By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
One of Team Hillary’s lines is that a vote for her is a vote for President Obama’s “legacy.” It is; for his legacy as a protector and enabler of an overripe capitalist system and the economic predators and earth despoilers it raises to the top.
There aren’t very many at the top of the heap; enthusiastic sloganeers sometimes peg the number as low as a fraction of one percent. But, under Obama, as under all his predecessors since the economy took a neoliberal turn, they have been making out like the bandits they are, while everyone else has had to struggle, often in vain, not to fall behind. Count on Hillary to keep that going.
Currently, Obama is promoting yet another disastrous neoliberal trade deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership. Hillary was for it too until, with Bernie Sanders at her heels and with the poll numbers suggesting that Democratic primary voters were siding with him, she changed her tune. Does anyone want to wager on how long it will take her to flip-flop again?
More worrisome, by far, though is how she will take up and expand upon Obama’s legacy as a liberal imperialist. On this, she and Obama are basically of one mind. However, in practice, Clinton is worse — in ways that can affect the lives, and deaths, of countless people around the world.
Once in office, Obama developed a taste for “targeted killings” and for terrorizing civilian populations with drones. But he never seemed at ease with the broader strategic line of the perpetual war regime he led. His cautious and (comparatively) thoughtful disposition held him back.
Many of the people he appointed to run the Departments of State and Defense, the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence agencies, and so on had fewer inhibitions. Being a weak leader, Obama often let them have their way.
Among the worst of the worst was our next President, Hillary Clinton. Where Obama was thoughtful and cautious, she was clueless and gung ho.
During her tenure at State, the Bush-Cheney era neoconservatives that Obama ought to have sent packing became increasingly empowered, and Hillary’s thinking grew closer to theirs.
Because of this, some semblance of the formerly defunct Cold War reemerged as the Obama presidency blundered on.
The original Cold War was supposedly a conflict between Soviet-style Communism and American-style capitalism.
In truth, though, it always had a more traditional, geopolitical aspect. Whatever else it was, the Cold War was a struggle for control, in the first instance, of the Eurasian landmass, and ultimately for political and economic domination of the world.
The new Cold War has no serious ideological dimensions; Russia today is capitalist too. These days, therefore, geopolitical maneuvering is all there is.
Early on, China, ostensibly on Russia’s side as the Cold War took shape, complicated the geopolitical mix. China became a player in its own right.
Even so, for as long as the Cold War was on, the Soviet Union remained America’s principal opponent. One reason why is that shortly after China joined the fray, its already feeble economy nearly fell apart as the Cultural Revolution got underway. An entire generation was effectively lost.
Nevertheless, the original Cold War effectively took on a tri-polar aspect.
Now that the Chinese economy rivals America’s in size, China’s importance in the new Cold War is enormous.
One of America’s principal objectives in the old Cold War was to “contain” Communism; one of its objectives in the new Cold War is to contain China. America’s foreign policy establishment fears that China is getting too big for its britches, and so they will do whatever they think they must to keep it down.
Unlike Russia, China is still ruled by a Communist Party, albeit one that is anything but communist. And not having shed its economic system in the abrupt and brutal way that Russia did, its ways of relating to the neoliberal global order remain more complicated than Russia’s. But the Communism that the West targeted in the original Cold War is a dead letter in China too. This has been the case for decades.
Therefore, the twenty-first century’s Cold War is more of a nineteenth than a twentieth century rehash.
Like the diplomatic contests between the great European powers of those long ago times, it is a struggle for economic advantage within the prevailing economic system, not between that system and something else. The competing parties are all capitalists now.
Count on Hillary to be more hostile towards China than Obama has been; the times demand it. But the neocon mind is slow to adapt. However threatening growing Chinese power may be to the American hegemon, Russia remains Enemy Number One.
This suits Hillary fine. It isn’t just that she has internalized the neocon worldview; of at least equal importance is the fact that habits of mind that took hold of her from even before her Goldwater Girl days are hard to shake. Russia has always been her main bugbear. This is unlikely to change when, God save us, she takes over as Commander-in-Chief.
That the old conflicts would reemerge, without Communism being an issue, suggests that those who thought that the Cold War was mainly a geopolitical contest between the Soviet Union and the United States were onto something. On that question, the jury is still out.
