Friday, August 22, 2008


By Ivan G. Goldman

No one gave it much thought when Prince George marched into the Rose Garden in December 2001 and announced, "Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty." He was referring to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Why was this country unilaterally pulling out of one of the most successful peace initiatives in world history?

Nobody really asked. In December 2001, three months after 9-11, Bush was America's darling, a "hero." So if he was pulling the plug on this hugely significant pact, it was assumed he must have a good reason. He'd even gotten away with running away in Air Force One on Nine-Eleven, making a panicked, circular flight around much of the nation that lasted several hours, then journeying three days later to Ground Zero to take up a bullhorn and cheer the workers who were (unbeknownst to them) being poisoned by toiling day after day in the killer dust. The media played down and mostly ignored his retreat from responsibility and played up his cautious, long-overdue foray to New York as somehow being courageous. And when he declared a “crusade” against (Muslim) enemies, he was forgiven for being an ignoramus who ratcheted up the rhetoric to make new enemies of those Muslims that had been sympathetic to the U.S. after the Twin Towers came down.

But in November 2001, Vladimir Putin, on his first visit to America, had said through an interpreter that Russia intended "to dismantle conclusively the vestiges of the Cold War." He meant the thousands of Soviet-era nuclear warheads. Then when Bush double-crossed him only one month later and made him look like a fool, the KGB alumnus took another look at his policy and pronouncements. Members of the Russian Duma immediately called for an end to the country’s then-ongoing destruction of the old warheads.

To execute intelligent foreign policy, you have to use empathy. After Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 and subsequently hanged its leader, Russia saw that the U.S. was capable of attacking a country just to show it could, and that the U.S. media, Congress, and public would swallow it too. The president could even keep his troops in that country after his stated war aims – knocking out WMD and crippling an Al Qaeda supporter – were proved bogus. Meanwhile, Bush-Cheney had pulled out of the ABM treaty and were encircling Russia with new NATO allies from the old Soviet Empire. What were the Russians to think?

Of course the U.S. “defense” industry was merrily proceeding on its dubious Star Wars mission. Its biggest players, including big-time Pentagon contractor G.E., owner of NBC and, let's face it, the late Tim Russert, saw that the end of the Cold War was very, very bad for them, and that this war on “terror” might not consume enough advanced military hardware to keep top defense executives in eight figures. The science behind Star Wars involves trying to shoot down a bullet with a bullet. Once you figure out how to do it, the enemy can change the nature of its bullets much more easily and inexpensively than you can alter your anti-bullets. Doesn't it make more sense to get rid of nukes using careful, mutual inspections?

Make no mistake. Al Qaeda is a beast. Putin is a cold-eyed dictator whose agents murder pesty journalists. But there are better ways to handle them than to place moronic chicken hawks in charge of U.S. policy. McCain might not know how many houses he owns, but he does know that any opportunity for war makes him look strong. If chicken hawks like Bush and Cheney can look heroic for sending other people to their death just for laughs, how much better can he look by pursuing the same policy? Because despite his many disqualifications for office, McCain is no chicken hawk. So now he's taken time off from snarling at Arabs to snarl at Russians. If he's lucky, maybe before Election Day Cheney and his Little Bush sidekick will manufacture even newer enemies for McCain to snarl at. Oh happy day.

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