Hillary Clinton is an especially ardent enthusiast of Full Spectrum Dominance (FSD). Diplomacy is for sissies. If they hesitate to capitulate to Washington’s demands, up in flames they go. In an August 2014 interview in The Atlantic Clinton dismissed negotiations with Syria and instead advocated supporting the “hard men with the guns.”
Clinton’s overwhelmingly hawkish instincts were detailed in a lengthy article by Mark Landler in this year’s April 21 New York Times Magazine titled “How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk.” Landler reports that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz “are more skeptical than Clinton about intervention and more circumspect than she about maintaining the nation’s post-World War II military commitments… neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement that Clinton has.” Topping the article off, Landler supports Clinton’s bid for the White House. The Newspaper of Record is fine with war hawk Clinton’s finger on the button.
This leaves us with an especially pressing worry: is Clinton likely to create the equivalent of a latter-day Cuban Missile Crisis? Her mania for U.S. global hegemony, the tilt to Asia with its arrogant and escalating provocations of China and her coming extension of the Obama policy of upping the ante with Russia, set the stage for war. The threat now is that Clinton goes big time, confronting, challenging, goading and working to humiliate two of the Great Powers, sovereignties that have made it clear that backing down is not on the table. We shall see below that the geopolitical stage is set for such a showdown. And we’ll see how FSD plus the logic of the arms race, now back in swing with a vengeance, equals armed conflict unless one of the contestants does a Khrushchev, i.e. backs down. But the Chinese have announced their unwillingness to retreat in the face of U.S. provocations, and Russia will not cave in a second time to a Clinton JFK impression.
The specific dynamics of how the combination of the push for global hegemony plus the arms race must lead to war unless one of the adversaries backs down was spelled out with characteristic lucidity by Paul Sweezy, the economist and co-founder of the magazine Monthly Review (September 1982), in a remarkable essay titled “Nuclear Chicken.” Later in this article I shall borrow from the core argument of Sweezy’s essay in applying his analysis to the current conjuncture. I begin with a prefatory account of the portentous geopolitical realities, including leading think tanks’ and media bigwigs’ attempts to revive what used to be called “thinking the unthinkable”.
Russia’s Nuclear Superiority and Washington’s Response
Let’s begin with a summary of today’s arms race. Russia’s nuclear capabilities are known to be far superior to the U.S.’s, which explains Washington’s and NATO’s threefold strategy to commit billions of dollars to upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal, to draw as many as possible of the former Soviet republics into NATO, so that the alliance has expanded right up to the Russian border and engaged in continuous NATO military exercises there, and to deploy anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe to alert Russia that Washington/NATO is not intimidated or restrained by Russia’s nuclear advantage.
The clock has begun ticking. As a recent Guardian headline reports, “NATO countries begin largest war game in eastern Europe since cold war.” Early this month NATO launched Operation Anaconda, the largest such military exercise in a quarter century, since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. According to a NATO announcement, this war game involves 31,000 troops, 105 aircraft, 3,000 vehicles and 12 warships. The largest troop contingent, numbering 14,000 is from the United States. 5,000 NATO forces are currently carrying out similar actions in Lithuania and Latvia. The Obama administration has pledged a military confrontation with Russia should the unstable right-wing governments there or in Estonia “provoke” Russia.
The stated aim of these exercises is to anticipate a scenario in which NATO and Russia come to war. In a gruesome irony, the dress rehearsal has German tanks crossing eastward through Poland. And in an act at least as bold and threatening as any during the Cold War, a new U.S. military headquarters has been created in Poland, equipped with Washington’s most advanced military equipment. NATO is building up its forces in eastern Europe much as Germany did in the run-up of the 1930s. Russia will not take this sitting down. The inevitable succession of escalations and counter-escalations portends nuclear confrontation. Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev described the situation succinctly: NATO leaders “only talk about defense, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations… All of the rhetoric in Warsaw simply clamors for all but declaring war on Russia.”
