially egregious one, was announced with the plan to allow oil drilling in pristine wilderness in northern Alaska. Biden had promised no more drilling on federal lands. Period. And then he approved the massive Willow drilling project on federal land in Alaska, an act of climate terrorism, notes Rebecca Solnit.
Meanwhile, Biden released his proposed Pentagon budget for 2024. You won’t be surprised to learn it’s soared to $886 billion, an almost inconceivable sum, or that the Biden budget focuses most of its discretionary spending on weaponry, wars, security, police, and prisons. Here’s a handy diagram:
I suppose the government will need all those warriors and guards with guns to maintain order while banks fail and the environment is poisoned, whether from oil drilling or train wrecks.
Perhaps you’ve seen the Daniel Day-Lewis movie about oil drilling’s early days. Its title is suggestive to what is to come: “There will be blood.”
Corporate Capture of Government, not Age, Is the Problem
In honor of Presidents’ Day, let’s look ahead to the 2024 presidential election.
Right now, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are the leading candidates of their respective parties for the 2024 election. Biden will be 82 if reelected; Trump will be 78. Are they simply too old to serve?
The short answer is “no.” Sixty is allegedly the new forty, so I suppose eighty is the new sixty. Seriously, age alone isn’t the issue. Many people are mentally alert and physically vigorous well into their eighties and beyond. But many people aren’t; age does take its toll, we do age unequally, so it’s best to take this case by case, person by person.
Trump’s problem isn’t that he’s too old; he’s simply too much of a con man and a narcissist. Even as a businessman, he was largely a loser. When you go bankrupt running casinos, where the odds are stacked in your favor, you truly are incompetent. Trump wants to be president again because he lost and hates to lose. He lacks a positive plan for America, which isn’t surprising, as he has no empathy for others. He’s not too old; he’s just supremely focused on himself.
Biden isn’t too old, in theory. But more so than Trump, he does appear to be in physical and cognitive decline. At the British Guardian, Margaret Sullivan wrote that:
“Of course, I wish Biden were 20 years younger; I wish he didn’t stumble over his words and sometimes make inexplicable mistakes. I worry about his cognitive decline and physical frailty. But right now, he looks like the best bet to stave off a likely-disastrous Republican presidency and his record, while not flawless, is impressive.”
Her argument is simple: Biden is the best bet to defeat Trump (or DeSantis), so ignore his faults and frailties. It’s OK for a president to stumble over his words, to make inexplicable mistakes, even to exhibit signs of cognitive decline and physical frailty. Why? Because Democrats apparently have no other viable candidate to defeat the Republicans.
The willingness of the mainstream media and so many otherwise sensible people to dismiss obvious signs of Biden’s decline inadvertently points to a larger truth: Biden, if reelected, won’t be running the country anyway, so why worry about his physical and mental health?
As Chris Hedges and others have argued, America isn’t a democracy. Presidents aren’t public servants. America is an oligarchy, and presidents largely answer to the oligarchs. A corporate coup d’etat enacted over the last half-century ensures the real rulers of America are on Wall Street, in big finance, and with the national security state and similar powerful interests.
So, which figurehead do you want, Trump or Biden? That seems to be America’s “choice” for 2024, making this Presidents’ Day grimmer than it should be.
Show me a candidate who wants to fight against the corporate capture of the U.S. government, and I’ll joyfully vote for that person irrespective of their age.
(A coda: Speaking of age, can you imagine two women the ages of Biden and Trump contesting for the presidency in America? I can’t. They’d be dismissed by too many as “old hags,” obviously well past their prime, as Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was recently described by CNN host Don Lemon, and Ms. Haley is only 51! Yet again, America has a “choice” between aging white men wearing red power ties, each with serious flaws. Democracy!)
I woke up today to the news the Democrats will keep control of the Senate through 2024. Democracy is saved! I guess the Russian bots didn’t steal the election this time around, nor did election deniers mount a coup against democracy. The status quo prevails in America. What great news for all workers, all those who are struggling to make ends meet, to learn that nothing has fundamentally changed in the best of all possible countries.
