Today’s U.S.-Russia relations are “worse” than they were after World War I, at the “lowest possible point in history,” a Russian official says (ABC News, 4/2). But as this inter-imperialist rivalry continues to escalate, and global war looms ever closer, the U.S. ruling class is in disarray.
U.S. Bosses’ Dilemma
Donald Trump has mocked CIA and FBI reports of Russian cyber-attacks to manipulate last fall’s election in Trump’s favor. The new president has praised his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, and several Trump appointees and advisers have met secretly with Russian officials and intelligence agents--including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after lying about meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that is “investigating” the Trump-Russia connection, is sharing classified information with Trump (npr.org, 3/25).
Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. finance capital’s leading think tank, is pushing for a tougher line with Russia:
Trump inherited a ruptured U.S.-Russian relationship, the culmination of more than 25 years of alternating hopes and disappointments…[A]t the heart of the breakdown lie disagreements over issues that each country views as fundamental to its interests...Thus, the challenge for the new administration is to manage this relationship skillfully and to keep it from getting worse.
Should Trump instead attempt to cozy up to Moscow, the most likely outcome would be that Putin would pocket Washington’s unilateral concessions and pursue new adventures or make demands in other areas. The resulting damage to U.S. influence and credibility in Europe and beyond would prove considerable (March/April).
The U.S. rulers are facing a dilemma. On the one hand, they need to defend their Middle East oil interests—by any means necessary—against competing capitalist bosses in a resurgent Russia and an expansionist China. On the other, they’re a long way from winning the U.S. working class to accept a military draft and to fight and die in a ground war. After the April 4 chemical attack in northern Syria, the latest atrocity by the Russia-backed Bashar al-Assad regime, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman addressed the U.S. bosses’ limitations:
“The only obstacle to putting real U.S. military leverage into Syria is democracy in America,” explained the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era. “The American public simply does not want to spend the blood and treasure to produce what would probably be a less awful but still not good outcome in Syria.” And that is a byproduct of the failed George W. Bush interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan (4/5).
On top of everything else, the bosses have to be worried about the ability of the volatile Trump to handle an increasingly charged situation. The arch-imperialists of Foreign Affairs warned that the U.S. should “proceed with caution” against Russia and “cooperate but push back,” depending on the circumstances, “without sleepwalking into a collision” (Euronews, March 8)..
But a collision appears to be coming, whether the bosses are ready or not. In March, in a Council on Foreign Relations special report, Kimberly Marten wrote that “aggression” by Putin “makes the possibility of a war in Europe between nuclear-armed adversaries frighteningly real.” (Marten is director of Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, the Cold War-era “academic center” funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.)
Rulers’ Infighting and Dysfunction
The growing scandal and infighting over Russian interference in the U.S. elections exposes deepening dysfunction inside the bosses’ political system. As Russian and Chinese rulers have imposed more intense fascist discipline on members of their class, U.S. bosses are fighting among themselves—a reflection of both strategic disagreements and short-term greed. As the head of Special Operations Command, Gen. Raymond Thomas, said, “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war.”
Pre-Trump, the U.S. imperialists were busy sharpening their attacks against Russia. They tried to overthrow Russian allies in Syria, Iran and Libya. In 2014, after Russia reclaimed Crimea from Ukraine, the President Barack Obama imposed economic sanctions. And in a famous interview with CNN, Obama acknowledged that the U.S. had “brokered a deal to transition power” in the 2014 coup against pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. But these efforts were temporarily blunted by Trump’s more conciliatory stance, including a plan to cooperate with Putin in fighting “terrorism” and an instruction to the CIA to halt support for anti-Assad rebel forces in Syria (intelnews.org, 2/23).
Proxy War in Syria
The power of U.S. imperialism depends on control of production and distribution of cheaply extracted Middle East oil, mainly in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Russia is challenging U.S. control by backing Assad and his Iranian allies in the Syrian civil war. In conducting air strikes and landing ground troops in Syria, Russia is striking closer to the world’s energy heartland.
In response, the U.S. bosses are doing what they can—within political limits—to shore up their shaky hold on the region. Under the guise of fighting ISIS, the U.S. military “is sending up to an additional 2,500 ground troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria….About 1,700 soldiers from the same unit are overseas now, spread between Iraq and Kuwait” (Army Times, 3/9).
If the main wing of the U.S. ruling class, finance capital, has its way, this escalation will be just the front line of a massive military intervention. As imperialist mouthpiece Thomas Friedman wrote (4/5):
The least bad solution is a partition of Syria and the creation of a primarily Sunni protected area — protected by an international force, including, if necessary, some U.S. troops. (Emphasis added.) That should at least stop the killing — and the refugee flows that are fueling a populist-nationalist backlash all across the European Union.
It won’t be pretty or easy. But in the Cold War we put 400,000 troops in Europe to keep the sectarian peace there and to keep Europe on a democracy track. Having NATO and the Arab League establish a safe zone in Syria for the same purpose is worth a try.
Weakening NATO, Military Face-Off in the Baltic
For the past 70 years, NATO was the most important instrument to project U.S. power in Europe. Now, the alliance may be weakening. Britain is leaving the European Union. Turkey, a NATO country bordering Syria and Iraq, is allying with Russia in the Syrian civil war. Nationalist, racist anti-immigrant parties are growing in influence in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. “Globalism”—the euphemism for U.S. imperialism—is in retreat.
But the U.S. rulers will not concede Europe without a fight. Earlier this year, they sent 4,000 troops and Abrams battle tanks to the Russia-bordering Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Russia has responded by moving army and air defense units to its borders.
The bosses have their plans to continue to rule and exploit us, but they are up against the most powerful force in the world, with a long and proud history of fighting imperialism: the international working class. Today we need an international communist movement more than ever. We must unite worldwide and organize for communist revolution to smash imperialist war. Smash all borders! Workers’ Power! Join Progressive Labor Party!