125 years ago the USA’s imperialist/militarist interventions outside the borders of the continental United States began in earnest with the Spanish American War, in 1898. During this war the US replaced Spain as the colonizing power over Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines.
In response, a US Anti-Imperialist League was formed. Among its more well-known members were Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers, Jane Addams, Felix Adler and Grover Cleveland.
Maybe what we need today is something similar, something which explicitly names “imperialism” as a continuing evil which must be fought. But the last year of devastating war following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine argues for it being very clearly not just an anti-US imperialist entity but one which opposes all forms of imperialism.
The Ukraine/Russia war continues to be, at root, a battle for national self-determination by Ukraine against an imperialist power, Russia. Disturbingly, there continue to be leftist groups and individuals in the US who deny this fact. To them, the only imperialism that matters is US imperialism.
There’s no question that the dominant imperialist power in the world today is the United States. The US military budget is now $858 billion dollars a year, and there are 700 US military bases in over 80 countries. Russia has 35, and China has 5. That $858 billion is 40% of what the world’s countries combined spend on their militaries, and it is greater than the military budgets of the next 12 countries combined. China, the second highest, with over three times the number of people as the US, is about 1/3 the US budget. Indeed, the $69.8 billion increase in the US military budget from 2022 to 2023 is greater than the total military budget of all other countries in the world, except for China.
The US government’s support for Ukraine’s legitimate military resistance to the Russian invasion, theoretically, could be happening for other than imperialist reasons. Unfortunately, the language used by the Biden Administration over the past year accompanying the massive weapons transfers to Ukraine indicates otherwise. There are many indications that, as of right now, they are hoping that a prolonged and extremely destructive war will weaken Putin and the Russian government such that Russia is fundamentally transformed, tamed, Westernized. This obvious approach has been used by Putin to solidify political support in Russia while leading him, in desperation at his invasion’s failures, to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.
On top of these dangerous developments, the US is ratcheting up its rhetoric and actions directed against China. In a front page story in yesterday’s New York Times, reporting on Putin’s meeting with “the top Chinese diplomat, Wang Yi,” the authors wrote that “the world is retreating into two blocs that bear similarities to those of the Cold War.”
This is not what should be happening in a world in desperate need of international cooperation to shift rapidly from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources. This must happen if we are to prevent escalating ecosystem and societal breakdowns over coming years.
Growing numbers of people and organizations in the US are speaking out and taking action to call for the US to change course. Instead of overt rhetoric to put Putin into a corner, the Biden Administration needs to go on a diplomatic offensive toward a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war. It is time to move towards a peaceful resolution of this deepening conflict in which Ukraine’s right to self-determination and independence is central. With a shift of this kind, there are reasons to believe that countries like China and India would come on board to help end this war.
Given the ratcheted up rhetoric coming from both Putin and Biden, this will not be easy. But those of us who appreciate the seriousness of the current situation must speak out now and keep building the political pressure from below. Members of the Progressive Caucus in Congress need to speak out. Religious leaders, union leaders, other elected officials need to do so. We need a people’s peace offensive, not endless war, not in Ukraine nor anywhere else.
One year of devastating war is enough. War is not the answer.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. He is the author of the recently published books, Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution. More info can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick