Get ready for the new cold war, which will no doubt turn hot if Hillary Clinton gets into the White House: NATO has just announced it is “considering” the addition of 4,000 more troops to be stationed in Poland and the Baltic states, i.e. right on Russia’s western border. The Washington Post helpfully informs us that this is being done “to deter future Russian aggression” – as if there’s any real possibility that Putin will order the Russian army to take Warsaw or march on Estonia.
What this is is another NATO provocation aimed at showing Putin who’s really in charge in the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence. They’re hoping the Russian leader will respond in kind. But he’s too smart for that: instead, Putin will retaliate in a different theater, perhaps in Syria or Armenia, where the fight with Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh is in full swing.
This latest move will bring the number of NATO troops staring at the Russkies across their western border to nearly 10,000, if we take into account the “Very High Readiness Joint Task Force” previously mobilized and the US troops already in Ukraine.
Imagine the outcry if 10,000 Russian soldiers suddenly arrived on the Rio Grande! Or in Cuba – we’d be witnessing a replay of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The US and Russia are coming dangerously close to an outright conflict: there have been two recent incidents. One where a Russian plane buzzed an American warship patrolling Baltic waters, and the other where a Russian jet intercepted a US reconnaissance plane headed at high speed for Russian airspace.
The buzzing of the warship was a foolish move on the part of the Russians, but even more foolish was the warning from John Kerry, who intoned: “Under the rules of engagement, that could have been a shoot-down, so people need to understand that this is serious business.” That’s nonsense: is any US commander going to issue orders to shoot down a Russian plane that is clearly not attacking? Of course not – unless that commander happens to be Gen. Wesley Clark, who has thankfully retired.
NATO is launching “Operation Atlantic Resolve,” which pours US arms into Europe: aircraft, tanks, and artillery are flowing into the region. Can the Russians be expected to stand idly by while the NATO alliance prepares for war?
Asked how the US should respond to Russian fly-bys, GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, in his usual contradictory and semi-coherent way, underscored both the stupidity of US policy and his own incoherence:
“Normally, an Obama, let’s say a president, because you want to make at least a call or two, but normally Obama would call up Putin and say, ‘Listen, do us a favor, don’t do that, get that maniac, just stop it.’ But we don’t have that kind of a president. He’s gonna be out playing golf or something.
“But I don’t know, at a certain point, you can’t take it. I mean, at a certain point, you have to do something that, you just can’t take that. That is not right. It’s against all, you know, when you talk about Geneva convention, there’s gotta be things that are against it. You can’t do that. That’s called taunting. But it should certainly start with diplomacy and it should start quickly with a phone call to Putin, wouldn’t you think?
“And if that doesn’t work out, I don’t know, you know, at a certain point, when that sucker comes by you, you gotta shoot. You gotta shoot. I mean, you gotta shoot. And it’s a shame. It’s a shame. It’s a total lack of respect for our country and it’s a total lack of respect for Obama. Which as you know, they don’t respect.”
So – which is it? Diplomacy, or “you gotta shoot”? With Trump, there’s no real way to know.
And that’s the whole problem with this nationalist impulse – it’s an impulse, insofar as Trump is concerned, and not a coherent ideology – it could go either way. Because on the other hand, Trump has repeatedly said he would make a real effort to “get along” with Putin: he has consistently stated his opposition to starting a new cold war with Russia. In Syria, Trump wants to let the Russians have a go at ISIS, which he sees as preferable to having us send in our own ground forces. And if we take his goal of détente with the Russians seriously, then under a Trump administration why would US warships and planes be in the Baltics anyway? In order to support NATO, which Trump says is “very obsolete”?
US relations with Russia are at an all-time post-cold war low. And there really is no reason why that should be so. We have vital strategic interests that are complementary to Russia’s – Washington and Moscow are fighting a worldwide Islamist insurgency that has visited terrorism on both countries. It is only our Bush era neoconservative foreign policy that has made Moscow out to be an enemy, and Trumpism is supposed to be breaking with all that.
And yet it will be hard, even if Trump does make it to the White House, to completely ditch the old GOP foreign policy orthodoxy, which will continually reassert itself in spite of everything: there’s too much money and prestige at stake, not to mention sheer force of habit.
America’s face-off with Russia is the most dangerous emerging conflict of them all: it augurs not only a new cold war, but a potentially very hot one in which nuclear weapons are the ultimate card. The US is now engaged in a very dangerous arms race with the Kremlin, in which the Obama administration is undertaking to “modernize” our nuclear weapons stockpile. It is dangerous because, a) nukes are inherently dangerous, and b) because “modernization” means miniaturization, a development that makes actually using nukes “thinkable” for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We don’t want to go down that road.
The very existence of the NATO alliance means that we have set up any number of tripwires that could end in a nuclear exchange. Not only on Russia’s eastern frontier, but on it’s southern flank, where our NATO ally Turkey has already shot down one Russian plane and is likely gunning for more. Recep Erdogan is an irrational despot who is seeking to stifle trouble at home – and no doubt looks forward to a conflict with Russia as a way to provoke a nationalist upsurge that would shore up his increasingly authoritarian regime.
Do we really want to risk war with Russia for Erdogan’s sake?
And then there’s Ukraine, where US “soft power” gave a hard kick and deposed the elected President: they’ve been a basket case ever since. Not only that, but they’ve been an obstreperous basket case, stubbornly refusing to rein in either their corrupt economic arrangements or their inclination to simply stamp out internal opposition. The West is in a lather because the authorities just banned the most popular television journalist in the country, but we didn’t hear a peep out of these guys when the Kiev regime first began cracking down on journalists like Ruslan Kotsaba, who is still in jail for making a video opposing Ukraine’s conscription law.
As I warned a year ago, Ukraine’s government has fallen into the hands of extreme nationalists who are out to turn the country into a dictatorship. The presence of neo-Nazis in the Kiev government signaled the rise of the Ukrainian ultra-right as a force to be reckoned with, and my prediction is coming all too true: the ascension of Andriy Parubiy, founder of the “Social Nationalist” Party of Ukraine – renamed Svoboda (“Freedom”) – to the post of Speaker of Parliament, and the resignation of the “moderate” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, shows what direction the country is headed.
That US troops are currently in Ukraine training and advising the army of a proto-fascist government – including the explicitly neo-Nazi Azov Brigade and others like it – is a moral obscenity. Yet this is where the launching of a new cold war against Russia has led us.
What is needed is a new US policy in the region, one that extends the hand of friendship to Russia, cuts off our free-riding European “allies” who refuse to pay their fair share of NATO’s costs, and puts American interests first. Turkey must be reined in, and given an ultimatum: stop supporting terrorism in Syria, lay off the Russians, and give up dreams of a “Greater Turkey” that endanger the peace and do nothing to help ordinary Turks live a decent life.
NATO is an alliance that has long since outlived whatever usefulness it may once have had. It is time to pull up this tripwire and tell the nations of Europe: you’re on your own! Trump says NATO is “obsolete,” but it’s far worse than that: it’s a danger to the peace of the world. The US should leave forthwith.
The last thing on earth we need is another cold war with the Russians: we’re $21 trillion in debt, and beset by enemies who want to destroy us right here on our home turf: the last time we won a decisive victory in war was when Eisenhower reached the Elbe.
It’s time for America to come home – to repair our decaying infrastructure, take care of our pressing social problems, and rebuild a nation deteriorating in every possible way.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN