Putin, Obama Agree: Everyone Into the Briar Patch!

Thomas L. Knapp

Since reading 1984 as an adolescent, I’ve remained perpetually amazed at George Orwell’s prescience. The Edward Snowden/Glenn Greenwald surveillance state strip-tease has recently focused attention on one aspect of that predictive acumen, but “we have always been at war with Eastasia” is returning to the fore due to the … “situation” … with Ukraine, Crimea and Russia.

The most recent development on that front as I write this column — quite possibly to be superseded by other news before press time — is the “suspension” of Russia from the G-8 Group. As conflicting opinions fill the air, I’d like to offer the simplest plausible explanation for what we’re seeing:

Oligarchs, the American ones at least as much as their Russian counterparts and probably more so, pine for the return of the Cold War.

Most of us regular people don’t, of course. We who are over 40 or so remember what it was like to live under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation should the standoff between two “superpowers” break loose in a big way.

But for the American oligarchy — better-known as the “military industrial complex” — which rose to dominate the US economy and political milieu in and immediately after World War II, there’s just not as much easy money or unquestioned power in being “the world’s sole remaining superpower.”

They need a big foil to keep their racket going. Penny-ante stuff like terrorism comes with lower profit margins. The big money is in nuclear weapons, expensive aircraft, that kind of thing — the stuff you use to fight foes with at least theoretical parity in military might. And let’s face it, “Iran as a nuclear threat” just doesn’t pass the laugh test as justification for those kinds of projects.

The American oligarchy needs a big enemy to justify the trillion dollars a year or so it rakes in domestically from American taxpayers (plus whatever it makes on foreign arms sales and so forth). An enemy with a large population, a real industrial base, a commanding position in its region. An enemy known, at least in the last century or so, to harbor expansionist ambitions and to represent a tough nut to crack in all-out war.

In a word, the American oligarchy needs Russia.

And what does Vladimir Putin need? Well, he needs an excuse to get back to being the Big Bad Bear. Like the US, Russia and its satellites, suzerainties and allies tend to solidify into a formidable, authoritarian monolith in the face of external threat, but that monolith commences fraying at the edges and falling apart should peace perchance break out. As with America’s oligarchy, Russia’s (in most cases the same faces as during the Soviet era, or their heirs) needs that external threat to keep the gravy train rolling.

The very best enemy ever, the Nazis, went inconveniently missing after oh, 1945 or so (Russia Today’s efforts grow some from scratch in Kiev notwithstanding). So on to the next best enemy: America.

It’s like the tale of B’rer Bear and B’rer Rabbit, only with two B’rer Bears, each begging the other not to throw him into the briar patch while secretly hoping that’s where they’ll both end up. Everybody wins! Well, at least both sets of oligarchs win. The rest of us, not so much.





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