For the West, everything changed but stayed the same, hard-wired and in place. Things just lay dormant in the shadows during the Yeltsin years, certain to reemerge once a more resolute Russian leader took over. If not Vladimir Putin, someone else little different.
Russia is back, proud and reassertive, and not about to roll over for America. Especially in Eurasia. For Washington, it’s back to the future, the new Cold War, and reinventing the Evil Empire, but this time for greater stakes and with much larger threats to world peace. Conservatives lost their influence. Neocons are weakened but still dominant. The Israeli Lobby and Christian Right drive them. Conflict is preferred over diplomacy, and most Democrats go along to look tough on “terrorism.” Notably their standard-bearer, vying with McCain to be toughest.
Ten former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Republics are part of NATO: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition, Georgia and Ukraine seek membership. Russia is strongly opposed. And now for greater reason after Poland (on August 20) formally agreed to allow offensive US “interceptor missiles” on its soil. A reported 96 short-range Patriot ones also plus a permanent garrison of US troops – 110 transfered from Germany, according to some accounts. Likely more to follow. In addition, Washington agreed to defend Poland whether or not it joins NATO, so that heightens tensions further.
The Warsaw signing followed the Czech Republic’s April willingness to install “advanced tracking missile defense radar” by 2012. In both instances, Russia strongly objected, and on August 20 said it will “react (and) not only through diplomatic protests.” Both former Warsaw Pact countries are now targets. The threat of nuclear war is heightened. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock heads closer to midnight – meaning “catastrophic destruction.” It’s no joking matter.
The US media downplays the threat and hails a pact Zbigniew Brzezinski (a Polish national, former Carter National Security Advisor, and key Obama foreign policy strategist) calls a watershed in the two countries’ relationship – “This changes the strategic relationship between the US and Poland. There is a clear and explicit understanding that if there are negative consequences of stationing the missile shield, the US will come to Poland’s defense.”
On the one hand, a surprising statement from a man critical of Bush administration policies, its failure in Iraq, and the dangers of a widened Middle East war. He fully understands the heightened potential for world conflict but sounds dismissive of the threat. On the other hand, he has bigger fish to fry and apparently willing to wage big stakes on winning. The Iraq war and Iran are distractions by his calculus. The real Great Game embraces all Eurasia and assuring America comes out dominant – not Russia, not China, nor any rival US alliance.
The major media also downplay the dangers and explain nothing about the high stakes. Instead they beat up on Russia and highlight comments from Secretary Rice that missiles aren’t “aimed in any way at Russia,” or White House spokesperson Dana Perino saying: “In no way is the president’s plan for missile defense aimed at Russia. (It’s to) protect our European allies from any rogue threats” that suggests Iran, but, clearly means Russia, according to Hauke Ritz’s recent analysis in Germany’s influential Leaves for German and International Politics journal.
He explained that Iran’s missiles can’t reach Europe, and that Washington rejected Russia’s proposed Azerbaijan-based joint US-Russian anti-missile system – to intercept and destroy Iranian missiles on launch. He thus concluded that Washington’s scheme is for offense, not defense. That it targets Russia, not Iran, with Alaskan and other installations close to Russia as further proof. He wrote: “The strategic significance of the system consists of intercepting those few dozen missiles Moscow (can launch) following a first strike. (It’s) a crucial element….to develop a nuclear first strike capacity against Russia. The original plan is for….ten interceptor missiles in Poland. But once….established, their number could be easily increased.”
According to Ritz, Washington wants a missile system that “guarantee(s a) US (edge) to carry out nuclear war without (risking a) counter-strike.” It can then be used for geopolitical advantage “to implement national interests,” but it highlights the dangers of possible nuclear confrontation and the catastrophic fallout if it happens.
In an August 20 Veterans of Foreign Wars convention address, Bush was essentially on this theme in focusing on “terrorism” and saying: “We’re at war against determined enemies, and we must not rest until that war is won.” Georgia “stands for freedom around the world, now the world must stand for freedom in Georgia” – clearly linking Russia’s response with “terrorism” and suggesting from his September 2001 address to a joint session of Congress and the America people that: “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Any that are “will be regarded….as a hostile state.” Clearly, Russia is on his mind just as Moscow is carefully evaluating his threat.
The BBC echoed the US media, covers all the bases, mentioned the Iranian threat, singles out Russia, obfuscates facts about the conflict, sides with Washington and Poland on the new missile deal, and quoted Polish President Lech Kaczynski saying: “no one (with) good intentions towards us and (the West) should” fear the missiles. It also cited a miraculous turnaround in sentiment saying two-thirds of Poles now favor them. Astonishing since overwhelming opposition was recently evident, so it’s hard imagining it shifted so fast.
High-Octane Russia Bashing – The Dominant US Media
The Wall Street Journal asserted that Poles “see the US as their strongest ally” given “two centuries of invasions and partitioning by Russia” and other European powers. It also highlighted Russia’s “nuclear threat” (not Iran’s) in a Gabriel Schoenfeld article painting Russia as an aggressor and America aiding its European allies.
Schoenfeld (a senior editor of the hawkish, pro-Israeli Commentary magazine) cites “Moscow’s willingness to crush Georgia with overwhelming force (and claims) the Kremlin has 10 times as many tactical (short-range) warheads as the US.” The “shift in the nuclear imbalance….helped embolden the bear.” He ignores America’s overall nuclear superiority, but it hardly matters as both countries combined have around 97% of these weapons (an estimated 27,000 world total) according to experts like Helen Caldicott – more than enough to destroy the planet many times over.
Nonetheless, Schoenfeld supports the Polish agreement in the face of a “pugnacious Russia (determined to acquire) economic and military power (and) not afraid to use threats and force to get (its) way (with) nuclear weapons central to the Russian geopolitical calculus.” It’s reminiscent of “the dark days of communist yore (and captures the threat of what) we and Russia’s neighbors are up against.”
For the moment, anti-Iranian rhetoric has subsided with Russia the new dominant villian. En route to the NATO Brussels August 18 meeting, Secretary Rice called Russia’s action against Georgia a “very dangerous game and perhaps one the Russians want to reconsider.” Russian “aggression” is the buzzword, and the media dutifully trumpet it.
So do the presidential candidates. John McCain was especially belligerent in denouncing “Russian aggression” and calling on Moscow to “immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.” He called for emergency Security Council and NATO meetings in hopes condemnation would follow and “NATO (can act) to stabiliz(e) this very dangerous situation.” He also wants Russia expelled from the G-8 nations and an end to 10 years of partnership and cooperation.
Barak Obama first said that Russia’s “aggression” must not stand and denounced “Russian atrocities.” He then softened his tone somewhat with: “Now is the time for action – not just words….Russia must halt its violation of Georgian airspace and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia, with international monitors to verify that these obligations are met.” But expect those comments to harden as Democrats meet in Denver, and the party’s nominee will likely match his opponent’s tough stance. Or at least try under a slogan of “Securing America’s Future” to advance the nation’s interests in the world. Beating up on Russia is now fair game and made easier with lockstep media support.
The Wall Street Journal is more hostile than most, and practically frothed in its August 16 – 17