By Nick Wright
January 24, 2017
With Obama, the United States’s plutocratic forces slowly captured him some time after his inauguration. With Donald Trump, the Establishment has already begun to protect its interests, argues Nick Wright.
Eight years ago, when Barack Obama took office, we allowed ourselves a moment to reflect that, with the election of a black man to the presidency of the United States, something might be changing in that country.
We allowed ourselves to share in the hopes that millions of US citizens projected onto the man. He had, lest we forget, overcome the candidate favoured by Wall Street and the military industrial complex and won the nomination by an appeal to workers, the labour movement, black and Latino minorities — what in Marxist jargon might be called the popular sectors.
In conventional US style, enough of the plutocracy grasped the significance of this rising moment to channel a proportion of their political action funding his way. Despite this inevitable contaminant, there was a real sense that something had changed and that more change was possible.
My thought at the time was — while the US seemed ready for a black president, that if Obama fulfilled a fraction of the hopes invested in him — the country was still not ready for him to be the first assassinated black president. In the end nothing alarmed the dark forces of the US deep state sufficiently to reach that far into their tool box.
A clear sign of Obama’s submission to power was when foreign policy was subcontracted to his primary opponent and, true to the Clintonesque tradition, Hillary Clinton proved to be an enthusiastic instrument of the imperial war party.
Barack Hussein Obama’s early rhetorical shift — to capitalise on his middle name — petered out while his most active personal contribution to foreign policy came to be his weekly chore in selecting, from a list prepared by the CIA, which unfortunate family he was to rain cruise missiles upon. From a potential target of assassins Obama became the most powerful executive assassin in the world.
The tragedy is that Obama is an intelligent, well-educated and cultured man with, in US terms, a broadly progressive hinterland, and with a powerful grasp of political reality. He knows what forces are in play in US politics and statecraft and, if he had any illusions at the beginning, he knows now the limits to his personal agency and the damage to his integrity.
In the face of the most profound capitalist crisis in recent history his policy priority was to bail out the banks and stabilise the financial system while even his attempt to modernise US healthcare eventually surrendered to a business model which bestowed new income streams upon the insurance industry.
Submission to the imperatives of globalisation meant his industrial policy was subordinated to the interests of the finance sector.
His term of office as the first black president was marked by an unending succession of police killings of black people, the mass incarceration of young black and Latino people, extra judicial imprisonment in Guantanamo, torture and rendition.
To this record of broken dreams and disappointed hopes must be added the bombs with which his administration deluged the Muslim world.
And here is the paradox which illustrates just how profound is the crisis that grips bourgeois politics. While the most compelling challenge to bipartisanship in the US presidential election campaign came from Bernie Sanders, the actual breach came with the election of Donald Trump.
Which brings us to the dodgy dossier of salacious titbits which, it now appears, have entered the inauguration preparations through the agency of a former British ambassador to Moscow and a superannuated Russian specialist from MI6.
Rumours about this stuff have been circulating round intelligence circles and media organisations for some time.
It appears that when the entrepreneurial Citizen Steele compiled his original compendium of rumour and speculation he did so at the bidding of Republican Party opponents of Trump, but that with Trump’s nomination the account was transferred to the Democratic Party’s interest.
It is possible, if improbable, that a digital record of sexual gambols may exist somewhere in the Dzerzhinsky Square archives. If it does, it is unlikely, short of regime change in Russia, to appear, if only because it might support the narrative so actively presented in the liberal media that Donald Trump was the candidate of the Kremlin. If he was the Kremlin would not want to prove it.
This is the perfect smear precisely because it cannot be refuted and because the more energetic the attempts to disprove it, the more likely are the unwitting to suspect it might be true.
Was there interference by Russian agencies in the US election?
Of course, these things do happen. (At this point, may I recommend the excellent Manifesto Press book, prepared with the co-operation of the Venezuelan embassy entitled US interventions in Latin America.)
Like every other political and intelligence agency, the FSB — Putin’s sword and shield — was trying to gain an insight into the dynamics of the US presidential contest. Maybe some residue of dialectical thinking — left over from the days when the FSB’s predecessor was defending working-class power — may have given them an extra edge.
