Bruno Guigue: Counter-History of the “Cold War”

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard

17:54:12
12/09/2018

Bruno Guigue

From Ukraine to the Skripal affair, from Syria to “Russiagate”, current events offer its daily ration of what must be called the new “cold war”. Like in the good old days, the world is divided between good and bad, and we endure an impressive avalanche of propaganda. This is not new. In order to accredit a Soviet threat suspended like the Sword of Damocles over Western democracies, it was repeatedly claimed until the 1980’s that the military arsenal of the USSR was far superior to that of the US. But this was completely wrong. “Throughout the period,” notes Noam Chomsky, “great efforts have been undertaken to present the Soviet Union as larger than life, about to overwhelm us. The most important Cold War document, NSC 68 of April 1950, sought to conceal the Soviet weakness that was unmistakably revealed by analysis, so as to convey the required image of the ‘slave state’ pursuing its ‘implacable purpose’ of gaining ‘absolute authority’ over the world” (Year 501: The Conquest Continues, EPO, 1994).

This systematic threat was indeed a fiction. The Soviet arsenal was always inferior to that of its adversaries. The leaders of the USSR never envisaged invading Western Europe, let alone conquering the world. In fact, the arms race – and nuclear arms in particular – is a typical Western initiative, a kind of application to the military thing of the liberal dogma of economic competition. That is why this deadly competition – where a nuclear apocalypse came close at least once, in October 1962 – was consciously maintained by Washington since the day after the allied victory over Germany and Japan. Cynically, the Western camp had two good reasons to provoke this competition: the war had exhausted the USSR (27 million dead, 30% of the economic potential annihilated), and it had fantastically enriched the US (50% of the world’s industrial production in 1945).

Forged by global conflict, this unprecedented economic supremacy created the conditions for an aggressive foreign policy. Of course, this policy had an ideological dressing: the defense of the “free world”, democracy, and human rights against “Soviet totalitarianism”. We can also measure the seriousness of these democratic motivations against the support given by Washington, in the same period, to the most bloodthirsty right-wing dictatorships. But this imperialist policy, in accordance with the doctrine crafted by George Kennan in 1947 (the containment of communism), had above all an unacknowledged goal: the progressive exhaustion of the USSR – severely tested by Hitler’s invasion – in a military competition where the Soviet system was going to squander the means that it could have devoted to development. It is clear that this policy has borne fruit, from Harry Truman (1945-1952) to George W. H. Bush (1988-1992).

Outperformed by a Western capitalism that enjoyed extremely favorable conditions after the Second World War, the Soviet Union ended up leaving the scene in 1991 after losing the competition in advance. Yet nothing seems to have changed, and the cold war continues unabated today. Nearly 30 years after the disappearance of the USSR, Western hostility towards Russia is not weakening. “From Stalin to Putin,” a narrative perspiring the good Western conscience, attributing all its flaws to the adversary camp, incriminating an evil power whose resilience would pose an irresistible threat to the so-called civilised world. As if the East-West confrontation absolutely had to survive the communist power, there is persistence in designating today’s Russia as a kind of systemic enemy, the empire of Soviet evil having simply been repainted with Russian colors for the needs of the cause.

In the eyes of Western ruling elites, it is fair to believe that Moscow remains Moscow, and that the threat coming from the East resists political changes. Communism or not, the geopolitical agenda of the “free world” remains irreducibly anti-Russian. In a sense, the Russophobes of today think like General de Gaulle, who detected the permanence of the Russian nation beneath the Soviet polish. But those obsessed with the Moscow ogre draw diametrically opposed conclusions. Visionary, fiercely attached to the national idea, the founder of the Fifth Republic found in this permanence a good reason to hold dialogue with Moscow. Contemporary Russophobes, on the contrary, see in it a pretext for an endless confrontation. De Gaulle wanted to go beyond the logic of blocs by easing tensions with Russia, while they maintain these tensions in order to consolidate the Western bloc by using anti-Russian hatred.

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The dominant discourse in the West during the first “cold war” (1945-1990) didn’t stop attributing responsibility for the conflict to Soviet expansionism and the communist ideology. But if the cold war continues today, it is proof that such a speech was a lie. If Communism was responsible for the cold war, the collapse of the Soviet system would have sounded the death knell of this confrontation, and the world would have turned the page of a conflict that was wrongly attributed to incompatibility between two systems. However, this is not how it is. Russia is no longer Communist, and the West, vassalised by Washington, still accuses it of the worst horrors, expels its diplomats under false pretences, inflicts economic sanctions, exercises military pressure on its borders, bombs its allies in the Middle East, and even attributes to Russia the Machiavellian power to elect the candidate of its choice to the White House.

