The Kerch Bridge burns. Satellite photo by Maxar.
Putin’s bridge, imperial war politics and the US elections
by Eric Jackson
When this old hippie radical anti-imperialist looks at it, it’s a dangerous moment but perhaps a positive one for Democrats.
War politics are a chronic illness that empires get. The illness affects the national budget and indirectly many other things through that. It diverts resources from national development into things that go bang, create bright flashes, hurt or kill people and break things, then afterward are of no use. They create psychologically wounded people, who may sometimes be seen living on the street and sometimes live lives of less obvious desperation. They set off crime waves with all sorts of secondary effects and expenses of that. And THEY WARP ELECTORATES BY ENHANCING BULLY INSTINCTS.
Joe Biden rather immediately tanked in the polls by admitting that the Afghan War was a lost cause, doing his best to cut losses in a chaotic withdrawal, and taking some unfortunate measures because the mean spirits of war politics demanded them.
Basically, Joe did the right thing, the necessary thing, the thing that Trump had been in the process of doing under the advice of the dwindling part of his entourage with a grip on reality. We can, and at the opportune moments, analyze the broken systems and mistaken decisions that went into that ball of wax. But Biden with good reason cut the losses from a long-lost war.
Those were the imperial war politics of two years ago. What about now?
Between now and Election Day, will it appear that Russia is floundering while Ukraine is advancing? Or will a furious Russian counter-counter-offensive bring a fuller measure of the horrors of war to American voters’ screens in time to affect their behavior at the polls? Will Putin pull out the apparent victory and his GOP friends run their “I TOLD you so” gloats?
Overall, the appearance of a Ukrainian upper hand helps Democrats. However, it will also be used as a wedge issue to split of the antiwar constituencies, to keep them home or induce them to cast protest votes for fringe candidates.
The appearance of a Russian upper hand lets the GOP bullies taunt with this “LOSER!” stuff.
ME? I was and am against NATO expansion, and a Cold War II, either with Russia or with China. I want to see some negotiated settlements to create and keep some peace in the world. I am not going to deny that the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv was provocative to Russia.
But then, the antagonists on both sides of any gang war are likely to say and believe that they were provoked. It can help in a way to look at the American eagle and the Russian bear as species of Crips and Bloods.
(Do I get such cynical attitudes in part from one of the favorite animalistic crimes that I have committed in my life, the purchase at a Panama International Book Fair, from the Cuban publishers’ booth, a copy of the Spanish-language memoirs of Meyer Lansky’s Cuban valet / fixer / bodyguard / chauffer / casino heavy, as told to Cuban writer Enrique Cirules? Like Mario Puzo’s fictional novel The Godfather, Lansky adjutant Jaime Casielles’s non-fiction memoir La Vida Secreta de Meyer Lansky en La Habana is a useful political science text because it’s a perceptive study in power and its exercise. Even if it was arguably illegal for a gringo to buy under US embargo laws.)
Do I get scurrilous with the gangster analogies? I don’t think so, and it tends to set me apart from some of my anti-imperialist friends.
That’s who the oligarchs who were Putin’s base for his rise to power are. They are for the most part former Communists in Name Only, those who said what they needed to say to climb up the old Soviet hierarchy, then when it came tumbling down were in a position to grab large chunks of the public property of a socialist scheme and set themselves up as capitalists. They’re gangsters, just like the born-in-what-is-now-Belarus Meyer Lansky. That’s what so often happens in “regime change” that comes in the wake of chaos, if we are to strip away the GOP and neocon hubris.
No use pretending that Putin’s a communist, or an anti-imperialist, or anything the least bit progressive. Quite to the contrary, if you review his public record and the pronouncements that he has made. But as diminished as his country may be at the moment, he is the strongman of one of the world’s great powers.
He’s the strongman who, in defense of the Russian fleet’s Mediterranean base, successfully saved the Assad family regime in Syria by propping it up against a concerted US attempt to topple it.
He’s the strongman who, in defense of the always-Russian city of Sevastopol that’s the base of his country’s Black Sea Fleet, annexed Ukrainian Crimea.
I say it’s better to create an orderly Russian way out of the Ukraine War that Putin decided to start. (We can argue about when, as supporting armed separatist movements in parts of Ukraine were also acts of war, before the current invasion began.)
Better to see an orderly withdrawal, with face-saving features and protections for human beings caught in the middle that bind both sides. Better to see a Ukraine with a large Russian-speaking minority living in peace with guarantees for their individual rights and continued existence as a community. Better to see that illegally installed bridge under bi-national control and protection. Better to leave the Russian Navy at the Black Sea base that it has had since it was built pursuant to the orders of Catherine the Great. Better that the domestic consequences of having lost the Ukraine War get imposed on Putin by Russians rather than foreigners. Better than Russia and the West pull back their missile batteries and bring their spooky operatives home. Better for the United States to talk reconstruction rather than armament with Ukraine, and to talk mutually beneficial economic projects rather than geopolitical rivalry with Russia.
Let’s just drop the stereotypes and pretenses, along with the conflicting imperial ambitions. Russia and the USA would both be a lot better off by concentrating on being prosperous, peaceful and just countries rather than intimidating empires.
Those things, however, are aspirations for a more distant future. Let’s just end this war, short of great cities reduced to rubble and former heads of state on trial for their lives for war crimes.
And let’s hope that the Russian invaders are more worn down than the Ukrainian defenders, that Putin’s fortunes as a wartime leader do not turn for the better in the coming weeks, and that those US politicians who would sell America and its secrets to foreign powers for their momentary personal political gain are the ones who go into Election Day wearing the mantle of losers.
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