Speaking Saturday, February 11, 2017 from 3-5:30 pm at the UDC Law School in DC

On Saturday, February 11, 2017 from 3-5:30 pm at the UDC Law School, I will be speaking as part of the Nation Magazine Discussion Group in DC.

Our next meeting of the Nation Magazine Discussion Group in DC will focus on the history of US-Russian relations, and how the Cold War between capitalism and communism appeared to end, but now seems to have resumed and is intensifying between two nuclear super-powers who both threaten democracy in an increasingly multi-centered world which could easily escalate into a hot war over Syria, Ukraine or somewhere else. We invited two exceptionally knowledgeable “resource persons” who have shared their foreign policy expertise with us before. One is Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, and the other is John Feffer, director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. They were selected to provide their different perspectives on many of the questions highlighted in this discussion paper. When the topic of US-Russian relations was originally suggested to me by Mel Goodman several months ago, I had no idea how timely it would become for the 2016 presidential election. The purpose of this discussion is to cut through the propaganda which is channeled through the mass media, and conduct a rational discussion of what it will take to create a more peaceful and sustainable world.

Mel Goodman was division chief and senior analyst at the Office of Soviet Affairs, Central Intelligence Agency from 1976 to 1986 and was a senior analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, State Department from 1974 to 1976. He was also an intelligence adviser to the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT I and II) in Vienna and Washington. He is co-author of The Wars of Edvard Shevardnadze (2nd edition, 2001), The Phantom Defense, America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion (2001); Bush League Diplomacy; How the Neoconservatives are Putting the World at Risk (2004); Failure of Intelligence: the Decline and Fall of the CIA (2008); National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (2013) and his newest book which is scheduled to come out on February 15, 2017 is Whistleblower at the CIA.  Goodman was featured on Democracy Now to provide insight to John Brennan’s qualifications for CIA Director and has recently criticized President Trump’s appointment of Mike Pompeo as the latest CIA director.  Mel Goodman wrote the article “NATO Uber Alles: Obama was in Warsaw, When He was Needed in Dallas” which is listed below (see ref. #1a and 1b).

John Feffer has written a prescient novel entitled “Splinterlands” which was foreshadowed in a creative article he published in 2015 entitled “A Dystopian Visit to the Dark Future of Splinterland: Where Nationalism is King, and Humanity is Truly Suffering”.  In this article he takes a long view of the disintegration of the world order from the vantage point of 2050 which is a useful context for making sense of the political conflicts in the US and throughout the world today.  The resurgence of nationalism occurred under the pressure of climate change and growing inequality in which the super-rich 1% effectively seceded from society while the poorest of the poor had nowhere to turn.  In this memorable article, John Feffer reminds us that “(n)ational sentiment proved to be the go-to principle for determining what “our” people deserved and those “others” didn’t, unrestrained by the guiding hand of government, morality, or the glue of solidarity that once held us together across religion, ethnicity, and class.  John Feffer has also written several articles recommended below including “The Trump Doctrine: Talk Loudly and Carry the Biggest Stick Possible”, “Are We Near the End of NATO?”, “Hillary Clinton: A Hawk in the Wings”, and “Donald Trump Against the World: The Birth of a New Nationalist World Order: Welcome to a globalism of the 1 percent”, (see refs. #2-4a and 4b).


The history of the US relationship with Russia has many chapters since the Communist revolution in 1917 which established the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin.  Among these events are:

