Russia and China are major powers with vast nuclear arsenals. Hence one would think that it would be in everyone’s interest if the those two countries, along with the US, had good relationships with one another. And yet we have the spectacle of, at least in the US, the media and the political and pundit class demanding that the US take a hard line against the two, particular with Russia. Almost any negative news that could be even remotely connected to Russia is amplified to make Russian president Vladimir Putin into some kind of malevolent Rasputin-like figure, constantly scheming to undermine the US, and US presidents are constantly urged to talk tough and take a bellicose attitude in any negotiations.
The reality is the Putin has global ambitions for Russia and Xi Jinping has global ambitions for China, just as US presidents have global ambitions for this nation. But the ambitions of the US are invariably presented as benevolent while those of the other two are depicted as devious and Machiavellian. Putin in particular has become almost a cartoon villain in the media, accused of personally being behind pretty much anything that goes against US interests that can be even remotely connected to Russia or Russians. The media coverage leading up to the summit in Geneva on Wednesday between Joe Biden and Putin has produced a fount of Cold War rhetoric demanding that Biden talk tough. As a result, achieving anything of mutual benefit to the two nations will be difficult because since any deal has to have something for each side, it will be portrayed as Biden caving to Putin. Biden has been persuaded not to have the traditional joint press conference following the summit (he will have a solo one) because it is said that it will enhance Putin’s prestige to stand next to Biden. This is just childishness.
Donald Trump, for all his other faults, did not succumb to the anti-Russian rhetoric and seemed to want to develop good relations with Russia. For his pains he was accused of being at best having some kind of fan-boy admiration for Putin’s exercise of autocratic power and at worst of being blackmailed by him.
Norman Solomon writes that even liberals and progressives have taken this attitude and seem to be actively undermining any hopes that anything substantial will be achieved.
No matter what happens at Wednesday’s summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva, a grim reality is that Democratic Party leaders have already hobbled its potential to move the world away from the worsening dangers of nuclear war. After nearly five years of straining to depict Donald Trump as some kind of Russian agent—a depiction that squandered vast quantities of messaging without electoral benefits—most Democrats in Congress are now locked into a modern Cold War mentality that endangers human survival.
President Biden has excelled at gratuitous and dangerous rhetoric about Russia. As this spring began, he declared on national television that President Putin is “a killer”—and boasted that he told the Russian leader that he has “no soul” while visiting the Kremlin in 2011. It was a repeat of a boast that Biden could not resist publicly making while he was vice president in 2014 and again while out of office in 2017. Such bombast conveys a distinct lack of interest in genuine diplomacy needed to avert nuclear war.
Meanwhile, what about self-described progressives who see themselves as a counterweight to the Democratic Party establishment? For the most part, they remained silent if not actively portraying Russia as a mortal enemy of the United States. Even renowned antiwar voices in Congress were not immune to party-driven jingoism.
Never mind that the structurally malign forces of corporate America—and the numerous right-wing billionaires heavily invested in ongoing assaults on democracy—appreciated the focus on Russia instead of on their own oligarchic power. And never mind that, throughout the Trump years, the protracted anti-Russia frenzy was often a diversion away from attention to the numerous specific threats to electoral democracy in the United States.
Capacities to educate, agitate and organize against the profuse forms of voter suppression were hampered by the likes of MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, whose extreme fixation on Russian evils would have been merely farcical if not so damaging. Year after year, she virtually ignored a wide range of catastrophic U.S. government policies while largely devoting her widely watched program to stoking hostility toward Russia. Maddow became a favorite of many progressives who viewed her show as a fount of wisdom.
What is conveniently ignored by Maddow, NPR, CNN, New York Times and all the other so-called liberal news outlets expressing outrage over alleged Russian interference in US affairs and in other countries is the well- documented evidence of massive US involvement in Russian politics, not to mention all the other countries that the US has overthrown governments. I have never heard a single reporter from any of the mainstream media pose such a question to any government official who expresses indignation over Russian meddling.
Solomon argues that we must change the rhetoric.
