The Return Of Cold War Era Brinkmanship

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 When President Ronald Reagan called on the leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev on June 12, 1987, to tear down the Berlin Wall, it took two and half years for his challenge to become reality.

The first mistake of the West occurred soon after, when they claimed victory over the Soviet Union and the cold war ‘without firing a shot.’ The gloating did not end there. Russia was treated with so much disdain that it was obvious a reaction would be inevitable. They weathered political, economic and social storms much to the glee of the watching Western world. Russia saw its interests and spheres of influence trampled upon. They were humiliated in the Balkans. Ignored in the United Nations when America put together a ‘coalition of the willing’ to attack Iraq.  NATO’s advance eastwards was reckless. Russia waited, bidding its time. If the first cold war ended without a shot, the second one may well have stated with volleys.


Then they set a trap in Georgia. When you set a trap with a goat, your target will be a lion. When they sprung the trap, its ultimate target, the United States fell in, trapped, vulnerable and mistake prone. With coffers full of petrodollars and a carefully laid plan, Russia rolled into Georgia to ‘defend’ its citizens from Georgian attacks. Today, a new wall, as obvious as the Berlin Wall that came down almost nineteen years ago is rising in the minds of Westerners


In the wake of his monumental blunder, fuelled by a false reading of potential reaction from Russia and its allies led by the United States, Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili made matters worst by his televised vitriolic verbal attacks on Russia and its leadership. His outbursts and the fact that no one in the West has publicly condemned his military attacks into South Ossetia did not go down well with Russia, who quickly branded him a war criminal.


Does America that is so protective of its spheres of territorial, economic, military and political influence think they could do as they pleased in Russia’s back yard and not pay a humiliating price as they have done before the whole world, appearing as impotent, overstretched and unreliable, a warning to others lining up to be America’s allies in NATO? Will America be willing to defend nations as reckless as Georgia whose centuries old animosity with Russia remains a tinder box? The First World War was started by similar baggage and animosities, and spread rapidly because of unwieldy alliances.


Apart from the much touted western education President Saakashvili of Georgia has, what else will he bring to the NATO alliance?  One thing is sure, if the first shots of the second cold war were fired in Georgia, he will be remembered as the man who fired them and exposed America as over extended, ineffective and totally lacking in the moral standards she expects Russia to follow.


America raised regime change to the level of state craft when they went to war against a sovereign nation, Iraq on the bases of a lie that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were an imminent danger to the West. The missile shield that has now put Poland and Czech Republics on the front line may well turn out to be the exploitation of the fear factor similar to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It is not too late for Poland and the Czech Republic to wisely back out before they become sacrificial lambs. America will not come to their help should Russia attack, not because they do not want to but because they can not and Russia knows it. As Winston Churchill once said, Russia has no respect for weakness, especially military weakness. They have exposed and exploited America’s overstretched military position and reduced her posturing to blustering. It is a needless public shame. But then Russia is paying back what she endured for years.


The question on every ones lips now is what will Russia do next? Their neighbours are suitably alarmed and shaken and none will dare to blink wrong. Just as America invaded Grenada under the pretext of stopping Soviet-Cuban militarization of the region and rescuing of American students, Russia has hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of Russians living in each nation of the former Soviet Republics. Each ethnic Russian is now sufficient reason to invade. Russia is evidently saying to the United States ‘let the one without sin cast the first stone.’ As far as the Russians are concerned, using the American doctrine, there is no difference between Georgia’s Saakashvili and Saddam Hussein and would like nothing better than applying the fate of Saddam to Saakashvili.


This crisis has played into the hands of John McCain who long before it, had called for G8 to revert to G7 by throwing Russia out. He was quick to shoot from the hips, indicating that it was his experience that made it possible for him to long foresee the danger posed by Russia, unlike his less experienced rival Barack Obama. As this hostility crystallizes into a deep freeze, it is scary to imagine President McCain’s approach to Russia. There are suggestions that America engineered the Georgian blunder to create the image of an unsafe world with a dangerous bear on the loose, adding to worries of terrorists, needing an experienced and fearless president in the mould of John McCain.


It is time for Russia to pull back from the brink because its message is more than abundantly clear. Its repeated failure to honour the terms of the ceasefire and pullout plan will play into the hands of hawks who remember the ways of the old Soviet Union. During and after the Second World War, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin became an impossible ally, refusing to honour agreements reached with Winston Churchill and F. D Roosevelt and later Harry Truman. It was their erratic behaviour that led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation –NATO in 1949, as a collective military defence umbrella, designed to take on the Soviet Red Army that had refused to pull back to agreed positions after the war. Winston Churchill in particular repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by the USSR during which he said in a speech in 1946 that an ‘Iron Curtain’ had descended over Europe. Today NATO eastward frontiers are right on Russia’s border, a long retreat from East Berlin. Whether Russia says so or not, this east ward advance provided the trigger for this current impasse.


While McCain’s early warning of Russia may cast him in the mould of Churchill, his posturing is not consistent with the diplomatic finesse required in the 21st century. Russia deserves respect and has demanded it. They look determined to get it and they will get it because their opponents cannot stop them. If the world would not respect them, they will force those in their back yard to do so, militarily if need be, as they have ruthlessly proved with Georgia.  


What price will Russia pay that will not affect the whole world? America paid the first price when its blustering became obvious as nothing short of diplomatic noise making. Russia’s price will be subtle isolation because the West needs its daily output of more than 9 million barrels of oil, which they could divert to China and India without losing revenue.


The real loser is the United States who wants others to live by standards they are not ready to respect. America will continue to have problems as long as they have made it their business to mould the world in their own image, an image that many nations and cultures find repulsive and offensive.  During the Atlanta Olympic Games twelve years ago, the United States uncharacteristically lost the 100 metres gold medal to Donovan Bailey of Canada who set a new world record. America’s Michael Johnson had created two new world records in the 200m and 400m races.


Then out of no where, the American press decided that the world’s fastest man was no longer the customary winner of the 100m race but 200m, making in their collective judgement Michael Johnson and not Donovan Bailey  of Canada the fastest man in the world. An infuriated Donovan Bailey agreed to run against Johnson to settle the farce once and for all. A 150m race was agreed. On the appointed day, before a world wide audience, Michael Johnson facing imminent defeat chickened out midway into the race. Do not be surprised if Americans decide that the fastest man in the world this Olympic year is the American who won the 400m gold, and not the Jamaican Bolt of Lightening who created a new 100m record. This double standard is what the world hates about America. This ‘America is always right’ attitude is annoyingly replicated by the government of the United States.


Russia has refused to cooperate with those who want to humiliate her. They have drawn a line in the sand and have left no one in doubt as to their position. If America will condone Russian meddling in Cuba, their outcry is justified, if not, Russia is justified. In order not to make matters worst, it is time to start talking to each other with respect and pull back from the brink. Those who think it is not possible for a much bigger war to start should think again. Wars have started by miscalculations, mistakes or madness. No one, least of all the man who started all, President Saakashvili should rule any of these out. The US and Russia have enough nuclear weapons to make the rubble bounce twice, in what is known in military terms as mutually assured destruction -MAD. The ultimate losers will be the world. It is not late yet and the man cut out to calm nerves and massage damaged egos on both sides through quiet diplomacy is, in my opinion Tony Blair. He can save the world unnecessary tension and dismantle the new walls rising in the minds of leaders on both sides of the divide.

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