Flirting with Catastrophe!

One of these bombs can incinerate Manhattan

On American Exceptionalism and the Pax Americana

It was a surreal experience listening to the conversation between Joe Scarborough and Richard Hass discussing foreign affairs on WNBC television’s popular early show, Morning Joe. Scarborough, who hosts the show, was pressing Hass, who is Director  of the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the widely influential Journal of Foreign Affairs, to prescribe what the US response should be if a looming military conflict breaks out between Russia and Ukraine, or if China finally moves to reunite the island of Taiwan with the People’s Republic of China.

After confessing that he is an “American Exceptionalist,” Scarborough goes on to argue that the US must stand up to Russia and China with military actions should either scenario arise. A stance which also exposes him as a true believer in the Pax-Americana doctrine. In fact, the cable TV host, who has never experienced combat in America’s “forever wars” was like a kid egging on a schoolyard brawl. Although I often find myself in disagreement with Hass, despite the fact that he comes armed with a prodigious array of factual information, I found his remarks refreshing.  It was a departure from the kinds of opinions that I am often forced to dismiss as “erudite nonsense.”

Although “erudite nonsense” strikes many readers as an oxymoron, it accurately describes an argument that is based in fact but arrives at a conclusion that makes no sense. One could also classify such arguments as sophistry. Scarborough raised the question as to “What is the most aggressive move we can make to send a message to Putin that we are not going to back down like we did in 2014, we are not going to back down like we did in Georgia in 08, that we are actually going to respond in kind if they go into the Ukraine.”

No doubt mindful of the notoriety that appearances on Morning Joe provide him, Hass was patient and polite in his response to what was a transparently absurd question. “The answer is we are not,” says Hass. “Why Not?” Scarborough asks. Hass replies:

“Because the military balance and the geography is tilted dramatically in Russia’s Direction…Ukraine is not a member of NATO. There are things we can do to strengthen Ukraine’s self-defense, there are sanctions we can threaten, but at the end of the day Putin is willing to Put more chips on the table. And he has more chips to put on the table, both in capability and will, so we are not going to offer direct defense of Ukraine, we are not going to war with Russia over the Ukraine.”

Obviously dissatisfied with such a tepid response Scarborough quickly suggested that we deploy a large contingent of American troops and weaponry to Poland. Which, he noted, the Poles would “love for us to do.” He went on to point out:” That would actually embarrass Putin, so he knows if he moves troops into Ukraine to flex his muscles, we are going to move troops and defensive weapons into Poland that will make it, maybe, not worth is while.”

In response to this light-weight prattle proposing reckless and dangerous ideas, Hass explained:

“That’s a serious option. Are there things we can and should do to strengthen NATO? So that whatever Putin might gain in Ukraine would be strategically offset.  That should be on the table; that’s exactly the sort of thing we out to be thinking about. Never letting a crisis go to waste. Are there things that maybe we should have been doing all along with NATO.  One of the questions is whether the Europeans will go along with it, a bigger issue.”

Unwilling to  accept the possibility that the US cannot dictate the outcome of a Russian/Ukraine conflict, Scarborough simply ignores the “bigger issue” raised by Hass and suggest: “The Poles will go along” with his proposal. “The Poles will, but  direct defense of the Ukraine I don’t think is in the cards, not if you are talking about the United States or  other European countries going to bat for the Ukraine.  That’s not gonna happen.”  Scarborough seems to be obsessed with “embarrassing Putin,” hence he says that American troops in Poland will be a “nightmare, a black eye” for Putin.  Then he goes on the offer the ridiculous suggestion that deploying US Troops in Poland “wouldn’t be confrontational because we are not invading.”  Hence Putin’s moves on Ukraine would “not be a clean political victory.”

Playing past Joe’s jingoistic prattle, Hass calmly points out the critical importance of  getting “certain understandings about things we are not going to do. We would not go into the Ukraine…or put troops from other parts of NATO up against the Russian Border. Hass explained:

“Part of this is not simply Russia’s unique relationship with Ukraine that Putin writes about and talks about…this is also a delayed reaction to the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and NATO enlargement.  One of the things that should be on the table for ourselves is what are we prepared to think about both in an assertive way and in a reassuring way. Both ought to be on the table

This sage advice takes on a special relevance just now, because as I write the Russian government has released a statement warning the US and NATO not to cross the “Red Lines” they have set in Ukraine. They have made it clear, defying this ultimation, which bans NATO troops from Ukrainian soil, will trigger a military response from Russia. Although Putin’s fears about NATO’s expansionist ambitions are routinely dismissed as paranoia, the fact remains that just because a person is paranoid does not mean the danger they fear is not real.

The fact is that the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has trashed the understanding they had with Russia when they dissolved the Soviet Union and scrapped the Warsaw Pact, an alliance among Communist countries that served as a check NATO, a military alliance whose raison d’être was to encircle the Soviet Union and “Contain” communist power. This strategy was conjured up by the brilliant albeit misguided foreign policy wonk George Kennan, and implemented as the “Truman Doctrine” on communism.

Hence, in light of its original mission, NATO should have been dismantled with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The “Cold War,” which characterized the growing hostility between US and Russia following the end of World War II – although they had been allies against the fascist Axis Powers during the great war just four years ago – was symbolized by the formation of NATO from 11 nations under American hegemony in 1949. It was fully six years later, in 1955, that the Warsaw Pact was formed out of 7 socialist nations in eastern and central Europe, taking its name from the Polish city where the Pact was signed.  And like the NATO agreement, the Warsaw Pact called for collective defense against any aggressor – setting the stage for a Third World War.

The catalyst for this alliance of socialist states was NATO’s decision to admit West Germany in 1955, a country which only ten years ago had been ruled by Nazis, fascist murderers that had wreaked havoc on all of them. Except for the USA, the lone nation who had avoided the devastation of the World War on its soil. The Russians alone lost 27 million citizens in the war, most of whom had been killed by the Germans.  They are determined that it will not happen again. The centrality of the West German issue was unambiguously stated in the introduction to the Warsaw treaty:

“Western Germany, which is being remilitarized, and her inclusion in the North Atlantic bloc, which increases the danger of a new war and creates a threat to the national security of peace-loving states.” 

Alas, while the dissolution of the Soviet Union removed the issue of Communism, it did not resolve the issues arising from Russian nationalism and their anxieties about national security. And these fears only have been fed by US actions since the end of the Cold War. When US Secretary of State, James Baker, met with Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990 –  as the Russian leader was in the process of dismantling the Communist Party and dissolving the Soviet Union – Baker assured him: “There would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east” And Baker unconditionally agreed to Gorbachev’s demand: “Any extension of the zone of NATO is unacceptable.”

Alas, under US leadership NATO has not only reneged on promises not to expand eastward into what Russia rightfully regards as her sphere of influence, but has incorporated four nations that were once a part of the Warsaw Pact into its ranks –   Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia – and three former Soviet Republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Slovenia, which was once part of Czechoslovakia, has also joined NATO.  This brings these nations under the protection of Article 5 of the NATO treaty that binds other members to come to their defense with armed forces should they get in a conflict with Russia!

In view of this betrayal, and that’s what it is no matter how the US defines it, Russia has drawn a “Red Line” at Ukraine, which shares a border and was once a part of Russia.  There is every reason to believe that should NATO attempt to deploy military forces in Ukraine will result in war with Russia. And there should be no doubt that any military conflict between two nuclear armed nations could accidently lead to doomsday, the much-dreaded atomic war that would end life on this planet. This is what’s at stake if the US military meddles in the conflict between the Russians and their Slavic cousins in Ukraine .

Joe Scarborough then raised the question with Hass as to what the US should do if the Chinese moved to reunite the island of Taiwan with the Peoples Republic of China. He pointed out with growing impatience that the US promised Ukraine in the Budapest Accord, signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine had been a part, that if they gave up their nuclear arsenal NATO would protect them from Russian aggression. Now we are waffling on that commitment. And we have made a similar commitment to Taiwan,  which we must keep because we cannot continue to allow ourselves to be pushed around. Hass astutely pointed out that the remedy to this dilemma is for the US to cease making promises that we have neither the will nor capacity to keep.

This in my view, is the wisest path to take. Russia is a vast country with 11 time zones, the Grand Army of Napoleon and Hitler’s Nazi Juggernaut both met their doom in Russia. And China, with a population of a billion and a half people and the ability to put millions of armed citizens in the field to defend their homeland, would easily vanquish any foreign invader. With no chance of victory on the ground, it would not be long before the war would turn on air and naval power, which would greatly increase the possibility of accidental nuclear catastrophe now that these doomsday weapons are online!

The thing that I find most most remarkable about this discussion, is the fact that nobody pointed out the folly of American intervention in conflicts between peoples with long standing geographic and family ties. Neither Joe Scarborough nor Richard Hass recognized that the US is not the arbiter of world affairs, dictating what shall happen in nations thousands of miles and oceans away from our shores. That there are problems in international relations which the US cannot solve, and our intervention will only increase the death and destruction. Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq are dramatic cases in point.  And when the adversary is armed with nuclear arsenals capable of delivering atomic warheads on targets anywhere in America, that destruction might well be our own.

Alas, it is the blind, irrational, commitment to the flawed ideologies of “American Exceptionalism” and “Pax-Americana” – that the US is the moral standard to which all other nations should aspire, and a world order based on the American capitalist model can be enforced by the prolific employment of US military power – that continues to lead us into costly and futile wars.

It would seem that the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two underdeveloped preindustrial countries – squandering vast amounts of American blood and treasure – in which we finally slithered away after 20 years of combat in humiliating defeat, would make reasonable people dismiss the idea of provoking a war with major military powers like China and Russia as extreme folly!  This, above all else, is what made the conversation between Hass and Scarborough, two highly educated men, seem unmoored from reality…surreal.


Witness the Awesome Power of a Nuclear Explosion

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York


Note: President biden will be meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a face to face video conference today.  I will post my analysis of the metting at a later date.