UPI’s coverage of an early July British Army annual Conference on Land Warfare confirms Gorbachev’s concern. In his presentation, an Army general representing the U.S. identified the Army’s top priority as “to deter and if necessary defeat Russia in a war.”
Close nuclear shaves have happened in the past, and the Guardian notes, in connection with the present provocation, that “defense experts warn that any mishap could prompt an offensive reaction from Moscow.” Russia’s Foreign Minister warns that “We do not hide [our] negative attitude toward the NATO line of moving its military infrastructure to our borders, drawing other countries into military unit activities. This will activate Russia’s sovereign right to provide its own safety with methods that are adequate to today’s risks.”
Clinton’s mindset perceives a remark like this as a challenge, rather than as a reasonable response to provocation. She will feel obliged to up the ante lest “we” appear to lack “resolve”. By this logic, not to escalate in the face of a perceived challenge is tantamount to capitulation. It is an invitation to a Russian counter-escalation. The dynamic is self-perpetuating and is a straight path to nuclear face-off.
Russia has more tactical nuclear weapons and low-yield nuclear weapons than the United States. The world’s fastest missile, the SS-18, can hit New York City and Los Angeles in less than 25 minutes. The U.S. has as yet no effective deterrent. No less significant is Russia’s lead in anti-missile missiles. The S-400 and S-500 can knock out any US ICBM, cruise missile and stealth aircraft. The U.S. F-22, F-35 and B-2 are rendered practically worthless. And China is working toward an effective deterrent to any U.S. military adventure: Russia is scheduled to soon deliver S-400s to China.
But Russia has yet to install its superior missiles and antimissile missiles in every defense position required to neutralize NATO attacks in any likely theater of war. Hence NATO’s flurry to quickly surround Russia and weaponize her neighbors. In an attempt to overcome Russia’s nuclear advantage, Washington/NATO will install putatively defensive antimissile missiles in Poland and Romania that can be easily morphed into attack missiles capable of striking their Russian targets in 5 minutes. Russia is then obliged to develop yet another counter. NATO will attempt to outdo this measure. This cannot go on forever. At some point, face-off rears its head.
It is the nature of this self-perpetuating race to transform the notion of a “winner.” The only way this kind of competition can be won is for one of the contestants to give up, an impossible outcome, or strike first. In Pentagonese the latter is called “counterforce,” the destruction of the enemy’s retaliatory capability by a First Strike. Wackos like General Curtis LeMay (General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove) pushed this option, which had virtually no currency with top policy makers and advisors. Instead, Washington retained the option of first use, a last resort when conventional means of warfare fail. Nuclear weapons were understood as deterrents. In the old days, once the Soviet Union had matched Washington’s nuclear capabilities, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) seemed to permanently consign nuclear weapons to the role of deterrents. In that case, the risk of nuclear war was reduced to close to zero. And counterforce was off the table.
But that was then. Now we tremble under the radical policy changes after the first Iraq war. Immediately after Iraqi troops were forced to retreat from Kuwait in 1991, then president George H.W. Bush triumphantly exulted “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” The door was now open not merely to “low-intensity warfare” and local counterinsurgency aggressions, but to larger-scale interventions on a limitless scale. Pushing the envelope further still, the George W. Bush administration repudiated the ABM treaty and officially opened the door to the use of nuclear weapons in a First Strike.
Deterrence was no longer the principal function of nuclear weapons policy. As we shall see, nuclear weapons were soon thereafter to become routinely regarded by policymakers as instruments of “conventional” warfare.
We shall see below that major think tanks and policymakers are now up to their ears in detailed planning for nuclear confrontations with China and Russia. This is the context surrounding the rise to the presidency of the person with perhaps the itchiest trigger finger in Washington. Most of us used to think that MAD ruled out another potential apocalypse like the Cuban Missile Crisis. No one can believe that now. The soul-searing anxiety much of the world experienced during the Cold War years preceding the Soviets’ achievement of nuclear parity with Washington has been restored.
