Last August with a chaotic evacuation by air of the last US troops in Afghanistan, President Biden effectively ended one of the country’s most embarrassing and pointlesswars, leaving that battered land fully in the control of the Taliban — the same dogged AK-toting Islamic fighters it had ousted from power two decades earlier, but never successfully defeated.
While there were critics who blamed Biden for the rapid collapse of the corrupt puppet regime the US had spent over two trillion dollars propping up — critics who wanted that longest US war to continue — most Americans breathed a sigh of relief that for the first time in a generation, the US, while still sending off Special Forces “kill teams” into countries like Syria, and with Biden promising to continue using remote drone strikes in “anti-terror” operations, was not engaged in an “actual war.”
Yet now, a scant five months later, the Biden White House has ordered 8500 US elite airborne troops onto “hightened alert” telling them to be prepared for rapid deployment to “front-line’ bases in countries bordering Russia, and by this Feb. 5 had already begun dispatching nearly 5000 of them. Biden and militarists in the National Security establishment, the Military-Industrial-Media-Think Tank “blob” and militarists in both parties in Congress meanwhile are all warning darkly of Russia’s “imminent” invasion of Ukraine. They are also warning of the need for the US to “stand firm’ against Russian ‘aggression.’” Most of their alarmist talking points could be lifted from speeches made by their forebears in the Cold War ‘50s.
Incredibly, even as the US is risking war with Russia, it is also aggressively dispatching US Navy vessels, including aircraft carriers and B-52 strategic nuclear bombers, to provocatively enter or traverse disputed waters and airspace in the South China Sea claimed by China. It’s also, for good measure, making threats against Iran, promising “serious consequences” if Iran seeks to go after those US leaders who ordered the 2020 drone assassination in Iraq of Gen. Kassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s military. As a number of war critics have pointed out, the US, with its powerful navy, including Tomahawk missile equipped destroyers and a least one aircraft carrier based off Iran and troops in place in countries bordering Iran like Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and UAE, as well as attack aircraft based in those countries and nearby in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
And as if that weren’t enough, the US, under President Biden, continues to view both Iran (with no nuclear weapons) and North Korea, with a tiny nuclear arsenal and no intercontinental missiles, to be “serious threats” to the US, even as Washington steadfastly refuses to rejoin the Iranian – US negotiated agreement to abate Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, and to end the state of war between itself and North Korea that dates all the way back to 1950.
That’s four potential wars and nuclear confrontations — all of them being deliberately stoked by the US.
What is going on here?
Even Ukraine’s President is asking the US to ‘cool it”
One clear indication that it’s the US creating this sense crisis is that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, probably the least corrupt president to run that country since it gained its independence with the break-up of the Soviet Union in August 1991, is calling on Biden and the US to dial back the rhetoric, warning that all the US bluster about an “imminent invasion” by over 100,000 Russian troops could “make things worse,” threatening an already struggling economy and potentially providing a pretext for a Russian invasion.
This tail-wagging-dog situation — The US claiming some existential threat inside a country whose own leaders don’t particularly view things with the same urgency — is sadly not that unusual. The US national security establishment, for example, has opposed efforts in recent years by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in to reach a treaty that would finally formally end the state of war that has existed between his country and the United States on one side and North Korea on the other for almost three-quarters of a century. The US apparently would prefer a continued threat from North Korea to a rapprochement and peace or even (heaven forfend!), reunification between North and South Korea. There are also some grounds to believe that the CIA, the US military and even perhaps President John F. Kennedy back in late 1963 ousted and murdered South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem because he was not adequately supportive of a US desire to escalate and expand US military involvement in the conflict with local Viet Cong guerrilla forces and Communist North Vietnam.
There are plenty of militarist nuts in Washington, but I doubt any sane leaders or experts in the nation’s capital — even in the Pentagon — actually want the US to go to war head-to-head against either Russia or China. Even China, with “just” 300 ICBMs, has enough nuclear-tipped missiles to decimate most major US cities.
My guess is that hubris-infected leaders in both the Republican and Democratic Parties, and the think-tank “experts” who make their money by pumping out “white papers” supporting whatever those leaders want to hear, still fantasize that the US is a military colossus able to dictate terms to rivals.
I shudder to find myself complimenting that serial war criminal Henry Kissinger, but he was at least savvy enough to realize the importance to US global political ambitions for President Richard Nixon to drive as big a wedge as possible between the two Communist states of the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Kissinger, with his realpolitik, understood it was a bad idea for the US to be at loggerheads with both those nations simultaneously.
