Something I learned from my years of activity inside the union: Pay close attention to exactly what the union leadership is saying… and also what they’re not saying. That’s because they are locked into a policy of granting as much ground to the employers as the membership will let them get away with. Since they can’t come right out and say so, they are forced to find all sorts of ways at hinting at where they’re going and justifying it in advance. Sometimes they would whoop and holler about how they’re going to fight, but without laying out any clear plan for how to win the fight. For those members who aren’t paying close attention, all of this can be very confusing. It can leave them disarmed.
It is not that different with the capitalist politicians.
Take the US support for Ukraine and the question of negotiations.
Let’s start by being clear about the issue: Putin cannot afford to give up and withdraw all his troops from the territories it occupies. “All that blood and sacrifice for nothing?” would be on the tongues of tens of millions of Russians. Putin would be lucky to escape with his life if he did so. So, no amount of talk will persuade him otherwise. He will fight until his troops can fight no longer, because he must.
U.S. and its allies
The US got involved in sending weapons to Ukraine in order to defend its own economic interests and its own political influence in Europe and beyond. Also, if any country can just invade any other, this disrupts the free flow of capital to wherever it is most profitable. The fact that the US did that in Iraq and Afghanistan is irrelevant; that’s all past history (or so they want people to think). That’s what their talk about a “rules based international system” is about. No capitalist government is considering what the Ukrainian people want, which is to be rid of the Russian imperialist invader. Workers and socialists around the world have to support Ukraine getting arms even from the devil himself, if it serves the Ukrainian people’s interest.
For the US and its allies, the question is whether and at what point they should push Zelensky to accept something less than fully expelling the Russian invaders. Of course, just like the union bureaucrats, the spokespeople for the government cannot come right out and say so. Doing so would discredit them both at home and abroad. So they have to talk all around the issue, sometimes whooping and hollering and sometimes hinting at what they’re really after.
Division in Biden Administration
One additional important detail: There is something of a division within the Biden administration over whether and how strongly to push Zelensky to negotiate, meaning accept something less than full victory now. According to CNN, the military wing of the administration, led by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, support pushing Ukraine to negotiate something less than a full victory. They are probably more concerned with maintaining the US’s reserve of military hardware. Also, they’ve now proven the superior effectiveness of US weapons, which can be used to cement relations around the world. (Everybody wants the latest and bestest means of killing the enemy.) On the other hand, the security and diplomatic wing, led by national security advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, feels differently. They probably have a slightly longer term view and see that allowing even a partial victory for Putin will only lead him to try again later.
Biden has somewhat remained in the middle, but mainly on the side of Sullivan and Blinken. He did provide the long range HIMARS rocket systems to Ukraine, but only after refusing to do so for months.
Today (Nov. 16), a new hint of the situation may have developed: Austin and Milley conducted a press conference. The press conference ostensibly was about the rocket that landed in Poland, but they went far further afield. The very fact that Biden would allow them to hold this press conference indicates that Biden might be moving more towards the “negotiations” side.
Austin started out by blaming Russia for the fact that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile had fallen onto NATO member Poland. Yes, it may have been a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile, but Ukraine had to shoot it because they were under Russian attack. He also criticized Russia’s attacks on the Ukrainian energy infrastructure. He said that the US will “equip the Ukrainian forces to consolidate their gains”. (Note: “consolidate” the present “gains”, which are nothing but regaining some of the territory Russia has stolen.) He also praised US NATO allies, Germany, Britain, Sweden, etc. “Our resolve is strengthened,” Austin said. “No one wants to live in a world in which countries are bulldozed by its bigger naighbors,” he added.
Milley then spoke and committed to “continuing to supply Ukraine” with the military hardware it needs. That was the whooping and hollering. The cover for the coming betrayal.
He denounced the “illegal choice” to “illegally invade Ukraine”. He said that the objective was to “overrun all of Ukraine… and they lost. They failed to achieve their strategic objective.” Milley talked about Russia’s failure in seizing Donetsk and Zaprozhizia and Kherson (from which it was just recently expelled). The reframing of their objectives have all failed. Every single one of them.” Milley emphasized. More whooping and hollering.
Milley made an inaccurate statement that when Russian troops retreated to the south side of the Dnipro river that was a “more defensible position”. On the contrary, the south side is on lower ground, making it more vulnerable to bombardment from the north. Also, it is swampy territory, meaning it’s nearly impossible to dig trenches. Why he said this soon became clear:
“They [Russia] started this war and Russia can end this war,” Milley said. He went on to attack Russia’s terrorist rocket attacks. He implicitly threatened the Russian command with being charged with war crimes. He let Russia know that NATO allies will give Ukraine air defense systems. He reasserted that the US will continue to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” and that “it’s up to Ukraine to decide how or when or if” they will negotiate with Russia. “We will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free,” he concluded.
Then here came the shaft. Mark Milley in the question and answer period: “President Biden and President Zelensky himself has said that at the end of the day there will be a political solution.”
Once the whooping and hollering stopped, then the hints at where they’re really going began: Austin was asked whether he agreed with Milley’s statement a week ago that Ukraine would be unable to “achieve all its objectives” and therefore should negotiate. Austin diverted attention away by saying that the US will continue to arm Ukraine and that it’s up to Ukraine to decide when is a good time to negotiate. He then deferred to Milley.
Milley: Russia will not be able to conquer all of Ukraine, but they do occupy about 20% of Ukraine and kicking all of the Russian troops out of Ukraine is very difficult. “There may be a political solution where the Russians withdraw [and] right now Russia is on its back…. You want to negotiate from a position of strength [which is where Ukraine is right now]…. It’s possible, maybe, that there will be a political solution.”
We will probably never know exactly what is happening behind the scenes, where the decisions are really made. But such press conferences and similar events give us a clue. As for where Biden will ultimately land, he himself probably doesn’t even know. But it seems he is edging towards pressing Zelensky to open negotiations with Putin. That can only mean at this point how much of Ukraine will Russia be allowed to continue occupying. Once the door is opened to that, it’s very difficult to close it.
CNN and similar outlets are often a good weather vane for the thinking of mainstream US capitalist politicians. Not that they make things up; it’s a matter of what the emphasize and what they leave out. Now, in covering the war, CNN is emphasizing two things. First is how much Ukrainians are suffering from Putin raining down bombs on them. Second is that the US stockpile of weapons is being dangerously diminished. What this is doing is preparing the US public to accept a reduction of US supplying weapons to Ukraine, which will of course act as an immense pressure on Zelensky to enter negotiations with Putin and even possibly to accept some sort of cease fire.