Posts Tagged ‘Cold war’

The fruits of American foreign policy

June 18, 2015

John Michael Greer, writing on his Archdruid Report blog, described how American foreign policy has led to Russia and China joining to create a Fortress Eurasia that is beyond the reach of U.S. military power.

Just as the great rivalry of the first half of the twentieth century was fought out between Britain and Germany, the great rivalry of the century’s second half was between the United States and Russia.

If nuclear weapons hadn’t been invented, it’s probably a safe bet that at some point the rivalry would have ended in another global war.

As it was, the threat of mutual assured destruction meant that the struggle for global power had to be fought out less directly, in a flurry of proxy wars, sponsored insurgencies, economic warfare, subversion, sabotage, and bare-knuckle diplomacy.

In that war, the United States came out on top, and Soviet Russia went the way of Imperial Germany, plunging into the same sort of political and economic chaos that beset the Weimar Republic in its day.

The supreme strategic imperative of the United States in that war was finding ways to drive as deep a wedge as possible between Russia and China, in order to keep them from taking concerted action against the US.

That wasn’t all that difficult a task, since the two nations have very little in common and many conflicting interests.

gadd600spanNixon’s 1972 trip to China was arguably the defining moment in the Cold War, the point at which China’s separation from the Soviet bloc became total and Chinese integration with the American economic order began.

From that point on, for Russia, it was basically all downhill.

In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat, the same strategic imperative remained, but the conditions of the post-Cold War world made it almost absurdly easy to carry out.

All that would have been needed were American policies that gave Russia and China meaningful, concrete reasons to think that their national interests and aspirations would be easier to achieve in cooperation with a US-led global order than in opposition to it.

Granting Russia and China the same position of regional influence that the US accords to Germany and Japan as a matter of course probably would have been enough.

A little forbearance, a little foreign aid, a little adroit diplomacy, and the United States would have been in the catbird’s seat, with Russia and China glaring suspiciously at each other across their long and problematic mutual border, and bidding against each other for US support in their various disagreements.

But that’s not what happened, of course.

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Is the U.S. instigating an arms race with China?

June 17, 2015
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

There’s a school of thought that says the Reagan administration brought down the Soviet Union by conducting an arms race that the USSR couldn’t sustain.

A smart writer named Mike Whitney thinks Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter plans to use the same strategy against China.

China is on track to become the world’s largest economy in less than 10 years.  But the thinking is that this could change if China is forced to devote significant resources to defending its position in the South China Sea.

This is a perverse idea—that a peaceful China is a greater threat to American global supremacy than a militaristic China would be.   It shows the wrongheadedness of world military supremacy as a goal.

And there’s a question as to whether it would even work.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that the USA’s military budget for 2014 was $581 billion, while China’s was $129 billion.

American military spending was estimated at 3.3 percent of the total US economy (gross domestic product) while China’s was 1.2 percent.  Russia’s military spending was an estimated 3.7 percent of GDP.

The Chinese might well be capable of quadrupling their military spending while sustaining economic growth.

They have other options.  They could embargo vital electronic components that we Americans no longer produce.  They could stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, which would add to cost of financing the U.S. budget deficit.

And while the burden of the Cold War may have brought the Soviet Union to the brink of collapse, it was an endurance contest that also sapped the strength of the United States.

We Americans would do well to follow the example of the Chinese and build up our own nation rather than dissipating our strength in undermining others.

LINK

Seven Days in May? Carter Takes Over by Mike Whitney on the Unz Review.

Could the Cold War have been averted?

February 2, 2015

The Cold War was a real war.  I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.

The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.

It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.

This is not how it appeared to me at the time.   I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.

The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.   By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.

Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were.  While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.

But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom.  George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother.  These things seemed all too plausible.

Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide.  Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.

A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing.  A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.

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History of changing allegiances in the Middle East

October 8, 2014

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Source: 15 Maps That Don’t Explain the Middle East in The Atlantic.

This chart shows America’s changing friends and foes in the Middle East.  The blue countries are friends, the red countries are foes.

Changes in allegiance come about through coups (gun), invasions (tank), treaties (pen), elections (check mark) or uprisings (man with flag).

U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East had some logic when its goal was trying to keep the region from coming under control of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.  I don’t see any equivalent goal now.

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Click to enlarge.

