Playing with Fire

By Connor Freeman for Anti-Empire

Since the George W. Bush era, when it comes to presidential elections, the American people have come to expect that the final contestants will be jingoes. After the primaries have finished and the nominees have been named, it can be presumed that both candidates will support, among other horrible things, an indefinite continuation of the overseas economic warfareendless counter terrorism missionssupport for authoritarian governments, and the assorted regime change operations synonymous with American foreign policy.

At this point, we have entered an era where the options are even worse. It almost goes without saying that whomever the process turns out will still back the above hyper-interventionist foreign policy. But now it is practically certain that the so called ‘serious’ or ‘electable’ contenders will be ultra-belligerent toward Russia and China, the next two greatest nuclear superpowers. With hindsight, we can say this was ultimately true even in former President Donald Trump’s case.

This is in keeping with the 2018 National Security Strategy focusing on ‘great power competition’ with Moscow and Beijing, Barrack Obama’s so called “Asia Pivot,” as well as the decades long policy of continued NATO expansion goading Russia.

Contrary his orange, cartoonish caricature in the corporate press, Trump was a dangerous hawk on Russia. By his second month in office, he was sending U.S. troops and tanks to Russia’s next-door neighbor, Estonia, to participate in NATO military exercises. In February 2018, while illegally occupying eastern Syria, the Trump administration actually bombed and killed Russians. An early Reuters report said some 300 mercenaries “working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm“ were killed or injured in a battle with US occupation forces and their allies. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman claimed these numbers were wildly exaggerated, but said five of those killed were Russians. Trump bombed Syria’s government over chemical weapons attack allegations that turned out to be false flags. This was the case in Douma, where elements in the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons perpetrated a cover-up since exposed by whistleblowers. Trump imposed myriad sanctions on Russia and expanded NATO. He sent anti-tank missiles to the U.S. installed regime in Ukraine, something even Obama, who launched the coup there, as well as a devastating proxy war backing al Qaeda against Moscow’s allies in Syria, wouldn’t do.

He also directed massive amounts of taxpayer money, more than a trillion dollars over three decades, toward revamping U.S. nukes. This focus on the nuclear arsenal was largely done with an eye toward Moscow.

As Caitlin Johnstone has written, “…Trump’s Department of Defense rolled out a Nuclear Posture Review which CNN itself called ‘its toughest line yet against Russia’s resurgent nuclear forces.’”

“In its newly released Nuclear Posture Review, the Defense Department has focused much of its multibillion nuclear effort on an updated nuclear deterrence focused on Russia,” CNN reported last year.

This revision of nuclear policy includes the new implementation of “low-yield” nuclear weapons, which, because they are designed to be more “usable” than conventional nuclear ordinances, have been called “the most dangerous weapon ever” by critics of this insane policy. These weapons, which can remove some of the inhibitions that mutually assured destruction would normally give military commanders, have already been rolled off the assembly line.”

During their first call together, President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin successfully saved the New Start Treaty. Post-Trump administration, New Start is the only significant arms control agreement between Washington and Moscow left standing. Trump withdrew the U.S. from both the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Open Skies. New Start, negotiated during the Obama administration, restricts the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons between the two countries. For all of humanity, this five-year extension is very good news.

But that’s where the good news abruptly runs out. Biden is continuing this trend of bellicosity aimed at Russia and China.

During the call with Putin, Biden hypocritically harangued the Russians about respecting Ukrainian sovereignty. [At least his readout claims so.] Biden was intimately involved in the aforementioned National Endowment for Democracy coup there that killed thousands of civilians and started a war. He along with Victoria Nuland, potentially Biden’s Assistant Secretary of State, helped put neo-Nazis in power on Russia’s very doorstep and more than 10,000 people died in the ensuing war.

Biden reportedly went on to baselessly accuse Russia of paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. The “Bountygate” canard is a months old propaganda narrative which the military has denied. And many, if not most, U.S. intelligence agencies including the National Security Agency, have not backed the story up. It remains unproven. At any rate, there have been no U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan during the past year. He threatened Moscow further over still unverified allegations of involvement in the SolarWinds hack and predictably trotted out the tired conspiracy theory of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Biden has done more than taunt Moscow. It was recently reported that Biden is deploying four B-1 bombers to Norway in a message to Putin. Following the Trump administration, Biden seeks to increase US military assets and personnel in the Arctic baiting Russia.

Again emulating Trump, less than a week after taking office, Biden sent three warships into the Black Sea, where NATO desires an increased presence.

As Dave Decamp, news editor at, reported,

The USS Porter, a guided-missile destroyer, entered the waters on Thursday, joining two U.S. ships that were already there. The USS Donald Cook, another guided-missile destroyer, and the oiler USNS Laramie transited into the Black Sea on Sunday.

