Cold-War Dog-whistling at the General Assembly
Just as under Barack Obama, US relations with Russia did not improve after Bush’s departure, under Trump, the anti-Russian overdrive continues.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Donald Trump did his best to make some nationalist sounding ideological statements. He repeated his beloved phrase “America First.” Other than a passing comment on Ukraine, he did not directly criticize Russia, but this omission was smoke and mirrors.
Trump singled out a large number of countries for criticism and threats. If Trump were genuinely concerned about human rights and the exporting of terrorism, he could have criticized Saudi Arabia, as he did on the campaign trail. However, he left them free of criticism. If Trump were concerned about the chaos created by drug gangs, he could have criticized the government of Mexico, as he frequently did on the campaign trail. However, he said nothing about them.
As commander-in-chief of the United States, not a non-career politician trying to win votes, Trump singled out exclusively countries that are friendly to, or aligned with Russia.
Trump made false statements about Iran’s economy, ignoring the huge achievements of the Islamic Republic, and invoked the possibility of revising the historic nuclear agreement. Trump bashed Cuba, ignoring its vast improvements of the country, and its notable reputation for providing medical aid around the world. Trump attacked the government of Venezuela, blaming its current hardships on its Bolivarian Socialist government, and nothing else.
From there, Trump went on to repeat an American ideological cliché:
“The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented. From the Soviet Union to Cuba to Venezuela, wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure. Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”
To international viewers, this may have seemed like an odd statement to make in a UN speech. If anything, the awkward pause and weak smattering of claps illustrated Trump’s ignorance of international politics. After all, a vague concept of “socialism” is the stated ideology of the British Labour Party, as well as a number of social-democratic governments in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere which are friendly to the USA, and have not really altered capitalist property relations.
However, for the millions of Americans watching Trump on CNN, the speech brought up images of one country in particular. When Trump began talking about “discredited ideologies” and “true socialism or communism” the image that appeared in minds across America, despite the collapse of the USSR, was a Russian military officers in a fur hat, barking orders with a thick accent.
By ranting in the Cold War style alongside phrases about “America First,” Donald Trump was urging Americans to remember Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. He did not have to directly mention Russia’s current government, and that did not serve his purpose internationally. To those who viewed the speech across the USA, Trump was, in effect, leading Americans over the age of 40 in a chant of “Down with the Russians! Down with the Russians!”
US Foreign Policy Did Not Change, Here’s Why
Harvard University professor Dr. Marshall Goldman has been quoted as saying “It is understandable why the Russian people regard Vladimir Putin as their savior.”
The success of Putin’s leadership in Russia, and the basis for anti-Russian fanaticism from the USA and its NATO allies, is based on two entities: Gazprom and Rosneft.
As a student writing his doctoral thesis, Vladimir Putin wrote about the concept of “national champions” or corporations that would work, not just for their own profits, but for the benefit of the country. He wrote: “the process of restructuring the national economy must have the goal of creating the most effective and competitive companies on both the domestic and the world markets.”
As he moved into power at the very end of the 20th century, Putin implemented a swift set of economic reforms. He created a 13% flat tax, but most importantly, he began to build up two state controlled corporations to become central in the economy.
By 2006, Gazprom, an entity controlled by the Russian government, had a legal monopoly on exporting the country’s natural gas. British Petroleum among other players controlled by foreign entities or domestic oligarchs, was pushed out of the business.
By 2011, Gazprom accounted for 17% of all natural gas production in the world, and 18.4% of the world’s natural gas reserves. While Gazprom provides natural gas inside Russia at a reduced rate as a stimulus to the domestic economy, it exports gas to 25 different countries. Roughly 60% of Gazprom’s revenue comes from foreign markets. 38% of the European Union’s natural gas is now imported from Russia.
Why does Wall Street hate Gazprom? The reason is simple. Every ounce of natural gas that France, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Turkey, Austria, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Macedonia, Latvia, and Lithuania buy from Russia, is an ounce of natural gas that is not purchased from US and London based suppliers. This state controlled, super productive, revenue creating entity Putin has created cuts into the market, and their profits. Gazprom has been great for the Russian people, who saw their economy vastly expand, but it has been very bad for many billionaires in the USA and Britain.
Rosneft, the state controlled oil company also expanded. It was the 51st largest company in the entire world as of 2016. Rosneft sells oil across the planet, not just in Europe, but also in places like India. British Petroleum and other western corporations have been forced to cooperate with Rosneft, and allow them into the picture as the artic shelf is opened up for oil and natural gas extraction.
