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America’s Number One Enemy, Indeed

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I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting Mitt Romney’s warpath to the presidency, the one that’s tarred anything he’s touched, and dropped his unfavorability numbers to record lows, because A) I’d hate to alienate any secret Romneycons among my friends, and B) while I do have enough time, I’d rather spend it transcribing minor league interviews, or clipping my toenails, or listening to the Mariners get thwacked by the A’s to start the season. That is to say, I’d like to avoid entering the GOP’s rabbit hole of unreason, and continue on with my life.

But there are some things that are too good to pass up. Yesterday served one of those instances. After Obama’s non-controversial ‘hot mic’ comments,  in which he’d proffer to Dmitri Medvedev more flexibility post-election, many opponents took them to mean that Obama was paying mere lip service to standing firm on missile defense. That he would waver like the milquetoast namby-pamby he actually is. That he was, once more, selling out America to its most fiendish foes.

To which I say: Welcome to realpolitik, the world of back-room pragmatism and diplomatic derring-do. Obama was no more selling out American defense than he was strapping his dog to the roof of his car. He was, a bit arrogantly maybe, but also a bit earnestly, simply explaining his current negotiating footing to his political counterpart, moving beyond the half-baked photo-ops and into the world of reality. It may have been considered a Kinsley gaffe, but it was far from being as revelatory as say, Sarkozy’s Netanyahu bash; though not nearly as hilarious as Biden’s BFD

The subsequent effrontery, of course, is fallacious, more manufactured outrage at a political non-event. The man was simply explaining his pragmatic position, not selling state secrets. After all, one’s political capital bumps up considerably after a second term election. (That is, so long as you don’t find a too-curvy intern, or plunk your country into two unwinnable wars.) As such, in terms of gay rights, civil liberties, or, yes, foreign policy, Obama will have greater leeway come Dec. 2012 than he enjoys right now. That’s simply the nature of the (smaller) Republican beast.

Anyway, among the obstreperous responses came one in particular; the one which makes you shake your head like, well, like an Etch-a-Sketch. Romney, all blunderbuss and Brylcreem, decided that Obama’s fraternizing with the Russkies is a step too far. Thus, he offers this nugget: “[Russia is] without question our number one geopolitical foe.”

He goes on to say that Russia “…fight[s] every cause for the world’s worst actors,” citing recent pro-Syrian vetoes and Iranian support as evidence that the Kremlin is undermining American efforts and underwriting America’s enemies at every turn. Romney tethers Putin and the Kremlin to Caracas, to Beijing, to Waziristan and Havana and Damascus, claiming that Moscow has opted for subterfuge at every turn. He believes that Moscow, more than Pyongyang, more than Islamabad, more than Tehran, is somehow, without question, our top political foe.

This rhetoric is, — this rhetoric’s revolting, really. I don’t say this from a personal standpoint, the Russians I know, here and abroad; the language and history I’ve learned; the lives I’ve led. Rather, I say this from a purely geopolitical stance. If Russia-is-the-new-evil catches on as a bromide, if our neocons are somehow shifting from the Middle East outward, scoping the last vestiges of international independence, then that’s at the least, worrying. And it could be so much more. As we’ve seen in the last decade, foreign policy constructed around such hyperbole can only lead to overreach and overspending; or doesn’t Romney remember Iraq? The misreading of the political tea leaves, the fact that this claim found sympathetic ears in many an American corner, the reality that these Cold War hangers-on still exist; it’s dispiriting, crass, and revolting. It’s a shame.

And it is, of course, as imbecilic as you can find. (Or perhaps not, in this election.) In a brief parsing of Moscow’s foreign policy, you’ll find that Medvedev/Putin, while far from the Merkozy friends west of the Danube, aren’t exactly the Sauron and Saruman of yore. Yes, Moscow and Beijing have vetoed the UN resolutions on Syria, and yes, Russia has supplied Syria with 72 percent of its arms from 2007-11. But in comparison with the US-sanctioned crackdowns in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, even foregoing mention of the Greater Israel occupation of Palestinian lands and the continued occupation of Afghanistan, it’s not as if Russia’s gone out of its way to exhibit belligerence or protectionism. Yes, the base at Tartus and the arms deals are likely driving the intransigence, but even in recent days Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for peaceable talks to resume between the two Syrian sides. Libya, and NATO’s purported overreach, still hang stale in the air, and while strongmen like Assad hang low on any sympathy ladder, there’s always something to be said about international border. Russia, at the least, recognizes this (perhaps antiquated) fact, and it’s fair justification for concern.

