Global Independent Analytics
Danny Haiphong
Danny Haiphong

Location: USA

Specialization: War, Racism, Capitalist exploitation, Civil rights

Empire in Crisis: Kissinger, Russia, and the Sanders Phenomena

The system of imperialism requires war to feed the hegemony and profit-lust of its corporate masters.

In the sixth Democratic Party debate of the 2016 elections, Bernie Sanders attempted to persuade viewers that he was the only peace candidate in the election. He notably condemned Hilary Clinton for her relationship with Henry Kissinger. Sanders distanced himself from Kissinger's long, genocidal record in Vietnam and Cambodia in the 1960's and 70's. But this is not the only disagreement Sanders possesses with Kissinger. On US-Russia relations, Sanders and Kissinger find themselves on opposing sides, but not for the reasons one may think.

a. The Sanders-Kissinger Disagreement on US-Russia Relations in Context

The Bernie Sanders campaign reveals how the term "peace candidate" is a paradox within the US imperialist system. The system of imperialism requires war to feed the hegemony and profit-lust of its corporate masters. On the question of US-Russian relations, Bernie Sanders fails to deviate from US imperialism's incessant reliance on war.  Sanders aligns with President Obama's policy toward Russia. Since Obama had come to power in 2008, the US has strengthened NATO's presence in Eastern Europe as a clear provocation of war. 

Although no stranger to war, Kissinger has recently expressed his objections to current US policy toward Russia. On February 3rd, former US Secretary of State and renowned war criminal Henry Kissinger sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kissinger followed the meeting with a statement declaring Russia "an indispensable component of the international order."   Kissinger advocated for the reintegration of Ukraine into the international community and a peaceful, political solution to the war in Syria. Despite being characterized as the most “progressive” option in the 2016 elections, Sanders opposes Kissinger’s moderate proposals for war.

This is not the first time, nor the last, in recent memory that a Democratic Party candidate has staunchly supported US imperial warfare. The international sanctions imposed on Iraq at the close of the first Bush Administration were protected and maintained under the Clinton administration. Clinton justified sanctions based on the fabrication that starving the Iraqi people deterred Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from committing “human rights violations.” The sanctions led to the death of over 500,000 Iraqi children and left the nation vulnerable to military invasion. Even though Bush Jr. carried out the full-scale invasion of Iraq in 2003, Clinton's two-term rule over the Iraqi sanctions regime laid the basis for the destabilization of the oil-rich nation. 

Bernie Sanders similarly supports sanctions against Russia based on the fabrication of "Russian aggression." The trope of "Russian aggression" has been utilized by US imperialism as a means to weaken Russia on the global stage. Washington and the corporate media have blamed Russia for the destabilization of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. However, it is US imperialism that shoulders the blame for the sponsorship of fascist elements in Ukraine that overthrew the Yanukovych government in 2014. The coup through Ukraine into a state of war, chaos, and instability. This compelled the people of Crimea to vote for integration with the state of Russia.

US-Russian conflict over Crimea and Ukraine are inevitable outcomes of the massive US-NATO sponsored military buildup along Russia's border. Washington plans to increase funding for the military encirclement of Russia from 789 million USD to 3.4 billion USD in 2017. The Sanders campaign’s hostility to Russia is a virtual co-sign of this important imperial project. Furthermore, the Vermont Senator’s foreign policy as a whole gives every indication that he would utilize every penny of the entire 582 billion dollar Pentagon budget should he win the presidential election. Veteran warmonger Henry Kissinger has aligned himself with Russia. Why?

b. Kissinger's Bloody History and US imperial decline

To be clear, this analysis should not be seen as a hit piece on Bernie Sanders. This author sees Sanders as just another imperialist politician albeit with a different face than Hilary Clinton and the various candidates of the Republican Party. However, there are apologists for Empire, who criticize Sanders harshly for his opposition toward Kissinger. Such criticisms amount to a defense of Kissinger's brutal and bloody imperialist policies during his reign of terror as US Secretary of State. An objective analysis of Kissinger requires a clear understanding of his historical record and why, at this juncture of history, he would align himself with what the Pentagon calls one of its "most stressing competitors."

Surely Kissinger is not opposed to war as a means to achieve US dominance. His entire career and legacy have been built on the destruction of nations and the mass graves of US warfare. But Kissinger's reign of terror occurred in a markedly different period than the present. His rule was characterized by post-World War II prosperity and capitalist growth. No other nation could challenge US imperial might, and indeed, many nations suffered from it.

