Dangerous Games: Western Militaries on the Doorsteps of Russia and China

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Last spring the hoopla about Russia invading Ukraine died an ignominious death when nothing happened. This autumn, the latest Russia-will-invade boogeyman was already on life-support when the pro-western Ukrainian president decided to goose it November 26 with the breathless proclamation that Moscow intended to overthrow him “next week.” When that didn’t happen, on December 4, the Washington Post hyperventilated about Russia igniting a war, like, any day, in an anonymously sourced piece of exemplary CIA stenography, worthy of the fantasies published in the run-up to the U.S. 2003 invasion of Iraq.

So Russia hesitates and the U.S. screams. What else is new? Don’t get me wrong: NATO and the U.S.’s idiotic brinksmanship on Russia’s borders could yet cause real damage. But wild-eyed speculation about the Kremlin’s intentions has so far run aground on Russia’s apparent reluctance to engage in a shooting war that could spiral into a full-on nuclear holocaust.

In early November CIA chief William Burns trekked to the Kremlin amid worries about a Russian troop buildup. As if Russia can’t move its military around      WITHIN ITS OWN BORDERS without catapulting the west to high alert. If the U.S. shifted troops to the Mexican border – which was a real possibility not too long ago, given the so-called migrant crisis and right-wing hysteria about it – it would not tolerate for one instant queries or commentary about this from ANY foreign government, even Mexico itself.  But Russia is one of the Great Game enemies du jour in Washington, and so we have the likes of director of national intelligence Avril Haines jetting off to Brussels to pow-wow with Europeans about Russia’s nefarious designs. Meanwhile, Russia’s complaints about a gigantic Ukrainian military build-up in the east go almost unnoticed in the U.S. press, where most reporters sagaciously avoid facts they know their employers won’t print.

Then on November 23 came the really bad news: “The Biden administration is weighing sending military advisers and new equipment including weaponry to Ukraine,” CNN reported. Nothing good will come of this. American advisors apparently have been in Ukraine, but with a corporate/pentagon mouthpiece like CNN announcing it, clearly the gloves are coming off. Even worse, all we need is the wounding or death of one American military adviser and the Dr. Strangeloves in the pentagon will have their chance at a nuclear assault on Russia. The nature of such a catastrophe needs no explaining to anyone over the age of eight.

We can always hope that this blather about war with Russia – and also China – is just the usual military industrial complex propaganda and hype to get more money for useless but wildly expensive weapons systems. That’s ordinarily what it is. And the military industrial complex has been at this shake-down so long – over 70 years – that it’s honed its stratagems for more moolah to an art form. It really doesn’t need to. All it has to do is tell congress to fork over the cash and congress will comply. But I guess these military types figure they’ve got to keep all the bases covered, so the American public – and the world – is being treated, yet again, to rumble after rumble of ominous thunder about war.

A propaganda blitz in and of itself wouldn’t be so bad. Because there is, after all, no way out of paying these military extortionists tons of money. Everyone who’s looked into it agrees: the vampiric military industrial complex’s massive transfusions of cash from the American people it’s bleeding dry are a matter best considered, as Spinoza would say, sub specie aeternitatis: They are eternally true and go on forever. We pay. Our children pay, and our children’s children will pay to keep the American armory chock-a-block with the latest gadgets that don’t work, like the F-35 fighter jet. But better that, I suppose, than actually using these things. Because what if they didn’t malfunction and actually performed?

So that’s the optimistic view. The pessimistic one is that war in fact will break out sooner rather than later and not just in Ukraine but in Taiwan as well. Now the U.S. military has war-gamed such a conflict with China 18 times and 18 times the U.S. lost. So clearly, your pessimist will tell you, war there is a go. If and when the U.S. loses, Americans could all probably live with that – after all, we lived with it in Vietnam, Afghanistan and pretty much in Iraq – but there’s always the sticky little problem of nuclear weapons. China has them, after all, and so does the U.S. So I guess we’ll be lucky if the U.S. merely loses and retreats.

Travel a few steps further from the pessimistic terrain to the very bleak, fatalistic one and you bump into the prediction that things will spiral out of control into nuclear Armageddon and we’ll all wind up glowing in the dark. That is, if we continue to exist at all. Which is doubtful.