 Source: Slate

The old South vs. the totalitarian dictators

July 9, 2014

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Germany’s Nazis thought of American white Southerners as soul brothers.  But they were wrong.  The Southern Democrats in the U.S. Congress were the Nazis’ sworn enemies.

Fear ItselfIn a previous post, I summarized Ira Katznelson’s Fear Itself: the New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, and his account of how the Southern Democrats both supported and set limits on FDR’s New Deal reforms of the 1930s.  In this post, I carry my reading of Katznelson’s book forward into how the Southern Democrats shaped U.S. policy toward the Axis and then toward the Soviets.

Hitler despised black people, admired the Ku Klux Klan and regretted the defeat of the South in the Civil War, as a lost opportunity to create a society based on inequality and slavery.  He loved the movie, “Gone With the Wind,” which he watched while awaiting the news of the German invasion of the USSR.

While the Old South states were not dictatorships, they were similar to Hitler’s Germany in that all were ruled by a single party with restricted franchise.  In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt received 97 percent of the vote in Mississippi and 99 percent in South Carolina, with some counties reporting not a single Republican vote.  This is equal to what Hitler and Stalin got in their plebiscites.

But although Hitler had great esteem for the American South, this feeling was not reciprocated.  The South was the most anti-Nazi, pro-British and pro-interventionist region of the United States.

Katznelson is not completely sure why.  One explanation is that white Southerners were mostly of British descent, and felt sympathy for the mother country in peril.  There is something to this.  New England Yankees, also of British descent, were strong interventionists.  Ethnic ties never entirely die.

I think that, in addition, Southerners were sincerely devoted to their idea of democracy—limited government, legislative supremacy, state’s rights and individual freedom (for white people), which, for all their racism, was diametrically opposed to Hitler’s totalitarianism.

Also, the South is the only part of the United States with a historical memory of invasion and defeat.  That may have made the Nazi threat seem more real to them than to other Americans.

And finally, I don’t think the South is as war-averse other parts of the United States.   When I did my Army service in the 1950s, the career soldiers were disproportionately Southern, and I don’t think this was for economic reasons.   Southerners regard military service as honorable and worthy of respect.

Be that as it may, the South was united in support for Britain and resistance to Hitler in a way that the rest of the country was not.

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Looking back on the Cold War

March 8, 2013

ColdWarCompos

The roots of our present malaise are in the half-century of Cold War.  That’s how long the United States was on a quasi-war footing, and we Americans accepted the necessity of a global military establishment, military intervention and covert warfare as a requirement in our global duel with the Soviet Union.

Revisionist historians say that the Cold War was simply a huge mistake, like World War One, or something more sinister.  But I’m old enough to remember the origins of the Cold War, and I think there was good reason in the late 1940s to regard the Soviet Union as an enemy.

At the end of World War Two, the Soviet Union was ruled by Joseph Stalin, a dictator who had carried out mass killings on the same scale as Adolph Hitler, and whose totalitarian control was even more thorough.   In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, you could be executed or sent to a forced labor camp for having parents who belonged to a proscribed social class, or for expressing a forbidden thought in a private conversation, or even (in at least once case) being the first to stop applauding a government spokesman’s speech.

Stalin insisted on re-creating the same totalitarian system in all the countries through which the Red Army passed during World War Two.   Military bases and friendly governments were not enough.  The countries of eastern Europe had to become little replicas of the USSR.

Cold War Berlin

Cold War Berlin

The Red Army was the world’s most powerful military force and, but for the United States possession of the atomic bomb, could have marched from the middle of Germany to the English channel, if its generals so chose.

Stalin evidently did not have a master plan for world conquest, but, as a rational imperialist, he sought to expand Soviet power where he could.  He blockaded Berlin and ordered the North Korean puppet government to attack South Korea.

Communist parties in the Stalin era were like one of today’s religious cults.  The Communist parties attracted millions of goodhearted people all over the world, who thought the Communists were in the forefront of the struggle for a better world.  In this they were unlike the Nazis, who had the virtue of not being hypocritical about their objectives.  But in fact the Communists were servants of Stalin and the Soviet Union.   The day after Stalin announced his pact with Hitler, Communists all over the world went from advocating a “popular front” against fascism to a struggle against an “imperialist war” in which all sides were equally bad.  The day after Hitler’s troops invaded the Soviet Union, they switched back again.  This terrifying blind obedience to Stalin made his power more threatening, and was a foretaste of what would be expected under his rule.

In 1949, the Chinese Communists came to power in China, and immediately started to transform China into another clone of the Soviet Union.   Mao Zedong later broke with the Soviet Union, and China has evolved into something very different from what it was then, but during the lifetime of Stalin, Mao was a completely loyal follower of Stalin.  Also in 1949, the Soviet Union tested its atomic bomb, ending the U.S. monopoly.   You didn’t have to be paranoid to see this constellation of forces as a real threat.

Based on the situation at the time, President Truman was completely justified in the policy of containment of Communist expansion, including formation of NATO and other anti-Communist alliances, and (I say with a little more hesitation) authorizing CIA covert warfare to match the Soviet covert warfare.   Truman also was right in what he did not do—to launch a preventive war against the USSR when the United States had enough of a lead in nuclear weapons to make that seem feasible.

Over the decades the situation changed.  Communist China’s government broke with the Soviet Union.  Communist parties around the world, while still mistakenly pro-Soviet, ceased to be slavishly devoted to the Moscow party line.   The Soviet Union and other Communist countries, while still undemocratic, ceased to be as relentlessly totalitarian as in Stalin’s day.   The potential threat did not go away, but it ceased to be monolithic.

At the same time it became apparent (or rather should have become apparent, because I didn’t see it) that U.S. foreign policy served other objectives besides containment of Soviet imperialism.   Cold War liberals such as myself were anti-Communist because we believed Communism was a lie.  We believed it was an ideology that promised liberation, but delivered tyranny.  But American foreign policy was being conducted largely by people who were anti-Communist not because of the Communist lies, but because of the Communist promise.  These were the people who engineered the overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Iran and Guatemala.

I was aware that the U.S. government did bad things, but I thought they were aberrations.  I didn’t think there was anything systemically wrong with American foreign policy or with the United States itself.   I thought U.S. intervention in Vietnam was justified as part of the global struggle with the Soviet Union.   I soon came to think that the intervention was being bungled, and then I came to think that the intervention was a huge mistake, but it took me a long time before I came to think of it as a crime.

Memorial plaque in Lexington, Ky.

Memorial plaque in Lexington, Ky.

I started to see things differently after 1991.   After the fall of Communism, I expected the United States to get back to what I regarded as normal.   I though the huge military establishment and secret intelligence establishment would fade away, now that they were no longer needed to check the Soviet Union and its allies.  Instead the U.S. government found other excuses for military intervention and covert warfare.  The definition of “normal” was no longer what I thought it was.

After the 9/11 attacks, I was shocked by how easily Americans accepted basic Constitutional rights being wiped off the blackboard, and how easily we accepted a state of perpetual warfare as normal.  But I put the blame on individuals, specifically Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

I once again looked forward to a return to normal with the election of Barack Obama.   This didn’t happen, either.

My loyalty is still to the ideals of American freedom and democracy, as I was taught to believe in them.  I still believe it is my duty as a citizen to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  If the Cold War taught us Americans to forget our ideals and ignore our Constitution, then Stalin, in a sense, really won.

Henry Wallace wouldn’t have saved us

March 8, 2013

Oliver Stone in his new documentary, The Untold History of the United States, says the Cold War might have been averted if the Democrats had not nominated Harry Truman for Vice President in 1944, but instead had renominated Vice President Henry Wallace.

time.henry.wallaceWallace advocated a conciliatory attitude toward the Soviet Union, in contrast to the anti-Communist Truman.  I haven’t seen Stone’s documentary or read the companion volume.   I’m not going to comment on it directly, but just point out that Wallace himself admitted he had been mistaken about Stalin and his intentions.  In a 1952 article, “Where I Went Wrong,” Wallace stated:

More and more I am convinced that Russian Communism in its total disregard of truth, in its fanaticism, its intolerance and its resolute denial of God and religion is something utterly evil.

Henry Wallace was a distinguished plant scientist and a well-respected Secretary of Agriculture during the 1930s.   Like many Americans, he rightly admired and felt grateful to the men and women of the Red Army, who bore the brunt of the fighting against Germany in Europe during World War Two.   He was sent on a fact-finding tour of Soviet Asia and China in 1944, and visited, among other places, Magadan, one of the main Soviet forced labor camps.

I had not the slightest idea when I visited Magadan that this far-north Pacific port–center of a vast, sub-arctic gold field–was also the center for administering the labor of both criminals and those suspected of political disloyalty. … … 

… Elinor Lippor, who was a slave laborer in the Magadan area for many years, has subsequently described the great effort put forth by the Soviet authorities to pull the wool over our eyes and make Magadan into a Potemkin village for my inspection.  Watch towers were torn down.  Prisoners were herded away out of sight. On this basis, what we was prodded a false impression. I was amazed that the Russians could do so much in such short time–as was [1940 Republican presidential candidate] Wendell Willkie, who had visited the same region in 1942.  But unfortunately neither Willkie nor I knew the full truth.  As guests we were shown only one side of the coin.

time.henrywallaceWallace opposed President Truman’s anti-Communist foreign policy, and ran for President himself as a third-party candidate in 1948, gaining less than 3 percent of the popular vote.  A short time after that, he wrote, he began to change his mind.

Before 1949 I thought Russia really wanted and needed peace.  After 1949 I became more and more disgusted with the Soviet methods and finally became convinced that the Politburo wanted the Cold War continued indefinitely, even at the peril of accidentally provoking a hot war.

 … … I was deeply moved by reports of friends who had visited Czechoslovakia shortly after the Communists took control.  In the summer of 1949, a member of the Progressive Party visited Czechoslovakia and reported the dispossession of relatives whose only crime was to own a small business.  No one, I was told, could amount to anything who was not an outspoken critic of the U.S. and capitalism.  Only Moscow-trained Communists were allowed in positions of authority.

When Communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Wallace supported President Truman’s decision to defend South Korea.   Although Wallace was naive about Soviet intentions, he was right about some important things.  In his 1952 article, he foresaw that Communist China’s leaders would not necessarily support Soviet policy, and he warned against supporting colonialism and imperialism in the name of anti-Communist.

Many present-day evils flow from the Cold War, as Henry Wallace and also Senator Robert A. Taft, the isolationist Republican leader, foresaw.   But given that Joseph Stalin and Stalin’s USSR were what they were, I don’t think it could have been avoided.  This will be a subject for another post.

Click on Where I Was Wrong for Henry Wallace’s full 1952 article.

Click on Untold Story: The Rise and Fall of a Progressive Vice President of the USA for an interview with historian Peter Kuznick, co-author of Oliver Stone’s documentary and companion volume.

Click on Cherry-Picking Our History for criticism by historian Sean Wilentz.

Did the Soviet Union win the Cold War?

June 30, 2010

One of the things I once worried about, along with overpopulation, the persistence of racism and the threat of nuclear war, was whether the United States could successfully win the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union.

I never doubted the superiority of the United States as a free and democratic nation over the Soviet Union in its ability to provide a good life for its people.  But I doubted was whether a free and democratic nation had the staying power to withstand a totalitarian dictatorship’s unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure. We might be too concerned about our material comfort to wage what President Kennedy called the long twilight struggle.

My fears about this, as with the other things I mentioned, did not come true.  U.S. administrations through Reagan, despite missteps and mistakes, remained steadfast to the policy laid down by the Truman administration, to resist Soviet and Communist expansion by means short of general war. They were vindicated when the Soviet Union collapsed due to the unworkability of its political and economic system.

Now I see our situation as the exact opposite of what I thought it was back then. Rather than devote ourselves to peace and prosperity, we as a nation seek world power at the expense of peace and prosperity.  It is as if we are so used to having a global enemy to struggle against that we can’t get along without one.

The United States has continued to maintain as huge a military, diplomatic and covert intelligence establishment as if we faced an enemy capable of threatening our existence.  Rather than sacrificing our military power to our quality of life, we sacrifice our quality of life to military power.

We have come to accept as normal the practices which one defined the differences between ourselves and our totalitarian enemies – torture, government assassinations, arrests without charges or trials. Being opposed to torture is actually a controversial position.

We use Orwellian lingo – “coercive interrogation,” “preventive detention,” “preventive war,” “Homeland Security” – and these practices continue to grow under Presidents as outwardly different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  We fool ourselves into thinking that what can be done to people with dark skins, foreign accents and funny names can’t be done to anybody.

So maybe the United States didn’t really win the Cold War.  We defeated the Soviet Union politically and economically, but maybe they defeated us morally and spiritually.