Neither is it clear which side was most responsible for getting the Cold War started and for keeping it going. Nevertheless, in the United States and in rightwing circles elsewhere, there was never much doubt that it was the Russians.
On the other hand, there is no doubt how the new Cold War got started. Every American President since Bill Clinton has played a role in bringing it on – mainly, but not only, by bringing NATO, originally an anti-Soviet military alliance, right up to Russia’s borders, contrary to express promises Ronald Reagan made to Mikhail Gorbachev.
Promoting anti-Russian (and often fascist-friendly) political parties and movements in Ukraine and other parts of the old Russian Empire has had an effect as well.
However, this doesn’t stop Western propagandists from blaming Vladimir Putin. Their demonization campaign is so intense and extensive that it has become hard to remember that, not long ago, George W. Bush told the world that he had looked into Putin’s eyes and found that he is good.
Hillary doesn’t see it that way, however. This is unfortunate because she will be the one who will preside over the next phase of the new Cold War; and it would be helpful if the main antagonists had at least a cordial relationship.
When the new Cold War turns hot, as it inevitably will, over and over again, we can only hope that the political leaders of Russia and the United States will be able to keep overt conflicts confined to “peripheral” areas, where they can be fought by proxies, not by the nuclear powers themselves.
This was how it was in Korea and Vietnam and in the lesser conflicts of the original Cold War era.
It is also how it has so far been in places where Hillary’s machinations as Secretary of State have led to disastrous outcomes — as in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, “post-war” Iraq, and Syria, worst of all.
But Hillary seems hell bent on doing what even the most bellicose Cold Warriors of old had too much common sense to attempt: she wants to go after Russia and China directly.
She probably won’t launch an outright assault on either one; not so much because she has common sense too, but because direct confrontation is not her style. She is more into low intensity provocation.
Insofar as she is able to maintain control, she will be like a picador in a bull fight – cutting the enemy down with a thousand tiny cuts, not so much to kill it as to render it helpless.
As Secretary of State, she was restrained somewhat by Obama’s cautiousness. What she will do, once he is out of the picture, is impossible to say. We will find out soon enough.
Fortunately, the demonized Putin and the people around him have a steady hand and enough common sense to resist provocations. But her recklessness can lead to all sorts of consequences that are impossible to foresee, and that are too horrifying to contemplate.
If the world survives Hillary, she will be remembered for her role in resurrecting the Cold War. But we should take care not to give her more credit (or blame) than she deserves. She is not so much leading the way as being swept along.
In the old days, European intellectuals would berate American Cold Warriors for the crudeness of their anti-Communism.
Some of those critics were Communists themselves; others were anti-anti-Communist leftists. Thus the original Cold War had a “clash of civilizations” dimension.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of opinion-makers in Europe and around the world who were not pro-Communist were either Cold Warriors themselves, or were content to set their misgivings aside. In the end, most of them cravenly supported the American line.
For some time now, the shoe has been on the other foot. EU countries — some for their own geopolitical or economic reasons, some just to assert a European identity while remaining subservient to the United States – have thrown subtlety overboard, placing themselves in the forefront of efforts to demonize Russia’s leader and Russia itself.
There is no doubt that Putin has an unseemly and authoritarian side. But, unlike most of his counterparts in the West, he is knowledgeable and competent.
And despite all the blather about his support for Ukrainian secessionists, and his role in the “annexation” of Crimea, he is less inclined than America’s “humanitarian” interveners to hold that international law applies only to others.
Does he have his agents meddle in the affairs of other countries? No doubt, he does. What government does not meddle? Those that have the means, have the will.
That Western, especially American, leaders and their propagandists would feign indignation about this is remarkable. Their hypocrisy is breathtaking.
Even if everything that is claimed in the European press about Russian meddling in European affairs is true, it is trivial compared to what the United States has been doing routinely in Europe and throughout the world since even before the Second World War ended.
In recent years, because they can, American and British spies have put the whole world under 24/7surveillance; and they are not above acting on the “actionable” intelligence they acquire.