It was under these conditions that Kissinger helped Nixon sabotage early peace talks with Vietnam and directed the US military to carpet bomb Cambodia beginning in 1969. Kissinger was also a driving force in the CIA-sponsored coup of Chilean President Salvadore Allende and the subsequent installation of fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. In the Middle East, Kissinger strengthened US relations with the brutal Shah regime in Iran and fortified the House of Saud's oil-for-weapons relationship with the US. US imperial foreign policy under Kissinger’s eight years as US Secretary of State and security advisor resulted in countless deaths. And the US-backed dictatorships Kissinger aided to power have only added to the body count.

Kissinger's "Cold War" military policy was the high point of US imperialism's war against the worldwide appeal of socialism at the time. Each and every one of Kissinger's war crimes represented attempts to weaken the Soviet Union and China and undermine any nation that allied with them. In the mid 20th century, socialism was the preferred choice of political economy for nearly a third of the world. The US ruling class feared socialist economic development and did everything it could to "contain" it.  Socialism's potential to replace corporate social relations with planned, worker-controlled economies threatened to replace the capitalist class as the power brokers of the global economy. 

Kissinger's mission as a White House advisor to repress socialism and expand imperialism for US Presidents ended in 1977. However, Kissinger has remained a leading analyst for the US imperialist system within institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His writings are widely published in the imperialist media. Furthermore, Hilary Clinton demonstrated in the recent debate that the 92-year-old still has the ear of the US ruling class regarding international affairs. But global conditions have vastly changed since Kissinger's time as an official for Washington. US imperialism is in a permanent crisis and Kissinger knows it.

US imperialism declared "the end of history" after the Soviet Union fell in 1991. However, US imperialism has lost much of the 50% share of global GDP that it possessed after World War II. US share of the global economy has fallen to under 20 percent as of 2015. China's market socialist economy has surpassed the US capitalist economy in purchasing power. And the multiple economic crashes that have occurred since 1973 have intensified the collapse of global capitalism. Capitalism’s crises have transformed US imperialism into the global center of finance capital where technological development had outstripped the capacity of productive forces. 

This development has saddled US imperialism with a costly military and economic infrastructure that has plunged the system’s rate of profit into a steady descent. Technology has permanently replaced jobs in the US. The Wall Street casino economy and its global finance institutions in the World Bank and IMF have maintained profits through debt (foreign and domestic) and parasitic privatization schemes such as NAFTA. Mass joblessness and a regime of low-wage employment have been imposed on workers in the US as a result. Public services in the form of education and even local governance itself have come under the control of financial capital.

US imperialism has only exacerbated the crisis of the system by reducing its source of profit (labor) while speeding up production through costly technology. This development has rightly been called capitalism at a dead-end. The crisis of US imperialism has greatly altered global political conditions around the world. Under the Obama Administration, US imperialism has attempted to rectify the crisis with a worldwide campaign of destabilization. Since 2011, the US and its NATO allies have destroyed the state of Libya, employed the same proxy war strategy in Syria, and turned Ukraine over to right-wing oligarchs.

These wars, especially the proxy war in Syria, have set into motion a World War III scenario. Russia has come to the aid of Syria to protect the independent, secular state from a fate similar that currently plagues Libya. Syria has advanced against the tide of US-NATO and Saudi-backed terrorists. Russia's support for Syria altered US imperialism's plans in the Middle East. However, recent provocations by Turkey and Saudi Arabia are clear indications that US imperialism may sacrifice a global conflagration for its parasitic interests.

Kissinger's opposition to the current direction of US foreign policy does not make him an anti-war rebel of the US ruling class. Rather, his call for the US to work with Russia to stabilize the global political order is based on an assessment of the current crisis of the imperialist order. US warfare has destabilized the key, resource-rich regions of the Middle East. It continues to employ policies that can only result in statelessness, chaos, and instability for the Middle East region and the world at large. The refugee crisis has put pressure on an already fragile EU capitalist order. These conditions are not in line with the traditional mode of gaining prosperity that US imperialism has sought in the past.

