Undermining Detente Between Biden & Putin

Norman Solomon says Democrats and Progressives have been heightening bilateral tensions that increase the chances of thermonuclear holocaust.

By Norman Solomon

No matter what happens at Wednesday’s summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, a grim reality is that Democratic Party leaders have already hobbled its potential to move the world away from the worsening dangers of nuclear war.

After nearly five years of straining to depict Donald Trump as some kind of Russian agent — a depiction that squandered vast quantities of messaging without electoral benefits — most Democrats in Congress are now locked into a modern Cold War mentality that endangers human survival.

In the new light of atomic weaponry, Albert Einstein warned against “the outmoded concept of narrow nationalisms.”

But the concept is flourishing as both parties strive to outdo each other in vilifying Russia as a locus of evil. Rather than coming to terms with the imperative for détente between the two countries that brandish more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, the Democratic leadership at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue has been heightening the bilateral tensions that increase the chances of thermonuclear holocaust.

Anti-Trump poster in San Francisco, April 15, 2017. (Master Steve Rapport, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Biden has excelled at gratuitous and dangerous rhetoric about Russia. As this spring began, he declared on national television that President Putin is “a killer” — and boasted that he told the Russian leader that he has “no soul” while visiting the Kremlin in 2011.

It was a repeat of a boast that Biden could not resist publicly making while he was vice president in 2014 and again while out of office in 2017. Such bombast conveys a distinct lack of interest in genuine diplomacy needed to avert nuclear war.

Meanwhile, what about self-described progressives who see themselves as a counterweight to the Democratic Party establishment? For the most part, they remained silent if not actively portraying Russia as a mortal enemy of the United States. Even renowned antiwar voices in Congress were not immune to party-driven jingoism.


MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow flogging the Russiagate story. (Screenshot)

Never mind that the structurally malign forces of corporate America — and the numerous right-wing billionaires heavily invested in ongoing assaults on democracy — appreciated the focus on Russia instead of on their own oligarchic power. And never mind that, throughout the Trump years, the protracted anti-Russia frenzy was often a diversion away from attention to the numerous specific threats to electoral democracy in the United States.

Two years ago, when the Voting Rights Alliance drew up a list of “61 Forms of Voter Suppression,” not one of those forms had anything to do with Russia.

Capacities to educate, agitate and organize against the profuse forms of voter suppression were hampered by the likes of MSNBC star Rachel Maddow, whose extreme fixation on Russian evils would have been merely farcical if not so damaging. Year after year, she virtually ignored a wide range of catastrophic U.S. government policies while largely devoting her widely watched program to stoking hostility toward Russia. Maddow became a favorite of many progressives who viewed her show as a fount of wisdom.

Progressives — who are supposed to oppose the kind of “narrow nationalisms” that Einstein warned against at the dawn of the nuclear age — mostly steered clear of challenging the anti-Russia orthodoxy that emerged as an ostensible way of resisting the Trump presidency. Routinely, many accepted and internalized the scapegoating of Russia that was standard fare of mainstream media outlets — which did little to shed light on how threats to democracy in the United States were overwhelmingly homegrown, rooted in corporate power.

Now, on the verge of the Biden-Putin summit, U.S. media outlets are overflowing with calls to confront Russia as well as China, pounding on themes sure to delight investors in Pentagon contracting firms. Leading Democrats and Republicans are in step with reporters and pundits beating Cold War drums. How much closer do they want the Doomsday Clock to get to midnight before they call off their zeal to excite narrow nationalisms?

It scarcely seems to matter to anti-Russia zealots, whether “progressive” or not, that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began this year with an ominous warning:

“By our estimation, the potential for the world to stumble into nuclear war — an ever-present danger over the last 75 years — increased in 2020. An extremely dangerous global failure to address existential threats — what we called ‘the new abnormal’ in 2019 — tightened its grip in the nuclear realm in the past year, increasing the likelihood of catastrophe.”

Far from the maddening crowd of reckless Cold Warriors, the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord released an open letter last week that made basic sense for the future of humanity:

“The dangerous and in many ways unprecedented deterioration in relations between the United States and the Russian Federation must come to an end if we are to leave a safer world for future generations. . . . We believe that the time has come to resurrect diplomacy, restore and maintain a dialogue on nuclear risks that’s insulated from our political differences like we did during the Cold War. Without communication, this increases the likelihood of escalation to nuclear use in a moment of crisis.”

It’s a sad irony that such clarity and wisdom can scarcely be found among prominent Democrats in Congress, or among many of the groups that do great progressive work when focused on domestic issues. The recent fear-mongering over Russia has been a factor in refusals to embrace the anti-militarist message of Martin Luther King’s final year.

In the United States, the political context of the Biden-Putin summit should have included widespread progressive support for genuine diplomacy with Russia. Instead, overall, progressives went along with Democratic Party leaders and corporate liberal media as they fueled the momentum toward a nuclear doomsday.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including 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.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

13 comments for “Undermining Detente Between Biden & Putin

  1. Zhu
    June 15, 2021 at 20:38

    When I was a young history student, thinking about historical trends, I noticed that nearly every major country had had a spell of political insanity in the 20th century. I wondered why the USA had avoided such a spell. Now that I’m an old historian, full of cynicism and data on the follies and vices of mankind, I realize that it just hadn’t happened YET. We are having our spell of political, militarIst, insanity NOW. We don’t have a Hitler, a Stalin, a Mao. Rather, like Imperial Japan, 1920s-40s, we have a lot of fools who think along the same lines. More war! Impoverish the majority to emrich a patron! Ignore global warming, because Positive Thinking solves all problems! What will happen next? I don’t know. Clio hasn’t told me. Fortuna is notoriously fickle. Probably it won’t be peace, love, and understanding. Even if we don’t exterminate humanity with a nuclear war, global warming is going kill us the way Western diseases did the Native Americans, 1492-1550. :-(