Russia noticed the U.S. warships operating near its coast and deployed a mobile coastal defense anti-ship system in Crimea. The Russian military said it tracked the USS Donald Cook as it entered the Black Sea.

Russia hawks and NATO are hoping the U.S. keeps up the military activity in the Black Sea this year.

According to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. Navy spent 82 days in the Black Sea in 2020, down 19 days from the previous year.

Later that weekend, a Russian fighter plane made a low pass over the USS Donald Cook. The next day, the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet stated the USS Porter was conducting military drills in the Black Sea with the Ukrainian Navy.

Biden would include Ukraine and Georgia in NATO; which, before the ink is dry, would start a war pitting the U.S. against Russia. Antony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State and right hand man on foreign policy, also supports bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

Before his being in office for even a week, Biden made several antagonistic, provocative moves against Beijingincluding sending an aircraft carrier group, and U.S. warplanes, to the South China Sea. Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the U.S. attended Biden’s militarized inauguration, after receiving an official invitation, an unprecedented, aggressive gesture aimed at China.

Defense Secretary General Lloyd Austin, who up until just recently sat on the Raytheon boardreaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Japan to honor their claims over the East China Sea’s, uninhabited, Senkaku islands. Implicitly the commitment stands even if it means war with China. In addition to Japan and China’s conflicting claims, the islands are also claimed by Taiwan.

It could be worse. War criminal Michele Flournoy, an arch anti-China hawk, was originally assumed to be Biden’s Defense Secretary pick. In the event of a war, she advocates for the U.S. to build the capability to sink the entire Chinese military and civilian merchant fleet within the first 72 hours.

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies have described Flournoy’s weapons wish list, “Flournoy’s solution to what she presents as a growing threat from China is to invest in a new generation of weapons, including hypersonic and long-range precision missiles and more high-tech unmanned systems.”

Back in December, Trump’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley echoed similar recommendations calling for US superiority in advanced weapons systems. Saying as well that, “If you put in artificial intelligence and you do man-machine teaming, add that to robotics, put in precision munitions and the ability to sense and see, throw in a few hypersonic weapons, and you’ve got a fundamental shift.”

Flournoy likely still holds great influence over the current administration’s foreign policy being the former business partner of Antony Blinken at WestExec Advisors, their military-industrial complex linked consulting firm. Their slogan was “bringing the situation room to the board room.” Also critical is her role as founder at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the neoconservative think tank, where Victoria Nuland was CEO. CNAS is one of the think tanks where multiple people on Biden’s Pentagon team hail from, including another China hawk recently appointed as an advisor to Defense Secretary Austin, Ely Ratner. Ratner said, in report for CNAS, the US must counter China with a “combat-credible posture in the Indo-Pacific.”

Flournoy, her ilk, and CNAS, have a history of getting what the military escalations they want. Here’s Benjamin and Davies again,

In 2016, Flournoy was tipped as Hillary Clinton’s choice for Secretary of Defense, and she co-authored a CNAS report titled “Expanding American Power” with a team of hawks that included former Cheney aide Eric Edelman, PNAC co-founder Robert Kagan and Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The report was seen as a view of how Clinton’s foreign policy would differ from Obama’s, with calls for higher military spending, arms shipments to Ukraine, renewed military threats against Iran, more aggressive military action in Syria and Iraq…all of which Trump has adopted.

CNAS is funded by, among others, the US State Department, Taiwan’s de facto embassy, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Comcast, Microsoft, Exxon, Mastercard, the Japanese Embassy to the United States, Citigroup, Facebook, Georgetown University, Google, and Raytheon.

Kurt Campbell, former CEO at CNAS and one of the main players behind Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” has been selected by Biden to be the National Security Council’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs. In the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, Campbell recently co-authored a piece that argued the US should counter China by “…investing in long-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles, unmanned carrier-based strike aircraft and underwater vehicles, guided-missile submarines, and high-speed strike weapons.”

Avril Haines, the new Director of National Intelligence, at the CIA was deeply involved in Obama’s infamous drone program as well as covering up the crimes committed in Bush’s torture prisons. As Deputy Director of the CIA, she rewarded those at the agency who hacked the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers during their torture investigation and oversaw the redaction of more than 90% of their 6,000-page report. Haines was the legal advisor to former CIA director John Brennan. She sat on the CNAS board of directors and was a consultant at WestExec Advisors. During her confirmation hearing, she made clear her anti-China postions.