Likewise, Russia withholds support of an Iranian campaign due to the same argument found in Syria: protecting international boundary. However, one need only imagine the oil revenue Russia would reap should Israel/America begin a bombing campaign, to understand why Moscow won’t have Iran’s back until the Persian cows come home. And that’s not even considering the bubbling rivalry between Russia and Iran over holdings in the Caspian, with both countries slowly beginning a naval race for strength. (Though there is Russian room for opposition to war; there are fears of refugees racing into the Caucasus, and, should a pro-west Iran emerge, it could theoretically funnel Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan’s oil through, foregoing the Russian hegemon. A gamble either way, I suppose.) So while Russia currently opts for a peaceful, bring-talks-to-the-table path, which is, after all, what nearly 70 percent of Americans would prefer, they’re far from the Ayatollah’s largest backers. And for Romney to say they are somehow “fighting [Tehran’s] cause” is abjectly thick-skulled, and depressingly predictable.

That’s not to say the Kremlin is the chum we’ve always we wanted. (“Uncle Joe” was, unfortunately, a propagandist misnomer.) The missile defense row is ongoing. The horrors of the Northern Caucasus haven’t abated; meddling in Central Asian affairs has prevented the US from landing any firm toeholds; and the war with Georgia (even though, contra John McCain, these defenseless Georgians actually started the fighting) was a blight on both parties. Moscow runs war exercises with Venezuela, regularly bullies Ukrainian and Belorussian, and by extent, the rest of Europe’s interests, and, in Putin’s case, runs atrociously anti-American campaigns, the likes of which are regularly seen only in Tehran’s halls. And that’s not including the treatment of journalists, political opposition, or middle-class marchers plying nothing but democratic desires.

So, yeah, Moscow’s had a fair shake of anti-Washington sentiment. But to call them our number one enemy? Has Romney’s pandering really fallen this far? Has he forgotten the nuclear disarmament deals recently struck? Has he forgotten the Russia’s willingness as mediator in North Africa? Is Chinese belligerence somehow lessened? Is Iranian nuclear threat somehow forgotten? Has he not read a foreign policy piece since 1983?

Dmitri Medvedev, he of iPads and Twitter, as produced as Romney but viewed nowhere near as despicably by his constituents, came out with the choicest, most delightful words in response:

Regarding ideological clichés, every time this or that side uses phrases like “enemy number one,” this always alarms me, this smells of Hollywood and certain times (of the past). I would recommend all U.S. presidential candidates … do two things. First, when phrasing their position one needs to use one’s head, one’s good reason, which would not do harm to a presidential candidate. Also, (one needs to) look at his watch: we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.

Indeed, Romney seems to have read too many Jack Ryan tropes recently. The comment stands as another step in his rightward fall, and serves as more of the GOP’s foreign policy gaucherie, be it Newt’s scatterbrain or Santorum’s bomb-or-bust campaign. (Can you imagine how sane Ron Paul has come to look through all of this?) It’s another foot in his mouth, another laugh-at-that-gaffe moment that’s enjoyed too many already. It hails the GOP’s obsession with Reagan, in an era the Gipper would have hardly recognized. It’s amazing, really. And it is, perhaps, one more reason why experts believe that America’s number one enemy isn’t Russia, China, or even Iran, but at the end of the day, itself.


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About Casey Michel

  • I know that is over the edge. Maybe the Japanese will consider a complete entombment like Chernobyl. Estimates of nearly one million people died at Chernobyl – and possibly more.

  • Igor

    Fukushima is a lot worse than just precarious, it’s already over the edge.

  • On the Fukushima Daiichi Plant:

    “The plant is still in a precarious state,” said Kazuhiko Kudo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University in southwestern Japan. “Unfortunately, all we can do is to keep pumping water inside the reactors,” he said, “and hope we don’t have another big earthquake.”

    Add to this ongoing concerns with Iran, North Korea and Syria. Somewhere further down on the list is Russia.

  • Clavos

    At least he admitted responsibility. Can you honestly see any president over the last 20 years, or any of the current sorry bunch of candidates, doing the same?

    Nope. Good point, Doc.

  • On 18 August 1960, President Eisenhower approved a budget of $13 million for the operation. By 31 October 1960, most guerrilla infiltrations and supply drops directed by the CIA into Cuba had failed, and developments of further guerrilla strategies were replaced by plans to mount an initial amphibious assault, with a minimum of 1,500 men. On 18 November 1960, Allen Dulles (CIA Director) and Richard Bissell (CIA Deputy Director for Plans) first briefed President-elect John Kennedy on the outline plans. Having experience in actions such as the 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état, Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government as led by prime minister Fidel Castro since 16 February 1959.