The Political Psychology and Arms-Race Logic of U.S. Militarism: the Need to Maintain “Credibility”
It is an axiom of imperial politics that the hegemon can under no circumstances give up. Washington has claimed not merely unsurpassed but unequalled global military predominance. And Sam has been consistent: since the aspiration to FSD is bound to meet resistance, Washington must be committed to permanent war, a doctrine once associated by Dick Cheney and Associates, but now embraced by the entire policy-making establishment. Because Russia’s actually existing potential for universal deterrence takes time to fully put in place, the U.S. must in the meantime convince the world that it means business. The master imperative of hegemony is that Washington must maintain its credibility.” Clinton talks of “resolve.” Same thing. In the context of nuclear warmongering, this means that if Washington is to get what it wants from other nations, it must wield the threat of a nuclear strike, but that strategy is useless unless the threat is believable.
When push comes to shove, as we shall see below, the only convincing proof of the threat’s credibility is the actual use of nuclear weapons.
Part of what this entails is taking action, on the principle that “if you are not with us you are against us,” against regimes that do not pledge allegiance to the imperial project. Hence, nations that assert independence, or ally themselves with influential powers opposing U.S. hegemony, shall be pummeled, destroyed as functioning states, threatened, or subverted: cf. Russia, China, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Honduras et al. Military incursions have been limited to conventional means of destruction. None of these aggressions has so far threatened a major nuclear confrontation with a Great Power. We have as yet seen nothing comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis. As yet. But this is set to change. We shall see in the following section that nuclear war has now become the obsession of policymakers and policy-related think tanks.
The Elite Consensus around Thinking the Unthinkable
Washington's recent escalations are reflected in recent elite exhortations to revive military-confrontations of the Cold War era. In a recent issue of Foreign Affairs John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt state: "There are regions outside the Western Hemisphere that are worth expending American blood and treasure to defend... In Europe and Northeast Asia, the chief concern is the rise of a regional hegemon that would dominate its region, much as the United States dominates the Western Hemisphere.” Here is an explicit statement of the doctrine of FSD: the U.S. must dominate the globe's every region. Regional "spheres of influence” are no longer part of the empire’s thinking.
In a May Washington Post editorial titled “The Liberal International Order is Under Fire. The United States Must Defend It.” we are warned that;
Hardly a day goes by without evidence that the liberal international order of the past seven decades is being eroded. China and Russia are attempting to fashion a world in their own illiberal image… This poses an enormous trial for the next U.S. president… no matter who takes the Oval Office, it will demand courage to demand difficult decisions to save the liberal international order… The United States must keep trying to integrate China into the rules and traditions of the liberal international order—a policy of eight presidential administrations—while also marshaling forces to confront China’s assertive and unilateral grab of territory in the South China Sea. Likewise, stabilizing Ukraine and saving it economically will be a vital bulwark against Russia’s violent subversion.
The “liberal international order” is the capitalist globe as dominated by the U.S. China and Russia are not attempting to “fashion the world” into anything at all. Russia is involved in no “violent subversion.” The reality is that these powers are feared to develop sufficient power and influence to obstruct America’s ability to call the international shots, to predominate politically and militarily everywhere, including in China’s and Russia’s neighborhoods. A comparably enormous U.S. hegemonic counter-power must be put into place. This will involve “difficult decisions.” Meaning that the U.S. leadership must be prepared to risk military confrontation in order to scare away these obstacles to U.S. hegemony. The Post cites a report by the Center For a New American Security, chaired by the neocon war hawk Robert Kagan, in support of a stepped-up global imperial campaign. Kagan’s report, titled “Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand U.S.
Engagement in a Competitive World Order,” lays the cards on the table:
“At a time when partisanship in the American political establishment has reached unprecedented heights, the group believes it is more important than ever to rebuild the national consensus on America’s role in the world. This project promotes the idea that American leadership is critical to preserving and strengthening the bedrock of today’s international order, which is being shaken by a variety of forces.”