  1. President Woodrow Wilson’s invasion of USSR in 1917 with over 15,000 American troops staying until 1920 even though President Wilson, the architect of the League of Nations, resisted entreaties from England, France and other Allied leaders for direct US military intervention to overthrow the Bolshevik revolution (see ref. #5a).
  1. the US was slow to respond to the threat of Hitler in Europe for many reasons including American isolationism in the 1930s and early 1940s, close corporate ties between major American and German corporations, and virulent anti-communist propaganda which nurtured the hope that Hitler would attack the USSR; even after the US entered World War II in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, American troops were not sent to the Eastern Front to help Stalin repel the German invasion of the USSR until 1944 as over 27 million Soviet’s died during World War II; Senator Harry Truman (D-MO) who became US president upon the death of FDR in 1945 was quoted as saying in June of 1941 “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible” (see ref. #5b).
  1. competition between US and USSR for influence in Third World countries (e.g. Korea, Cuba, Indonesia, Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan);
  1. nuclear arms race and race to control outer space; US withdrew from Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 with the Soviet Union in 2002 under President George W. Bush just before invading Iraq in 2003
  1. collapse of Soviet Union (1991) – why? (how did Gorbachev’s original goal of using “glasnost” (political openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring) to reform the Soviet Union from 1986-1991 contribute to its disintegration? Did Gorbachev support the dissolution of the Soviet Union?  (Why was Russia’s industrial infrastructure allowed to deteriorate so that its great strides in economic development stagnated with its economy largely dependent now on energy sales? Is this economic development model why Trump views Putin as a great leader, or is it the autocratic nature of the Russian state that Trump appears eager to implement in the US?)
  1. expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe (e.g. Poland, Hungary, and Romania) as these countries were liberated from Soviet control, idealized neo-liberal capitalism, and sought to join NATO to safeguard their independence from Russia
  1. when former Soviet Republics, like Georgia, declared their independence from the USSR in 1991, ethnic tensions arose as Russian-speaking areas like South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared their independence from Georgia, and sought to align themselves with Russia. Armed conflict ensued between Russian-speaking Separatists and the Georgian government with Russia backing the Separatists with military equipment and Russian forces. In this context, Georgia and the Ukraine sought to join NATO to safeguard their independence from Russia.  In 2008, US President George W. Bush called for a cease-fire between Russia and Georgia, and condemned Russia for not recognizing the independence and territorial integrity of Georgia which included the Russian-speaking regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Russia used its veto power in the Security Council to terminate the role of UN observers that had been employed to monitor a cease fire that had been negotiated between Russia and Georgia with the help of French President Sarkozy
  1. Russian push back occurred in Ukraine in 2014 when the pro-Russian elected president, Yanukovych of the Ukrainian government, was challenged by anti-government protesters in the “Euromaidan” movement which wanted closer economic ties to the European Union to end years of corruption and lack of economic growth in the Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union; when the protest was violently put down by the Ukrainian government, unrest spread, the president was impeached by the Ukrainian parliament, and new elections were called for. The new Ukrainian government has sought to join NATO to protect its independence from Russia. Russian President Putin responded by supporting the Separatists, and annexing the Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea which had been a republic in the USSR before it was transferred to the Ukraine in 1954.
  1. Edward Snowden, former CIA employee and National Security Agency (NSA) subcontractor, was granted asylum in Russia in 2013 where he still resides when the US blocked his passage to Ecuador after he disclosed to the American public through the news media US government surveillance of American citizens in violation of the US Constitution
  1. rationale for US military escalation over Russian support for Assad in Syria ostensibly for humanitarian reasons as the US sells weapons to Saudi Arabia which have been used to bomb Yemeni hospitals, etc.
  1. charges of Russian interference with US presidential election through alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee emails of some of Hillary Clinton’s top advisers and their disclosure through WikiLeaks; President Obama has imposed some sanctions against Russia which Democrats in Congress are considering expanding (see ref. #15)


Questions to consider:

  1. To what extent has Soviet and Russian militarism been a defensive response to American militarism (see ref. #6)? How has this occurred since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and continued in the way the US fought World War II where 27 million Soviets died? (see ref. #5a & 5b). What led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991?  What motivated Gorbachev to use “glasnost” (political openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring) to reform the Soviet Union, and did he expect this to lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union?  Has the conflict between the US and Russia changed from competition between capitalism and communism since World War II to a multidimensional competition for economic and political power among the three super-powers in the world today, the US, Russia, and China?
  1. What has been driving American militarism: Military-industrial-congressional-media complex, military arms sales to countries like Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey; American imperialism through corporate domination of global capitalist system and its access to natural resources and markets; humanitarian concerns, etc.? Was the growth of NATO after the collapse of the USSR primarily a cloak for continued US military intervention, a US strategy to get European allies to share in the cost of US military interventions abroad, and an effort of Russian neighbors to protect their sovereignty from the historic Russian “sphere of influence”? Although American intervention is often portrayed as a safeguarding of democracy, is it really different in goals and impacts from Russian intervention that is often characterized as “meddling” in the affairs of other countries?   Will Trump’s version of “America First” lead not only to US isolation from other countries, but also their collective efforts to undermine American power in the global economy which has concentrated profits for global capitalists while it has impoverished billions of people around the world?  Trump’s billionaire cabinet has a combined wealth of $14 billion, and the richest 62 persons in the world account for more wealth than the bottom 50% of the world’s population.
  1. Why did Trump question NATO’s usefulness from his “America First” perspective? Is there any evidence that Trump, who is often viewed as not being ideologically committed to anything other than making money, perhaps willing to reduce or suspend the Cold War upon which the military industrial complex depends?   How would the Republicans or Democrats likely react to Trump if he was committed to reducing the Cold War?  Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party have accused Trump of being a puppet of Putin’s both before and after the 2016 presidential election.  Was this accusation originally made in the political campaign to both play the traditional “anti-communism” card while discrediting Trump’s lack of foreign policy experience?  Has this attack on Russia now conveniently morphed into scapegoating Putin for hacking DNC emails, to avoid the Democratic Party’s having to take responsibility for backing a hawkish Establishment candidate when the general public was looking for an “outsider”, like Bernie Sanders, who was committed to restructuring the American system which has primarily benefitted the wealthy and their global corporations?   Why have Democratic presidential candidates often been more hawkish than Republicans when it has come to detente with the Soviet Union and now with Russia?  What were the lessons learned from de-escalating the Cuban missile crisis in 1961 when the US and USSR threatened each other with a nuclear exchange?
  1. What accounts for the embrace of capitalist neo-liberalism in Eastern Europe nations like Poland, Hungary, and Romania, and Baltic nations like Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1940, and in former Republics of the Soviet Union like Georgia, Ukraine, and even Russia? To protect their independence from Russia, all of these countries have sought to join NATO. Why did the US respond differently to the Russian intervention in Crimea in the Ukraine than in the former Soviet republic of Chechnya (see ref. #6)?  Is the Russian “sphere of influence” a continuing threat to democracy in independent Eastern European countries and former Republics of the USSR (see ref. #7)?  Is the US less of a threat to democracy in countries in the US “sphere of influence” such as Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia?  What can be done internationally to strengthen democracy in nation-states throughout the world who are extremely vulnerable to the foreign influence of super-powers like the US, Russia, and China, etc.?
  1. Is NATO being used to further American imperialism globally even though the US under George H. Walker Bush reached an oral agreement with Gorbachev in 1989 to support the unification of West Germany and East Germany in exchange for NATO’s commitment not to expand into Eastern Europe on the western border of the USSR (see refs. #1, 3, 7-9)? How does the economic crisis in the European Union, as symbolized by the recent British Brexit vote, affect NATO? Why do certain countries like Sweden and Finland have an interest in joining NATO now?
  1. President Obama proposed a military alliance with Russia in the summer of 2016 to stop the bombing of Aleppo. The proposal was ultimately rejected by Putin just before it was supposed to be implemented when the US bombed Syrian troops. Did Obama approve of this US bombing, (or was it perhaps initiated by the US Department of Defense or CIA) to sabotage a military alliance between the US and Russia?  By the way, Russia was removed from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) by a vote of the UN General Assembly on October 28, 2016 largely over its military bombing of Aleppo, while Saudi Arabia was re-elected to the HRC and became the Chair of the Human Rights Council despite its continued bombing of Yemen.  The US was also reelected to the Human Rights Council despite its role in arming Saudi Arabia, and in supporting the Iraqi government’s current attack on Mosul to dislodge ISIS.  (What does this reflect about US influence in the UN?)
  1. Why did President Obama propose spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years for modernizing tactical nuclear weapons and placing missile defense systems around Russia and China instead of honoring principles of “respect, equality, and mutual benefit” with another global super-power?
  1. Are there common interests between the two largest nuclear super-powers, the US and Russia, (such as arms control, nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament; peace in Syria, an end to Islamic State terrorism, and avoiding illegal immigration to Europe and other Middle Eastern countries (see ref. #9-12), that are being overlooked and displaced by the resumption of the Cold War by the US and the growing threat of a military confrontation between the US and Russia? Are the negotiations between Russia, Turkey, and Syria more likely to resolve the civil and proxy wars in Syria than negotiations where the US participates directly?