This rebirth of anti-Muscovite hysteria is all the more significant because it succeeded for a decade, the 90’s, the geopolitical tone of which was very different. But this epoch is over. Finished is the time when the decaying Russia of Boris Yeltsin (1991-2000) had the favors of the “free world”. Subjected to liberal “shock therapy”, it placed itself in the Western orbit. The life expectancy of the population decreased by 10 years, but this detail mattered little. Russia joined the marvellous world of market economy and Western-style democracy. Its leadership was receiving the dividends of a surrender that was worthy of adoption by the West. Unfortunately for the latter, this honeymoon ended in the early 2000’s, because Russia raised its head. With Vladimir Putin, it regained its sovereignty and defended its national interests. Snapping the necks of oligarchs, it regained control over the key sectors of its economy – particularly the energy sector – that the sharks of global finance were eagerly ogling.

This sudden rebirth provoked an uproar in the West. As soon as the providential interlude – from the Western point of view – of the Yeltsin era passed, the containment of Communism resumed service in the form of the frenzied demonisation of Russia. As long as it pledged its allegiance to Westerners, the debilitated Russia of the 90’s did not cast a shadow on it: it had reintegrated the common law of nations that look obediently towards the star-spangled banner. But when it was emancipated from this tutelage, the sobering Russia of Vladimir Putin aroused an uncommon irritability. Like during the Cold War, Moscow started to be accused of all ills. An endless litany again invaded the media of the “free world”. A systemic threat to the Western world, a mortal danger to its interests, a ferment corrosive to its values, a thick brute that understands only force, a rogue state impervious to the code of conduct of civilised nations: all the nuances of the repertory were involved here.

Concentrated on all Russophobic commonplaces, this bellicose speech, unfortunately, wasn’t just a speech. Acts followed. As of 15 years ago, the US has deliberately organised a global confrontation with Moscow that has two characteristics: no US president was an exception, and it is deployed on three main fronts. As the military-industrial complex demands, Washington unleashed the hostilities, first and foremost, in the course of the arms race. In 1947, the US wanted to “contain” communism by encircling the USSR via a network of allegedly defensive military alliances (NATO, SEATO, Baghdad Pact). In the 90’s, the USSR no longer exists, yet the American policy is still the same, and the Atlantic alliance miraculously survives the threat it was supposed to stave off. Worse, Washington unilaterally enlarges NATO up to the borders of Russia, violating the commitment made to Gorbachev, who accepted the reunification of Germany in exchange for a promise of the non-expansion of the Atlantic alliance in the former Soviet glacis.

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This NATO geopolitical offensive obviously had a military corollary. Firstly, it was the installation, in the new member states of Eastern Europe, of a US missile defense shield. Unthinkable at the time of the USSR, this plan hangs the threat of a first strike above Moscow and makes obsolete any nuclear disarmament agreement. Then it was the multiplication of joint military manoeuvres near the western borders of the Russian Federation, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Not to mention, of course, the show of force against the backdrop of this: the colossal US military budget represents half of global military expenditure, breaking in 2018 the ceiling of $700 billion. Constantly increasing, it is nine-fold the expenditure of Russia (thirteen-fold if one takes into account the military budget of NATO). When all is said and done, the bulk of the new spending increases the capacity of projecting force and has no defensive character, in accordance with the “pre-emptive attack” doctrine set out by the neoconservatives since 2002. In this area, nothing stops progress, and Donald Trump announced in July 2018 that he would even create a “space force” that is separate from the US Air Force in order to prevent Russians and Chinese from dominating this new theater of operations.

At the end of the course of the arms race, the destabilisation of the near abroad was the second front opened by the US and its vassals against Moscow. By fomenting a coup in Ukraine (February 2014), they intended to detach this country from its powerful neighbor to further isolate Russia, in the wake of the “color revolutions” that took place in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Since 2014, Ukraine has been in the grip of a very serious internal crisis. The coup brought to power an ultra-nationalist clique whose politics humiliated the Russian-speaking population of the eastern regions. This deliberate provocation of Kiev’s usurping authorities, backed by neo-Nazi groups, pushed the patriots of Donbass towards resistance and secession. But no Russian tank tramples on Ukrainian territory, and Moscow has always favoured a negotiated solution of the federal type. NATO stigmatises and sanctions Russia for its policy towards Ukraine, while the only army that kills Ukrainians is that of Kiev, supported strongly by the Western powers. In this “near abroad”, it is clear that it is the West that outright defies Russia at its borders, and not the other way around. What would be said in Washington if Moscow led joint military manoeuvres with Mexico and Canada, and openly provoked the destabilisation of North America?