Two key rationales are evident. The global system directed by America’s “leadership” is under threat. Steps must be taken. And Kagan calls upon the erstwhile strategy of externalizing domestic tensions. The Trump-Clinton-Sanders debate has reintroduced a dangerous “partisanship” [read: debate beyond permissible orthodox limits] which threatens “national consensus” [read: debate within mainstream parameters]. A national campaign peddled as a defense against global threats to American freedom can neutralize partisanship by directing domestic discontent to external enemies. And there’s nothing like war to unite a nation internally riven.
A recent report by the influential Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments rationalizes the current multibillion dollar nuclear buildup. The report focuses on U.S. tensions with Russia, and is frighteningly titled Rethinking Armageddon (RA). The conceit behind the title is that we must put behind us the belief that Russia’s achievement of nuclear parity with the U.S. guaranteed Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), and undermined the feasibility of the use of nuclear weapons. On the contrary, argues RA, we are now in a “second nuclear age” which frees the U.S. to deploy nuclear weapons “in a discriminate manner.”
The report is introduced with a citation from the Cold Warrior John Foster Dulles: “If you are scared to go to the brink, you are lost.”
In a spine-chilling clue to what could be the second major historic instance of nuclear brinksmanship, RA outlines a scenario in which Washington is on the brink of a confrontation with Russia. Putin announces that Russian forces will provide humanitarian assistance to civilians “displaced from their homes by Latvia’s aggressive and violent efforts to suppress the rights of ethnic Russians.” The U.S. has, according to RA, four options, three of which require the use of nuclear weapons against Russia. Under what RA regards as the old-hat thinking about MAD, such options would have been ruled out. No more. RA’s conception of a “limited” nuclear strategy that would not provoke a more intense engagement would have the U.S. deploy “a small number of weapons” early on in the conflict. That way the Russians would be convinced that we mean business and would not risk further conflagration. They would simply concede defeat and back off. We are to believe Russia would embrace the inescapable implication of RA’s strategy, that it would accept U.S. FSD and resign itself to taking orders from Washington. Not a chance. So intense is Uncle Sam’s hunger for global predominance that he cannot assess with a modicum of rationality the consequences of his Olympian ambitions. Hillary Clinton specializes in this kind of self-delusion. And Obama has prepared her opportunity: the administration has pledged to take military action against Russia should the unstable right-wing regimes of Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia provoke the Bear, e.g. by persecuting these countries’ Russian-speaking, Russia-friendly minorities. Was the administration unaware of Putin’s promise of aid should Latvian ethnic Russians be persecuted?
Russia is not the only potential object of Washington’s perilous provocation. Uncle Sam has China too in the bullseye.
Washington’s “Tilt To Asia” and Provoking China
Shortly after Obama’s inauguration, Washington sent the Navy surveillance ships the USNS Impeccable and the USNS Victorious into China’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone). This was the beginning of a series of escalating provocations. The Chinese responded rationally, by installing defensive missiles around the zone.
The New York Times reports the most recent application of this strategy, in a story titled “U.S. Carriers Sail in Western Pacific, Hoping China Takes Notice.” In mid-June Washington engaged two U.S. carrier groups, led by the U.S.S. John Stennis and the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, in joint deployments into the Philippine Sea. 12,000 sailors, 140 aircraft, and six smaller battleships conducted joint surveillance operations. This was only the most recent incitement in a series of instigations.
