Aaron Mate: Funding the Ukraine proxy war, Bernie Sanders and the Squad abandon progressives and peace

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By Aaron Mate, Substack, 5/24/22

In the 2016 and 2020 Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders’ opposition to the US invasion of Iraq helped set him apart from frontrunners Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and the party establishment that they represent.

In 2022, with the US engaged in another costly and catastrophic conflict abroad, Sanders has chosen to abandon the anti-war mantle and join the ranks of his former rivals. Along with every elected Democrat — including the self-proclaimed Squad – Sanders voted last week to approve a $40 billion measure that will escalate the Ukraine proxy war and enrich its prime beneficiary, the US arms industry.

More than half of the allocated spending, $24 billion, is for military aid, including $9.1 billion for weapons makers to replenish the US arsenal. The mammoth bill follows the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act – also unanimously approved by Democrats — which invokes World War II-era policies to speed the transfer of US military equipment to Ukraine. Coupled with NATO’s likely expansion to Sweden and Finland, “the real winners are American defense companies,” Forbes columnist Jon Markman writes.

In passing the new $40 billion bill, “the leaders of both parties raised few questions about how much money was being spent or what it would be used for,” the New York Times observes. This swift bipartisan approval “was striking, given the gridlock that has prevented domestic initiatives large and small from winning approval in recent years.” This includes the progressive-backed Build Back Better agenda for social spending, once a headline issue and now seldom discussed.

The unwavering US effort to flood Ukraine with weaponry instead of diplomacy is additionally striking given its predictable consequences for the conflict and the planet. These include more bloodshed; more refugees; more arms trafficking; more weapons falling into the hands of neo-Nazis and other extremistsmore war profiteering; more inflation; more global hunger; and more of a possibility of direct military confrontation between the US and Russia.

The dangers have prompted the New York Times’ editorial board, normally a reliable supporter of US militarism, to get cold feet about the Ukraine proxy war that it has heretofore cheered. To avoid “a costly, drawn-out war,” the Times editors argue, the Biden administration should make clear to Kiev that “there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster.”

The Times’ stance will resonate with anyone worried about an escalated proxy war between the world’s top nuclear powers. But in Washington, it is difficult to see how Biden will receive that message if even the progressive, anti-war flank of his own party is voting in lockstep to fuel the danger. This group includes lawmakers like SandersIlhan OmarRo KhannaPramila Jayapal, and Barbara Lee, who have previously voiced concerns about the very military escalation in Ukraine that just authorized. Remarkably, as Glenn Greenwald notes, not only have these politicians betrayed their own public statements, but have refused to provide any explanation for their tectonic about-face.

The lone exception was Cori Bush, who simultaneously defended her support for the $40 billion measure while acknowledging that it will “primarily” benefit “private defense contractors” and fuel “the increased risks of direct war and the potential for direct military confrontation” between the US and Russia.

That so many single self-identified Congressional progressives can turn against their anti-war record and public positions might seem perplexing. In light of the prevailing US political and media climate of recent years, it makes perfect sense.

The enlistment of progressive support for a neoconservative proxy war in Ukraine is the outgrowth of the Russiagate disinformation campaign that has engulfed the US since 2016. When it comes to the US posture toward the Russian government, Russiagate has normalized militarism and evidence-free allegations; blamed it for US dysfunctions; stigmatized diplomacy; and, to ensure domestic obedience, portrayed anyone who dissents from these imperatives as a Kremlin pawn, asset, or conspirator.  

The fact that a mammoth gift to the US arms industry – and attendant escalation of dangers unseen since the Cuban Missile Crisis – could win the unanimous support of politicians nominally committed to progressive causes is one of the Russiagate campaign’s strongest successes to date. Its consequences are worth considering for anyone concerned with the future of the US progressive movement, and the planet…

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