    On 29 November 1960, President Eisenhower met with the chiefs of the CIA, Defense, State and Treasury departments to discuss the new concept. No objections were expressed, and Eisenhower approved the plans, with the intention of persuading John Kennedy of their merit. On 8 December 1960, Bissell presented outline plans to the “Special Group” while declining to commit details to written records. Further development of the plans continued, and on 4 January 1961 they consisted of an intention to carry out a “lodgement” by 750 men at an undisclosed site in Cuba, supported by considerable air power.

    On 28 January 1961, President Kennedy was briefed, together with all the major departments, on the latest plan (code-named Operation Pluto) that involved 1,000 men to be landed in a ship-borne invasion at Trinidad, Cuba, about 270 km (170 mi) south-east of Havana, at the foothills of the Escambray Mountains in Sancti Spiritus province. Kennedy authorized the active departments to continue, and to report progress. Trinidad had good port facilities, it was closer to many existing counter-revolutionary activities, it had an easily defensible beachhead, and it offered an escape route into the Escambray Mountains. When that scheme was subsequently rejected by the State Department, the CIA went on to propose an alternative plan. On 4 April 1961,

    President Kennedy then approved the Bay of Pigs plan (also known as Operation Zapata), because it had an airfield that would not need to be extended to handle bomber operations, it was farther away from large groups of civilians than the Trinidad plan, and it was less “noisy” militarily, which would make any future denial of direct US involvement more plausible. The invasion landing area was changed to beaches bordering the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in Las Villas Province, 150 km south-east of Havana, and east of the Zapata peninsula. The landings were to take place at Playa Girón (code-named Blue Beach), Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), and Caleta Buena Inlet (code-named Green Beach).

    In March 1961, the CIA helped Cuban exiles in Miami to create the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), chaired by José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister of Cuba in January 1959. Cardona became the de facto leader-in-waiting of the intended post-invasion Cuban government.

  • As I recall the planning stages for Vietnam were done with Ike too and look how that turned out

  • Exactly what is an air covera Mr. Perfect???

  • Since Kennedy had only been in office for a few months, it’s likely that he hadn’t yet finished reading Violently Overthrowing Foreign Governments We Don’t Like for Dummies, and hadn’t got to the chapter entitled “Why It Isn’t Cool to Leave the Ground Troops in the Lurch Because After All They’re Only Dagoes”.

    At least he admitted responsibility. Can you honestly see any president over the last 20 years, or any of the current sorry bunch of candidates, doing the same?

  • Clavos

    Richard, you’re flat wrong. Several of the Brigade 2506 veterans are close personal friends; Kennedy chickened out at the last minute (as they were landing on Playa Girón). How long he’d been in office at the time is completely immaterial; he pulled their air coveras they landed.

    Later, Kennedy even admitted he was responsible: On 21 April, in a State Department press conference, President Kennedy said: “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan… What matters is only one fact, I am the responsible officer of the government.”

    Seems to me you’re the one who needs to bone up on your history…

  • Richard, Richard, Richard when will you ever learn? With Clavos it was a good idea for Ike to plan it, but a bad idea when the stupid dems took over and screwed everything up.

    It’s terrifying to me to admit I’m beginning to understand and translate their mindset.

  • Igor

    Labored and circuitous.

  • richard

    Don’t you remember history. Ike and CIA Director Dulles initiated the Bay of Pigs. JFK was only in office for a few months when it went down. You people need to read and stay away from Faux news!!

  • Clavos

    Not quite, Igor, it wasn’t I who introduced it into the discussion.

    The Bay of Pigs is an excellent example of the perfidy of the United States of America.

    The then president led the Brigade 2506 commanders on, promising them air support in their effort to overthrow a cruel, murdering dictator at a time when military experts were confident they could succeed with US help. So they trained; at camps here in Florida and in Central America, all the while believing the liar in the WH when he assured them the US would provide the air cover without which they had no hope of winning. So they trained, and when the time came, they embarked and shipped off to Playa Girón (the beach in the Bay of Pigs on which their landing was to take place). Just prior to their landing, much too late for them to do anything about it, the cowardly Kennedy, afraid of repercussions from the Russians, withdrew the US air cover support, thus writing the death warrant for many of those boys and the long imprisonment for the rest.

