Let’s not hear it for detente

I agree with Corey Oakley’s criticism (Red Flag 99) of the fixation of most US liberals on the suspected collaboration between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign, which has been amplified by the Trump-Putin meetings in Hamburg.

This focus distracts from what should be the real concerns: why the Democratic Party was unable to pose a real alternative to Trump (i.e. politics) and what kind of resistance needs to be built against the attacks of Trump and his ruling class backers (in the streets, not in Congress).

There are some US liberals who have criticised the Russia focus. But they have used false arguments that I think the left needs clearly to reject.

In particular, I am concerned about the argument that goes along the line of: what’s wrong with Putin and Trump collaborating? Isn’t detente between the US and Russia desirable?

For example, a recent article in the liberal Nation magazine argued:

“No matter how imperative, and no matter how important to the US national interest, the new Trump-Putin detente partnership faces unprecedented obstacles in Washington. Above all, ‘Russiagate’ allegations that Trump or his associates ‘colluded’ with Putin’s ‘hijacking of American democracy’ during the 2016 presidential campaign continue to grow despite the lack of any actual evidence for either accusation … [A] president risks being crippled, if not threatened with impeachment, as he initiates a necessary détente relationship with Russia.”

I am no more in favour of nuclear war than anyone else. And if the US and Russia, or any of the world’s nuclear-armed powers, establish technical measures that reduce the chance of a nuclear war being started by a computer blip or a drunken general, that is all to the good, although I wouldn’t bet my life on their success.

But those kinds of “safeguards” between the US and Russia already exist. They don’t require any personal rapport between Trump and Putin. So what are we supposed to welcome about the two presidents getting along with each other?

Since at least the 16th century, there has been an English proverb, “When thieves fall out, true men …”. The wording of the continuation varies, but it always means that the “true men” keep their possessions instead of losing them to thieves.

I am inclined to agree with the proverb. If the two presidential thieves agree with each other, is it likely that they are jointly planning measures to make the world a better place? Do they want to bring about nuclear disarmament of all countries? To convert all military spending into improving the lives of the world’s most deprived people? To counter Islamophobia? To eliminate exploitative trade relations? To stop global climate change?

Or – pardon my cynicism – are they engaged in grubby bargaining about whose ruling class will benefit more if they collaborate to continue destroying Syria and on similar arrangements to make the world safe for profits?

In short, detente is not an automatic good, especially among thieves. Did it make the world a better or safer place when Nixon achieved detente with China and the Soviet Union, while waging war against their supposed ally, Vietnam?

I would rather have the thieves fall out, somewhere short of shooting at each other. But better shooting at each other than at the rest of us.