Heck, it’s even good news that Republicans are likely to gain a narrow majority in the House, thereby demoting Nancy Pelosi to House Minority Leader. I can look forward to House impeachment proceedings against various Democrats, because such proceedings are truly what working-class Americans want and need from their government.
President Biden promised to take action to codify Roe v Wade into law if the Democrats won, so I suppose he’ll weasel his way out of this promise if the House tips Republican. Not that his action was going to change anything, since Biden refuses to touch the Senate filibuster.
What we can look forward to is two more years of divided, do-nothing government in Washington, DC, with politics being dominated by Donald Trump’s new run for the presidency against Sleepy Joe and Giggles Harris. Happy days are here again!
Of course, a “divided” Congress will still come together to support massive Pentagon spending and a blank check of military aid to Ukraine. Nothing unites Democrats and Republicans like weapons and wars.
What you won’t see, of course, is a higher federal minimum wage, single-payer health care, or anything else the working classes could truly use. America, of course, is an oligarchy and Congress and the President serve the oligarchs. As George Carlin memorably said: “You have no rights” — and no say.
One clear result from this election is Joe Biden’s commitment to run again in 2024, when he’ll be 82 years old. Truly, anyone can be president in America, as long as the oligarchs sign off on you. Biden running again reminds me of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the early 1930s, when Paul von Hindenburg, also in his eighties, ran against and defeated a certain Adolf Hitler in 1932. Of Hindenburg it was said that the men around him “shoved him — with dignity.” And I suppose the operatives around Biden will also shove him about, with (or without) dignity, as age takes its inevitable toll on him.
Biden will likely keep Kamala Harris as his vice president, not wanting to admit his mistake in picking her. Put charitably, Harris has been a non-entity as VP, so she’s perfect for the job, but if Biden runs and wins in 2024, there’s a decent chance she could become president during Biden’s second term. Of course, the oligarchy vetted and picked her exactly because she’s predictable and obedient to power. But some people will crow about how amazing it is to have a Black Asian female president when her views and allegiances are almost exactly the same as a white Catholic male president like Biden. But, you know, diversity!
So it’s two more years of hearing Democracy is in peril because Trump is running again when we all know or sense that whatever democracy we had ended in America decades ago, and most certainly by 1980. (Of course, America was founded as a republic by a bunch of privileged white guys, who weren’t exactly trusting of democracy, seeing it as mob rule.) Still, I like to think there’s hope in America, because more and more people are waking up to the harsh realities we face as a people. Don’t tell me I’m wrong about this; I’d like to keep a scintilla of hope, if only to preserve my own sanity, which will be sorely tested in the run up to the 2024 election.
So here’s to another two years of “democracy,” American-style, meaning no democracy at all. I wonder why an obvious con man like Trump gains so much traction here in the land of the not-so-free?
President Joe Biden denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” at a recent speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I’ve been to Independence Hall, but never did I picture it like this, lit in a garish red light:
Readers here know I’m critical of Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t want either man to get a second term. And MAGA, as in make America great again, is a movement that has cult-like elements in the way it elevates Trump as some kind of leader/savior figure. Being critical of MAGA is one thing, but Biden’s speech had all the subtlety of the red-tinged image above.
Having watched too many episodes of “Star Trek,” what I think of here is Red Alert. But painting all Trump supporters with the same red brush only aggravates tension and division.
Sorry, I don’t see my MAGA neighbor as my enemy. He or she is a fellow American, probably one who’s frustrated with the system as it exists today and is seeking an alternative to politics as usual. The shameful thing is our country’s political duopoly, which offers only two choices, Biden or a Biden clone versus Trump or a Trump clone. Maybe the “enemy within” is the duopoly itself?
