THE BLOG
09/19/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nuclear Nightmares: The Return of M.A.D.

Condi Rice is an expert on Russia. So maybe this latest crisis is all part of a plan....

All but about six or seven people in the entire world are now pretty much agreed that the Bush administration's foreign policy has been catastrophically inept and downright detrimental for the United States of America and for most other parts of the world as well. That one of the few dissenters to this unanimity is now running for president of the U. S. is so profoundly disturbing as to cause one to slap oneself repeatedly and violently in the vain hope of awakening from this endless nightmare and resuming ordinary life in the sunlit sanity of a new morning. Instead we sink into a new and even stranger nightmare.

Up to now most of our gloom has centered on the fiasco that is the war in Iraq and the widening disarray that this has caused in the Middle East. This, many would now agree, has caused far more suffering for the people of Iraq than even Sadaam Hussein with all his psychotic malevolence was ever able to inflict upon them. It has provided an incendiary stimulus, if one were even needed, to the demented riffraff who join the various sectarian terror cults, and has pretty much assured us that W's unending war on terror really will be unending. It has destabilized the region responsible for much of the world's petroleum production thereby forcing our network newsreaders to say "pain at the pump" almost as often as they said "Britney." It has alienated our "allies" in Europe so completely that they scarcely even notice what a total twit the French president is (although to be fair, the calorimeter readings on Sarkozy's female companions does raise the bar well above anything contemporary American politicians have achieved, which could dampen criticism somewhat). Taken altogether it has made our nation much less safe and secure, militarily weaker, economically more vulnerable, and with wretchedly constrained options for the future. Horrible! A terrible horrible mess! Woe is us.

But see here, the U.S. foreign policy establishment did not cause this mess. This was not the work of Foggy Bottom's seasoned professionals. This war was, in essence, a rogue operation. Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld ran rings around the State Department, ignoring the wise council of the learned experts there. They were so utterly mesmerized by the seductive musings of Paul Wolfowitz and so enraptured by their own reflections staring at them from the pages of the Weekly Standard, that they shoved our entire nation willy-nilly, as Rummy would say, into complete disaster. So really, it's not like our whole foreign policy is adrift, right?

Here's the really neat part: We have for our Secretary of State a person who is not simply a brilliant pianist but is also a highly qualified expert in foreign affairs. So, for example, it was reported that when W asked the president of Brazil, "Do you have blacks, too?" it was Condoleezza Rice, then our national security advisor, who was able to authoritatively inform our president "Brazil probably has more blacks than the USA." Leaving aside the issue of who is "you" and how that "you" comes to "have" black people, isn't it neat that she was there with such sophisticated knowledge? But wait, here's the beauty part: guess what's her really strong area? The area she really can advise on like crazy? Russia! Probably when Bush famously commented after meeting with Putin "I was able to get a sense of his soul," Dr. Rice was there to whisper in his ear, "He's from the freaking KGB, he doesn't have one!"

So, given that our Secretary of State is an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe, what are we to make of the war in Georgia and the swirl of events rocking NATO, the Caucasus and the Caspian region? There are only two choices: Either this is all according to some brilliant plan, or else the expert didn't have a damn clue.

Consider: During the night of August 7, during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, with the cute lip-synching and the CGI fireworks, Georgia's president Saakashvili ordered an all-out military attack on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.

Did Saakashvili do this entirely on his own initiative, or was he given to believe that his erstwhile allies -- Georgia wants to join NATO -- would back his play?

In Russia's view Saakashvili is an American puppet. Moscow believes that NATO, and specifically the U.S., was behind Georgia's actions. The Russian government has long complained about the destabilizing effects of "foreign" military aid to Georgia. Everybody knew this was their position. And immediately after the Ossetian operation Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "It [the Georgian action in South Ossetia] all confirms our numerous warnings addressed to the international community that it is necessary to pay attention to massive arms purchasing by Georgia during several years. Now we see how these arms and Georgian special troops who had been trained by foreign specialists are used,"

Moscow's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin formally informed NATO nations recently of Russia's position that NATO is supporting Georgia's moves in Ossetia. "We will caution them against continuing to further support Saakashvili," he said, "It is an undisguised aggression accompanied by a mass propaganda war," (This last certainly being something that Russia knows a lot about.)

