Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Cold War Revisited

From the 13 October 2008 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

The economy is the Number One issue these days, as it should be. We are living in some historic times. Unprecedented acts of federal intervention are taking place and when we finally crawl out of this financial meltdown America will never look as it once did.

As important as this situation may be in the media and water-cooler conversation, it and other newsworthy national issues (presidential election, anyone?) should not temper our understanding of foreign developments. Because of this unrelenting focus on the home front, our trusted news sources and average Americans alike are almost completely oblivious to the fact that the Cold War is back.

It’s a long held belief that the Cold War ended round about 1990. Depending on whom you ask, it ended in either 1989 when George HW Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev declared it so at the Malta Summit or in 1991 when the USSR officially ceased to exist. Some folks, though, - like me - insist that it never really ended. To us, the Cold War was put on hiatus, the Russian Machine taking its time to collect itself and get all of its ducks in a row following the collapse of the Soviet Union. You can’t help but make such an assessment when you see the great recentralization of powers that has been taking place in Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, a member of the USSR’s old guard and a former KGB thug who has nothing but total disregard for democratic principles.

Now that Putin has exerted domestic rule in ways that he sees fit he has turned his attention to reenergizing his efforts to knock America down a notch or two. It started in August when Russia and Georgia got into a tussle. George has been a serious ally – or better yet, pawn – of the United States since its days of new-found independence. Our government has provided them with almost $2 billion in military training and equipment since 1992, most of that since 2001 under the guise of “an investment against al-Qaeda”. Truth be known, Georgia is not a stomping ground for al-Qaeda. Therefore, this investment was really used to strengthen ourselves against Russia. With this taken into consideration it appears that Russia’s brief occupation of Georgia was bait to induce America into a proxy war (the Vietnam and Korean Wars are perfect examples of proxy wars that occurred during the original Cold War). We didn’t take the bait this time.

Not to be outdone, Putin has decided to bring the posturing and preening of the Cold War’s good ol’ days right to us. It was announced last month – unbeknownst to most Americans because of the economic crisis - that the Russian military will be paying a visit to the Americas. Putin has found a good friend in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the same man who hates our guts but is okay with receiving our oil money. Back in July, Chavez requested a strategic alliance with Russia, one which Putin gladly accepted. Russia is allowed to have three of its state-owned energy companies set up shop in oil-rich Venezuela while, in exchange, Venezuela is afforded protection from the United States.

Under this pact training exercises will commence this November. Russia will be deploying 1,000 troops and doing a Teddy-Roosevelt-style sail-by near US waters with a huge fleet led by their nuclear-powered flagship, Pyotr Velikhiy, the best of the Peter the Great series of cruisers. The ship is a beast (by Russian standards) equipped with nearly 200 guns and launchers and outfitted with more than 20 Granit missiles which have an effective range approaching 200 miles.

The drills are taking place in the Caribbean, obviously meant as scare tactic directed towards us. But, fear not. The Pyotr, as threatening as it sounds, is no match for our Navy, so we really have nothing to worry about. But, we will when the time comes. To Putin’s credit, it’s a well-thought-out effort that may pay off for him psychologically. It makes perfect tactical sense for Russia to throw its weight around while we are in an economic crisis and our collective national psyche is feeling weakened and nervous. This will only add to those feelings of misery.

So, prepare yourself for some fireworks next month and the few months following. These won’t be fireworks in the literal sense, but they will be in the figurative, political sense as Bush and his successor trade barbs and meaningless threats with our enemy of yore.

Welcome back, Cold War.

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