China has rapidly continued to grow over the last several decades, needing to import more fuel to feed their growing apparatus of production. Russia has been supplying them with an increasing amount of the oil and natural gas. In 2014, Gazprom agreed to provide China with 38 billion cubic meters of natural gas every year. In 2019, the Power of Siberia pipeline, currently under construction, will begin delivering natural gas to the People’s Republic.
Energy Desperation, Not “Energy Dominance”
The US sanctions enacted against Russia on August 2nd specifically targeted a project called Nordstream 2. This is a project to build a new natural gas pipeline, in order for Russia to increase its exports into the European markets.
As they prepared to vote on the sanctions, US law makers cynically beat their chests about “human rights” “Ukraine” and “homosexuality.” However, the language of the sanctions bill, and the entities it would target, almost directly spelled out the real motivation for the economic attack. Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio said, on the floor of the US House of Representatives, without any shame or embarrassment, “We must continue to focus on how we can get our gas to allies in Europe.” The obvious translation of his words is “the Europeans should be buying natural gas from American corporations, not from the Russians.”
While various figures within NATO and the European Union have succumbed to pressure from the USA and Britain, and spoken in opposition to Nordstream 2, Germany has not. Germany has vocally favored the project, as importing natural gas from Russia is far cheaper than importing from North America, another continent across the ocean. It should be no surprise that German officials was furious about the new US sanctions imposed on Russia.
The Trump administration’s stated policies regarding oil and natural gas boom with optimism. The phrase used is “Energy Dominance.” In reality, the phrase used should be “energy desperation.”
The United States was once dependent on countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria for a supply of oil. In 1974, the US Congress banned oil exports to any country except Canada amid the OPEC boycott. But this is all history. The invention of hydraulic fracking, in which oil and natural gas can be extracted from shale below US soil, has made the USA “energy independent.” With US oil and natural gas production at record levels, the export ban has been lifted.
The USA is no longer dependent on energy imports, and the price of both oil and natural gas has dropped. US oil and natural gas producers have more to sell than ever before, and desperately need costumers if they are to maintain their profits.
The disorganized “free market” nature of oil production has caused the US market to be highly inefficient. The big four “super major” oil companies, compete with small firms like Devon Energy and Haliburton, among others, in an illogical pursuit of profits. Despite a domestic abundance, the USA continues to import oil from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, while also exporting.
Donald Trump is no longer only responsible for his own business endeavors. He is the “head of state” of the entire country. Pressure is placed on him by forces from all different sectors of the US economy. Gas and oil must be sold. New customers must be found. While Trump himself may have favored better relations with Russia for political reasons, the US economy is now screaming with “energy desperation.”
Wall Street wants profits, and that means pushing Russia off the market. So, no one should be surprised to see Trump take the podium at the United Nations, and condemn a number of Russia aligned countries, while also drawing up Cold War anti-Russian imagery in the American psyche. Not surprisingly, many of the countries Trump attacked are oil exporters themselves. Venezuela is a competitor with Wall Street oil tycoons, as is Iran. It should be noted that Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi also presided over state-run oil companies that were in competition with western supermajors.
Free Market Rhetoric Refuted By History
The ironic reality is that when Trump made his anti-Communist rant, the proof that his statements are false, can be found in his very motivation for making them.
In the 1990s, Russia embraced the free market policies pushed by the IMF, the World Bank, and the economist Jeffrey Sachs of Colombia University. The result was chaos and mass poverty under Boris Yeltsin, the beloved friend of Bill Clinton.
The restoration of Russia’s economic strength came as the result of state ownership and central planning. Russia brought itself out of poverty and chaos with Putin’s planned development of state controlled “national champions” as the central entities.
While Trump’s Cold War rant was obviously meant to conjure up negative feelings about Russia, another entity in the room was China. China is led by a Communist Party, and its state-controlled, centrally planned economy has made it the second largest economy in the entire world. China has risen from being the sick man of Asia to being a center of economic progress and development. Just a few days after Trump explained to the world that Socialism and Communism always fail, the world’s fastest train, connecting Beijing and Shanghai, was unfurled. This “bullet train” was created by a state controlled entity, the Chinese Railway Corporation, in accordance with a “Five Year Plan.” Can a more solid refutation of Trump’s bombastic anti-communism be even imagined?
At the General Assembly China announced that its upcoming Communist Party National Congress on Oct. 18th will be a “key moment in the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
The fact that US media outlets like CNN praised Trump for his war mongering speech, and since then have only focused on the “Rocket Man” comments about North Korea, shows that Trump has been brought into line. As the commander-in-chief of the US government, Trump is doing his job and trying to secure the profits of the USA’s billionaire elite, like almost every other President. This is become harder, because despite the mythology in Trump’s speech, it is capitalism, specifically the neoliberal American brand, that is continuously failing.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.