Josef Stalin, Harry S Truman and Winston Churchill in Potsdam, Germany, in July 1945. Photo: Wikipedia

The war in Ukraine is about to enter a new and more perilous phase, with very public indications that the US may take a page out its Syria playbook and soon accuse Moscow of a chemical-weapons attack.

This, in turn, will launch yet another coordinated media blitz by Kiev; its hawkish NATO allies in Washington, London and Warsaw; intelligence-community stenographers inside government-funded think-tanks like the Atlantic Council; and pro-war avenues of public opinion ranging from the Murdoch-owned British and American tabloids to the middlebrow Atlantic magazine, Financial Times, and The Washington Post (among many, many others) in order to drum up public opinion for Washington to enter the war.

The recent “Close the Sky” campaign to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine was but a small taste of the PR blitz that will come once accusations involving the deployment of  chemical weapons are made.

A question, then, that naturally arises is whether there is anyone in a position of influence in US President Joe Biden’s administration who is advocating for a negotiated settlement to the war rather than its prolongation.

One gets the sinking feeling that the answer is: “Probably not.”

That the war came during the course of a Democratic administration in the US can also be counted as a stroke of bad luck for the war’s non-combatants – as well as for advocates of a peaceful solution. 

After all, a brief history of the Cold War shows the Republican Party has traditionally been the party of detente: Under the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush I, relations with the Soviets were marked by a spirit of reciprocity, as well as by an awareness of the national interests of the opposing nuclear superpower.

On the other side of the aisle, it may be only a slight exaggeration to say that the Democrats have had the Russians in their sights since the afternoon of April 12, 1945.

Since the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, it has been the Truman Show all the way down. Since the end of the Second World War the Democratic Party has been dominated (with the occasional, if partial,  exceptions of the administrations of John Kennedy and Barack Obama) by anti-Soviet, anti-Russian ideologues.

FDR’s postwar vision – that of great-power concert and reciprocity – was immediately subverted by his successor.

Harry S Truman is now largely seen as a folksy, straight-shooting Midwesterner who saw out a successful end to the Second World War with the nuclear bombing of Japan; who then went toe-to-toe with Josef Stalin; bravely undertook the Korean War; helped to create NATO; and set the stage for, via the National Security Act of 1947 and the National Security Council Report 68 of 1950, the Cold War “victory” that was to follow some four decades after he left office.  

Yet closer examination of the historical record would suggest that many of his decisions were either unnecessary or, at worst, inimical to US national security. 

History is written by the victors. And since 1945, there have been no bigger winners in Washington than the members of what the writer Ray McGovern, an activist and former CIA briefer to president George H W Bush, has termed the MICIMATT, or Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex.

In the decades since beginning of the Cold War, the Truman policy of combining maximum confrontation with minimal diplomacy has gained the status of orthodoxy within the Democratic Party. The Rooseveltian ideal of great-power cooperation under the auspices of the UN Security Council never had a chance. 

Same for the US constitution. Truman’s tenure ushered in an era of “presidential wars,” that is, wars that are waged in the absence of a congressional declaration. As US constitutional law expert Bruce Fein has noted:

“Presidential wars began with president Truman’s Korean War, which he styled a ‘police action.’ But it involved more than 5 million US military personnel, 3 million Chinese soldiers, millions of North and South Korean soldiers, millions of casualties, and the risk of nuclear weapons.” 

In the years following, in conflicts as far afield as Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Panama, Serbia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and many more besides, US presidents have acted in violation of the constitution’s declare-war clause, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, which grants sole war-making power to the US Congress. 

Today, with the US constitution a dead letter and the progressive anti-war movement supine and voiceless, it’s the hawks who rule the roost in the Democratic Party.

This didn’t happen by accident; billions of dollars and the work of many years have gone into what they have built: A far-flung infrastructure made up of university-affiliated centers of international relations such as Belfer and Kennedy at Harvard; Hoover and Freeman Spogli at Stanford; Johns Hopkins SAIS in Washington; Columbia University’s SIPA; the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown; alongside government and corporate funded think-tanks such as Brookings, CSIS, Carnegie, the German Marshall Fund, and the Truman Center for National Policy, where, with precious few exceptions, the curricula, staff and programming reinforce the prevailing assumptions of the Democratic foreign-policy world.

It creates an atmosphere where the nostrums of American exceptionalism go largely unchallenged and where the most skilled climbers of the greasy Washington career pole get to rub shoulders with the most illustrious “formers” from prior US administrations. 

One of the most under-appreciated aspects of the current crop of high-ranking US officials and their counterparts in the media (many also trained and influenced by the aforementioned institutions) is the outsized role the events of the 1990s have played in the formation of their view of the world.

The leading political and academic figures of the so-called “unipolar moment,” Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Strobe Talbott, Francis Fukuyama, John Lewis Gaddis, Charles Hill, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Paul Wolfowitz among them, shaped the generation that now finds itself in power.

(One prominent exception is US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who is too young to count as a member of this coterie, but his boosters up the greasy pole were perhaps even worse: Senator Amy Klobuchar and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.)

What characterizes this group, which includes, prominently, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Blinken’s top deputies at Foggy Bottom, Victoria Nuland and Wendy Sherman, and the head administrator for USAID, Samantha Power?

Generally speaking they regretted Bill Clinton’s inaction in Rwanda as a shameful missed opportunity; they view US intervention against Serbia as a great success; they supported regime change and crippling sanctions against Iraq; and they view Russia’s Boris Yeltsin as Clinton did, as a kind of Russian Abraham Lincoln, and regret Russia’s post-1990s trajectory as a terrible deviation, rather than a reversion to the norm.

The younger generation, including Sullivan, his deputy Jon Finer and a host of other political appointees Sullivan recruited to the NSC from the MICIMATT revolving door, have been shaped by their experiences in the Obama administration and may have had, to one degree or another, a role in hyping, if not inventing, the Russiagate fiasco.  

As of now, it appears as though the Biden administration would like nothing more than to prolong the fighting, to bleed the Russians and to fight the war to the last Ukrainian. The risks of such a strategy are both obvious and contemptible: Prolonging the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis for ephemeral gains in a strategic backwater is the height of irresponsibility. 

In the meantime, competing centers of power and influence to counter the Democratic War Party are being built, both on the right and through innovative right-left alliances. 

Time will tell if they meet with any success.

James W Carden is a former adviser to the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the US Department of State. His articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Nation, The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, The Spectator, UnHerd, The National Interest, Quartz, the Los Angeles Times and American Affairs.