Now, at a time when the US occupies a much less commanding position economically and militarily vis-a-vis both of those states than it did in the 1970s, such rational logic seems to be wholly missing. US policies under Biden (and Obama before him), are if anything driving China and Russia into an increasingly warm embrace — one which a Soviet diplomat recently described as “more than just a treaty of mutual defense.”
Nobody involved in making US foreign policy seems to be asking the important question: What countries, and what issues actually pose an existential threat to the US?
As a journalist who has lived in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and someone who has studied Russian history and lived in Europe, I would argue that the answer is: none.
Yet for some reason, even after Obama pulled most US troops out of Iraq and Biden pulled them out of Afghanistan, the US still has some 200,000 troops stationed abroad, most located in nine countries: Japan, Germany, South Korea, Kuwait, Italy, the UK, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Spain. There are lots more in places that are called US territories, like Guam and Puerto Rico, that have large numbers of US troops, and the US military is also based in places that don’t want them (at least the local people and sometimes the government too), like Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Okinawa, and the Philippines. Those overseas forces represent 11% of the 1.83 million men and women in uniform who constitute the second largest army in the world.
Alexander the Great and Gengis Khan would both have been in awe of he global reach of the US military.!
By comparison, China has 3 million personnel in uniform, but that figure’s a bit misleading, including as it does 625,000 paramilitary “police” used for domestic control. Chinese troops available for war-fighting number closer to 2.275 million, and almost none of them are based abroad, with only one foreign naval base in Djibouti. Russia, America’s other designated major “adversary,” has only 1.35 million troops, 250,000 of whom are also domestic paramilitaries. Again only some 30,000 Russian military personnel are stationed abroad on a regular basis, with overseas bases only in Syria and several former states of the former Soviet Union (Armenia, Belarus, Georia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstn, Moldova and Tajikistan). None of those bases is anywhere near the US, or even Western Europe.
Is Russia really a threat?
Does Russia threaten the US? Only if we were to attempt to attack it with nuclear weapons… or to try as we are now doing, to put nuclear weapons and delivery systems in frontline countries near Russia’s border, as Russia once tried to do to the US in Cuba in 1962 (in what proved to be a successful bid to get the US to remove nuclear-tipped Jupiter missiles targeting the USSR from Turkey and to promise not to invade Cuba).
The US is currently has a $1.5-trillion nuclear weapons modernization and upgrade program and a $100-billion plan for a new ICBM as well as new hypersonic missiles. It has a military budget that, at close to $800 billion annually, is larger today, adjusted for inflation, than at any time since the end of World War II. It justifies all this spending by claiming that the US is threatened. The new missiles and bombs, we’re told, are to deter a surprise attack by, and to stay ahead of, the Russians or Chinese. The 800 overseas bases, hundreds of ships and millions of troops in uniform are all justified as being needed to deter alleged Russian and Chinese expansionist plans.
But it’s difficult to imagine any of America’s “enemies” attempting a suicidal first-strike nuclear attack on the US. Nor is there evidence that either Russia or China has a goal of territorial expansion — as opposed to wanting a “sphere of influence” near their borders (as the US has long had in the Americas of two centuries courtesy of its very one-sided and self-proclaimed Monroe “Doctrine”).
While we’re mentioning history, it should be noted — because most people in the US are blissfully unaware of it — that the US has a long, wretched record of attacking Russia, China and North Korea, and of orchestrating a coup against the elected government of Iran and later encouraging Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to attack Iran.
Here’s another history lesson: Even as US soldiers were battling Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI, President Wilson dispatched 13,000 troops as part of an expeditionary force along with Britain, France and other European nations on the side of the Whites in the Soviet Civil War that followed the 1917 victory of the Russian Communist revolution and the Bolsheviks’ withdrawal from the war against Germany. In China, on multiple occasions during the mid to late-19th Century, US Marines and Navy troops and ships attacked Chinese forces “to protect American lives and interests.” Then in 1901 Washington sent troops to help European colonial powers put down the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion. Later, during the Korean war of 1950-53, North Korea and parts of South Korea were mercilessly carpet-bombed by US bombers from based in Japan. That bombing campaign was so extensive that US bombers eventually began dumping their entire unused bomb payloads into the Sea of Japan for safety before returning to land in Japan because they could find no more targets for them. Millions of Koreans were slaughtered in those bombings.
Memories of these US aggressions are long in all those countries, though they aren’t even mentioned in most US high schools history curricula.
Fevered dreams at the NSC and Pentagon
Tossing cold water on the fevered dreams of Pentagon and National Security Council strategists who claim Russia, China, Iran and even North Korea pose existential or at least serious threats to the US, journalist Andrew Cockburn, a Washington columnist for Harper’s magazine, says, “There isn’t the slightest indication that either Russia or China have any notion whatsoever of launching a nuclear attack on the US. It’s a completely ludicrous proposition and would not be worth even discussing were it not for the fact that the US has an ever-more elaborate (and expensive) nuclear weapons complex entirely dependent on the proposition that Russia or China, or North Korea or Iran, might launch such an attack.” He adds, “Recently we’ve seen scaremongering reports — obligingly reprinted by credulous journalists — that the Chinese have developed a hypersonic weapon so technically brilliant that it evades the laws of physics.”
Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a retired US Amy colonel and a Emeritus Professor of American foreign policy and military history at Boston University, for his part scoffs at assertions that Russia and China have aggressive expansive global military aspirations. He says that through decades of Cold War, the US “looked at everything Russia and China did as bad, and everything that we did as good.” As a result, he says, “We’re simply not willing to acknowledge that our adversaries have their own legitimate security concerns.” He says, “There is a history of Russian security being periodically violated. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin may be a thug, but it is reasonable for Russia to have a sphere of influence. We don’t allow anyone to mess around in our area.” His conclusion: “I don’t think Russia has a thought of attempting to take over Western Europe.”
Perhaps because their threat claims don’t resonate as they used to with the American people back in the scary days of the old Cold War, US security officials have taken to describing China’s “Belt and Road” program of building roads and high-speed rail links to Europe and the Middle East, and Russia’s construction of a nearly completed major undersea natural gas pipeline called Nord Stream linking Siberian gas to eager energy-hungry industries and homeowners in Germany, as “aggressive” acts. That’s quite a loaded charge to levy against what are actually brilliant commercial moves by both China and Russia to expand trade with the western part of the Eurasian continent.
The term “aggressive” in fact applies far better to the ongoing US embargo of Cuba (now entering its 60th year!) and more recently to US embargoes applied to Venezuela, particularly as both those embargoes make use of financial threats against companies — even some based in allies in Europe — that might consider violating them.
Dan Granger offers another perspective on US behavior. A former US Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and who now is a military analyst at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) in Washington, DC, says he doesn’t see either Russia or China, much less Iran and North Korea, as existential threats to the US.
“Take China,” he says. “All the evidence points to China’s military preparing to challenge the US, not globally, but near China. I don’t think they have any thoughts of dominating the globe, although the Pentagon saying they do is a perfect excuse for an $800-billion annual military budget.”
Look at America from the outside
Granger says the US’s new shift in focus back from Asia (China) to Russia is absurd and provocative. “If you go to the map and turn things around and view it from Russia’s position, they have every reason to look at the US as an aggressor. We’ve been pushing our military exercises in NATO countries right up to the Russian border! Imagine if the Russians were conducting military exercises south of Toronto or outside Tijuana! Americans would be going crazy! There’s very little mention of that in the US media.”
“In my view, one of the biggest security threats to the US is the amount of money that’s being wasted on our military. I’m not a disarmament advocate. We need to defend ourselves, but we don’t need to be fighting wars all over the globe.”
All that will accomplish, he suggests “Is that we bankrupt ourselves.”
The truth is that one Ohio-class Trident submarine, typically armed with 20 Trident missiles (range 7000 miles), each carrying four or five large independently targetable thermonuclear bombs of 300-450 kilotons in size (large enough to obliterate a city of 15 million people), has on its own sufficient deterrent power to destroy a country even as large as Russia. And the US has eight of these virtually undetectable subs, five of them always at sea, lurking silently around Russia and China.
Unmentioned is that US missiles like the Trident and the land-based Minuteman III, are both solid fuel rockets, meaning they can be launched in minutes, and that they are also designed to be insanely accurate — a costly capability whose only possible purpose would be for a first strike. This is because any critical targets like large troop concentrations, command centers like the Kremlin or China’s Zhong Nan Hai, airfields full of parked bombers, or missile silos holding warhead-tipped rockets ready to launch, would already be empty and useless as targets for US retaliation following a surprise attack by China or Russia. What the US has, then, is a nuclear force which, while certainly a formidable retaliatory arsenal, is actually designed to function even better as a devastating first-strike force.
Most Americans probably don’t know it, but the US has never, since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 when it demonstrated the point in Japan, had a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. In fact, the official US nuclear posture, laid out by each post-war president of the US beginning with Harry Truman, has consistently been that in a crisis, if nuclear war seems likely, the US will be the first, not the second, to use its atomic arsenal.
We are of course in Dr. Strangelovian territory here, since any such nuclear attack by any major nuclear power would be a world-ending event, blanketing the whole globe in deadly and long-lasting blanket of fallout, and also causing a nuclear winter that would resemble the extinction event that the Chikxulub asteroid strike near the Yucatan caused 65 million years ago. That’s when dinosaurs, after a 165-million-year run, were wiped out.
All of this breathless war talk, which includes endless warnings out of Washington, amplified in the US media, that Russia is “about to invade” Ukraine with the 100,000 Russian troops (an estimate since bumped up to 130,000) reported to be “massed” along Ukraine’s northern and eastern border with Russia and its ally Belarus, seems to be developing a life of its own.
Crazy in Alabama
Russia may not have the capability to challenge the US in distant parts of the globe with conventional forces, but operating in areas adjacent to their own borders, they would pose a huge challenge to any would-be US military threat. Moscow and Washington both know this, even if blowhard warmongers like Sen. Roger Wicker, the number-two Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are mindlessly suggesting that the US should “nuke” Russia if it attacks the Ukraine.
Wicker’s saying Biden should “leave nothing off the table,” seems seriously geographically challenged, even suggested that responding to any Russian military action in Ukraine ”could mean that we stand off with our ships in the Black Sea and we rain destruction on Russian military capability. It could mean that. It could mean we participate. It could mean American troops on the ground.”
Wicker, (whose combat experience in the Air Force was limited to the courtroom where he was a military attorney and judge before going into politics), must not realize that the Black Sea is as much a “Russian lake” as the Great Lakes are American (despite four of them being bounded also by Canada). The Black Sea is where Russia’s largest Naval base is located at Sebastopol, and is bounded on its northern coast by Belarus and on its eastern shore by Russia, which owns more than half the sea’s coastline, most of it, and the Belarus coast too, likely bristling with land-based anti-ship missile defenses. And with none of this smallish sea more than 250 miles from a Russian coastline, it’s hard to imagine how US ships could “stand off” to “rain” their “destruction” safe from Russian retaliation.
Such ignorant bluster would be like some Moscow Duma member proposing that Russia dispatch some missile-firing ships to the Gulf of Mexico or Cape Cod Bay to “rain destruction” on the US naval and air bases along the US coast.
Why is all this Washington war-mongering happening? Ukraine was given its independence in 1990 as part of the break-up of the Soviet Union. It only lost Crimea — where the Russian warm-water navy is based — following the US-backed coup that ousted elected pro-Russia Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. Following that coup (which the US reportedly spent $5 billion fomenting) and the assembling of a hand-picked US-selected fascist-led government, Kiev began threatening Crimea and launching a deadly civil war (cheered on and supported with arms aid and military training by the US) against the largely ethnic Russian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The US for decades has been pushing to get former Warsaw Pact nations like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the fragmented states formed from the former Czechoslovakia, and more recently former parts of the Soviet Union like the three Baltic states, Georgia and even Ukraine, to join NATO. This push brazenly broke a promise made by President Ronald Reagan and repeated by President H. W . Bush not to push NATO membership “one inch past” the eastern border of the reunified nation of Germany.
Taiwan meanwhile, currently led by the avowedly pro-independence Democratic Party, is being encouraged by the US to talk assertively, backed by more modern US jets and by provocative visits to the contested Taiwan Strait by US Navy vessels including aircraft carriers, which have also been encroaching in waters south of China claimed by Beijing.
Why is all this happening now? POGO’s Granger says, “I tend to think of this as being about money and budgets. The wars against Iraq and Afghanistan were a perfect excuse for big Pentagon budgets, but we don’t have anything like that going now. But talking about a war with China or Russia is another perfect excuse for such a budget.”
Cockburn goes even farther when it comes to the US military budget, which at $771 billion in 2021 was already larger than the combined military budgets of China, India, Russia, the UK, Saudia Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Australia combined . And don’t forget, all of those countries, with the exception of China, Russia and perhaps India, are allies of the US, meaning if anything their budgets should be added to the US total.
Says Cockburn, “If the US military was serious about protecting American security they would immediately cut the budget by at least half, and follow up with a further 50% cut soon after. That would help to eliminate the greed and corruption that currently drives our so-called ‘defense’ effort. The enormously elaborate strategic nuclear apparatus we currently maintain on the pretext that we must have a ‘launch under attack’ capability, could and should be dismantled as quickly as possible, since it is inherently dangerous. Such conventional weapons that we do develop and deploy should be rigorously tested before being put into production. Payments to politicians by defense contractors should be banned.”
He adds, “I don’t know how large a final figure would be” for a justifiable US military budget, “but it would be far smaller than the amount we currently piss away.”