But this most recent US election was so novel — and developments so unpredictable — that Russia’s spies would have been better off communing with the ghostly corpse of Lenin than trying to predict what actually happened.
US elections can be bought; in fact they always are. But the sums of money are so great and the process so transparent that the entry price for a foreign “investor” is impossibly high. US electoral fraud is commonplace and manipulation of electoral rolls, constituency boundaries and voters’ rights are so much part of the ritual that a foreign intervention would be spotted by somebody.
What of the dossier then? Given the suspicions engendered by the last public offering by Britain’s intelligence apparatus — the original dodgy dossier conceived on Tony Blair’s sofa and sexed-up by his mouthpiece — one might have expected something a bit more convincing.
It is a poor piece of work. Names of places and people are misspelt, people are alleged to have conspired in places that they never visited and sources are not given.
More than a dozen sections are serially deficient in convincing detail, lack evidence of any rigour in checking and verification and are missing in background on the “sources.”
It gives the impression of a prospectus rather than a finished project, something like a bid for further financing.
Speculative in every sense of the word.
When intelligence officers leave the service at an early stage in their career and set up in the consulting business, the suspicion naturally arises that this is designed to create a measure of plausible deniability. The suggestion by the usual “intelligence sources,” that the current head of MI6, in his first public speech, used material supplied by Christopher Steele rather supports the idea that the British intelligence machinery is an active participant in this process.
Thus the British connection arouses interest. The motive of the US intelligence establishment in promoting it is clear.
In framing the legitimacy of Trump’s election as under challenge, his freedom to formulate foreign and intelligence policy that breaks with the pre-existing consensus is limited.
As usual, the motives of the British foreign policy and intelligence apparatus can be sensibly located in their overweening desire, as always, to prove their loyalty to the North Atlantic project and their willing submission to US leadership.
All of which is threatened if Trump comes anywhere near recalibrating the US relationship with Russia.
And this puts them in something of a bind because, with Trump as commander-in-chief and his appointees in charge of the many-headed US intelligence empire, new lines of communication may need to be established.
This may account for the speed with which sources close to Britain’s intelligence bosses now appear to be rubbishing the dossier.
It is in this light that we can see how the convergence of Atlanticist and European Union interests are threatened by a Trump administration that — on the basis of his election rhetoric — seems inclined to weaken US involvement in Nato’s forward engagement in eastern Europe, make the European states pay for their own war spending and effect a rapprochement with Russia over Ukraine.
As with the divisions within British big business over membership of the European Union, splits exist in the world of US big business.
Some sections rely more on the military and intelligence reach of the US to maintain their dominance of global markets, resources and raw materials.
Other sections, subordinate but not negligible, see in the size of the US domestic market and scale of its natural resources sufficient potential to realise profit.
Whatever the reasons, the internal contradictions within capitalism highlight a systemic crisis.
And every element needs to play to significant sectors of public opinion if they are to win office.
It is fruitless to speculate on what range of personal, political and material motives drive Donald Trump.
But it is unanswerable that he needs to do something to meet the expectations raised by his verbal assault on the US elite and his pledges to do something about jobs and manufacturing.
And to do so will bring him up against this new consensus that unites the sections of corporate power, the state apparatus and the liberal elite in a neoliberal nexus.
If he indeed commissioned the dossier, Senator John McCain should ask for his money back, or at least split the cost with Clinton.
The dossier’s authors assert that the Russians rigged the election. Not that they tried to but that they did. Yet they assert, again without evidence, that the actual count was inviolate.
We can be sure that if any actual evidence existed that the voting process had been tampered with, it would be in the public domain and working its way through the legal system.
The purpose in promoting this document lies not in protecting the integrity of the US electoral process or the inviolability of the US constitution but in constructing a straitjacket for Donald Trump.
Where, in Obama’s case this took place after his assumption of office, with Trump it is taking place before.
Maybe the forces he has stimulated represent a bigger, if inchoate, potential threat to the political establishment and foreign policy continuity than did the expectations raised by the early Obama?