Biden’s speech was disheartening. The way to win people over is not to paint your rival in red. Give people hope. Give them meaningful reforms. A $15 federal minimum wage. Affordable health care. Higher education that doesn’t lead to huge personal debt. Environmental policies that preserve the earth and address climate change. An end to gargantuan military budgets and overseas wars. Heck, I’ll settle for potable drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan.
Railing against an “enemy” is easy. Sharing the fruits of America equitably among all Americans is the real challenge. Biden pushed a big red “easy” button that placed his followers on red alert against the MAGA foe, as if they weren’t our fellow Americans but a quasi-Klingon empire of aliens out to attack and conquer. It’s a move both wrong and wrongheaded. It’s also yet one more reminder that America needs new political parties and a new direction.
At long last, the Biden administration has taken a modest step on student debt relief. Biden announced yesterday a plan to forgive up to $10K in student debt (assuming you make less than $125K) and up to $20K if you received a Pell grant. It’s a start, right? Naturally, Republicans framed it as yet another government giveaway to the undeserving, which makes me think more highly of Biden, at least for a moment.
Why am I disappointed in Biden’s action? Let’s take a look at his own website and its promises on student debt relief:
So, Biden had promised “immediate cancellation” of a minimum of $10K, with no preconditions and no need to jump through paperwork hoops. That “immediate cancellation” still hasn’t come (you must still apply and wait for “relief”), and “immediate” took 18+ months, timed so as to win some positive feeling in this fall’s election cycle. So be it. Something is better than nothing, right?
But look at Biden’s second big promise. He was going to forgive all tuition-related student debt for many students, especially minority students. I’ll repeat that: all student debt. His latest announcement doesn’t come close to his own stated goal.
What people tell me is this: Too bad. The Republicans wouldn’t give students any relief whatsoever, so the Democrats deserve your vote because they gave $10K in relief. Be happy with that, shut up, and vote blue no matter who.
Color me unconvinced. Student debt in America sits at $1.7 to $1.9 trillion. Biden just canceled about $200 billion of that debt, or just over 10% of it. As I said, it’s a start, but it represents a half-measure at best when you compare it to Biden’s own stated promises and goals.
In the past, Senator Joe Biden helped to secure legislation that prevented student debt from being discharged during personal bankruptcies. So even if you go bankrupt (and the leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills), you still owe all the money on your student debt. As far as I know, that hasn’t changed. Thanks for that too, Joe.
For the cost of the F-35 jet fighter over its lifetime, Joe Biden could cancel all student debt in America. Instead, he chose to nibble at the edges, canceling about 10% of it, while fully funding the F-35, new nuclear weapons, and announcing yet more military “aid” for Ukraine.
Is this really the best the Democrats can do on student debt relief? Is this the best our country can do? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
President Joe Biden turns 80 this year. If he chooses to run and is reelected in 2024, he’ll be 82 and will serve as president until he’s 86. His Republican rival, Donald Trump, will be 78 in 2024 and is overweight and perhaps obese. Biden, meanwhile, is moving more slowly and appears to be experiencing signs of age-related cognitive decline. Leaving aside their politics and policies and personalities, are either of these men truly fit to be president?
We all age differently, of course. But it used to be said that being POTUS was the toughest job in the world. Younger men like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush aged noticeably in office due to the strains of the job. Yet pointing out the rigors of the presidency, and raising questions about whether men in their 80s are truly capable of handling such rigors, exposes one to claims of bias based on age.
A lot of jobs have mandatory retirement ages. My dad was a firefighter and he had to retire at 65. While we don’t expect the POTUS to climb ladders or charge into burning buildings or carry bodies, there’s still something to be said for the difficulty of men in the twilight of their lives serving as the “leader of the free world.”
(I say men here because women live longer and often age more gracefully. But I think it’s also true in the U.S. that a woman “pushing 80” would be dismissed out of hand as too old for the presidency; societal bias against older women still exists, though of course older women can cling to power with the same tenacity as men: just look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)
I remember the bad old days of the Cold War when Soviet leaders were mocked in the U.S. as a gerontocracy of sorts. So when Leonid Brezhnev died at the age of 75, he was briefly succeeded by Yuri Andropov (died at 69) and Konstantin Chernenko (died at 74 after serving for just over a year as General Secretary). Then the much younger Mikhail Gorbachev took over at age 54 and more than anyone helped to revolutionize U.S.-Soviet relations.
In a way, Joe Biden is the U.S. equivalent of Andropov and Chernenko, a time-server who was elevated by his party as a caretaker. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” Biden said of his administration, a promise he has indeed kept. Those same words could have come from Andropov and Chernenko.
The problem for the Democrats is that there’s no clear younger heir-apparent to Biden. Harris? Mayor Pete? Gavin Newsom? (Newsom, like Mitt Romney, has presidential hair but little else.) Where is the Democratic equivalent to Mikhail Gorbachev?
The Republicans have their own issues, the main one being the cult of personality surrounding Donald J. Trump. But what really empowers Trump, besides his own craftiness at cons and culture wars, is the weakness and hypocrisy of the Democrats. When your most likely opponent is a “no hope, no change” figurehead in his early 80s, even Trump appears by comparison to be a change agent of sorts.
America truly needs fundamental change, someone like Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader willing to face facts and tell harsh truths. Someone with a fresh perspective and the energy to convey it. Both Biden and Trump are too old, if not in their bodies, then in their thinking, to be the reformer America so desperately needs.
The other day, a friend asked if I was watching the January 6th hearings about Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol riot. I had to admit I wasn’t.
I’m really not interested in what Trump did or didn’t do on January 6th. I already know he’s guilty.
Guilty of what, you may ask. Guilty of being a colossal narcissist. Guilty of being a sore loser. Guilty of putting himself and his ego before country and comity. Guilty of throwing his own obsequiously loyal Vice President under the bus. Guilty of promulgating the big lie that the election was stolen from him and that, if all the votes were counted, he would have won. Guilty of poor judgment, of meddling. Most of all, guilty of acting liked a spoiled brat who throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
In short, he’s guilty of being unqualified by personality and temperament for any public position of trust, let alone of the highest public position in America.
The January 6th hearings aren’t going to teach me anything new here.
Saying all this about Trump doesn’t make me a Joe Biden fan, of course. As I argued before Biden was elected in 2020, he was too much of an establishment tool, too deeply compromised by special interests, and, to be blunt, too old to be president. But people keep telling me he’s the lesser of two evils and that I must vote for him again if he runs in 2024 because Trump or DeSantis or some other Republican is likely to be far worse.
I don’t want to see the January 6th hearings in “prime time” on TV. I want to see what Congress and the President are doing for people struggling to pay their bills, to find affordable housing, to get the medical care they need. What are we doing to control inflation? To raise wages? To make prescription drugs more affordable? To rein in a militaristic empire that is spending wildly on wars and weapons?
What are they doing to bring Americans together? That’s what I want to hear. I don’t need to hear more about Trump. I already know he’s a loser.
The bottom line on gun laws in the USA is, surprise, profit. What matters most is not banning any guns, including military-style assault weapons. There are already more than 20 million AR-15-type assault weapons in the hands of Americans, with more being sold legally every day. They and their related gear (ammo, ammo magazines, and so on) are a big source of profit to American gun makers and gun sellers, so you can be sure that those guns will be protected, unlike the victims of them.
To illustrate this, two stories popped up in my email today. The first, from CNN, is a quick summary of where we stand on gun control measures in Congress:
The current changes to gun laws under consideration include hardening school security, providing more funding for mental health care and ensuring that juvenile records can be considered when a person between the ages of 18 and 21 wants to buy a semi-automatic weapon. Federal incentives for states to pass so-called red flag laws are also being discussed. However, despite the ongoing talks, it remains unclear whether there will be enough Republican support to push the legislation forward.