Here’s Decamp again, ““[she] said she believes the US should take an “aggressive stance” against Beijing. Haines said that as DNI, she will prioritize countering the threat of China’s “counterintelligence.””

The “diplomats” are no better. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for UN ambassador, has sworn to, if confirmed, act “aggressively against Chinese malign efforts.” Following in the ultra-hawkish former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s footsteps, Blinken has reaffirmed the US rejection of all Beijing’s claims over the waters in the South China Sea. Conducting what it calls “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FONOPS), the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet will continue to unnecessarily insert itself into disputes between regional actors there who all have overlapping claims over the waters. Blinken has also said former President Donald Trump “was right in taking a tougher approach to China.”

Said “approach” included flying record numbers of U.S. warplanes and as often as three to five daily reconnaissance aircraft flights in the South China Sea close to China’s coast. Trump sailed U.S. warships through the Taiwan Strait 13 times. And last October, the Air Force confirmed that a US RC-135W Rivet Joint surveillance plane flew directly over Taiwan.

Trump sold Taipei Lockheed Martin’s upgraded F-16s, not since George H.W. Bush has a president sold such arms to the Taiwanese. He also sold them Boeing’s AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missiles (SLAM) that can be fired from the F-16s to hit military and civilian targets inside China’s Nanjing region.

As Gareth Porter reported at the Grayzone,

…[U.S. policy shifted] sharply toward a much more aggressive stance on the geo-strategic island at the heart of military tensions between the United States and China.

Branded “Fortress Taiwan” by the Pentagon, the ambitious arms deal was the engineered by Randall Schriver, a veteran pro-Taiwan activist and anti-China hardliner whose think tank had been financed by America’s biggest arms contractors and by the Taiwan government itself.

Since assuming the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs in early 2018, Schriver has focused primarily on granting his major arms company patrons the vaunted arms deals they had sought for years.

The arms sales Schriver has overseen represent the most dangerous U.S. escalation against China in years.

This constant military poking of China continued throughout 2020. Under Biden, this does not seem to be changing, nor relenting. Last week, the Biden administration sent its first warship, the USS John McCain, through the Taiwan Strait. The following day, using the same guided-missile destroyer, the Navy ran its inaugural South China Sea FONOP under the Biden regime coming within 12 nautical miles of the Beijing-controlled Paracel Islands.

The British and French will be getting in on the action this year. On the eve of 2021, Lyle Goldstein, Research Professor at the U.S. Naval War College, wrote,

A recent NATO report broke new ground by fingering China as a military threat to Europe for the first time. At first glance, this would seem to indicate that Europe has been listening to Washington’s repeated warnings and has finally come around to the American point of view on the salience of “great power competition” that recognizes both Moscow and Beijing as dangers, with the latter perhaps constituting a more ominous threat.

Next year, both the French and British navies are planning major naval exercises, together with the U.S. and Japan, in the Western Pacific, namely in maritime domains proximate to China.

This week, a French Navy ship and submarine made “patrols” of the South China Sea. The U.S. sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to conduct drills there as well for the first time since last July.

In late January, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech warning against a “new Cold War.” He said “we should respect and accommodate differences, avoid meddling in other countries’ internal affairs and resolve disagreements through consultation and dialogue.”

In response to a question about the speech, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied “…our approach remains what it has been…” “We’re in a serious competition with China,” she said.

In its final days as the global hegemon, the American Empire is lashing out. In our lifetimes, this new Cold War could possibly soon morph into a hot war, or a World War, which would imperil all human life.

There is perhaps no greater imperative for the peace movement, the antiwar movement, or the libertarian movement than to expose and oppose these constant military provocations against Russia and China. These occur mostly out of sight and out of mind for the vast majority of the American population.

The antiwar movement should permanently change that, as well as dismantle the mass media and government-created artificial consensus of enmity toward both countries which could easily translate into war fever as economic and social conditions worsen. The hawks exploit the U.S. government’s numerous failures, political and financial, as well as in dealing with the pandemic, to redirect anger American anger at these targeted states. The American people should shut the U.S. Empire down. It is putting all human life in the crosshairs; it costs us more than a trillion dollars each year. The Empire is what is bankrupting America, along with the Federal Reserve System used to distort the economy to temporarily stave off the inevitable results of all the spending and money printing necessary to fund the endless wars year by year.

As these crises spiral out of control, the harsh domestic consequences of U.S. polices  are reframed as Russian and Chinese abuses. This occurs while the corporate press and Congress ensure the targeted governments are painted as the ultimate evil. We must smash the bipartisan propaganda paradigm and prevent this imperialist strategy from causing the very conflicts being fomented by the military, neoconservatives, arms dealers, and think tankers.

Source: The Libertarian Institue

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