Apathy and misplaced priorities: the twin diseases of this generation. I spent this past Saturday afternoon speaking through a bullhorn in opposition to war – or at least opposition to escalating the existing state of war – with Iran, during a local rally as part of the International Day of Action on the subject. Street protests, to me, are always equal parts inspirational and disappointing. Even here in the "People’s Republic of Lawrence,” Kansas, a progressive island in a sea of reactionary, militarist red, only about forty folks showed up. Most were older hippie-types, though a sprinkling of twenty-something socialists and intersectional justice activists were visible in the crowd. The one notably absent demographic – in the largest university town in the state – was students! It was, frankly, and embarrassment to the storied University of Kansas (KU) as an institution.
What a far cry, a shameful fall from grace, for a college and city that was a veritable war zone in the aftermath of President Nixon’s Cambodia invasion and the killing of four students at Kent State University. Hundreds, then thousands, protested. The student union building was burned, gunfire exchanged with the police, the National Guard called in, and the entire city placed under curfew for a few days. Indeed, little Lawrence was, for years, a flashpoint city in the anti-Vietnam War movement. These days, as I flippantly mentioned in my speech, a generation of some 30,000 KU students can hardly fathom looking up from their iPhones long enough to consider a boots-on-the-ground rally in the physical company of other human beings.
Not that the KU student body isn’t – at least vapidly – political. These kids are passionately concerned, at least in the medium of sidewalk chalk-art and SnapChat-activism, with two major issues: identity (race, gender, sexuality) politics and of course, reflexive anti-Trumpism. These are, on some level, important subjects. Nevertheless, any serious grasp up of U.S. foreign policy, and inherent American militarist imperialism seems distressingly lacking. As such, I’d argue that this Kansan microcosm of higher-education-exposed youths, reflects a general societal disease of misplaced priorities – especially when The Donald is involved. Nearly every vaguely liberal, generally affluent, KU student one meets is genuinely obsessed with Trump: his racism, temperament, and especially the apparent necessity of his impeachment and removal. If only they – along, it must be said, with the mainstream left-leaning media and Democratic Party establishment – could cogently articulate just why, this president deserves as much.
Which brings me back to Saturday’s rally. Halfway through my twelve minute keynote rant, a woman – though undoubtedly meaning well – legitimately cut me off and bellowed: "Impeach him already!" Odd, this, I reckoned, as I invariably lost my chain of thought. Trump wasn’t the core theme of my speech – which focused more on the value of dissent and longterm folly of U.S.-Iran policy – and I was quite certain I hadn’t uttered the words Ukraine, Biden, or the phrase quid pro quo. My response was mercifully rapid and generally polite: "Sure," I countered, "impeach him, but for the right reasons:" for enabling the terror bombing of Yemen, illegally assassinating a top leader of a sovereign nation, or escalating the unsanctioned chaos of American regional warfare. With that, the subject faded and I pivoted back to the planned script in my head.
Nonetheless, the woman’s outburst, along with the multiplicity of "Impeach Him" signs in the crowd (one read: "Impeach the M*********er Already") was instructive. To wit, any rational observer (do such Americans still exist?) masochistic enough to have watched the the last couple of weeks of wall-to-wall Ukraine-gate, impeachment charade cable news coverage must conclude that Trump’s show trial has perhaps ineluctably distracted the American people. Only a misdirected, reality TV-style immersion of this caliber seems capable of elbowing the real scandals and crises of our times – the Afghanistan Papers, egregious Soleimani assassination, and no-end-in-sight ongoing American forever wars – straight out of the headlines.
What’s more, lost in the impeachment fiasco – and in the collective understanding of KU students, MSNBC talking heads, and Democratic lawmakers, alike – is any concern, debate, critique, or even tough questions about the other, potentially nuclear, calamity of the day: America’s aggressive, reckless Russia policy. Specifically, how U.S. actions in Ukraine – under Trump, Obama, and other post-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall presidents – have foolishly stoked a new, equally dangerous (and highly unnecessary) Cold War with Moscow. Why, a wildly discomfiting few dare to ask, was Washington considering arming a deeply problematic Ukrainian regime for a proxy war with Russia waged several thousands of miles from America’s shores? Is this prudent policy? What’s the next step; you know, what follows? And how does this end? These strike this author, at least, as vital queries. Only don’t expect to hear any semblance of such sensible discussion; not on America’s campuses, corporate cable channels, or Capitol Hill.
With that disconcerting state of public affairs established, then, allow me to poke just a few (should be) obvious holes in Washington’s Ukraine policy and the bipartisan – but these days mostly Democratic – congressionally provocative Russia agenda and narrative. First off, it was two American presidents – Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – who first provoked Moscow by expanding NATO’s inherently anti-Russian alliance (in contravention to promises made by the latter president’s daddy) right up into the heart of the old Soviet republics and sphere of influence. It was the US, its State Department and intelligence services, that helped stoke the "democratic" revolution – read: coup – that overthrew a duly elected, Russia-friendly, president in Ukraine. It is Washington that props up the current, questionably legitimate, Ukrainian regime, which – alarmingly – includes factions that are patently white supremacist and neo-Nazi. Finally, it is America which, along with Russia, has chosen bellicosity over diplomacy, by seeking to provide one side in the proxy war with inevitably escalatory lethal arms.
Seemingly oblivious to this inconvenient political context and these salient demonstrable facts, just this past Friday the absurdist ringleader of the misdirected impeachment distraction, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, had the gall to announce that Trump’s alleged Ukraine interference conspiracy theory – and presumably the whole ongoing Eastern European conflagration – was "brought to you by the Kremlin." Well, call me a pro-Russia, Putin-apologist, but my read on the uncomfortable facts surveyed above suggests a wholly different take: the dangerous proxy war in Ukraine and burgeoning Cold War with nukes-saturated Russia was, largely, "brought to you by the White House," Adam…
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet. Check out his professional website for contact info, scheduling speeches, and/or access to the full corpus of his writing and media appearances.
Copyright 2020 Danny Sjursen