Back To 1980
by Alexander Cockburn, May 30, 2012
Let me whisk you to 1980 on one of Obama’s miracle drones.
In the right-center we had incumbent President Jimmy Carter, derided as a man of peace, el wimpo.
True his top foreign policy man was an unreconstructed Polish cold war warrior burning to bring the Soviet Union to its knees. True, the two had launched the largest covert operation in the CIA’s history — $3.5 billion – against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
True, he was financing Argentinian torturers to impart their skills to the Nicaraguan contras.
True, his out-year military budgets actually outstripped those of his opponent.
On the far right was Ronald Reagan, his candidacy crowning almost a decade’s worth of propaganda for the New Cold War from outfits such as Paul Nitze’s Committee on the Present Danger. Nitze used to go on speaking tours with a rack of missiles. On one side were America’s trim little ICBMs, on the other, their mighty, albeit technically somewhat backward Soviet counterparts.
The Reaganites derided all treaties as traps, depicting Uncle Sam as, in military terms, down to his underwear, with a peashooter in his holster. Every Pentagon wish received a cordial welcome.
Here we are today. On our center-right , Obama, derided as a man of peace, el wimpo, though his relations with the Pentagon have been intimate, and he himself ductile to their demands.
True, he’s been waging war on… how many fronts? Five, six, with probably more on a covert, semi-privatized basis. True, he has given the finger to all positive developments in Latin America, presided over a bloody coup in Central America.
True, he has been Israel’s serf, and has thumped the drum against China and Russia.
True, his secretary of state has been a fountain of bellicose bullyswaggering.
And on the far right here’s Romney. The Pentagon auctioneers await the next bid. Up goes Romney’s paddle.
Make your pitch, shout down the Joint Chiefs. Romney reads them extracts from his latest speech, delivered in response to Obama’s in Chicago at the NATO summit.
“Last year, President Obama signed into law a budget scheme that threatens to saddle the US military with nearly $1 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. President Obama’s own defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has called cuts of this magnitude ‘devastating’ to our national security. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has plainly said that such a reduction means ‘we would not any longer be a global power.’…
“We have a military inventory composed of weapons designed 40 to 50 years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today. The US Navy, at 285 ships, is at levels not seen since 1916. Should our air, naval and ground forces continue to age and shrink, it will place the interests of the US and our friends and allies at risk.
“An alliance not undergirded by military strength and US leadership may soon become an alliance in name only.
“In 2009, the Obama administration stunned two NATO allies — Poland and the Czech Republic — with a surprise withdrawal from an agreement to station missile defense sites on their territories, an agreement they signed in the face of Russian threats. Two of our most valuable partners were treated shabbily, the cause of missile defense was set back, and the Russians achieved a prime security objective without having to make meaningful concessions in return. And President Obama recently promised Russian leaders even more ‘flexibility’ on missile defense if they give him ‘space’ before his ‘last election.’
“At this moment of both opportunities and perils — an Iranian regime with nuclear ambitions, an unpredictable North Korea, a revanchist Russia, a China spending furiously on its own military, to name but a few of the major challenges looming before us — the NATO alliance must retain the capacity to act.”
So the bidding war will go, and who would wager that the Pentagon chiefs won’t deem Romney the safer bet?
Ironically, the Law of the Sea is once again up for ratification by the US, a lonely hold-out, though the Treaty has been part of international law for many years. One of the big guns in the first Reagan campaign was this same law. Starting in the mid 1970s William Safire wrote scores of columns against the law then under negotiation, and was still at it in 1994: A specimen from the late 1970s:
“Seven years ago, in a foreign blunder of the Nixon administration, we agreed to a Law of the Sea Conference… The State Department wanted to show the Third World that we wanted them to get rich at little cost to us. The sop that we were planning to give the Third World’s Cerberus was a division of the minerals of the ocean bottom. Potato-like lumps called ‘nodules’ litter the ocean bed, containing manganese, copper, cobalt. Plenty of nodules for everybody. The deal we offered was to take half the natural common and turn it into a Third World cartel, leaving only the other half to the entrepreneurs that Locke called ‘all mankind’.”
