David Stockman / Stockman’s Contra Corner – 2014-03-13 00:23:06
(March 11, 2014) — Contrary to the bombast, jingoism, and shrill moralizing flowing from Washington and the mainstream media, America has no interest in the current spat between Putin and the mobs of Kiev.
For several centuries the Crimea has been Russian; for even longer, the Ukraine has been a cauldron of ethnic and tribal conflict, rarely an organized, independent state, and always a meandering set of borders looking for a redrawn map. Surely Washington jests when it threatens to organize another feckless set of economic sanctions against a nation that’s got the gas which Europe needs.
The source of the current calamity-howling about Russia is the Warfare State — that is, the existence of vast machinery of military, diplomatic and economic maneuver that is ever on the prowl for missions and mandates and that can mobilize a massive propaganda campaign on the slightest excitement.
The post-1991 absurdity of bolstering NATO and extending it into eastern Europe, rather than liquidating it after attaining “mission accomplished,” is just another manifestation of its baleful impact.
In truth, the expansion of NATO is one of the underlying causes of America’s needless tension with Russia and Putin’s paranoia about his borders and neighbors. Indeed, what juvenile minds actually determined that America needs a military alliance with Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania!
So the resounding clatter for action against Russia emanating from Washington and its house-trained media is not even a semi-rational response to the facts at hand; its just another destructive spasm of the nation’s Warfare State and its beltway machinery of diplomatic meddling, economic warfare and military intervention.
Memo To Obama: It’s Their Red Line
Not only does Washington’s pathetic meddling in the current Russian-Ukrainian food fight have nothing to do with the safety and security of the American people, it also betrays woeful disregard for the elementary facts of that region’s turbulent and often bloody history.
In fact, the allegedly “occupied” territory of Crimea was actually annexed by Catherine the Great in 1783, thereby satisfying the longstanding quest of the Russian Czars for a warm-water port. Over the ages, Sevastopol then emerged as a great naval base at the strategic tip of the Crimean peninsula, where it became home to the mighty Black Sea Fleet of the Czars and then the commissars.
For the next 171 years Crimea was an integral part of Russia — a span that exceeds the 166 years that have elapsed since California was annexed by a similar thrust of “Manifest Destiny” on this continent, thereby providing, incidentally, the United States Navy with its own warm-water port in San Diego.
While no foreign forces subsequently invaded the California coasts, it was most definitely not Ukrainian and Polish rifles, artillery and blood which famously annihilated The Charge Of The Light Brigade at the Crimean city of Balaclava in 1854; they were Russians defending the homeland from Turks, Europeans and Brits.
And the portrait of the Russian “hero” hanging in Putin’s office is that of Czar Nicholas I — whose brutal 30-year reign brought the Russian Empire to its historical zenith, and who was revered in Russian hagiography as the defender of Crimea, even as he lost the 1850s war to the Ottomans and Europeans. Besides that, there is no evidence that Putin does historical apologies, anyway.
At the end of the day, it’s their Red Line. When the enfeebled Franklin Roosevelt made port in the Crimean city of Yalta in February 1945 he did at least know that he was in Soviet Russia. Maneuvering to cement his control of the Kremlin in the intrigue-ridden struggle for succession after Stalin’s death a few years later, Nikita Khrushchev allegedly spent 15 minutes reviewing his “gift” of Crimea to his subalterns in Kiev in honor of the decision by their ancestors 300 years earlier to accept the inevitable and become a vassal of Russia.
Self-evidently, during the long decades of the Cold War, the West did nothing to liberate the “captive nation” of the Ukraine — with or without the Crimean appendage bestowed upon it in 1954. Nor did it draw any red lines in the mid-1990â€²s when a financially desperate Ukraine rented back Sevastopol and the strategic redoubts of the Crimea to an equally pauperized Russia.
In short, in the era before we got our Pacific port in 1848 and in the 166-year interval since then, our national security has depended not one wit on the status of the Russian-speaking Crimea. Should the local population now choose fealty to the Grand Thief in Moscow over the ruffians and rabble who have seized Kiev, what’s to matter!
Worse still, how long can America survive the screeching sanctimony and mindless meddling of Susan Rice and Samantha Power? Mr. President, send them back to geography class; don’t draw any new Red Lines. This one has been morphing for centuries among the quarreling tribes, peoples, potentates, Patriarchs and pretenders of a small region that is none of our damn business.
From the Pentagon Swampland of Waste
The current Ukrainian policy farce emanating from Washington is not only a reminder that the military-industrial-beltway complex is still alive and well, but also demonstrates why the forces of crony capitalism and money politics which sustain it are so lamentable.
The fact is, the modern Warfare State has been the incubator of American imperialism since the Cold War, and is now proving itself utterly invulnerable to fiscal containment, even in the face of a $17 trillion national debt.
This condition has deep historical roots — about which I have more than passing familiarity. About three decades ago I called the Pentagon a “swamp of waste” during an off-the-record interview that ended-up on the evening news. Presently I ended-up in President Reagan’s woodshed — explaining that, well, yes, I did say that because it was in fact true.
The Gipper was the scourge of Big Government, but he was also fiscally near-sighted: He could not see any sign of Big Government beyond the Potomac River! And at that particular moment the Warfare State branch of Big Government was erupting from the fiscal swamplands around the Pentagon in nearly parabolic fashion.
The 1980 GOP campaign had lambasted Jimmy Carter for his allegedly wimpy DOD budget of $140 billion that year, but within two weeks of the Reagan inauguration I was suddenly staring at a Pentagon plan to spend 2.5X that amount or $350 billion annually a few years down the road.
The Neo-Cons’ Big Lie
The fiscal insanity embedded in that spending surge was based on a neo-con lie that was refutable then and laughable now — namely, that the Soviet Union was on the verge of a nuclear first strike capability that could annihilate American civilization, and that its leader’s were madmen bent on world domination.
In fact, they were paranoid Russian nationalists from beginning to end — Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko. And now Putin, too. Having been invaded and devastated from the west twice in the 20th Century at the loss of 40 million lives they had become extremely touchy about their borders and neighbors, to say the least.
Accordingly, they had buried their sclerotic socialist command economy under the burden of a vast, lumbering conventional land-war machine that was a testament to “never again.” Indeed, by 1981 it would have been strikingly clear to observers acquainted with the essentials of free markets and political liberty that the Soviet system would collapse under the dead weight of its own statist regime — and long before its vast, parasitic conventional military forces would be called upon to repel yet another (presumptive) German invasion.
The neo-cons are thorough-going statists, however, and did not see the truth that the laws of a free society would bring down the decrepit Soviet Empire. Nor could they acknowledge that the bumbling Soviet dictatorship would be held at bay by the triad nuclear deterrent put in place by the great Dwight Eisenhower; and that the triad’s 10,000 plus warheads had already been bought, paid for, tested and stood to the ready by 1980 — meaning that there was no need for a Reagan defense buildup at all. It was just a matter of waiting out the eventual meltdown of the iron curtain and the societal penitentiary inside.
Ronald Reagan: One-Armed Statist
Ronald Reagan never saw that either because he had come from the New Deal by transit through the fetid waters of late 1940s California/Nixonian anti-communism, and was ever a sucker for the latest Red Scare thereafter. The neo-cons were pleased to supply the big one — the First Strike myth — as Reagan lumbered toward the White House in the late 1970s.
Moreover, while the founders of the neo-con movement did eventually shed their Trotskyite blinders, they never really got over their fondness for Big government and the acquisition of political power. It was just redirected to the national security branches of the state, and to the Manichean proposition that our state was Good and theirs was the host of an Evil Empire. In embracing the neo-con coda to his stock anti-communism, Ronald Reagan thus became a one-armed statist as he entered the White House.
The neo-con coda — -that the Soviets had a nuclear war-winning strategy — is one of history’s Big Lies. As I have laid out in detail in a chapter of the Great Deformation called “Triumph of The Warfare State,” the Soviets never had a massive civil defense system (to absorb a US retaliation) or massive phalanx of first strike missiles and bombers. And that was no secret at the time: The pre-Reagan CIA intelligence estimates denied it, as did most non neo-con Soviet experts.
But the history-warping impact of the neo-con lie went beyond policy error or a few needlessly tense moments with the Soviets in the 1980s. Once Reagan signed on to what became a five-year $1.5 trillion defense plan, the Pentagon was able to come up with less than $150 billion of programs that were even ostensibly related to countering the threat of the mythical First Strike.
Instead, this huge “top-line” gift to the military-industrial complex was back-filled with a massive armada of tanks, ships, aircraft, munitions and electronics designed for conventional warfare — that is, for what was known then as “power projection” and is evident now as the American Imperium’s wars of invasion and occupation.
This great conventional war machine would not have changed the strategic balance, nor would it have been of much use on the Eurasian continent had the Soviets actually saved up enough fuel to move their tank columns west.
But in any event, the Reagan Armada was not demobilized when the Cold War ended because by the early 1990s it already had taken on its own raison d’etre: it was now a massive national public jobs program and the center of a sweeping bi-partisan system of crony capitalist dirigisme. In effect, Ronald Reagan’s conventional war machine has become embedded in the very warp and woof of the nation’s economy and governance.
And that’s why the Pentagon can’t be cut, and remains a swampland of waste to this day. When the people took away Obama’s keys to the Tomahawk missile batteries last September, it was obvious that the American Imperium is (thankfully) over and that the $625 billion allocated to DOD this year amounts to a colossal destruction of economic resources for no benefit whatsoever to the safety and security of the American people. But as is now becoming evident as the so-called defense sequester entirely evaporates, the military-industrial-beltway complex has enormous capacity to resist shrinkage — even when desperate politicians accidently try.
The $55 Billion DOD Cut That Shrunk to $3 Billion
The 2014 budget was supposed to be hit with a $55 billion defense “sequester” reduction that came out of the 2011 Budget Super-Committee.
The former had always been intended as a fiscal bluff to keep the game going through a few more debt ceiling crises and fiscal showdowns. But when it inadvertently ended up as the default budget law for 2014, the system reversed the cuts faster than green grass passes through a goose.
Owing to one device of budgetary legerdemain after another, the “cut” now stands at $3.4 billion — -a sum so preposterously small that it amounts to about 30 hours of annual spending by our corpulent Warfare State — including DOD, the spy agencies, foreign and security aid, homeland security and the VA.
And the phony cries that the military is being “hollowed-out” deserve a special place in the annals of Propaganda and Lies. Had every dime of the $55 billion sequester been implemented, this year’s DOD budget including the so-called war contingency would have been roughly $600 billion.
By contrast, when the Gipper rode out of town saluting the military branch of Big Government in 1989, the DOD budget was about $475 billion in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars.
So the Warfare State’s budget would have been up 25 percent from nearly everything that our one-armed statist President wanted for defense, yet his clueless disciples like Congressman Paul Ryan warned that this bloated level would have been tantamount to surrender.
Lickety-split, the GOP first conspired with Senator Patty Murray and the liberals to add back $23 billion in return for a like amount of social spending, and then with the appropriators and green-eye shades maneuvered the accounts to sneak back the rest.
A phony budget war, indeed, but also something even more disturbing: evidence that the Warfare State has morphed into an Orwellian derangement in which even vocabulary is so corrupted that “bloated” equals “hollow,” and “increases” are “cuts.” Needless to say, in that world our clueless President can read rebukes to Putin from the teleprompter text provided to him by the organs of the Warfare State — and not even recognize the irony.
We have invaded every country to our South — from the Dominican Republic to Guatemala and Panama and assassinated or overthrown dozens of their leaders — all within the 60-year span since Nikita Khrushchev gifted Crimea to his minions in Kiev. So precisely which nearby borders are so sacrosanct and exactly who has done the more egregious violating?
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