Belmont Club

Is the Cold War Back?

“The nuclear gun is back on the table,” writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. “Both in private and in public, Russia is making explicit references to its nuclear arsenal”.  Speaking of the new tensions with Russia, Angela Merkel said, “who would have thought that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the end of the Cold War and the division of Europe, and the end of the division of the world into two blocs, that something like this could happen right in the heart of Europe.”

Anyone who thinks the East German population ended the Cold War is bound to be surprised that it’s started again.  The Cold War ended largely because the Soviet Union was unable to continue fighting it. “By the time the comparatively youthful Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary in 1985,  the Soviet economy was stagnant and faced a sharp fall in foreign currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in oil prices in the 1980s”.  In the evocative phrase of Le Carre’s novel, Russia House: “the American strategists can sleep in peace. Their nightmares cannot be realized. The Soviet knight is dying inside his armor. He is a secondary power like you British. He can start a war but cannot continue one and cannot win one. Believe me.”

Yet the bomb is back. Conflict is back. Putin warned that he won’t let the Ukraine defeat him. The Daily Beast says that the Eastern Ukraine is bracing for full-scale war. Some news outlets claim a lot of Russians are already dying in the Ukraine, shipped back secretly in trucks marked “Gruz 200”.

Families receive a soldier’s body for burial with information about the date of death, but nothing more — and the Russian government responds to questions by threatening to cut off death benefits or send family members to prison for national security violations.

The dying Russian knight, feeling no better than he did in the 1980s, has crawled back into his armor and picked up his rusty sword. Just as in Gorbachev’s time, Russia’s ruble is crashing, demolished by a rising dollar and falling oil prices — ironically caused by the domestic energy revolution in the United States which the Obama administration had no use for.

Jack Caravelli, formerly of the CIA, morosely concludes that “an era of unprecedented nuclear cooperation between the Cold War rivals is drawing to a close. Early this month Sergey Kirienko, who runs Russia’s state nuclear company, announced that in 2015 no new nuclear projects involving U.S. participation are ‘envisioned.'”

The Western Europeans are baffled.  MSN reports that “Europe, facing multiple threats, still isn’t spending on defense.” They can’t get their heads around the problem.

Donetsk is smack in the middle of Eastern Europe. Kobani is just beyond Europe’s southeastern edge, and thousands of radical fighters there come from Europe. The two hot spots span what military experts call the full spectrum of modern warfare, from the traditional Russian force to the far-too-common asymmetric threat of the terrorist Islamic State. Both represent very real and serious threats to European security.

Yet European militaries aren’t prepared to deal with either one, much less both. European security remains dependent on the might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and NATO increasingly is dependent on the might of the United States. The European nations NATO was set up to defend contribute less and less to the organization.

Nor can the president. A poll among government workers found that “the Obama administration has no strategy for ISIS, the Pentagon is not leaving enough troops to protect Afghanistan and Congress isn’t qualified to keep watch over the military and intelligence services, according to survey of federal workers and troops at the Pentagon, and other national security agencies.”

In fact, political dysfunction ranks ahead of “international terrorism,” “a nuclear armed Iran,” and Russia, China and North Korea, in the minds of these respondents.

The list of mistrust in government leadership is long. Seventy-three percent think Obama does not have “a clear national security strategy.” Not just an ISIS strategy – but a strategy for all national security. Only 26 percent approve of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And 20 percent of federal workers and troops surveyed think members of Congress are qualified to perform their oversight duties for national security.

There’s no mystery to why the Cold War has restarted. Nobody’s minding the store. Obama is holed up in his little mental bunker listening to the soothsayers whispering in his ear.

Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, two former directors of the CIA and Defense Department, on Saturday criticized President Barack Obama’s “micromanagement” of the military.

“For the past 25 to 30 years, there has been a centralization of power in the White House,” Panetta said during a panel discussion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

“Because of that centralization of authority at the White House, there are too few voices that are being heard.”

Without naming the Obama administration, Panetta said that “by the time you get to the White House, the staff has already decided” what should be done.

And the staff would be who? It would seem they’re not doing too well. The Washington Post says “president Obama needs to fix his flawed Islamic State strategy.” But Richard Spencer of the Telegraph says, don’t bother. His strategy has “already failed”.

To say that Mr Obama might actually have been better off without declaring a Syria strategy is no joke. It clearly made things worse. Shortly after, he began bombing both Isil and a subset of Jabhat Al-Nusra said to be plotting against the West. While some recent strikes have succeeded in slowing the advance on Kobane, most have merely reminded non-regime Syrians of one thing – that bombardment of their towns and villages by the regime was how this all started in the first place.

The United States has, in short, managed to unite the Syrian people behind two of the most grotesque extremist organisations of modern times. That is quite an achievement.

Jason Campbell, a RAND analyst recently sent to Afghanistan to write a report on the situation asks, “what’s the plan? … Despite the stakes involved, the message those in Afghanistan are receiving from the United States is, “We’re leaving in two years.” This guidance, along with the plan to halve troop levels after 2015, is not based on a thorough assessment nor is it supported by those on the ground dealing with these issues on a daily basis. It promotes hedging among Afghans and needlessly deprives ISAF leadership of strategic flexibility necessary to be effective in such a dynamic environment.”

What’s the plan? The New York Times reports that deaths linked to terrorism are up 60 percent. ISIS has opened a recruiting office in Pakistan — led by a man released from Guantanamo.

But the president must have a plan. He’s scheduled to announce “immigration reform” in Las Vegas, according to the Washington Post. He openly upbraided Tony Abbot over Global Warming. “President Obama over the weekend made a bizarre decision to attack and damage his closest ally in Asia, and one of the most committed supporters of U.S. foreign policy.” He’s even announced a review of US policy governing hostage negotiations of Americans taken by terrorists.

“As a result of the increased frequency of hostage-taking of Americans overseas, and the recognition of the dynamic threat posed by specific terrorist groups, the President recently directed a comprehensive review of the U.S. Government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases, with specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies,” Christine Wormuth, the undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in a Nov. 11 letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., obtained by ABC News today.

Maybe we just don’t understand what the president is doing because he is playing too deep a game. Forward Progressives writes:

A few years back I worked with a guy who was probably a genius. In fact, he often struggled in life interacting with people because his brain simply performed at a higher level than the average person. I remember asking him what his biggest belief was in making life decisions and he always, without fail, told me “think of the bigger picture.” And while I’ve always tried to be a big picture thinker, knowing him when I did helped me understand it a little better. …

Which brings me to President Obama. While I’m not calling him a genius, I do think he’s extremely intelligent. I also believe that his tendency to use “big picture” thinking while drafting policy is something most Republican voters simply can’t understand. …

When it comes right down to it, I really do believe a huge part about why so many of the non-racist Republicans are against President Obama is because many of them are simply unable to grasp his “big picture” thinking that drives a lot of his policies. That requires intelligence and far too many conservative would rather just be told what to think by Fox News. They want their policies to be so simplified and catchy that they fit on bumper stickers.

I sure hope he’s right, but maybe it’s parody. It’s hard to tell these days. In the meantime the Atlantic Council urges us to prepare for a “near-nuclear Iran”.  Nobody’s saying the Cold War is back, but we’re sure acting like it. Nukes are back on the table. The National Interest has a special article on THAAD. It’s almost like someone was expecting trouble.

THAAD is a key element of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and is designed to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers and critical infrastructure against short-thru-medium-range ballistic missiles. THAAD has a unique capability to destroy threats in both the endo- and exo-atmosphere using proven hit-to-kill (kinetic energy) lethality. THAAD is effective against all types of ballistic-missile warheads, especially including Weapons of Mass Destruction (chemical, nuclear or biological) payloads. THAAD was specifically designed to counter mass raids with its high firepower (up to 72 Interceptors per battery), capable organic radar and powerful battle manager/fire control capability. THAAD is interoperable with other BMDS elements, working in concert with Patriot/PAC-3, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, forward based sensors, and C2BMC (Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications System) to maximize integrated air and missile defense capabilities. THAAD is mobile and rapidly deployable, which provides warfighters with greater flexibility to adapt to changing threat situations around the globe.

You can have a good time Las Vegas with something like that. But if we’re going back to the Cold War, maybe it’s time to review things from the beginning. From my old alma mater, Nuclear Weapons 101.

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