By Norman Solomon
Fifty-nine years ago, Bob Dylan recorded â€œWith God on Our Side.â€ You probably havenâ€™t heard it on the radio for a very long time, if ever, but right now you could listen to it as his most evergreen of topical songs:
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side
In recent days, media coverage of a possible summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin has taken on almost wistful qualities, as though the horsemen of the apocalypse are already out of the barn.
Fatalism is easy for the laptop warriors and blow-dried studio pundits who keep insisting on the need to get tough with â€œthe Russians,â€ by which they mean the Russian government. Actual people who suffer and die in war easily become faraway abstractions. â€œAnd you never ask questions / When Godâ€™s on your side.â€
During the last six decades, the religiosity of U.S. militarism has faded into a more generalized set of assumptions — shared, in the current crisis, across traditional political spectrums. Ignorance about NATOâ€™s history feeds into the good vs. evil bromides that are so easy to ingest and internalize.
On Capitol Hill, itâ€™s hard to find a single member of Congress willing to call NATO what it has long been: an alliance for war (Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya) with virtually nothing to do with â€œdefenseâ€ other than the defense of vast weapons sales and, at times, even fantasies of regime change in Russia.
The reverence and adulation gushing from the Capitol and corporate media (including NPR and PBS) toward NATO and its U.S. leadership are wonders of thinly veiled jingoism. About other societies, reviled ones, we would hear labels like â€œpropaganda.â€ Here the supposed truisms are laundered and flat-ironed as common sense.
Glimmers of inconvenient truth have flickered only rarely in mainstream U.S. media outlets, while a bit more likely in Europe. â€œBiden has said repeatedly that the U.S. is open to diplomacy with Russia, but on the issue that Moscow has most emphasized — NATO enlargement — there has been no American diplomacy at all,â€ Jeffrey Sachs wrote in the Financial Times as this week began. â€œPutin has repeatedly demanded that the U.S. forswear NATOâ€™s enlargement into Ukraine, while Biden has repeatedly asserted that membership of the alliance is Ukraineâ€™s choice.â€
As Sachs noted, â€œMany insist that NATO enlargement is not the real issue for Putin and that he wants to recreate the Russian empire, pure and simple. Everything else, including NATO enlargement, they claim, is a mere distraction. This is utterly mistaken. Russia has adamantly opposed NATO expansion towards the east for 30 years, first under Boris Yeltsin and now Putinâ€¦. Neither the U.S. nor Russia wants the otherâ€™s military on their doorstep. Pledging no NATO enlargement is not appeasement. It does not cede Ukrainian territory. It does not undermine Ukraineâ€™s sovereignty.â€
Whether or not they know much about such history, the USAâ€™s media elites and members of Congress donâ€™t seem to care about it. Red-white-and-blue chauvinism is running wild. Yet there are real diplomatic alternatives to the collision course for war.
Speaking Monday on Democracy Now, Katrina vanden Heuvel — editorial director of The Nation and a longtime Russia expert — said that implementing the Minsk accords could be a path toward peace in Ukraine. Also, she pointed out, â€œthere is talk now not just of the NATO issue, which is so key, but also a new security architecture in Europe.â€
Desperately needed is a new European security framework, to demilitarize and defuse conflicts between Russia and U.S. allies. But the same approach that for three decades pushed to expand NATO to Russiaâ€™s borders is now gung-ho to keep upping the ante, no matter how much doing so increases the chances of a direct clash between the worldâ€™s two nuclear-weapons superpowers.
The last U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union before it collapsed, Jack Matlock, wrote last week: â€œSince President Putinâ€™s major demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, or if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.â€
But excluding Russia from security structures, while encircling it with armed-to-the-teeth adversaries, was a clear goal of NATOâ€™s expansion. Less obvious was the realized goal of turning Eastern European nations into customers for vast arms sales.
A gripping chapter in â€œThe Spoils of War,â€ a new book by Andrew Cockburn, spells out the mega-corporate zeal behind the massive campaigns to expand NATO beginning in the 1990s. Huge Pentagon contractors like Lockheed Martin were downcast about the dissolution of the USSR and feared that military sales would keep slumping. But there were some potential big new markets on the horizon.
â€œOne especially promising market was among the former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact,â€ Cockburn wrote. â€œWere they to join NATO, they would be natural customers for products such as the F-16 fighter that Lockheed had inherited from General Dynamics. There was one minor impediment: the [George H. W.] Bush administration had already promised Moscow that NATO would not move east, a pledge that was part of the settlement ending the Cold War.â€
By the time legendary foreign-policy sage George F. Kennan issued his unequivocal warning in 1997 — â€œexpanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the post-Cold War eraâ€ — the expansion was already happening.
As Cockburn notes, â€œBy 2014, the 12 new members had purchased close to $17 billion worth of American weapons.â€
If you think those weapons transactions were about keeping up with the Russians, youâ€™ve been trusting way too much U.S. corporate media. â€œAs of late 2020,â€ Cockburnâ€™s book explains, NATOâ€™s collective military spending â€œhad hit $1.03 trillion, or roughly 20 times Russiaâ€™s military budget.â€
Letâ€™s leave the last words here to Bob Dylan, from another song that isnâ€™t on radio playlists. â€œMasters of War.â€
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with Americaâ€™s Warfare State, published this year in a new edition as a free e-book. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.