After the arms race and the destabilisation of the “near abroad”, it is on Syrian ground that Washington undertook to counteract Moscow. In reality, the destabilisation project in the Middle East actually dates back to the early 2000’s. The former commander-in-chief of the US forces in Europe, General Wesley Clark revealed the contents of a classified Pentagon memo from the office of the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which said: “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”. Clark also described the true aim of the Pentagon’s neoconservatives: “They wanted us to destabilise the Middle East, to turn it upside down, in order to finally see it fall under our control” (Quoted by F. William Engdahl, “The Discreet Charm of Jihad”, Demi Lune, 2018). This covert strategy was – and still is – aimed at crumbling the Middle East into a myriad of competing ethnic and religious rivals, weak and manipulable at will.

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The implementation of this program implies the destruction or dismemberment of the sovereign states of the region, especially those who persist in their refusal to align with the Washington-Tel Aviv axis. The attempt to annihilate the secular Syrian state, the main Arab ally of the USSR, then of Russia, is the latest avatar of this same strategy that Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen also paid the price for – and continue to suffer from to this day. In order to achieve its ends, the empire of chaos orchestrated widespread violence destined to destabilise recalcitrant states – like Syria – while providing the pretext for a military intervention – direct or indirect – supposedly aimed at eradicating terrorism. In short, the “neocons” strategy aims to maintain the terror while pretending to fight it, as a result of which Washington benefits from the situation on both counts – any advance of terrorism justifies the armed presence of the US, and any defeat inflicted on terrorism gives credit to their firmness against these evil forces.
But this extraordinary strategic sleight of hand took a test in organising anti-Soviet “jihad” in Afghanistan in the late 1970’s. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, organised the recruitment of jihadists from all over the world, and smuggled them into Afghanistan via Pakistan. The avowed purpose of this manoeuvre was to create “a Soviet Vietnam”. Washington stirred up tension inside Afghanistan in order to force the USSR to respond by intervening for the pro-Communist government in Kabul. Coming from the Polish aristocracy, Brzezinski was obsessed with the Soviet Union. He theorised the strategy of destabilising the “green belt” (Muslim) bordering the southern flank of Russia. In his eyes, the jihadists, renamed “freedom fighters”, constituted prime recruits for a “holy war” against atheistic communism. Moscow fell into the trap set by Washington, and this error cost it dearly. In order to carry out the destabilisation of the Afghan government, the CIA’s strategists relied on Saudi financial power, which gave the armed gangs astronomical sums. And finally, the logistics of anti-Soviet jihad went through Osama Bin Laden, whose organisation provides a recruiting channel for militants flocking from the Muslim world. From the very beginning of the 1980’s, the terrorist plan that will soon be known as Al-Qaida was in place, coordinated and sponsored by the Washington-Riyadh axis.

In reality, the “cold war” never stopped. The frenetic course of the arms race, destabilisation of the “near abroad”, and organised chaos in the “green belt” along the southern flank of Russia are the three fronts opened by Washington’s strategists since the 2000’s in order to revive the East-West confrontation. This hegemonic enterprise is a long-term endeavour that extends the containment strategy advocated by George Kennan since 1947. This ongoing confrontation justifies the military effort that President Eisenhower even had no notions of ​​when he alerted the American public at the end of his term to the dangers of the “military-industrial complex”. Clinging to their dream of global hegemony, the US today compensates for the decline of their economy and the collapse of their model of society with all-out activism. Leaning on the Russo-Chinese and Russian-Iranian alliance, the victorious resistance of Syria has just taught a lesson to the warmongers of Washington. The US boasts about winning the first cold war. That they will also win the second one is less probable. Like the previous one, they launched it in order to impose on the rest of the world the liberal model – or so-called – that has guaranteed for them since 1945 privileged access to raw materials and world markets. But the economic success of China and the political renaissance of Russia are monumental paving stones thrown into the pond of this ending hegemony. And the litanies of “democracy” and “human rights” will eventually tire all those who see the use made of it by “Doctor Strangelove” of Washington.

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