Poking the Bear: Encircling Russia and Kicking Off a New Cold War
Vladimir Putin's Russia is increasingly autocratic and has shown a propensity for localized aggression in its sphere of influence. Still, it would be better not to exaggerate the threat. Russia did annex the Crimea, but the people of that province were Russians and desired such a reunification. It intervened in a Ukrainian civil war, but Washington was also complicit in the coup that kicked off that drama. Besides, all of this unfolded in Russia's neighborhood as the U.S. military increasingly deploys its forces up to the very borders of the Russian Federation. Imagine the hysteria in Washington if Russia were deploying troops and advisers in Mexico or the Caribbean.
To put all of this in perspective, Washington and its military machine actually prefer facing off against Russia. It's a fight the armed forces still remain comfortable with. After all, that's what its top commanders were trained for during the tail end of an almost half-century-long Cold War. Counterinsurgency is frustrating and indecisive. The prospect of preparing for "real war" against the good old Russians with tanks, planes, and artillery -- now, that's what the military was built for!
And despite all the over-hyped talk about Donald Trump's complicity with Russia, under him, the Obama-era military escalation in Europe has only expanded. Back when I was toiling hopelessly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army was actually removing combat brigades from Germany and stationing them back on U.S. soil (when, of course, they weren't off fighting somewhere in the Greater Middle East). Then, in the late Obama years, the military began returning those forces to Europe and stationing them in the Baltic, Poland, Romania, and other countries increasingly near to Russia. That's never ended and, this year, the U.S. Air Force has delivered its largest shipment of ordnance to Europe since the Cold War.
Make no mistake: war with Russia would be an unnecessary disaster -- and it could go nuclear. Is Latvia really worth that risk?
From a Russian perspective, of course, it's Washington and its expansion of the (by definition) anti-Russian NATO alliance into Eastern Europe that constitutes the real aggression in the region -- and Putin may have a point there. What's more, an honest assessment of the situation suggests that Russia, a country whose economy is about the size of Spain's, has neither the will nor the capacity to invade Central Europe. Even in the bad old days of the Cold War, as we now know from Soviet archives, European conquest was never on Moscow's agenda. It still isn't.
Nonetheless, the U.S. military goes on preparing for what Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller, addressing some of his forces in Norway, claimed was a "big fight" to come. If it isn't careful, Washington just might get the war it seems to want and the one that no one in Europe or the rest of this planet needs.
Challenging the Dragon: The Futile Quest for Hegemony in Asia
The United States Navy has long treated the world's oceans as if they were American lakes. Washington extends no such courtesy to other great powers or nation-states. Only now, the U.S. Navy finally faces some challenges abroad -- especially in the Western Pacific. A rising China, with a swiftly growing economy and carrying grievances from a long history of European imperial domination, has had the audacity to assert itself in the South China Sea. In response, Washington has reacted with panic and bellicosity.
Never mind that the South China Sea is Beijing's Caribbean (a place where Washington long felt it had the right to do anything it wanted militarily). Heck, the South China Sea has China in its name! The U.S. military now claims -- with just enough truth to convince the uninformed -- that China's growing navy is out for Pacific, if not global, dominance. Sure, at the moment China has only two aircraft carriers, one an old rehab (though it is building more) compared to the U.S. Navy's 11 full-sized and nine smaller carriers. And yes, China hasn't actually attacked any of its neighbors yet. Still, the American people are told that their military must prepare for possible future war with the most populous nation on the planet.
In that spirit, it has been forward deploying yet more ships, Marines, and troops to the Pacific Rim surrounding China. Thousands of Marines are now stationed in Northern Australia; U.S. warships cruise the South Pacific; and Washington has sent mixed signals regarding its military commitments to Taiwan. Even the Indian Ocean has recently come to be seen as a possible future battleground with China, as the U.S. Navy increases its regional patrols there and Washington negotiates stronger military ties with China's rising neighbor, India. In a symbolic gesture, the military recently renamed its former Pacific Command (PACOM) the Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM).
Unsurprisingly, China's military high command has escalated accordingly. They've advised their South China Sea Command to prepare for war, made their own set of provocative gestures in the South China Sea, and also threatened to invade Taiwan should the Trump administration change America's longstanding "One China" policy.
From the Chinese point of view, all of this couldn't be more logical, given that President Trump has also unleashed a "trade war" on Beijing's markets and intensified his anti-China rhetoric. And all of this is, in turn, consistent with the Pentagon's increasing militarization of the entire globe.
No Land Too Distant
Would that it were only Africa, Asia, and Europe that Washington had chosen to militarize. But as Dr. Seuss might have said: that is not all, oh no, that is not all. In fact, more or less every square inch of our spinning planet not already occupied by a rival state has been deemed a militarized space to be contested. The U.S. has long been unique in the way it divided the entire surface of the globe into geographical (combatant) commands presided over by generals and admirals who functionally serve as regional Roman-style proconsuls.
And the Trump years are only accentuating this phenomenon. Take Latin America, which might normally be considered a non-threatening space for the U.S., though it is already under the gaze of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Recently, however, having already threatened to "invade" Venezuela, President Trump spent the election campaign rousing his base on the claim that a desperate caravan of Central American refugees -- hailing from countries the U.S. had a significant responsibility for destabilizing in the first place -- was a literal "invasion" and so yet another military problem. As such, he ordered more than 5,000 troops (more than currently serve in Syria or Iraq) to the U.S.-Mexico border.