“Oops!”—A World War!
11 October, 2016
Over the past week or so I’ve been receiving a steady stream of emails demanding to know whether an all-out nuclear war is about to erupt between the US and Russia. I’ve been watching the situation develop more or less carefully, and have been offering my opinion, briefly, one on one, to a few people’s great relief, and now I will attempt to spread the cheer far and wide. In short, on the one hand, all-out nuclear annihilation remains quite unlikely, barring an accident. But, on the other hand, such an accident is by no means impossible, because when it comes to US foreign policy “Oops!” seems to be the operative term.
One reason to be cheerful is that any plan to attack Russia is bound to become mired in bureaucracy. Battle plans are developed by mid-rank people within the US military establishment, approved and forwarded up the chain of command by higher-rank people and finally signed off on by the Pentagon’s top brass and their civilian political accomplices. The top brass and the politicians may be delusional, megalomaniacal and inadvertently suicidal, but the mid-rank people who develop the battle plans are rarely suicidal. If a particular plan has no conceivable chance of victory but is quite likely to lead to them and their families and friends becoming vaporized in a nuclear blast, they are unlikely to recommend it.
Another reason to be cheerful is that Russia has carefully limited the Pentagon’s options. One plan that, in the popular imagination, could lead to an all-out war with Russia, would be the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria. What many people miss is that it is not possible to impose a no-fly zone on a country with a sufficiently powerful air defense system, such as Syria. As a first step, the air defense system would have to be taken out, and the air campaign to do so would be very expensive and incur massive losses in both equipment and personnel. But then the Russians made this step significantly worse by introducing their S-300 system. This is an autonomous, tracked, mobile system that can blow objects out of the sky over much of Syria and some of Turkey. It is very difficult to keep track of, because it can use “shoot and scoot” tactics, launching an attack and crawling away in a random direction over rough terrain.
Last on my list of reasons why war with Russia remains unlikely is that there isn’t much of a reason to start one, assuming the US behaves rationally. Currently, the biggest reason to start a war is that the Syrian army is winning the conflict in Aleppo. Once Aleppo is back in government hands and the US-supported jihadis are on the run, the Syrian civil war will largely be over, and the rebuilding will begin. This outcome seems increasingly inevitable, and the American plan to see a black flag waving over Damascus is in shambles. Now, since Americans are sore losers, this line of thinking goes, and since sore losers may sometimes do random and self-destructive things, this development may result in some crazy adventure to salvage their five-year mission to overthrow Assad. Yes, there is some evidence that Americans are sore losers: just look at the half-century-long trade embargo they have maintained against Cuba. But sour grapes are yet to cause them to turn full-retard suicidal.
The most common reason people seem to give for thinking that a war with Russia is likely, or even inevitable, comes down to the phrase “anti-Russian hysteria.” Indeed, if you bother to pay attention the mainstream press in the US (which I rarely do any more) you may notice that the hysterical noises are starting to overpower the usual stench of disinformation. But to me it seems that anti-Russian hysteria is a sideshow of anti-Trump hysteria. The corporate press is all-in behind Clinton, you see, and Clinton’s strategy, pathetic though it is, is to claim that Trump is Putin’s errand boy, so the strategy is to demonize Putin, and hope that some of the demonization rubs off on Trump. This isn’t working; recent opinion polls in the US show that Putin is more popular than both Clinton and Trump. This factoid neatly points out the real problem in the US: in the immortal words of the inimitable Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of Russia’s Liberal Democrats, Clinton isn’t even qualified to manage a public bathhouse, while Trump has even less national leadership experience than she does. On the other hand, Clinton’s national leadership experience has been, as Trump would put it, “a disaster,” and so Trump could do much better than Clinton by delegating all presidential responsibilities to a particularly pretty bush in the White House’s rose garden.
To summarize: the reasons war with Russia is unlikely are that:
1. The US military experts are not suicidal
2. There is no military strategy for them to pursue
3. There is no compelling reason for the US to go to war against Russia
4. Russia is not the enemy; Alzheimers is.
But the concern that a war with Russia could erupt by accident remains. You see, when it comes to American foreign policy, the operative word seems to be “Oops!”
Let’s take a short trip down the memory lane. The Americans successfully thwarted Soviet efforts in Afghanistan by arming and training Moslem extremists (at the time called mujahideen, or freedom fighters). This is the only example where American “terrorism by proxy” has worked. Invented for that occasion by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Jimmy Carter, it was a plan to destroy Afghanistan in order to save it, and actually worked, but only as far as destroying Afghanistan. Since then, it has failed every time on every level, but this has not stopped Americans from continuing to try to use it.
They tried it in Chechnya, by funding and arming Chechen separatists, but there Russia prevailed, and Chechnya is now a peaceful part of the Russian Federation. And, of course, they’ve been trying it in Syria for the past five years, with similarly poor results. If Syria follows the Chechen pattern, in another decade it will be a unified, secular republic, with free and democratic elections, rebuilt with Russian and Chinese assistance and with Aleppo featuring a gleaming skyline to rival the rebuilt Grozny in Chechnya. Meanwhile, Americans will no doubt continue trying to use “terrorism by proxy” elsewhere.
You’d think that after their failure in supporting the “freedom fighters” in Chechnya, American strategizers could have internalized a simple lesson: “terrorism by proxy” doesn’t work. But they hardly ever learn from their mistakes, and so they haven’t. Instead, they have been continuously doubling down on this failing tactic. While using terrorists to thwart the Soviets in Afghanistan, they accidentally created the Taliban; then they invaded Afghanistan and have been battling the Taliban for the past 15 years, less and less successfully over time.
Since “terrorism by proxy” has failed as a strategy against their enemies, the Ameicans decided to use it against themselves instead. A terrorist attack supposedly committed on 9/11 by the people they had trained and equipped in Afghanistan, rebranded “Al Qaeda” prompted them to attack Iraq. There were no terrorists in Iraq at the time, but the Americans quickly remedied this problem. First they disbanded the Iraqi army, locked up many of its senior officers, and attempted to form a new Iraqi army, which they fortuitously called NIC, for “New Iraqi Corps,” blissfully unaware that “nic” happens to mean “fuck” in the local slang. Meanwhile, the Iraqi officers they imprisoned were given ample opportunity to fester, network and brainstorm, and upon their release they founded ISIS, which then took over a large part of Iraq, then Syria… I could go on and on rattling off lists of details on America’s never-ending adventures in terrorism; the point is, this is all a comedy of errors, and the operative term seems to be “Oops!”
The Americans are now without national leadership (neither Obama, nor Clinton, nor Trump qualify), without a plan (Plan B for Syria is no plan at all), and being carefully corralled and thwarted by other nations, which realize that even in its senescence and decrepitude the US remains dangerous. In response, the US will no doubt continue to make minor mischief around the world, continuing to try to make use of “terrorism by proxy” while periodically hurting itself and claiming that it was all the terrorists’ fault in order to be able to play the victim. These efforts are likely to be as self-defeating as the previous ones, but some of them may accidentally get out of hand and trigger a wider conflict.
And so I feel it safe to conclude that the largest remaining possible cause for a major war between the US and Russia is yet another American “Oops!” However, Russian diplomats, foreign policy experts and military men are consummate professionals, and are dedicated to preventing just such an accident. They remain involved in negotiations with the American side on multiple levels, keeping channels of communication open at all times. Although some people somehow got the erroneous notion that the US has broken off diplomatic relations with Russia, what in fact has happened is that the US has suspended bilateral negotiations with Russia over Syria, while multilateral efforts continue.
But Americans shouldn't labor under the misapprehension that the Russians will remain infinitely accommodating. Recetly, the Russians took the Americans to the woodshed over their “accidental” bombing of Syrian troops at Deir-ez-Zor, which was clearly coordinated with ISIS, who went on attack immediately after the airstrike. This incident, which was a clear breach of the cease fire agreement, prompted the Russians to label the Americans with a particularly hurtful Russian word: ”недоговороспособные”—incapable of honoring an agreement. Some observers thought that the Deir-ez-Zor fiasco signaled that the Obama administration was no longer in control of the Pentagon, which was now running around like a headless chicken around a barnyard. This claim was bolstered when the Americans, or their terrorist proxies, then bombed a humanitarian convoy and attempted to pin the blame on the Russians.
The Russians have also cancelled a deal—the only arms reduction treaty Obama has managed to negotiate during his entire eight-year tenure—for getting rid of excess plutonium because of American failure to burn their share of plutonium in a fast breeder reactor which they had agreed to build for this purpose at Savannah River in Georgia. Fast breeder reactors are tricky, and most of the nuclear nations have failed at building and operating them. They make no economic sense, and, like fusion reactors, will forever remain an “energy source of the future.” Still, the Americans signed up to build and operate one; so much for that.
The Americans accepted their punishment with hardly a whimper to be heard in the national press, which was in any case probably too busy being hysterical. Perhaps these are ineffective ways of insulting them. Still, I prefer take this as a hopeful sign that the patient remains at least somewhat rational.
As far as the nasty medical problem of anti-Russian hysteria… I am sure that some highly trained Russian psychologists and psychiatrists are standing by to help with that as well.