  2. Aaron Tovish
    June 15, 2021 at 20:10

    On a bright note, of the 1200+ people who signed an Open Letter to Biden and Putin, 600+ were Americans. The letter called for renunciation of all nuclear first use/strike options. Signatories ranged from William Perry to Daniel Ellsberg. This is not a one shot deal, plans are afoot to launch a global campaign for no-first-use policies. There were many distinguished signatories from US allied countries including nuclear-armed, Britain and France. India and China already have such policies and there were signatories from those countries as well. And Russia, and Pakistan and Israel, over 70 countries in all. The global campaign is already one step ahead of itself! [See letter and endorsers at: hXXps://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?q=fetter+#inbox/FMfcgzGkXmgmbXvjjQmBFBbTXRtmbSGh (cut and paste in browser)]
    Solomon is right that the rich and powerful feed off arms races and recklessly extend that to nuclear arms. In the theory of “extended” deterrence, one can only credibly threaten first-use if you can exert so-called “escalation dominance”. Obviously this sets in motion a competition to achieve and thwart such dominance. Without a change in use doctrine a renewed arms race was inevitable.
    Most people find it hard to imagine that their country would intentionally start a nuclear war. It comes as a rude awakening to them that this is exactly what is behind the trillions spent on nuclear armaments. If we can expose this racket to public scrutiny, there is a good chance of stopping it.

  3. Sally McMillan
    June 15, 2021 at 17:28

    Thank you, Norman Solomon, for your very clear analysis of both Democrats and Republicans, including Progressive Democrats. Real Progressives must realize that the world must work together, to solve the real problems of today. We can no longer think in terms of allies and enemies. What affects one affects all, so we must move from a competitive mindset to one of cooperation; from the threat of war to the promise of peace. Our connections must be more powerful than our differences if we are to survive in this globalized world.

  4. Mark Thomason
    June 15, 2021 at 17:08

    Most Democrats in Congress, like most Republicans, were already always locked into Cold War against Russia. They never let up. The procurement systems had spread across Districts like Post Office locations, for total buy in of everyone, with more for those with more power.

    It was backed up with the ability to direct campaign funds and cause a primary challenge, and just generally to get a compliant press to smear the name of anyone non-compliant.

    This is not just now, not just in some reaction to Trump. It would be this way if he never came down his elevator, if Jeb! had run against Hillary, and whichever of them won.

  5. Piotr Berman
    June 15, 2021 at 16:17

    This article is weakened by not addressing, however briefly, the instant riposte of the “Democrats and Progressives”:

    USA (and the alliance of the countries that follow) is based on three principles
    human rights
    rule based world order (a recent addition but often repeated)
    As Russia under Putin violates all three, so-called normal relationship is neither possible nor desirable.

    The first two principles are violated internally by USA (and allies), although relatively discreetly and mildly, and by numerous government that have the status of “strategic partners”, “friends” etc. The third principle, relatively new, is vague in the extreme, and its frequent repetition is sinister: it is hard to find any other true meaning of “rule based world order” than “do what we say”. And given all kinds of “peccadilloes” committed by “strategic partners and friends”, like slicing an inconvenient journalist in a consulate (of all places) and killing protesters in large quantities (Israel and Egypt), it is empirically proven that they do not prevent normal or even cordial relationships.

    I am not educated in English or in arts, a paragraph rebutting the standard “Democratic and Progressive” arguments in favor of insanity that Norman opposes could be written much better, given knowledge and ability. I suspect that the author is too close to Establishment to avoid codes of silence that are enforced quite ruthlessly.

    • Zhu
      June 15, 2021 at 20:46

      Sorry, Mr. Berman, but the US Cold War State is based upon power, money, sex, just like Genghis Khan’s empire. \Those countries which decline to submit, obey, the way Japan, eg., does, are ear-marked for destruction. The excuses for destruction do not matter.

    • Robert I Bruce
      June 15, 2021 at 21:17

      What world do you live in? The G7 nation’s, especially the US, break international law all the time. As for democracy? That has become a big joke in the US, as there is no real choice given to voters.

    • David Sladky
      June 16, 2021 at 06:37

      progressive Democrat? OXYMORON
      I’m glad they show Rachel Mad Cow. She is ONE OF the worst.

  6. Deborah Wilson
    June 15, 2021 at 15:30

    Fantastic piece. It is frightening, the stupidity of those beating the drums for Russia hate.

  7. Jeff Harrison
    June 15, 2021 at 15:18

    Nothing will get better until the US decides to accept the fact that we will not be the global hegemon. This will happen one of two ways. The US can accept that we now live in a multipolar world or we can start the war that will kill most of us.

  8. June 15, 2021 at 14:37

    Has Solomon figured out yet that you can’t really change the Democratic Party from within? It is irretrievably pro-war and neoliberal; joining it merely reinforces the grip of the plutocracy.

    To get anywhere, we have to break the grip of the duopoly parties. They are steadily more unpopular; but Solomon makes the case for opposing BOTH of them without drawing the lesson.

    • Piotr Berman
      June 15, 2021 at 16:27

      American Establishment perfected ways to marginalize and subvert groups “trying to break the grip of the duopoly”. For this reason, I doubt if the road to change leads in this direction. Yet, I think that you perceive the real problem with “from within” approach: self-censorship and acceptance of shibboleths.

      However, the solution is not altering the forum, but the message: do not avoid necessary truths and arguments.

    • Nathan Mulcahy
      June 15, 2021 at 22:58

      Yes, for all his good intents and good work, Solomon, like many other good people, hasn’t figured out yet that you cannot reform Mafia!

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