Neither are they above engaging in cyber attacks on countries, like China, that stand in the way of American world domination or that the United States or its allies seek to disable. The 2009-2010 Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is an example; American and Israeli cyber-warriors destroyed more than a thousand centrifuges involved in enriching uranium.
And yet we are “shocked, shocked” that Russia would hack into Democratic National Committee and Clinton Foundation computers, and then leak their contents through WikiLeaks.
It is not even clear that they did that – so far, no evidence has come to light. But no matter: Putin is guilty until proven innocent. In neocon eyes, he is guilty no matter what.
To avoid having to discuss the content of those emails, Team Hillary has lately been ratcheting up its anti-Putin campaign. To no one’s surprise, its corporate media boosters have been backing them a hundred percent.
Even Ronald Reagan understood that good relations with the Kremlin could be helpful for avoiding nuclear catastrophes and for maintaining a semblance of order in world affairs. This point is obvious enough even to register in the muddled mind of Donald Trump.
But Hillary doesn’t care. Anything to achieve the position she considers her due!
Thus America now surpasses the rest of the world in Putin-bashing. Among the usual suspects, NPR and The Washington Post are especially culpable, but other ostensibly reputable print, broadcast and cable media are close behind.
The Clinton campaign is both a cause and an effect of this unfortunate turn of events.
No surprise there either. Hillary has never been one to go against the current, when there is more percentage in going with the flow.
Sometimes this has worked for her; more often, it causes her to lose control. This is one of those times. Having done her part in bringing about a new Cold War, she is being swept along by its force.
This will not stop with the election; if anything, the pull after November will be harder to resist.
Hillary is unlikely to disappoint liberals on identity politics issues; and she will appoint Democrats, not Republicans to government jobs. Insofar as personnel is policy, this is a good thing because, almost without exception, Republicans are, to put the point as nicely as I can, dumbasses.
In the same way, her nominees to the Supreme Court and other federal judgeships will only be anodyne, not viciously rightwing.
Nevertheless, in a few years time, Hillary’s bellicosity will cause many of the liberals who now think that she really isn’t so bad to compare her unfavorably, say, to the likes of Dick Cheney. I’ll take bets on that too.
A large and militant peace movement might be able to stop Hillary’s war mongering in its tracks, or at least to minimize its effects. But that won’t be easy to mount. The massive worldwide effort to stop Bush and Cheney from invading Iraq in 2003 failed miserably. Stopping Hillary won’t be any easier.
But too many people who ought now to be mobilizing against the wars Hillary will make worse, and the wars she will launch, and against the recklessness of her anti-Russian and anti-Chinese provocations, are currently distracted by the anti-Trump hysteria that the Clinton campaign and the media backing it are stirring up.
No matter how clear it becomes that Trump will do himself in, that he is on course for losing big, and that the danger he poses is merely theoretical while the danger Hillary poses is clear and present, the terminally nervous cannot or will not break free from that hysteria’s hold.
This is unfortunate indeed. Trump is a danger to the Republican Party; all praise to him for that. But his campaign has already peaked. The threat he poses to the nation and the world is nil. Unless Hillary flubs spectacularly, in ways that no one can now anticipate, this is not going to change by November 8.
Therefore, forget about that billionaire buffoon! Life is too short to worry about him. Even diehard lesser evilists should realize that there is no need to back Hillary on his account.
How much more worthwhile it would be to mobilize, say, to force the Commission on Presidential Debates to let the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, debate the two major party miscreants this Fall.
This might cost Hillary a few votes, but so what! Nothing currently in the offing would do more to bring democracy to the USA.
For just that reason, the effort would almost certainly be futile. Even if the polling numbers for Stein and Johnson warranted their inclusion – which is all but impossible with corporate media suppressing news of their candidacies — the Commission, established by the Democratic and Republican parties, would see to it, by fair means or foul, that Stein and Johnson would remain marginal figures.
But a struggle to open up the debates for democracy’s sake would be a useful learning experience for people who will soon be joining the struggle against Clinton and Clintonism (neoliberalism, liberal imperialism, and war).
Let Trump take care of Trump. The task now is to move as many people as are moveable out of the Hillary ambit and into the Peace camp. With the world soon to be in her crosshairs; there is no time to lose.
Do I exaggerate the danger? I say to those who think so: let’s revisit that question in a few years time.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).