Moreover, they have long, and openly, anticipated the Georgian action. They originally expected an action against Abkhazia, but, again according to Rogozin, "the Abkhaz fortified region turned out to be unassailable for Georgian armed formations, therefore a different tactic was chosen aimed against South Ossetia." He stated that he had no doubts that Mikheil Saakashvili had "sponsors", "those with whom he is negotiating Georgia's accession to NATO."

The conspiracy theory is not so far fetched. The Georgian Ministry of Defense announced on July 12, just weeks before the Ossetian attacks, that US and Georgian troops were training together near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. To Moscow this now seems like a dress rehearsal for the Ossetian operation, planned in close cooperation with the Pentagon.

My point is not that Moscow's perceptions are true. Who the hell really knows what's true? My point is that we clearly should have known what their perception was, and how that perception would affect their responses. And if you believe that Saakashvili undertook this with absolutely no communication with NATO and Washington, well I hope the Easter Bunny is good to you this year.

Now. It's awfully hard to see Russia as a victim. Their whining is ludicrous. The whole deal sounds a lot like Br'er Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch. And certainly their military reaction was criminally "disproportionate." But think what's at stake here. The Caucasus is astride major oil pipelines and other oil drilling and transportation facilities. Did we say oil? Well, imagine that.

Among other things, the Caucasus, including Georgia, is geographically near the region around the Caspian Sea. (The Caspian Lake, actually, if we accept Moscow's geographic nomenclature. This is a legal fine point -- and Russia has always been a stickler for the law, right? -- which matters a great deal when determining mineral rights.) The Caspian has oil reserves of as much as 49 billion barrels and reservoirs with 230 trillion cubic feet of gas. The Caspian contains six separate hydrocarbon basins, and most of the oil and gas reserves in the region are totally undeveloped. And in addition to all the Borat countries surrounding the Caspian Sea is our friend Iran.

Russia is very tight with the Caspian nations. Five Caspian nations, including Russia and Iran, signed an agreement this year, a mutual security and non-aggression pact. In it the states reiterate that they will not let any country use their soil for a military attack against any other pact state. 

Moreover, Russia and Iran, have gone further, and while they have not yet signed an agreement as such, they have indicated their "mutual" intention to regard a hostile act against either of them as an attack against both.

Again, anybody that attacks Iran risks engaging in conflict with Russia.

Russia will regard any disturbance in a region it regards as strategically and/or economically important as a potential casus belli.

Is Russia serious about this? Ask Mikheil Saakashvili.

So anything NATO does anywhere in Russia's sphere is likely to provoke a response. OK, got it. So... then we agree to support a missile defense shield in Poland, right on the border with Russia. Anybody see any problems here?

Well, W thinks the cold war is over. And if the cold war was about Communism versus Free Markets then maybe it is over (neither side won apparently, unless you think all of today's markets are actually "free"). But if the cold war was about a nuclear standoff between superpowers then maybe we're not quite out of the woods, eh? Remember M.A.D., Mutual Assured Destruction? Those were the days, huh? Glassboro, Plan B, great times. Nobody could start a war because if they did they would be destroyed along with the enemy. But remember, if one side starts to protect itself from destruction, then the restraint fails. Under M.A.D. a good defense is offensive.

Do the Russians see things this way? Well last week General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the Russian armed forces' deputy chief of staff, made exactly that threat in an interview with Interfax, a Russian news agency, warning Poland that it was leaving itself open to retaliation -- and possibly even a nuclear strike -- by agreeing to host a US missile base. And this was not an isolated comment. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky similarly stated that "we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, the use of nuclear weapons."


Hey, what would we do if Russia set up weapons near our territory, in Cuba, for example?

So, after all of this, let's think a minute. All of Russia's responses were totally predictable, they were telegraphed clearly. Either of these recent acts -- the Georgian adventure and the Polish missile defense -- was certainly likely to provoke hostilities from Russia. Russia has an unmistakable interest both in Caspian oil and in the stability of the territories surrounding its borders. We have a Secretary of State who is an expert in Russian affairs. Ergo there clearly must have been a benefit to us in allowing both of these incidents to occur. No chance for a blunder here. This was all part of a wickedly clever plan.

Anybody know what that is? Guesses? Anyone?