This is the basis for Kissinger's desire to strengthen US relations with Russia. US imperialism's hostile policy with Russia has only increased international support for the Russian state. Russia's aid to Syria and its increased cooperation with Iran and China have accelerated the development of a multi-polar world capable of challenging US hegemony. But a world order that can sustain sovereignty and respect for international law has met constant resistance from US imperialism’s policy of destabilization and statelessness. US imperialism now stands at a critical juncture. Kissinger's comments represent an attempt to persuade Washington to backtrack from the edge of world war.

c. How the US Left Should Respond to the Bernie-Kissinger Dilemma

So it should come as no surprise that the US presidential candidates of this year’s election lack an anti-war platform. The US imperialist system they seek to rule relies on war to feed the coffers of the capitalist class, the 1 percent Bernie Sanders has targeted in his campaign. It should disturb the US Left that Henry Kissinger, a well-known target of the radical anti-war movement in the US just five decades ago, is advocating for warmer US-Russian relations while a purported "democratic socialist" in Bernie Sanders is declaring war against Russia.

Liberal publications have labeled Bernie Sanders the best choice for American "progressives.” His foreign policy has been described as "sane" and "smart." But "sane" and "smart" wars are no different than “dumb” wars. Before becoming President, Barack Obama claimed that he was not against all wars, just "dumb" wars. President Obama then redefined war to justify the invasion of Libya in 2011. The Commander in Chief declared that the war was not subject to the War Powers Act since the US would suffer zero casualties. This opened the door for US politicians to promote war as long as they promised not to allow US soldiers to die in combat. Proxy war, drone warfare, and NATO build-up have thus been exempt from international accountability. 

There is a pressing need for US leftists to reject all forms of war, regardless of what the Democratic Party or the establishment in Washington calls it. A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote closer to World War. However, it is far easier for the US Left to absolve Bernie Sanders of his anti-Russian platform. US imperialism has demonized Russia and Vladimir Putin to justify hostility and aggression. Workers and oppressed people are desperate for change. Bernie Sanders is seeking to fill the political vacuum with pleas for domestic reform and at the same time appeal to the ruling class with promises to stay true to imperialism's war path.

True freedom and liberation from the miseries of imperialism cannot exist alongside the US warfare state. Sanders has indeed inspired many with his calls to invest in US healthcare, education, and employment. However, US imperialism's trillion-dollar war apparatus distributes the spoils of plunder to the war-makers. US imperialism's current stage renders it incapable of dismantling its regime of austerity, privatization, and impoverishment in the US and globally. And it can be argued that post-World War II prosperity was achieved off the backs of oppressed people all over the world and set precedent for the current period. The US Left cannot be pro-war and anti-capitalist. US imperialism's path of destruction over the last four decades has occurred concomitantly with the decline in living standards for workers and oppressed people in the Western World.

Conclusion

In the last year and a half, thousands of people have protested the connection between racism and police brutality in the US. Thousands more celebrated Beyonce's Super Bowl performance as a (questionably) symbolic act against racism. But few in the US have taken the streets demanding that the US and its allies cease the war on Syria. And even fewer have celebrated the Syrian people's successful fight against imperialist-backed terrorism. Bernie Sanders and Henry Kissinger's recent positions on US-Russian relations have exposed the deep contradictions in the US political landscape.

The debate and struggle against imperialism in the US must move beyond the narrow confines of the system's politics. Short term needs must be assessed with long-term goals. US imperialism's domestic crises related to labor exploitation, environmental catastrophes, and state repression should be placed within a global context. Too many people in the US remain silent or indifferent when it comes to US imperialism's policy of endless war. This is a grave error that weakens both the global struggle against imperialism and the struggle for liberation within US imperialism's colonial borders.

But this error is not the fault of workers and oppressed people in the US. The corporate media and its allies in Washington have a stranglehold over the narrative of war and imperialism. A Bernie Sanders presidency does nothing to alter the narrative of war among ordinary people in the US. His platform on US-Russian relations is one of many foreign policy points in his campaign that fall in line with US imperialism's war agenda. The differences between Henry Kissinger and Bernie Sanders particularly on Russia reveal a divide inside of the US ruling class on how to deal with the crises of the system.

Kissinger has always aligned himself with the section of the ruling class most willing to increase global profits by any means. Now even he seems to have taken a different line with regards to Russia, perhaps due to the obvious global catastrophe a third world war would bring, while he possibly adheres to traditional Cold War thinking when a stable balance of power was held.  A genuine revolutionary movement in the US must defend Russia's sovereignty and ally itself strategically to the Russian Federation's respect for international law. Similar to Trump's pro-Russia leanings, Kissinger's position on US-Russian relations is closer to the line the movement should take on the matter. We can learn from this moment and still reject Kissinger at the same time. The common enemy is imperialism and there is not one politician in Washington that doesn't work for it. Now is the time to take advantage of divisions within the US ruling class to the advantage of the masses.

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