On the same day US President Donald Trump gave a historic handshake to Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, the Pentagon was hosting a meeting planning for war with Moscow.
While the event at the US military headquarters near Washington DC was made public, it was hardly reported in the Western media. The two main figures attending were Defense Secretary James Mattis and his British counterpart Michael Fallon.
The American military publication Defense One headlined the Pentagon summit: “As Trump and Putin met, US and UK defense chiefs discussed ways to deter Russia.”
The phrase “ways to deter Russia,” is a euphemism for war planning. It expresses a more benign, more publicly acceptable purpose to Mattis and Fallon’s discussions. Especially given that the titular head of the US government, President Trump, was at the very same time extending a hand of friendship to Putin.
This is not to suggest that anything seditious was being secretly hatched against the US president. In comments to reporters, the British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the concurrent meeting between Trump and Putin that was being held 4,000 miles away in Hamburg was “welcome.”
However, that fig-leaf of magnanimity from Fallon and his Pentagon hosts, could not disguise the aggressive Russophobia at the heart of the military confab.
“We don’t think it’s business as usual between the West and Putin… but we welcome the dialogue [with Trump] that’s taking place,” said the British politician following his talks with Mattis. The first part of the quote is the important message.
As Defense One reported: “While one part of Trump’s executive branch looks to improve relations with Moscow, another prepares for the worst.”
The publication added, with more breathlessness, that Mattis and Fallon “talked about ways NATO could improve its combat power and deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe… that even as the White House seeks to improve relations with Moscow, US and UK leaders still view Russia as a severe military threat.”
What this vignette of official thinking reveals is the depth of systematic hostility and Russophobia underpinning the American and British political establishments. It also serves to illustrate the foreboding background against Donald Trump’s friendly overture to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It diminishes any would-be significance.
When Trump finally met his Russian counterpart last weekend, nearly seven months after his inauguration in the White House, the meeting was conducted with a welcome level of friendship and respect. So much so that there were initial reports of a reset in US-Russia relations; relations which had become eviscerated over the past seven months due to constant and pejorative American media speculation that Moscow had interfered in the November presidential elections.
To be fair to Trump, he appeared to rise above this toxic Russophobia in the US media and greeted Putin in Hamburg as a potential partner to work on a range of international challenges.
If anything, though, rather than restoring bilateral relations between the two nuclear powers, Trump’s landmark meeting with Putin has unleashed even more Russophobia and recriminations in the US.
The US media and Washington establishment lost no time to jump on Trump for his apparent overtures to Putin. Trump was accused of being played by Putin and even betraying American interests. Former Pentagon chief Ashton Carter said Trump’s discussions in Hamburg were tantamount to chatting with “a burglar who had robbed your house.”
The New York Times, Washington Post and CNN, among others, have been running stories, variously, on claims that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, has been outed for allegedly colluding with Kremlin figures, that Russian hackers have supposedly targeted American nuclear power plants, and the Kremlin has, again allegedly, been covertly sponsoring environmental activists to undermine US oil and gas fracking industries. All this in the space of a week since Trump met with Putin.
No wonder Trump has quickly backtracked on his earlier seeming rapport with Putin. He has, for example, disavowed reports of being willing to work with Russia on cyber security after coming under fire from hawkish Congress figures and pundits.
This week, too, the US is leading the biggest-ever war maneuvers conducted by the 29-member NATO military alliance in the Black Sea. Two separate war games are being carried out on Russia’s southern flank: Saber Guardian, centered around Bulgaria, and Sea Breeze, off Crimea, involving a total of 30,000 NATO troops, as well as missile destroyers, fighter jets, and amphibious Marines forces. The US Army said it showcases “the ability to mass forces at any given time anywhere in Europe.”
Granted, Russia and China are also conducting joint naval exercises this month in the Baltic region. But there’s an important distinction. The Baltic Sea is integral to Russian security territory. By contrast, what the Black Sea has got to do with American, British, Canadian, Norwegian, French, German troops, and so on, is only because NATO has provocatively expanded its reach to set up on Russia’s borders. The two events are not comparable.
Moreover, NATO war games in the Black Sea this week are a culmination of months of military build up by the alliance in that region. In February, Russia’s President Putin warned the escalation was “provoking a conflict.” That NATO escalation continues apace, with apparent indifference to Russia’s grievances.
This bigger picture of relentless Russophobia, gratuitous anti-Russian propaganda in the US media, and the ongoing reckless goading by NATO forces on Russia’s borders is an appropriate perspective with which to assess the significance of Trump’s meeting with Putin last weekend.
Yes, indeed, it was good to see Trump having enough independence of mind and personal decorum to greet Putin with respect.
But the fact remains: while Trump talked, the Pentagon balked. And not just the Pentagon. Virtually, the whole US political and media establishment.
Ominously, the American political system and its military machine seem to operate on only one gear: onward with Russophobia and aggression.
By Finian Cunningham