Cold War Nostalgia

The hysteria from U.S. “€œconservatives”€ over the White House’s decision not to base missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland has been as shrill as it was predictable. The editors of National Review, the flagship publication of the right-liberal half of the establishment, rose to the bait:

The president has sent a chilling message about American resolve in the face of Russian saber-rattling. Georgia, Ukraine, and the rest of the world have learned a disturbing lesson.

Any step away from the stupidity of needless confrontation with Russia chills the blood of neoconservative policy wonks. Their ability to transport us back to 1938 Munich is unfailing. What will become of plucky, freedom-loving Georgia and Ukraine’s long-sought accession to NATO, complete with a war guarantee from Washington? U.S. credibility to nations of marginal interest will surely disintegrate if we choose to abstain from provoking Moscow!

While the administration’s announcement may have cast a sinister shadow on the catered luncheons of think-tanks in our nation’s capital, the disturbance will pass. Obama’s team has said nothing of respecting legitimate Russian concerns in its sphere of interests. Secretary of Defense Gates spoke mainly of repositioning and optimizing anti-missile architecture. This new initiative would likely include sites offshore and in southeastern Europe, with the possibility of system deployment somewhere in the Caucasus. Global democracy enthusiasts should take heart; they can still look forward to a potential standoff with Russian forces in the Black Sea basin.

Prior to Obama’s change in direction, U.S. officials were engaged in a full-court press for a powerful radar facility in the Czech Republic and interceptor batteries in Poland. One wonders how our diplomats kept a straight face as they claimed that the system concerned solely Iran and had nothing at all to do with Russia. Yet magical thinking now becomes reality, as the White House’s new concession to Moscow has little to do with Russia and much to do with Iran.

The U.S. is looking to isolate Teheran with an effective sanctions regime, but in order to do so it needs the Kremlin’s cooperation. Russia could easily circumvent measures aimed at blocking Iranian gasoline imports. Since the U.S. and Israel are contemplating air strikes on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, the Russians could supply sophisticated antiaircraft systems like the S-300 to complicate any such operation. The White House is hoping for something like Russian acquiescence to a resolution at the UN Security Council, but Moscow is still waiting for the rest of the deal”€”namely, an explicit U.S. recognition of Russia as a major regional power.

Under the pressure of independent Israeli action, the Obama administration is moving to deal with Iran in the near term. Striking bargains with the Kremlin now would bring the U.S. closer to a showdown with the ayatollahs, a goal long advocated by the neoconservatives. With the White House leaning in the same direction, the editors of National Review and the entire AEI-Commentary complex should be overjoyed that their desires are closer to fulfillment.

The Russians will demand more than the cancellation of U.S. missile defense plans for Eastern Europe in return for any agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Moscow has regularly opposed solutions to the issue based on force or coercion, though not out of any special love for Teheran. Russian strategy is informed by the knowledge that Washington can meddle less in inner Eurasia if it is engaged in the Middle East. If U.S. policymakers are on course for yet another intervention in the Islamic world, the men in the Kremlin won”€™t stop them, but they will find a way to extract geopolitical advantage from the next proposed war.

If the United States or Israel launches an air campaign against Iran (and effective gasoline sanctions would heighten the possibility of conflict), a third active front would be opened in the interminable and ill-conceived “€œLong War”€. U.S. troops in Iraq would likely face renewed mass strife and an Iranian-sponsored insurgency. Energy prices would rise considerably and expose the structural deficiencies of the supposed economic recovery at home. Iran’s intelligence service and its militant proxy Hezbollah maintain a formidable network capable of carrying out large-scale terrorist attacks in the West.

Attacking Iran is a recipe for disaster that will produce consequences foreseen and unforeseen for the United States. Despite the obvious dangers involved, the White House is setting itself squarely on the road to conflict. Russia, meanwhile, has opposed action against Teheran, but will gain freedom to maneuver as Washington becomes entangled in a struggle with Persian power. Perhaps, when this next imperial adventure has produced its share of death, ruin, and unsustainable debt, the neoconservative commentariat will ascribe the entire debacle to a plot engineered by the Kremlin. How else could such pure and noble souls be led astray?

National Review columnist David Satter fears that scaling back U.S. antagonism toward Moscow will result in “€œserious negative implications for the cohesion of the West.”€ Concerning hostility to Russia, there will be plenty in the future”€”Washington is still bent on dominating Eurasia and its energy networks. As for the West, Satter’s lament over its loss of political cohesion is in vain. The postmodern empire “€œconservatives”€ champion has always been a dissolute and spiritually bankrupt enterprise. 

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