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« Develop Iraq to cut deals with world | Main | Response to Georgia conflict: firm but moderate »
Sunday
Aug242008

What reviving Cold War will end up costing us

The West's re-demonization of Russia is in full swing, with aging advocates barely able to conceal their glee in resurrecting the "good old days." It's a sad commentary on our grand strategic thinking that we so blithely add back the Cold War to our already full plate of global security interests.

We were tapped before Russia and Georgia went at it: Witness President Bush's efforts to "sue for peace" with every rogue regime out there. Now we're making ourselves more strategically irrelevant than ever because a military superpower that takes on all to defend all is too easily exhausted and thus more feasibly defeated by smaller powers.

Osama bin Laden must be laughing all the way to his cave tonight. Nothing suits his long-term interests better than renewed East-West tension. When the next 9/11 happens, and the inevitable questions arise, it won't be enough to say, "But we were busy making the Caucasus safe from Russian imperialism."

Iran's leadership must also be feeling pretty good right now. Although Moscow has no desire to see Iran armed with nuclear weapons, Western attempts to punish and isolate Russia will push Putin to make any alliances possible. I wonder if Israel feels South Ossetia was worth it.

The dumbest part of this transaction is that we've let Georgia's hothead leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, unilaterally declare war between NATO and Russia. We don't let Taiwan do the same in our crucial relationship with China, so why have we let ourselves get played for such chumps here?

Anybody else out there want to audition for the part of Archduke Ferdinand?

Imagine how history would judge America's choices if we let small country nationalist leaders set in motion the destruction of our world-spanning international liberal trade order - a.k.a. globalization. There's been more poverty reduction globally in the last quarter century than in the previous five centuries. You want a Cold War peace dividend? That's it - the rough doubling of the world middle class over the next two decades.

But, rather than appreciate our unprecedented success in creating that real world order, we choose to buy into the neocon fantasy that the only power worth measuring in this era is military strength and the willingness to use it. Do you really think Iran is somehow more powerful than Saudi Arabia? Or that Russia's smackdown of Georgia vaults it past China? Can anybody in this day and age really think ballistic missiles make the world go round?

Such soda-straw views of today's global power structure dumb down our strategic thinking. We're letting the least intelligent leaders out there determine our responses.

Russia has built extensive, downstream economic connectivity with the West, which it wants to preserve. It has also sought NATO membership, with Putin himself saying it could happen if Russia was treated like an equal.

In our supreme lack of strategic imagination, we've said no, choosing instead to expand NATO right up to Russia's doorstep and - just now - to get Poland's agreement to install missile defense. NATO, we tell ourselves, began as an anti-Russia military alliance, and so it must stay. Instead of building something new that could include Russia, we've hung onto our Cold War safety blanket, inserting thumb in mouth.

Let me tell you about some things we can say goodbye to once we re-start the Cold War.

Say goodbye to a strategic alliance with China. As a fellow autocracy, it'll get swept up in the us-versus-them mania.

Say goodbye to India, too. It didn't kowtow our way in the first Cold War, either.

Finally, say goodbye to capturing the ideological flag of that rapidly expanding world middle class - the real strategic prize out there. Arguably the greatest potential force for spreading democracy around the planet, we'll end up antagonizing that, too.

No surprise, folks. When you ask old men old questions, you get old answers.

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