February 27, 2009

The Russians are Coming…

In Charles Krauthammer’s dreams.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not afraid of the Russians. Sure, maybe for a while back in the Eighties; that Red Dawn was kind of freaky. But times have changed. Vladimir Putin may not be a very nice guy (he is, after all, a politician), but he doesn’t scare me, and he shouldn’t scare you.

Not surprisingly, he does seem to scare Charles Krauthammer, who warns of “brazen Russian provocations” in a recent column. Yes, you heard me right: “brazen Russian provocations.” Like we’re back in the 1960s with the Soviets installing missiles in Cuba. But Krauthammer, as far as I can tell, is serious, and he gives us a “long list” of these provocations:
(a) Pressuring Kyrgyzstan to shut down the U.S. air base in Manas, an absolutely crucial NATO conduit into Afghanistan.

(b) Announcing the formation of a "rapid reaction force" with six former Soviet republics, a regional Russian-led strike force meant to reassert Russian hegemony in the Muslim belt north of Afghanistan.

(c) Planning to establish a Black Sea naval base in Georgia's breakaway province of Abkhazia, conquered by Moscow last summer.

(d) Declaring Russia's intention to deploy offensive Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Poland and the Czech Republic go ahead with plans to station an American (anti-Iranian) missile defense system.
If you’re still unafraid, then congratulations, I’m proud of you. There are definitely things in this world worth fearing—pesticides, automobile accidents, a future Sarah Palin presidency—but the Russians? The Russians whose military budget is 1/20th that of the United States? The Russians? Oh, puh-lease. The Russians are not a threat, and they’re certainly not provoking us.

First of all, it’s not like Kyrgyzstan needed any encouragement to send the U.S. packing. Kyrgyzstan, let’s remember, has a long list of complaints against America, the most notable being the December 2006 killing of a Kyrgyz truck driver by U.S. airman Zachary Hatfield. Although the Kyryz prosecutor-general convicted Hatfield of first-degree murder, Hatfield invoked his diplomatic immunity and the U.S. quickly evacuated him from the country. For this and other reasons, it was undoubtedly with much relish that 78 of 81 Kyrgyz lawmakers voted against renewing the U.S. lease.

Regarding Russia’s plan to form an anti-terrorist force with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, let me just say one thing—all these countries are in frickin’ Asia![1] Does Krauthammer even know where frickin’ Asia is? Does he have any idea that frickin’ Asia is halfway around the frickin’ world? It’s not like Russia is entering into a military pact with, say, Canada and a host of South American countries. That would give us reason for concern. And that, I should point out, is pretty much what the United States has done to Russia.

Yes, I’m talking about NATO, which if you’ll remember is a military alliance established in the late 1940s to counter the Soviet Union. Even after the Cold War ended, NATO remained, and in violation of a promise made by the U.S. to Mikhail Gorbachev it has continued to expand eastward. Recently, the U.S. has even considered granting membership to Georgia and Ukraine.

I’ll concede that Russia’s anti-terrorist force probably has little to do with terrorism. But in light of NATO’s continual growth, I would hardly call it a provocation but instead a countermove, a response to what it understandably sees as Western aggression.

And so what if Russia is planning to build a naval base in Abkhazia? Again, how exactly does this threaten us? Who are we to talk? We with our thousand military bases throughout the world. We with our nearly 200,000 troops, armed with the world’s finest fighter jets and tanks, stationed in Russia’s backyard. Yet building a naval base in a tiny state that shares a border with Russia is an act of aggression?

And finally, I’m not sure if Krauthammer just missed the memo or what, but it turns out that Russia will not be installing missiles in Kaliningrad. As Krauthammer must surely know, its initial plan to install the missiles was made in response to George W. Bush’s announcement that an American “anti-missile system” was going up in Poland. (“Anti-missile system” is a misleading name, as such a “system” contains missiles that can be used either defensively or offensively; so it was for understandable reasons that Russia felt it needed a little “defense” of its own.) All along, President Medvedev told Bush that he would forgo installing missiles in Kaliningrad if Bush did the same in Poland. Yet, true to from, Bush never relented. Obama, however, has never committed to the missile system and it was for this reason, and as a goodwill gesture, that Russia decided to cancel its Kaliningrad plans.

Now if I know one thing about Charles Krauthammer it’s that he assumes the United States owns the world. Remember the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that all of the Americas were U.S. turf? Well Krauthammer and neocons like him believe that all of existence (save perhaps for a few far-off galaxies) belongs to the U.S. Needless to say, if this assumption is correct, then a case could be made that Russia’s recent actions are anti-Western provocations. For example, if we own the world, then they have no right—without our permission, that is—to build a naval base in Abkhazia. But I take it as a self-evident truth that the Untied States does not own the world. Yes, audacious of me—I know, I know.


[1] Belarus, I should point out, is technically in eastern Europe. But what can I say, “frickin’ Asia” sounded better than “frickin’ eastern Europe/frickin’ Asia.”

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