Far from the maddening crowd of reckless cold warriors, the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord released an open letter last week that made basic sense for the future of humanity: “The dangerous and in many ways unprecedented deterioration in relations between the United States and the Russian Federation must come to an end if we are to leave a safer world for future generations. . . . We believe that the time has come to resurrect diplomacy, restore and maintain a dialogue on nuclear risks that’s insulated from our political differences like we did during the Cold War. Without communication, this increases the likelihood of escalation to nuclear use in a moment of crisis.”
In the United States, the political context of the Biden-Putin summit should have included widespread progressive support for genuine diplomacy with Russia. Instead, overall, progressives went along with Democratic Party leaders and corporate liberal media as they fueled the momentum toward a nuclear doomsday.
Democrats and liberals seem to have internalized the right wing criticisms that they are somehow soft when it comes to projecting American power, even though Democratic presidents have presided over some of the biggest military buildups and disastrous wars in modern US history. Hence they seem to think that they must talk tough whenever anything involves Russia or China.
Posturing to appear strong and determined in the face of one’s enemies is essential for a leader. Those who don’t posture aren’t leaders for long. It is usually not a reflection of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
There is a big difference between posturing on the world stage, and deflecting the media from the nature of one’s local power brokering.
Marcus Ranum says
China’s nuclear arsenal is hardly “vast” -- there is only one “vast” nuclear arsenal, really, and I bet you can guess whose. And about to grow because we need newer more modern ones. Nobody’s trying to start an arms race, nossir.
consciousness razor says
(A link to Solomon’s article at Salon)
It sounds more like we* must dismantle the military and its nuclear arsenal, not just change some rhetoric. That’s a way for the US to do some credible, no-bullshit diplomacy. I’m not holding my breath, of course.
*Myself, just about the only thing I could do is express my thoughts with some rhetoric. However, I think the target of this isn’t really supposed to be someone like me, but the many people with actual power who could act. (They simply don’t want to, that’s all.) But okay…. I can pretend it’s about “us,” just for laughs. That’s fine.
Mano Singham says
I messed up the formatting and thus a bit of text got eliminated. I have corrected it.
“The reality is the Putin has global ambitions for Russia and Xi Jinping has global ambitions for China, just as US presidents have global ambitions for this nation. But the ambitions of the US are invariably presented as benevolent ”
Shall we organize a poll in Taiwan? Or is looking at Hongkong sufficient?
I find it very typical for American progressives that they don’t even consider these questions. It’s equally cynical (your usage of the term Macchivallian politics doesn’t do justice to the great Italian thinker) to neglect the interests of a democratic ally in favour of their own political preferences. It confirms that they’re not my natural allies (I’m radical left -- Bernie Sanders and the four youngsters are in my eyes very moderate).
Another point in favour of Donald the Clown (I’m convinced totally accidentally) is that he left it to the EU to define a position against Russia. In those four years -- I bet it hasn’t made it to the USA news, whether conservative or liberal -- many European countries became involved in the defense of the three Baltic states. Now JoeB is touring Europe I fear that the EU will fall back to its former inertia.
Tabby Lavalamp says
Honestly all three countries are truly awful and have done/are doing horrific things. As long as they don’t drag the rest of us into annihilation then it makes no difference who comes out on top.
That is not true. China has always had a policy of limited supplies of nuclear weapons because not many are really needed for their threat to be effective (and for their cost).
Officially they currently have, if I recall correctly, less than 300, which is not a vast arsenal compared to the thousands the U.S maintains (~7000) and the comparable number Russia might have (harder to obtain numbers), and China’s aren’t currently roving around the world.
From the sizes of nuclear weapon arsenals as estimated on Wikipedia, the USA and Russia have comparable nuclear weapons stocks, both in terms of deployed and total numbers. Everyone else has few in comparison. The largest total after Russia and the USA is China, with about 1/15 of the total number of weapons as the US. The next largest total is France (which surprised me a little).
India and Pakistan each have about half China’s total numbers.
Putin is in cahoots with the far right across Europe* and in the USA. That’s just plain fact, and no progressive should attempt to disguise that fact with whataboutery.
*Except in those countries, such as Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, where the fascists are anti-Russian for reasons of current disputes or historical grievances,