Is Russia really a threat to American democracy even if Putin authorized the hacking of DNC emails revealing how the Democratic Party establishment favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders?  Have the US intelligence agencies failed to reveal their conclusive evidence of Putin’s role in the DNC email hacking because it might disclose how the US conducts cyber warfare against its allies and enemies alike?

Stephen Cohen is one of the most prominent Kremlinologists who has criticized American foreign policy for risking a war with Russia in both Syria and Ukraine.  Cohen, who also happens to be the husband of The Nation’s Editor & Publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel, has argued that the US should recognize Russia as an essential “partner” (not friend) to lessen the danger of nuclear war and to control international terrorism which he regards as the greatest threats to US national security.  Is Cohen’s “Realpolitik” assessment (which is how I characterize his approach to advancing “the national interest”) really likely to address the legitimate grievances of the countries and social movements around the world which are outraged by the way the US uses its super-power influence to undermine their sovereignty– economically, politically, and militarily through diplomatic pressure, trade policies, proxy wars, and US military power (e.g. US military bases around the world, drones, special forces and military advisers, as well as “boots on the ground”)?

  1. Why has the American news media failed to effectively expose and critique the dependence of the US economy on the global weapons industry and the oil industry which underlie many of the wars that the US has been engaged in, or question the strategy of regime change which the US has continued to pursue in Iraq, Libya, and Syria despite its effects of strengthening the role of so-called “terrorists” (see ref. #13)? What would it take for more Americans to become aware of the outrage that many people feel around the world for the way that the US has used its power? Does the US project an image of invulnerability to intimidate others while hiding our fear and guilt for the way we have treated other countries?  Is this similar to the way white supremacy has enabled us to avoid acknowledging the injustices we have created, and asking for forgiveness for how we have practiced genocide on Native Americans and subjugated African-Americans to slavery and Jim Crow in what Gore Vidal has referred to as the “United States of Amnesia”?   (This will probably be the next topic of our Nation Magazine Discussion Group in DC).
  1. What social forces could generate an effective counter-balance to US global domination, and can world peace exist in a world with a dominant super-power? How can the American Left and global social movements strengthen the United Nations and international mechanisms for global peace, freedom and prosperity? If Trump alienates enough countries, can they isolate the US collectively and begin to provide sanctions like were eventually applied to South Africa forcing it to reach an accommodations with its domestic resistance ending “Apartheid”?


Recommended references:

Our next Nation Magazine Discussion Group meeting will take place on Saturday, February 11, 2017 (the second Saturday of the month again) from 3-5:30 PM at the UDC Law School (4340 Connecticut Avenue, NW) in Room 304 (this room number will be confirmed via email if you are part of the group). You are welcome to invite anyone who wants to actively participate in the discussion and familiarizes themselves with this discussion paper and any of the references that interest them.

The street address of the UDC Law School is 4340 Connecticut Avenue, NW, and is located one block north of the Van Ness/UDC Metro station on the Red Line.  Free parking is available in some spaces on Connecticut Avenue and in the residential neighborhood one block up Yuma Street on the right side where there are no parking meters.

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