new cold wars

Ostend_rampart_defense.jpg
defense, like charity, used to begin at home


We might have enjoyed a golden age, but instead we have been condemned by small, stupid, and evil minds to bear the burden of a new, unspecific [hot and] cold war all over the world.

When the soviet regimes collapsed, as this excellent Craig S. Smith report in today's NYTimes sadly reminds us, we fumbled an extraordinary opportunity of a kind and on a scale never before offered to a civilization.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, as Soviet troops withdrew from Eastern Europe and America began to talk about closing bases in Germany, Europe looked as if it might become the big, peaceful, postmodern federation that European Union architects had long dreamed of: a humanist club where conflicts at home and abroad would be resolved by talking everything to death instead of killing.

Then the Balkans blew up and the United States military stepped in to stop a war that Europe seemed incapable of facing. That frustrated Russia, which supported Serbia in the war, but Russia could not offer much help because it was still impotent and staggering from the collapse of its Soviet empire.

Now Russia is rich with oil and gas and its military spending is soaring.

I have to add that the U.S. missed the even larger possibility fifteen years ago of helping all the people of the Russian federation to become full partners in that "humanist club" and to share in the security, prosperity and culture of a flourishing and vibrant civilization. It could have created a system which would offer to the greater world community a selfless beneficence and opportunities for indigenous development on a scale unimagined and certainly unprecedented. The most enlightened expectation and happiest consequence would have been seeing the character of the dominant culture itself peacefully re-shaped by the rich diversity of the peoples of a thriving globe.

Instead, we got George H. W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton and George W. Bush. We also got the incompetence and malignancy of Russian leadership, too many small-minded men and women in all European governments, some incredibly inept, even vile, leaders in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and powerless or indifferent populations almost everywhere. But it was up to America to lose the game.

And we did it big.

So far we've avoided nuclear annihilation, but we got a rogue Russia and a rogue U.S., a fake "war on terror", a religious war, a new economic imperialism battling its opponents all over the world, a renewed arms race and a "missile shield" (along with their truly prohibitive costs which empty every nation's social treasury), a cultural war, and finally, and almost certainly most fatally for us all, the predicted death of the planet itself, all remedies neglected or spurned because of the distractions of our other fratricidal frailties.

The Times article is ostensively about a specific U.S. program, but the first paragraphs tell us as much about what I've called "small, stupid, and evil minds" as it does about this administration's European "missile defense shield" program.

Much of Europe is arguing over a Washington proposal to plant in Poland fewer than a dozen antimissile missiles that might not work, to guard against an Iranian threat that may not exist.

The main party in Poland’s governing coalition is inclined to accept the deal, and the country’s president, Lech Kaczynski, known in Europe for his fierce conservatism and nationalist talk, has been invited to the White House in July to talk things over with President Bush.

The Czech Republic’s fragile government coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to negotiate placement of high-powered American tracking radar on its soil despite widespread local opposition. The radar, now in the Marshall Islands, would help guide the antimissile missiles from Poland to hit and destroy their fast-moving targets in outer space.

The European missile shield would be part of an integrated system that is already taking shape in California and Alaska, where the United States expects to deploy 30 long-range interceptors to guard against missile attack by the end of 2008.

Washington says the Eastern European system could act in time to protect most of Europe and all of the United States and even much of Russia from a nuclear attack by Iran, that is, if Iran ever developed or obtained nuclear weapons and rockets with a range long enough to reach those targets, as well as a desire to fire them. They don’t have those armaments now, but they might by 2015, the Bush administration says.

But the entire system is in fact a big, very costly joke.
The 10 interceptor missiles that Washington is proposing to put in Poland could hardly stop Russia’s hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the event of all-out war.

The American antimissile missiles will be placed too close to Russia to be of use against ICBMs fired from anywhere west of the Ural Mountains. If they work, though, the antimissile missiles in Alaska and California could stop a Russian ICBM fired in America’s direction from east of the Urals. The fact is that in tests the antimissile missiles don’t work much of the time, and when they do it is under controlled circumstances that are far from typical in an actual attack.

Is insanity or calculation? For over six years, on almost everything they've done, the Bushies have absolutely confounded my ability to decide.


[image of detail from early 17th-century Flemish map of Ostend defense ramparts from search.com]