Leonid Ilych Brezhnev presided over the irreversible decline of the USSR during his 18 years in power, initially as Secretary-General of the Soviet Communist Party and later also as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. He was two years younger than Joseph Biden is today when he died in 1982, but – just like the current occupant of the White House – long before his physical death Brezhnev had come to epitomize the corrupt political establishment of a waning great power which was rotting from within. Just like Biden, in his final years he was a senile wreck unable to complete a coherent sentence, let alone come up with an original or interesting thought.
My memory of Comrade Brezhnev was irresistibly evoked by Joseph Biden’s foreign policy speech delivered at the Department of State on Feb. 4. Some of its key points are worth scrutinizing in order to clarify the parallel and outline its implications. “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again,” he pledged:
…not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.
On the contrary, “engaging with the world” in order to reassert “American leadership” is decidedly one of “yesterday’s challenges.” It is evocative of George H.W. Bush’s 30-year-old announcement of a new world order led by the United States. A decade later, his son went one better, declaring his intention “to turn this time of American influence into generations of democratic peace.” In 2007, Barack Obama made his own pledge to renew American global leadership. In 2016 his administration even claimed that he had “refocused and reaffirmed American leadership in the world.”
Their obsession with American global leadership is not a “challenge” at all. It is based on the neoconservative/neoliberal narcissistic fantasy that the United States is not merely an exceptional nation, but the world’s indispensable nation. Such hubris is the exact mirror image of the Communist claim, summarized by Fidel Castro in 1963, that the USSR leads all nations which are fighting for peace and for a better life: “This is why all the countries must be grateful to you,” he declared at a rally in Siberia. “You deserve gratitude from all countries!”
In the same spirit, Joseph Biden’s outcry against “advancing authoritarianism” was evocative of Leonid Brezhnev’s claim that the USSR was in the forefront “of the just struggle of the peoples against imperialism,” for peace and democracy. It is of course incongruous for Biden to rail against “authoritarianism” as he presides over America’s rapid slide into a mature synthesis of fascism and bolshevism, all in the name of “our democracy.” It brings forth the same kind of wry smile that Comrade Brezhnev’s invocation of “democracy” must have elicited among the inmates of Soviet camps and mental institutions.
Contrary to Biden’s suggestion, “the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States” are not the result of Beijing’s “authoritarianism.” China’s strategy is the predictable and inevitable response of a great and relentlessly rising global power to America’s post-Cold-War bid for global hegemony, what American policy makers call “full-spectrum dominance.” Beijing’s response to the challenge of such audacity would not be different were Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist successors in charge of mainland China today, rather than Mao’s Communist ones.
History teaches us that it is self-defeating for a status-quo power to try and prevent geopolitical adjustments that reflect a new distribution of economic, political, and military power in real space. The refusal of Biden’s foreign policy team to accept that the U.S. will have to live with China as an equal, and eventually perhaps stronger superpower, is now evident. Far from being a reflection of “global leadership,” it is but further evidence of the interventionist duopoly’s destabilizing refusal to grasp the reality and consequences of China’s remarkable rise. Tragically, under the new Biden regime it is increasingly unlikely the U.S. and China will be able to manage their relations, in the years and decades to come, without a major war.
According to Biden’s speechwriters, however, a bellicose approach to China merely reflects diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.” Here are their words, mumbled by Biden:
That’s the grounding wire of our global policy – our global power. That’s our inexhaustible source of strength. That’s America’s abiding advantage. Though many of these values have come under intense pressure in recent years… the American people are going to emerge from this moment stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy, because we have fought for it ourselves.
All this is unadulterated, Soviet-style rubbish that is strongly reminiscent of the aspiration to “unite the world” found in the 1968 Brezhnev Doctrine. It is on par with the old Soviet claim that it conducted its foreign policy in order to liberate oppressed working people all over the world
The ideological abstractions of the postmodern era, things like “championing opportunity,” “upholding universal rights,” and “treating every person with dignity,” in fact have nothing to do with a state’s capacity to conduct effective diplomacy, let alone its ability to rise to global power. In reality, the most powerful and the most resilient states in history – Egypt, Persia, Rome, Byzantium, France, England, the empires of Spain and Austria, Japan, and above all China – have based their might and their staying power on the timeless principles of realpolitik and grand strategy. They were successful because they were able to deploy their political, military, economic, and moral resources in a balanced and proportionate manner, in order to protect and enhance their rationally defined security and economic interests.
Regardless of their geographic position, the timeline in history or cultural context, the success of all those great powers was based on their elites upholding their nations’ cherished values of valor, patriotism, loyalty, manliness, obedience to authority, truthfulness, self-sacrifice, discipline, and faith. Naturally, only persons ready and willing to accept and follow the nation’s values were considered worthy of enjoying any rights at all.
This is light years away from Joseph Biden’s concluding remarks that “we shined the light of lamp of liberty on oppressed people” such as the LGBTQI types, or his boast of “overturning the hateful, discriminatory Muslim ban,” or his pledge “to acknowledge and address systemic racism and the scourge of white supremacy in our own country.”
On balance, the key difference between Brezhnev’s USSR and Biden’s America seems to be in the limited scope of the Soviet leader’s self-awarded outreach. His doctrine applied only to the “socialist community,” as opposed to the unlimited scope of “defending democracy globally.” The Biden regime’s “universal rights” has potentially unlimited scope when it comes to determining where and when to intervene. The “socialist community” led by Brezhnev stopped on the Elbe. The global democratic community desired by the new regime in Washington stops nowhere.
Biden’s Feb. 4 speech provided the ideological basis for a policy of permanent global interventionism in pursuit of cultural Marxist global totalitarianism. His assertions precluded any meaningful debate about the correlation between ends and means of American power: we are both strong and virtuous; our policies are shaped by progressive values, not by mere interests. Indeed, the high marks Biden’s “powerful speech” received from CNN journalist David Andelman demonstrate that the yearning for “revolutionary change” springs eternal among some people.
The emerging Biden doctrine suffers from the same problem, however, as the Brezhnev Doctrine did half a century ago. Each act of resistance – and there will be many in the years to come – undermines the hegemon’s credibility and self-confidence. After the Prague Spring was extinguished in 1968, and just beneath the drab surface of the reality of life under Communism, anti-Sovietism was rampant all over Eastern Europe. Back then, and for almost two decades thereafter, members of the Politburo were old, sluggish, devoid of ideas, and oblivious to the challenges their hegemony would soon face.
In contrast, America’s current neoconservative-neoliberal duopoly, back in power under the Biden-Harris regime, is neurotically hyperactive and still convinced that global hegemony can be reimposed as a morally mandated, open-ended, and self-justifying mission. This is madness. Leonid Brezhnev and his Politbureau comrades were dull and dumb, but by the late 1980’s they were rational enough to grasp that it was time to fold. Their contemporary heirs in Washington are insane, and therefore they will never go into that gentle night without a bang. But, there is hope. Quos deus vult perdere, dementat prius (Those whom God would destroy, He first deprives of reason).
Update, Feb. 8, 2021: The final sentence in paragraph 16 has been added to reflect the praise Biden’s speech has received from journalists in the mainstream media.
Joe Biden in Des Moines, Iowa, in August 2019. Leonid Brezhnev photographed at a diplomatic meeting in 1974.