In the 10 days prior to the above exercise, the Stennis and Reagan had conducted joint maneuvers in the South China Sea with Japanese and Indian navies, after deploying four Navy Growlers, electronic warfare planes and 120 military personnel to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
Washington has in the last two years recruited leading powers in the Asia-Pacific region, and in March and April began a sharp escalation of its military threats. Japan and Australia, and other allies including Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia have initiated hostile operations against China. Most of these countries have been encouraged by Washington to develop their naval power, and have subsequently increased their military spending. In 2015 alone the Philippines increased military spending by more than 25 percent, and Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia by 5 to 16 percent. Age-old and geopolitically insignificant contestations over reefs and small islands have been resurrected in defense of these provocations. Vietnam has in recent months secretly fortified several of its islands in the Spratly group in the South China Sea with mobile long range rocket launchers. It would take only days to make them operational with rockets capable of striking Chinese-held islets. Hanoi’s move is certain to further accelerate the arms race that is already underway and to heighten the risk that an incident or provocation could lead to military conflict. That danger has escalated in the wake of the ruling last month by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in favor of a U.S.-backed case brought by the Philippines to challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
A recent Reuters report revealed that Vietnam has shipped its launchers to five of its Spratly islands and carefully hidden them from aerial surveillance. The launchers are part of Vietnam’s EXTRA rocket artillery system purchased recently from Israel. The system uses targeting drones, is highly accurate up to 150 kilometers and can deliver a 150 kilogram warhead that can hit ships and land targets. Chinese installations on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief Reef would be well within the range of Vietnamese rockets.
In an alarming development, Admiral Henry Harris, the commander of U.S. Pacific Forces, is pressing for further aggression to take place inside the 12-mile exclusion zone around territory held by China. According to Navy Times the commander “wants to drive through an area and do military operations,” which would include launching aircraft and firing weapons systems. The Obama administration is reluctant to push this hard, but Clinton, who promises to escalate the violence in Syria beyond what the administration prefers, is characteristically more in tune with the most aggressive recommendations.
The Times warns that, in the light of the current escalations—which do not include the batty incursions urged by Admiral Harris—“some sort of confrontation seems increasingly likely.”
Chinese officials agree. A specialist in military strategy associated with the People’s Liberation Army warns that “China will very likely strike back if the U.S. comes within 12 miles of the [Nansha] islands.” Another military authority at Nanjing University alerted Washington that “The U.S. provocation has boosted the chance of military confrontation between Beijing and Washington.” And the state-controlled Global Times warns that “China hopes that disputes can be resolved by talks, but it must be prepared for any military confrontation.” This has not deterred the U.S. from developing detailed plans for war with China. The Mitchell Institute For Aerospace Studies has reported that Air Force officers are preparing the most detailed plans to date for deploying the F-35, the most advanced fighter plane, in an all-out war with China. Is our next president licking her chops at the opportunity to play her favorite game? Prominent think tanks have recently provided grist for Clinton’s mill.
Last year the Council on Foreign Relations, the leading elite foreign-policy think tank, released a study titled “Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China”. The upshot is that antagonisms are growing between what the council considers the world’s two most powerful nations, tensions that require an escalation of Washington’s policy of confrontation. The hostilities are grounded in China’s reluctance to embrace the core of U.S. foreign policy, identified thus by the Council: “Preserving U.S. primacy in the global system ought to remain the central objective of U.S. grand strategy in the twenty-first century.” The “threat” to U.S. national interests consists in China’s refusal to submit to the U.S. demand that it exercise no predominant influence in its own neighborhood! What unsettles elites most, according to the Council, is the “challenge by China to U.S. primacy in Asia.” This is but one of the horrifying corollaries of FSD. Under a Clinton presidency, this amounts to a virtual invitation to war.
The RAND Corporation has taken up planning for war with China in a study commissioned by the U.S. Army titled “War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable.” The phrase “thinking the unthinkable” was coined by RAND’s chief postwar strategist, the Strangelove counterpart Herman Kahn, whose book On Thermonuclear War advanced a strategy for winning a nuclear war against the Soviet Union. The study makes it clear that war with China is by no means out of the question, but stresses that as time passes Washington’s nuclear advantage is sure to decline. The clear implication is that sooner is better than later. Rand anticipates that military action against China will foment a resurgent antiwar movement, in which case the “system of civilian control” will be deployed for large-scale suppression.