    Call it a red herring if you wish, but it was a perfidious, cowardly act by the USA; a stain on the record of this nation, ironically perpetrated by a president who until then, had been held in the highest esteem by the American people.

  • Zingzing

    Clavos, if everyone, including your cat, already knows who was responsible, why do you feel the need to point it out and accuse Glenn of trying to obscure the point? He probably could have found another example if his aim was to proclaim dem innocence of such things. But he didn’t. So… What gives?

  • Igor

    Clavos has a hair-trigger for tu quoque, he’s primed for a ‘you too!’ retort. It’s always partisan, and usually in the vein of ‘personality politics’ against some democrat luminary.

    Like this: “#2 – Clavos”

    “Let’s see…wasn’t it a Democrat, that jerk Kennedy, who…”

  • Igor

    Clavos is just using Bay of Pigs as a red herring, ignore it.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    I forget a lot of things – but I’m pretty good at remembering my history. Perhaps you forgot about that….

  • Clavos

    Anyway, if you think glenn didn’t know what he was referencing…

    I didn’t say he didn’t know, I said he forgot to point out who was responsible — and I implied that it was probably because Kennedy was a democrat.

    I know he knows who fucked up the Bay of Pigs; hell even my cat knows it was Kennedy.

  • Zingzing

    Hrm. Glenn snuck 5 in there before mine came through. Still, thinking that someone wouldn’t get a bay of pigs reference is assuming your audience for that comment is stupid. Or ignorant. Condescending, maybe. It’s like calling out a person who fell down for tripping. Haha.

  • Zingzing

    I don’t think he did… Everyone knows bay of pigs is a Kennedy reference. It’s kind of what made Kennedy wary of such things, clavos. It certainly weighed heavy during the Cuban missile crisis.

    Anyway, if you think glenn didn’t know what he was referencing… Come on. Seriously? That’s probably why he mentioned it…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    NOT cool. You of all people should remember that I’ve held Clinton more responsible than either Reagan or Bush 41 for our manufacturing base being outsourced overseas. You of all people should remember that I’ve repeated stated that Reagan was one of our best five presidents ever. You may not remember – but Dave would – that I agreed with him that LBJ (despite the kudos he richly and rightly deserves for the Great Society) holds the lion’s share of the blame for Vietnam, since JFK may not have really known what really happened at the Gulf of Tonkin. LBJ had no such excuse, and had plenty of opportunity to get us out of there.

    Tell me, Clavos – have you seen me beat up that much on Ford or Nixon or Eisenhower? No. Have you seen me beat up on Reagan – yes, some, but not as much as I have Clinton. Have you seen me say anything bad about Bush 41 other than about his involvement in Iran-Contra? No, you haven’t – but if you’d been paying attention, you’d have seen me call him ‘courageous’ more than once.

    So Clavos – can you show me even ONE BC conservative – including yourself – who as been as even-handed with compliments and criticism towards both sides as I have? No, I really don’t think you can. The Republicans that I’ve really beat up on are the ones who took over the party in the early 1990’s and hold a death grip on it today with policies that Reagan or Goldwater or Eisenhower would NEVER have approved.

    If you’d paid attention to what I’ve said repeatedly for years, you’d KNOW that your #4 was groundless, baseless, and uncalled for.

  • Clavos

    Neither, zing. Just wanted to point out who was responsible for the unnecessary deaths at the Bay of Pigs; Glenn seems to have forgotten to mention it was loose zipper Kennedy.

  • Zingzing

    Yes, clavos, that’s why bay of pigs was referenced… Or were you responding to the article?

  • Clavos

    Let’s see…wasn’t it a Democrat, that jerk Kennedy, who encouraged the Cuban boys to train and go to Cuba to try to overthrow Fidel? Wasn’t there a promise on the part of chickenshit Jack that they would have air support? A promise that was broken after they landed, and when they had no hope of prevailing?

    Yep, another glorious moment in American history…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    This article is the kind that I like to see most of all – first-person observations from someone who’s been there, done that, who also has a clue when it comes not only to world history, but the history of the region and cultures in question! Casey, I’m looking forward very much to your articles in the future – and I’ve got a very healthy respect for Peace Corps volunteers.

    And one comment on what you pointed out about McCain and Georgia:

    …these defenseless Georgians actually started the fighting)

    IIRC, in the year or two before the fighting, McCain actually went to Georgia and encouraged their belligerence with the implication that if they fought the Russians, the Americans would support them. Can anyone say “Bay of Pigs” and “Kurdish Rebels”?