How likely is doomsday? Well back to Ukraine, regarding which, on December 1, Russian President Putin asked the west for legal guarantees that it would cease eastward expansion. This request, made because Washington’s word is worthless (vide just for starters, the Iran nuclear pact, and President George H.W. Bush’s promise that NATO would never, ho, ho, expand to Russia’s borders) and met with scoffs by the white house, comes amid complicated tensions. The Kiev military recently claimed it used Turkish attack drones “in combat against ethnic Russian rebels,” Finian Cunningham reported October 28 in Information Clearing House. This is not good. Turkey is in NATO. If Turkey gets tangled up in the Ukraine imbroglio, that substantially escalates things.

According to Anatol Lieven in Responsible Statecraft on November 24, “Moscow is especially alarmed by Ukraine’s acquisition of Turkish Bayraktar combat drones,” used to such deadly effect by Azerbaijan in its 2020 conquest of Armenian territory. Unlike the F-35, these things actually work. Worse, Cunningham reports that “American, British and Canadian military advisors…have carried out training missions with UAF combat units.” Now the Kremlin has warned that “NATO’s support to the Kiev regime was posing a direct threat to Russia’s national security.” That’s called drawing a red line. In fact, on December 2, Putin called NATO deployment of troops to Ukraine exactly that, a red line. Will the U.S. and NATO be stupid enough to cross it? If so, now would be a good time to invest in a bomb shelter.

Such investment prospects bounced up on December 4, thanks to Joe “I Don’t Accept Anybody’s Red Lines on Ukraine,” Biden.

On the bright side, Biden and Putin talked by video-phone on December 7. Though little came of it besides Biden warning that the U.S. would attempt to destroy Russia economically if Russia doesn’t move its troops away from Ukraine’s borders – now we’re telling Russians where, within their own country, they can place their troops – it’s the thought that counts, the thought being, “we will break you, if you don’t do what we want, but we won’t put our hands on you.” How’s that for diplomacy? Bye the way, Biden might want to inform the U.S. military and media of this non-violent promise, because they’ve been acting like they didn’t get the memo.

Remember, all this hysteria comes solely as a result of anonymous media sources claiming Moscow plans to invade Ukraine. Russia has threatened no such thing, as RT reporter Bryan MacDonald tweeted. The Washington Post decided to inflame things more with its deliberately inaccurate headline: “Biden Threatens Putin with Economic Sanctions if He Further Invades Ukraine.” That literally says that Russia invaded Ukraine and must not go any further. No such invasion has yet taken place. The WaPo headline throws fuel on the fire it – credit where credit is due – singlehandedly lit.

The other red line – hopefully Biden stays mum about this one – is Taiwan. China has announced repeatedly, over decades, that it regards Taiwan as a break-away territory that must be reunited with the mainland. This is called the One China policy, which, for almost 50 years, since Richard Nixon’s reign (he’s looking better by the day), the U.S. tacitly agreed to. No more. But China is willing to go to war over this. So China’s ready to fight a hot one over Taiwan and same with Russia over Ukraine. And what does the U.S. – a country that knows it can’t win either such brawl – allow its military to do? Rattle its sabers, swarm the seas with battleships and the coasts with reconnaissance planes and bellow it’s ready to attack. Brilliant.

But don’t put too much stock in bellicose American shrieks and howls. Because in addition to Biden’s promise to limit U.S. retaliation to economics, the U.S. military industrial vampire would vastly prefer that other people get their hands dirty for it – like its obsequious Pacific junior partner Australia and its ferociously aggressive NATO pal Turkey – while it goes about bilking the American people for another $770 billion to shower on weapons manufacturers for gizmos that barely even turn on, or that cost $35,000 per hour when they do manage to fly, like the F-35. Then, if the dust clears, and Ukraine, parts of Russia, Taiwan and parts of China are rubble, U.S. corporations can swoop in and rake up mega-bucks for reconstruction. It would be a great racket, if it weren’t for that nettlesome little matter of nuclear apocalypse.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Hope Deferred. She can be reached at her website.