As if to prepare the way for the coming commander in-chief, the administration has begun a massive nuclear weapons “modernization” program. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute comments that “The ambitious U.S. modernization plan presented by the Obama Administration is in stark contrast to President Obama’s pledge to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the role they play in U.S. national security strategy.” The Stockholm Institute, of course, is shocked, shocked by yet another Obama lie.
Against this background, only the blind fail to see the coming to power of the warmonger Clinton as placing another world-historic crisis on the agenda. A realistic example of the impending threat is found in one of RA’s scenarios for nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. A key trigger of war would be that “the limited reaction of the United States and Europe to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, however, have eroded their credibility…”. RA outlines similar credibility crises in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Let us look further into the pivotal notion of maintaining credibility—Clinton’s “resolve”—in the history of nuclear geopolitics.
Hegemonic Credibility in the Last Potential Armageddon: The Postwar Arms Race and the Cuban Missile Crisis
Dwight Eisenhower, in his memoirs Mandate For Change, spelled out the fundamental rationale of U.S. nuclear policy when Washington was a nuclear-weapons monopolist:
“My feeling was [during the Korean war], and still remains, that it would be impossible for the United States to maintain the military commitments which it now sustains around the world… did we not possess nuclear weapons and the will to use them when necessary.”
Mere possession of the weaponry is not enough. There must be the credible threat to use them. That threat was an established practice in postwar U.S. foreign policy. Here are but a few instances, courtesy of Daniel Ellsberg:
• Truman’s deployment of “atomic capable” B-29s to Britain and Germany during the
1948 Berlin Blockade
• Truman’s threat to consider nuclear retaliation, in November 1950, when Chinese
troops surrounded Marines at Chosin in Korea
• Eisenhower’s nuclear threat to China to force a 1953 settlement in Korea
• Secretary of State Dulles’s offer of three tactical nuclear weapons to France in
1954 to relieve French troops at Dienbienphu
• Eisenhower’s 1958 threat to nuke China if it should invade the island of Quemoy
• The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
• The 1968 announcement that nuclear weapons might be used to defend Marines
at Khe Sanh, Vietnam
• Nixon’s 1969 threat to use nuclear weapons in North Vietnam
It was the Cuban Missile Crisis, when John F. Kennedy threatened to nuke Russian-installed Cuban Missile sites unless Khrushchev had them removed, that prompted the
Soviets to conclude that lest they be permanently subject to nuclear bullying the Soviet Union must surpass U.S. nuclear capabilities. By the mid to late 1970s, the Soviets had achieved nuclear parity with the U.S. Not only had Washington lost its nuclear monopoly, but not too long afterwards the Soviets were to achieve defensive superiority.
The world-historic upshot of this development is that Washington’s nuclear threats had lost their credibility. Recall that the ultimate test of credibility is actual use. The 1945 atomic bombing of Japan had shown that Washington was indeed willing to use these weapons for geopolitical purposes. But actual use is only a necessary condition of credibility; the intimidator must also be a nuclear monopolist. With the U.S. no longer a nuclear monopolist, actual use was thought to be ruled out by virtue of MAD. Nuclear threats were no longer credible. The looming threat of nuclear annihilation seemed gone forever. The rest of the world was freer to do what it pleased.
Thereafter, the rationale for nuclear weaponry was generally acknowledged to be deterrence. “Counterforce,” i.e. First Strike, was out of the question. Accordingly, the nuclear disarmament movement virtually vanished. But only for a short while. In late 1981 and through 1982 not only did the U.S. anti-nuke movement revive, but a hitherto hardly existent European nuclear disarmament movement came into being. What precipitated this movement was the NATO decision in December 1979 to augment its European nuclear arsenal with Pershing and Cruise missiles, correctly perceived by the Soviets and by activists as counterforce (First Strike) weapons.
Two consequences of this unexpected move became evident. For the first time, nuclear confrontation in the European theater became a live option, shifting the risk of nuclear war from the U.S. to the NATO partners. When European activists declared this shift to be intolerable, Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig rejoined “There are worse things than nuclear war.” The antiwar movement in Europe exploded. Secondly, the Soviets saw this as upsetting what had been a stable balance of forces in Europe by restoring the functional equivalent of U.S./NATO nuclear superiority. Both Great Powers had been building their deterrent capacities all along, but Washington arbitrarily cited the latest Soviet development as the reason for the dramatic buildup in Europe.
A compelling explanation of Washington’s escalation was put forward by Paul Sweezy in the essay cited above. Sweezy noted that the U.S. had always been the prime initiator of nuclear weapons buildups, he took seriously the implications of the need that the nuclear threat be credible, and he observed recent major shifts in global power in relation to these implications.
The most conspicuous development preceding the new buildup was the stunning series of defeats for imperialism that had occurred during the 1970s. Eisenhower’s pre-MAD assertion that U.S. global hegemony required that Washington must have “the will to use [nuclear weapons] when necessary” made imperial sense prior to MAD. But his words became empty after the U.S. lost its nuclear monopoly. Why? Because the credibility of the nuclear threat was lost once Uncle Sam was no longer the only master gunslinger in town. The 1970s provided powerful evidence that the U.S. had come to suffer a conspicuous relative decline in its military power and therefore, in today’s parlance, in its ability to exercise Full Spectrum Dominance. Here’s what global resistance accomplished in the 1970s:
• Portugal lost its African colonies in 1974
• a year later the U.S. lost the Vietnam war
• one of the U.S.’s major Central American clients, Anastasio Somoza, was over
thrown out of Nicaragua by a socialist opposition
• as a result, insurgencies spread in other parts of Central America
• in Zimbabwe a national liberation movement came to power
• the regime of the Shah of Iran, Washington’s paramount junior partner in the
Middle East, was overthrown by anti-Western revolutionaries
The fall of the Shah was arguably as devastating a defeat for U.S. imperialism as was the defeat in Vietnam. Billions of dollars of advanced weaponry was transferred to a hostile power, as were the prized oil fields.
To the ruling class, the U.S. now looked to the world like a “pitiful, helpless giant” (the term used by Nixon to justify the invasion of Cambodia and the bombing of North Vietnam). It appeared that what we say doesn’t go. The defeat was hammered home in November 1979, when the Ayatollah’s regime seized 52 American hostages in Teheran and held them for 444 days. Adding further insult to further injury, shortly afterwards the Soviets moved into Afghanistan.
How must all this appear to a class that wants to rule the world by nuclear intimidation? Soon after the foregoing setbacks, Jimmy Carter announced the Carter Doctrine, which included which included the threat to use nuclear weapons should the Soviets move toward Iran’s oil fields, and announced years of coming increases in the defense budget.
The reaction to the defeats of the 1970s was evident in U.S. policy into the Reagan years. On May 30, 1982, The New York Times featured an article titled “Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy For Fighting A Long Nuclear War,” describing a “limited” a nuclear war in Europe and Pentagon plans for fighting a “protracted” nuclear war against the Soviets.
This was merely the latest, albeit markedly stepped-up, version of the going strategy regarding nuclear escalation: to make Washington’s enemies believe that the U.S. was really preparing to fight and win a nuclear war. Elites were not so stupid as to be unaware of the suicidal and self-destructive consequences of initiating a nuclear war. Escalating buildups were intended to induce the fear that the threat was credible and so to inhibit behavior unacceptable to Uncle Sam. Deterrence was still the name of the game. After all, it worked in Cuba in October 1962 and it was perceived to have worked in the six instances of atomic diplomacy enumerated above.
What has emerged is a qualitatively new phase in the arms race and in nuclear-weapons policy. As noted above, it is only in recent years that the full import of the rejection of MAD as the basis for the policy of deterrence and the consequent openness to First Strike as a viable option in Washington’s pursuit of FSD have been openly embraced by elites. The turn to Armageddon has naturally resulted in detailed strategic planning, including large-scale redeployment of troops and nuclear weapons in regions chosen for their suitability for aggression against those powers perceived by Washington to be major impediments to U.S. dominance. Never before have such arrogant provocations been exercised.
Developments since the 1970s have unfolded as they would had the U.S. no nuclear weapons. We might as well not have them. Hence the current multi-billion-dollar new nuclear buildup. The credibility of the nuclear threat appears to have been permanently undermined. Deterrence is therefore no longer the rationale for nuclear weapons policy. The alternatives now are no use or first use. And no use is out of the question. Enter Hillary Clinton.
The Present in the Light of the Past
Elites no longer have the assurance that comes of perceived omnipotence. A number of setbacks have undermined Uncle Sam’s conceit of omnipotence and motivated the U.S. to escalate enormously its global aggression in a delirious effort to intimidate its principal rivals and restore the credibility of the ultimate threat. Among these comedowns are the serial failure to achieve stated objectives in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran and Libya, the stated determination of some states to replace the dollar as a universal reserve currency, the acceptance by oil producers like Iraq, Iran and Libya of payment for oil in currencies other than the dollar, the emergence of non-state effective challengers to Washington’s global predominance, such as the mujahideen, al Qaeda and ISIS and increasing talk of the formation of regional trade blocs discarding the dollar altogether in the blocs’ trade and investment relations.
Clinton’s notorious bellicosity is in part a cry of desperation at these seemingly intractable obstacles to FSD. Her overblown swagger betrays a sense of vulnerability and uncertainty that provokes lashing out, an especially dangerous impulse in a chief executive who appears constitutionally disposed to imperial brutality and pathologically assured of Washington’s entitlement to global obeisance.
Clinton harbors a deep resentment of Washington’s declining credibility. Her determination to demonstrate U.S. “resolve” in the context of present historic military provocations nurses a tendency to brinksmanship. If she experiences the variety of defeats and obstacles to U.S. economic and military hegemony the way elites perceived the profound defeats of the 1970s, and if these fetters seem to her unbreakable by conventional military means, the option of nuclear chicken presents itself as--and this is the word appropriate to a woman who has relished Gaddafi’s murder by anal rape-- delicious. John F. Kennedy will be invoked as a courageous leader whose readiness to risk Armageddon was testimony to the depth of America’s commitment to freedom and democracy everywhere.
In the July 24 New York Times, the most widely read Clinton propaganda venue, the editorial board provides an indication of the likely chicken-inducing scenarios to come. The paper’s comments are entirely in step with the frightening analyses of the think tanks discussed above. The Times is troubled that Trump is not as reliable a war hawk as Clinton. Obama had promised the far-right anti-Russian regimes in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. U.S. military intervention, including troops on the ground, should any of these regimes allege Russian interference, e.g., defense of the rights of ethnic Russians. The Times regards Trump’s reluctant willingness to go to war against “an increasingly aggressive” Russia on behalf of these states as unduly conditional on their having “fulfilled their obligations” to the United States. This would, the Times fears, “play into the hands of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin,” Washington’s Hitler du jour. The newspaper is also distressed that Trump is unenthusiastic about the deployment of U.S. troops in Korea and Japan. This would “significantly reduce American influence at a time of increasing Chinese aggression.”
Clinton has promised to continue the policies of Obama. Uh-oh. A recent front-page Times article reminds us that Obama “has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president...he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.” This is a record seemingly impossible to surpass. I’m not so sure. Don’t put anything martial past Mrs. Clinton.
Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His website is: http://www.alannasser.org. His book, United States of Emergency American Capitalism and Its Crises will be published by Pluto Press next year. If you would like to be notified when the book is released, please send a request to: [email protected]