Spheres of Influence

“The United States is steadfast in its commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize spheres of influence,’ [Hillary Clinton] said, referring to Russia’s claim that it has privileged interests and special influence in former Soviet states like Georgia.”

It is wrong to imagine that Hillary Rice (or is it Condi Clinton?) has no sense of humor, because it is hilarious to claim that “The United States does not recognize spheres of influence.”

Irrespective of the political leanings of its government, the United States maintains over 900 military bases around the world.  Its aircraft carriers and ‘Amphibious Ready Groups’ roam the oceans, loaded to the gunwales with nuclear weapons, strike aircraft and other hi-tech toys.  Its arrogantly-titled  Marine Expeditionary Units are ready to roar on to foreign shores to suppress whatever irritation might upset the mighty militarists in Washington. Even if the mid-terms had resulted in an overwhelming majority of Democrats in the House and Senate  there would have been no change in the way the United States flaunts and flourishes its military power.

There is a sphere of influence, all right – it’s called the world – and it’s dominated by American militarism, although from time to time there are regional embarrassments that show the Empire to be just a tad fallible.

Take Clinton’s Georgia, for example, on Russia’s southern border, due south of Moscow and 5,600 miles from Washington, where in August 2008 the US European Command conducted ‘Operation Immediate Response’. This involved 1,000 troops from the Southern European Task Force plus similar numbers from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines and the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, the latter, in a subtle psyops touch, being a National Guard unit from the US State of Georgia.  How sentimentally bonding, to be sure.

‘Immediate Response’ was a saber-rattling war game intended to show that the US supports Georgia against Russia.  So a few days after this blatant display of belligerence along Russia’s border, Georgia’s President Saakashvili ordered his troops to invade South Ossetia, a region that has been independent – like Georgia – since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but, unlike Georgia, aligned itself with neighboring Russia rather than far-distant America.

The US has about 180 military ‘advisers’ in Georgia, and a world-wide Intelligence apparatus of staggering size and expense, so it is difficult to believe that Washington could have been unaware of preparations for a Georgian military foray into South Ossetia.  And as anyone with knowledge of the region could have predicted, the Georgians were swiftly thumped by the Russians, who were waiting for them to do something stupid.

But there was no ‘Immediate Response’ from the mighty ally, which first sat on its hands and then wrung them in feeble frustration. There was either a comprehensive failure of Intelligence, in that the US was unaware of preparations going on directly under its supposedly all-sniffing nose, or there was amazing misreading of the situation, in that Washington believed that Russia would do nothing in response to the Georgian attack.  Either way, the outcome was humiliation for the saber-rattlers, but it didn’t have any impact on the world at large, because western media went along with the Washington line that Russia was entirely to blame for the conflict – and disguised or ignored the incompetent maneuvers of the Pentagon in its sphere of influence.

Washington fosters anti-Russian hostility in the former Soviet states by supporting political forces that are opposed to Moscow. (The human rights situation in Georgia is appalling, but this doesn’t stop Clinton declaring “We will stand with you”.)  The US government encouraged countries bordering Russia to join a US-commanded military club, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which, in addition  to menacing Russia, is engaged in the lunatic US-led war in far-off Afghanistan.

The US maintains enormous nuclear-armed forces in Europe, for which the purpose is hard to determine – unless they are intended for use against Russia – and encourages European nations to join its wars, although the vast majority of Europe’s population doesn’t want anything to do with America’s gung-ho blitzkriegs.  Remember that in 2003 a million people demonstrated in Britain against the impending Iraq debacle and that the French would have nothing to do with what they considered illegal aggression – and predicted correctly that it would be a catastrophe.  But some European governments must bow to the foreign dominator.

For example, cash-strapped Poland bought 48 enormously expensive F-16 strike aircraft in a deal for which there is no national defense requirement. The cost was US$3.5 billion, straight into the poverty-stricken hands of Lockheed.  The losers were the Polish people and the winners were Lockheed and the Pentagon, while Russia, which presents not the slightest threat to its neighbor – and is intent on increasing economic cooperation, as evidenced, for example, by the October 29 agreement about natural gas supplies  –  was given the message that the United States is determined to surround it with client states which are armed to the teeth with US-supplied weaponry – and with lots of US ‘advisers’ to help them use it.  In October there was an enormous month-long military exercise in Latvia, in the Adazi training area, called ‘Saber Strike’,  involving troops from America, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.  In the words of the US PR machine, “The Saber Strike exercise benefits each nation involved by improving interoperability between each nation’s military . . .    improving our joint operational capabilities, and strengthening our regional partnerships.”

The ‘interoperability’ is aimed directly at Russia, because the exercise “reflects the great strategic partnership and close relationship that the US Army has with each of the Baltic state militaries.”

If you were a Russian citizen, what would you make of that declaration about international strategy from the Pentagon?  Here we have a spokesman for the world’s largest military empire declaring that his army has a “strategic partnership” with three countries that are side-by-side along your border.  Would you feel that the United States of America wishes you well?  (You would also wonder just who runs American foreign policy,  the State Department or the Pentagon;  and you wouldn’t be alone there.)


Then on October 11 Defense Secretary Gates declared that “We have a presence in Asia. We border the Pacific Ocean. We have long-term interests here  . . .  I think all Asia can be confident that the United States intends to remain engaged in Asia as we have been for so many scores of years before and that we intend to be an active participant . . .  in defense and security matters.”

The deployment of US warships so close to China was justified by Clinton in that “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation . . .  and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”  Just like she had respect for freedom of navigation in the Mediterranean Sea when Israel’s armed forces violated international law by killing 9 unarmed people on board a protest ship, one of whom was an American citizen. Hillary’s deep-felt concern for freedom of movement in international waters didn’t surface (as it were) when Israel cracked the whip in its sphere of influence, which appears to include much of Washington.

So small wonder that Rear Admiral Yang Yi, until recently strategic studies’ professor at China’s National Defense University, replied to Gates’ comments by observing that the US “is engaging in an increasingly tight encirclement of China and constantly challenging China’s core interests.”

Unfortunately for the region – and the world – it is doing just that. And concurrently with menacing China from its bases in Japan and the Pacific, the US has encircled Russia and Iran, moving enormous numbers of  aircraft and soldiers into surrounding countries that are colonies in all but name.

The Obama administration may be aware that the worldwide threatening military presence of the United States causes resentment and hatred among those it seeks to influence – and many others, too – but, if so, it doesn’t intend in any way to diminish its global thrust.

Dozens of countries have reason to fear the impact of the Pentagon’s trampling bootprint, and the propaganda advantage to America’s enemies is incalculable.  And now with the Republicans in control of the House, and  predicting “victory” in Afghanistan, it can be expected that the Pentagon will carry on encircling. The sphere of influence might well become a ball of fire.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s website is www.beecluff.com


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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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