Note that Orwellian term: the “hardening” of school security. Schools are now being talked about in military terms as “soft” targets for mass shooters. Naturally, the solution isn’t to deny shooters their assault weapons. No: let’s turn every school into a “hardened” fortress, with more fences, cameras, locking doors, and armed guards (perhaps with AR-15s?). How long before our schools are indistinguishable from our prisons?
You’ll note, of course, that none of the “new” gun laws being considered by Congress will reduce the number of guns in circulation. Gun sales will continue to soar. When you think about it, guns now have more rights in America than people do.
The second story involves a Hollywood celebrity, Matthew McConaughey, who was born in Uvalde, Texas, and who’s been working with the Biden administration in the cause of “responsible” gun control. He’s called for “universal background checks, raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15 to 21, a waiting period for purchasing AR-15s and the implementation of red flag laws.” These steps are better than nothing, but again they will not impact the profit margins of gun makers/sellers. Even so, they are likely to be judged too radical by Republicans in Congress.
President Biden has called for a ban on new assault weapons, but it’s simply empty words. He knows a ban stands no chance of getting through Congress. If the Democrats really wanted to accomplish something, they’d get rid of the filibuster in the Senate, but they’re not about to do that, especially since they’re likely to lose control of the Senate after the November elections.
Speaking of Joe Biden, I saw this hilarious headline at NBC News today: “Biden’s gaffes might actually be his selling point.” The gist of the op-ed is that Biden often misspeaks and sounds both angry and confused, but these qualities make him “authentic” to voters, therefore “let Biden be Biden” and don’t try to handle or edit him.
That’s where we’re at as a country. Guns have more rights than people and our president is to be embraced for all the gaffes he makes. What a country!
My esteemed colleague Davout and I have different ways of looking at the Russia-Ukraine War. We thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to share our differing perspectives here, allowing our readers to think over the merits of our approaches and the validity of our conclusions. Davout has framed the questions and made the initial response; I get the last word, so to speak, for each question. Our mutual intent is not to “win” a pseudo-debate but to pose questions and provide answers that inform and stimulate. To that end, here we go.
What caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
Davout: Putin’s desire to reestablish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe and ensure the stability of his autocratic regime has been the main driver of the invasion. In 2005, Putin declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” What was catastrophic about it for Putin? The eastern flank of the former Soviet Union, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, and Ukraine shifted from being an appendage of an authoritarian Soviet regime to being a collection of independent democracies or democracies-in-process. Membership in the European Union and in NATO has either been achieved (the Baltic states) or been pursued (Ukraine pursuing both, Moldova pursuing European Union membership only). None of these countries (not to mention the formerly occupied countries of Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia) singly or together have the capacity or will to invade Russia or otherwise project military power across Russian borders. The real threat to which Putin is responding is the example set by the people of former Soviet territories opting for more democratic, less corrupt regimes and societies. That example endangers his own hold on power and pushes his own society toward historical irrelevance.
Astore: Putin was obviously the prime mover of the invasion. He chose the military option, and he surely believed it would strengthen his authority over a former Soviet republic that was tracking toward joining NATO.
When we speak of causes, however, it’s often wise to take a broad view over a breadth of time. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO’s reason for being ended with it. Nevertheless, NATO persisted, expanding to the very borders of Russia despite assurances to Russian leaders that the alliance would not expand eastwards beyond a newly unified Germany. Russian leaders, including Putin, had issued clear warnings that NATO expansion into Ukraine would constitute a “red line,” the crossing of which would likely lead to a military response. Putin’s decision to invade, therefore, was eminently predictable, thus it was also potentially preventable. The United States, which leads NATO, could have sent a clear signal to Russia that Ukraine should and would remain a neutral buffer state. The US chose not to do so.
One may question the premise of Ukraine as a “more democratic, less corrupt regime.” In Ukraine, corruption is endemic, exacerbated by extensive U.S. meddling, as in the notorious coup of 2014 orchestrated in part by Victoria Nuland, citing the support of then-Vice President Joe Biden. And while it’s important to recognize Russian regional hegemonic ambitions, one should never forget the global hegemonic ambitions of the U.S. empire. In sum, the US has not been an innocent bystander here.
US proxy war or Ukrainian war of independence?
Davout: A proxy war is a conflict instigated by a state in which it does not directly engage in hostilities. This war was a war of choice on the part of Putin. It has had the unintended result of inspiring patriotic resistance (even amongst Russian-speaking Ukrainians who were formerly pro-Russian like the mayor of Odessa). In the lead up to the invasion, the US and its NATO allies attempted to dissuade Putin from invading. In the invasion’s aftermath, they have provided critical arms and support to Ukraine and have sought economically to undermine Russia’s war-making capacities. While current official US policy may be the crippling of Russia’s capacity to engage in another such invasion in the near future, the US did not instigate this war in pursuit of this aim. While US and NATO armaments are a necessary factor in Ukraine’s continued defense against the Russian invasion, it is Ukrainian solidarity and resolve and Russian refusal to end its invasion that keep this war going.
Astore: Clearly, most Ukrainians believe they are fighting for their independence. Ukraine has no desire to become a Putin puppet state. Nor, however, do they wish to become a puppet state to the USA.
Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, spoke clearly that weakening Russia was a key goal of this conflict. To that end, the US government, in a rare show of bipartisan unity, provided $54 billion in largely military aid to a Ukrainian military with a yearly budget of $6 billion. Such profligacy is not an example of generosity driven by disinterested ideals. Clearly, the US sees this war as the latest front in a new cold war, a way to stress Russia to the breaking point. As President Biden openly stated, that man (Putin) must go.
So, it’s worse than a proxy war: it’s yet another US regime-change war. The stated goal is to topple Putin and turn Russia into a divided and dysfunctional state, much like it was in the 1990s when Western corporations and financial institutions invaded Russia and exploited it in the name of capitalism and reform.
Are there any legitimate parallels to draw between Putin and Hitler?
Davout: Yes, though the parallels with Hitler are not the same parallels so often drawn to delegitimize non-interventionists as appeasers. Historian John Lukacs’s various histories of Hitler’s strategizing in that crucial period after the invasion of France to the start of the Battle of Britain paint a picture of Hitler less as the hubristic dictator irrationally striving for world conquest than as a canny but flawed geopolitical strategist, driven by geopolitical grievance and with a large capacity to hate those who opposed him. Lukacs argues that Hitler was prepared to cut a deal with Great Britain on terms that would allow Germany to exercise hegemonic powers on the continent. It was Churchill’s longstanding aversion to Hitler and Hitlerism and his ability to maintain British popular support for the war that blocked Hitler’s strategy to cut a deal. Once his overture was blocked by Churchill, Hitler underestimated British morale in the Battle of Britain. Then, in an effort to circumvent Britain’s resistance, Hitler gambled that he could cripple Stalin’s war making capacity and knock him out of the war and thereby present England with a fait accompli of German hegemony on the continent. The picture of Hitler Lukacs draws can plausibly be applied to Putin—a grievance-driven leader attempting to restore a lost geopolitical sphere of influence, who has miscalculated the resolve of democratic leaders and peoples and has doubled down on violence.
Astore: In a word, no.
Whenever American leaders want to justify military action and high spending on weaponry, they turn to Hitler and World War II. The claim is made that we must stop the “new” Hitler. We must not be appeasers. Saddam Hussein was allegedly the new Hitler in 2003; his WMD was supposed to be a mushroom cloud on our horizon. But there was no WMD and eliminating Saddam by invasion tipped Iraq into a disastrous civil war from which that country has yet to recover.
Putin isn’t the new Hitler, and his invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent the kind of existential threat the Third Reich presented to democracies in 1938-39.
Hitler had the finest military machine of his day backed by the economic powerhouse that was Germany in the late 1930s. Putin’s military machine is mediocre at best, and Russia’s economy is smaller than that of California. Putin doesn’t appear to be seeking a huge empire or world domination, as Hitler was. And while Hitler may have temporarily played nice with Britain, that didn’t prevent the Nazis from hatching plans to invade and loot Britain and to massacre its Jews as well.
Of course, Putin was wrong to have invaded Ukraine, but George W. Bush was wrong to have invaded Iraq in 2003. Both these leaders have essentially nothing in common with Hitler, who was sui generis–a tyrannical dictator driven by genocidal fantasies of world dominance by a “master race.”
To what extent is US democracy hurt or helped by the Biden Administration’s policy of military support for Ukrainian resistance?
Davout: Seeing his country in hostile competition with western democracies, Putin has deployed various forms of soft power and hard power to undermine confidence in, and injure the working of, democratic regimes. Hackers and internet influencers employed by the Russian state have intervened in the elections of established democracies either to foster social distrust or to promote candidates (e.g., Trump) and policies (e.g., Brexit) that weaken adversary countries. Military interventions are carried out on Russia’s border to maintain regimes favorable to Putin (as was the case when a popular uprising against fraudulent elections in Belarus was put down with the help of Russian soldiers). Meanwhile, as was documented by the Panama and Pandora Papers, the huge amounts of money pilfered from the Russian people by oligarchs moves through the banking, legal, and commercial institutions of democratic countries (including South Dakota!) with corrupting effect on people and officials alike. To be sure, the US has corruption problems of its own. And US military support of Ukraine will have the unfortunate result of strengthening the position of defense contractors and their lobbyists, Pentagon brass, and congressional hawks. However, it would be worst for US democracy if Russian ambitions to occupy or dismember Ukraine succeed. This would undermine European democracies whose continued survival and flourishing provide democratic reformers in the US with critically important role models and partners.
Astore: US democracy hasn’t been hurt or helped by this war because the US is a democracy in name only.
In reality, the US is an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful rule at the expense of the many. The unofficial fourth branch of government is the US National Security State, a leviathan of enormous power. Its biggest component is what President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 termed the military-industrial complex (to which he added Congress as well). This MICC is profiting greatly from this war, not only in the $54 billion in aid provided to Ukraine, but also in the ever-rising Pentagon budget for FY 2023, which will exceed $813 billion, a gargantuan sum justified in part by the Russia-Ukraine War.
The new cold war with Russia, and increasingly with China as well, is strengthening the state of permanent war in America. As James Madison warned, permanent warfare serves autocracy while insidiously destroying democracy. As militarism becomes more deeply entrenched in the US government, and as that same government continues to send more destructive weaponry to Ukraine such as artillery and missile systems, options for de-escalation narrow even as chances for a nightmarish escalation to nuclear war, whether by design or accident, increase.
What would truly strengthen democracy in America, assuming it could somehow be reanimated, is if the USA pressed ahead with all its strength to broker a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is getting wrecked by this war, and our aggressive actions, mainly in providing more and more lethal weaponry together with onerous sanctions, are guaranteed to shred more bodies and aggravate economic dislocation both here and in Europe.
Readers, what are your thoughts here?
Coda by M. Davout (6/6/22)
W. J. Astore has asked me to compose a “coda” of sorts, in which I might add some concluding reflections about the commentary provoked by our different views on the war in Ukraine.
Yes, there is a relevant pre-2022 history to the current conflict—decades old promises from US officials to Russian officials about not expanding NATO east of the Oder, a popular pro-West Ukrainian uprising (supported by Western intelligence agencies, some have plausibly argued) against a Ukrainian administration’s decision to reject closer ties with the European Union (as was the will of the Ukrainian parliament) in favor of the Ukrainian president’s decision to push the country toward closer ties with Russia, a counter-uprising in the Donbas that drew Russian political and military support, etc. But there is also the fact of a full-scale military invasion against a country that posed little if any military threat to Russian borders, a military invasion that has led to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and combatants and the uprooting of millions of Ukrainians.
It is undeniable that the invasion has promoted patriotic solidarity among different language speakers within Ukraine against the invasion, including Russian speaking Ukrainians whose rights Putin’s invasion was presumably intended to defend. It is also undeniable that voter support for Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion is very high in Eastern European countries. More noteworthy is the fact that in Western European countries, governments have been forced to respond to the pro-Ukrainian sentiments of their voters by sending arms to Ukraine and destroying longstanding economic relationships with Russia to the financial detriment of both European businesses and consumers.
So the situation is nowhere near as neat or clear as either my contributions or Astore’s contributions or the contributions of the majority of the commentators would have it be. In this regard, the comments of Denise Donaldson strike me as the most interesting. You can tell that she can see the issue from both sides and is struggling with that ambiguity.
That is the place to be on the Ukraine war, I think: struggling with ambiguity. There is no clearly right answer: the war is not solely a product of American empire, nor is it solely a product of Russian empire. And there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes.
But, in politics, one has to make choices and, for now, I choose align myself with current US and NATO policy. Not because I am a dupe of the mainstream media or a supporter of the Establishment or the MIC (my earlier posts on this website should put those notions to rest) but because I believe the expulsion of the Russian military from the Ukrainian lands it currently occupies (maybe including Crimea, maybe not) is both possible and more likely to lead to a lasting peace in eastern Europe. And my taking that position does not mean that I do not also see some merit in the points my esteemed colleague WJ Astore (and his many followers) make.
Response by Astore (6/6/22)
I would like to thank M. Davout for his reasoned response and for continuing this important discussion. One thing I can say with certainty: you won’t hear such a nuanced and broad debate in the mainstream media, which basically just sells U.S. weaponry while waving Ukrainian flags in our faces.
Davout suggests that Ukraine posed no threat to Russia. Alone, that is true. But Ukraine was planning to join NATO, a powerful alliance led by the world’s most hegemonic country. Surely, that combination was something for Russia to be wary of, and even to fear.
When Americans think of Russia, many negative images come to mind. The evils of communism. A charging and rampaging Russian bear. But Russia has had its share of devastation. Davout certainly knows the rampage of Napoleon’s empire in 1812. Russia and the Soviet Union were almost destroyed by World Wars I and II. Russian leaders have been reassured by Western leaders before that “we come in peace,” but surely 1812, 1914, and 1941 taught Russia much about trusting Western assurances.
Look at a map. From a Russian perspective, NATO surrounds them. Look at military budgets. The U.S. and NATO combined spend more than 20 times what Russia spends. If the roles were reversed and we were the Russians, might we see this differently?
My point is not to excuse Russia’s invasion but to offer a partial explanation.
I agree with Davout that by this point “there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes.” Therefore, I choose not to align myself with current US and NATO policy, since I see this as recklessly escalatory and focused primarily on providing more and more weaponry to kill more and more Russians (and Ukrainians too). I propose an immediate cease fire, the end of arms shipments to Ukraine, and negotiation that would end with some territory being ceded to Russia, a promise from NATO and Ukraine that the latter will remain neutral, and a promise from Russia that Ukraine will not be attacked again, and that its territorial integrity will be respected. I would also insist on Russia paying reparations dedicated to rebuilding Ukraine. Finally, the U.S. should end all sanctions on Russia and redirect its aid entirely to rebuilding Ukraine rather than to more weaponry.
I think this approach would save lives and restore equilibrium to Europe while avoiding dangerous escalation that could conceivably end in nuclear war. It’s time for statesmanship and compromise, rather than militaristic grandstanding and mendacious obstinacy.
Sadly, I see no one in the US government with the sagacity and cojones to join Putin and Zelensky in working to stop this war reasonably and quickly.