Only half! You can imagine the sport Reagan had with that on the campaign rail.
Now the Obama administration is trying to push ratification through again. Fat chance. They already put the vote off till after the election.
The cold war never went away. Romney howls for “anti”-missile encirclement of Russia from Georgia, Poland and the Czech Republic. Jackson-Vanik, passed in 1974, which denies Russia most favored nation status (given the Chinese some time ago) on human rights grounds is still on the books for Russia and has to be over-ridden on a case-by-case waiver process. As with Law of the Sea the Republican ultra-ultras in the Senate are implacably opposed.
A final note on NATO. There were gale-force gusts of bombast in Chicago about the NATO Alliance’s historic role as freedom’s buckler, starting with the defense of Europe, thus perpetuating nearly 70 years of years of humbug. There was never the slightest chance of the Soviet Union and its auxiliaries in the Warsaw Pact rolling west in the prospective onslaught luridly evoked by Winston Churchill in a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March, 1949. Churchill raised the specter of the “Mongol hordes” that had menaced Europe 700 years before, only heading home when the Great Khan died. “They never returned,” rumbled the old faker, “until now.”
Having borne almost the entire burden of crushing Hitler’s armies on the Eastern front and having suffered appalling casualties in so doing, the Soviet Union was in no condition to invade western Europe. This didn’t impede mad Western scenarios of the sort that threat-inflators routinely issued down the decades until the very moment the Soviet Union collapsed.
Driven by Truman’s 1948 arms scare, NATO lumbered into being in 1949, ratifying dominance of US arms procurement for the alliance, internal custodial sentry duty against any slide to the left by one or other of the European allies, establishment of West Germany as an independent state and US control of the nuclear forces deemed necessary to counter non-existent Soviet conventional superiority.
Year upon year nothing dented the endless flow of “threat assessments” powering new weapons systems, “theater nuclear” and “counterforce” doctrines that kept the arms factories running at full tilt and spawned a vast subculture of think-tanks, expert panels and lobbyshops.
Then, suddenly, it was all over. NATO’s formal purpose evaporated. The Soviet Union collapsed. Without delay NATO burgeoned into exactly what its left detractors had always said its essential function had been from the very start, a US-dominated political and military alliance aimed at encircling Russia and acting as enforcer for larger US imperial strategy. NATO’s onslaughts on the former Yugoslavia duly followed.
NATO doesn’t need a new mission. It needs to disappear into the trashcan of history along with the cold war that engendered it.
A tumbril (n.) a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.
Domenic Maltempi requests “stand idly by” be brought to revolutionary justice. It’s true that the phrase is often to be found in speeches that also say “all options are on the table.” (Summarily guillotined a while ago.) Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville made a fine speech pouring ridicule on the absurdity, nay the counter-revolutionary import of the phrase. So off goes stand idly by to the Place de La Revolution.
And Jerry Fresia seeks to introduce a whole new theme in this series:
“Might it be possible to nominate images, surely a means of communication as powerful as words at times, to be carried off to the guillotine via the tumbril? If so I nominate the arm raised, closed fist image that adorns endless posters and T-shirts. About 40 years ago, back when I was a bit more virile myself, I too proposed that our new group use as its newsletter image, the in-your-face closed fist; what better way to announce to the world that we were brimming with a resolute no-screwing-around militancy. Now the same image makes me want to puke, if for no other reason than it is the absolute bane of creativity, the dreaded formula. While we are at it, why don’t we toss in the other mindless image of revolutionary zealotry, the face of Che Guevara. Any revolutionary organization worth its salt ought to come up with something both provocative and fresh. Militancy is needed. Che Guevara remains a hero. But please, can we move on when it comes to the images we use to present ourselves to the world?”
Tempting, but I think not. We should value the strong images we have — the fist, Che, Robespierre, and use them imaginatively. Here, words are our business. ¥¥
(Alexander Cockburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .)