Trump’s impeachment and the US ‘national interest’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Donald Trump in New York in September.

The Democratic impeachment inquiry began when a “whistleblower” revealed that US President Donald Trump had pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Trump suspended military aid to Ukraine and made a White House visit by Zelensky — which the new Ukrainian president dearly wanted — conditional on him stating publically that such an investigation was underway.

Since the elder Biden is a possible Democratic opponent of Trump in the 2020 presidential campaign, the purpose of Trump’s demand was to get material that he could use against Biden should he become the Democratic nominee.

To demand of a foreign government that it work to help Trump personally is against the law.

A few days after the whistleblower’s complaint was made public, Trump beat a hasty retreat: he released the military aid and Zelensky never made the statement.

Trump’s violation of the law is relatively unimportant compared to his other crimes that do not form part of the impeachment inquiry: his administration’s war on asylum seekers on the US–Mexico border; his Muslim travel ban; increasing the extraction of fossil fuels; racism; misogyny and more.

Capital’s interests

From the beginning of the inquiry, the Democrats and the pro-Democratic media have introduced another line: Trump’s withholding of military aid was, they say, an attack on “national security” or “America’s interests”. In the final weeks of testimony before the House committee conducting the inquiry, this charge has been highlighted.

When capitalist politicians use terms like “national security” they are invariably referring to the interests of US imperialism. Withholding military aid to Ukraine was a violation of US imperialism’s interests, but not the interests of US workers.

The interests of US imperialism in Ukraine are both economic and political.

Ukraine is rich in natural resources, especially its fertile “black soil” agricultural lands and natural gas. It was a prized possession of the Russian Tsarist empire. It was known as the Soviet Union’s “bread basket”. German imperialism sought to capture these resources in both World War I and II.

Following the overthrow of the Soviet Union by its bureaucratic caste led by the misnamed Communist Party, and the return to capitalism, Ukraine sought relations with the US-led West as well as with capitalist Russia.

Ukraine has two main ethnic groups — Ukrainian-speakers and Russian-speakers. The former are mainly in western Ukraine and the latter in the east and south. At times Ukrainian-speakers occupied the presidency, and before 2014, the president was a Russian-speaker. 

This equilibrium was upset in 2014 when the Russian-speaking president was overthrown. A more right-wing government was installed that began to restrict democratic rights, especially of Russian-speakers. Russian, which had been one of the officially recognised national languages, was stripped of that status. A civil war ensued between the east and west, with Russia supporting the Russian-speakers and the West the government in Kiev.

US in Ukraine

This provided an opening for the US to move in, reducing Ukraine to a subordinate country dependent on Washington, with two areas in the east forming their own governments.

Contrary to US promises made at the time of the overthrow of the Soviet Union, the US brought a number of East European countries formerly in the Soviet orbit into NATO, as well as some former Soviet republics. If Ukraine was to become part of NATO, that would bring the US-sponsored military alliance to the Russian border.

In 2014, it appeared that the new Ukraine would join NATO. That provides a possible explanation of why Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.

It would also explain why Russia then re-annexed Crimea.

A bit of history of Crimea is useful. Russia, under Catherine the Great, took Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in 1783. In 1853, Britain and its allies invaded Crimea but the war exhausted Britain. When the war finally ended in 1856, Crimea was once again Russian, but with the proviso that Russian warships would not be stationed at the Sevastopol port.

After the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the subsequent establishment of the USSR, Ukraine became a separate Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) under the Bolshevik’s policy of national self-determination for nations under the former Tsarist empire. Crimea became part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic because of its mainly Russian population.

In 1954, the Soviet government under Nikita Khrushchev made Crimea part of the Ukrainian SSR, largely for administrative reasons. This was hardly noticed internationally as it was still part of the USSR. No one claimed that Ukraine had “stolen” Crimea from Russia.

When Ukraine became independent in 1991, various agreements were made between it and Russia. One was that Russia would have control over the former Soviet naval base in Sevastopol. If Ukraine became part of NATO, that base, the only Russian warm water port, would fall into NATO and US hands, which Russia could not tolerate.

The US still wants to get the Sevastopol naval base, which is why it is pushing for Crimea to be a part of Ukraine.

The Democrats are the champions of these “interests” today. Trump, with the Republicans dutifully in tow, is claiming that it was the Ukrainians, not the Russians, who “meddled” in the 2016 US elections to help Hillary Clinton. The Democrats claim the opposite — that the Russians meddled, giving the victory to Trump.

In fact, every government that has the technology to do so “meddles” in other countries’ politics, with Washington being the Meddler-in-Chief.

At times, when elections in other countries do not go the way the US wants, it “meddles” by overthrowing the government of the offending country.

Trump is a US phenomenon, not a Russian or Ukrainian one.

A basic feature of modern monopoly capitalism and imperialism has been the increasing centralisation of power in the hands of the executive at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. This has been true in the US beginning in the early 20th century under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

However, the growth of executive power is not without its own perils to the ruling class. If a dictator, or would-be dictator, starts to put their personal interests above those of the capitalist class as a whole, which is what Trump has done, by withholding military aid and by attacking Ukraine while going soft on Putin, then that executive is truly harming the “national interest” of US imperialism.

Trump should be impeached on the charge of attempting to force Ukraine to further his electoral ambitions, not for harming the “national interest” of dominating Ukraine, which is not in the interests of US workers.

All this is only one aspect of the deep divisions in the ruling class concerning Trump. How this plays out in conjunction with other issues in the upcoming election campaign remains to be seen.

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