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Reprinted from Consortium News
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a leading neocon and proponent of the Iraq War.
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Former Washington insider and four-star General Wesley Clark spilled the beans several years ago on how Paul Wolfowitz and his neoconservative co-conspirators implemented their sweeping plan to destabilize key Middle Eastern countries once it became clear that post-Soviet Russia "won't stop us."
As I recently reviewed a YouTube eight-minute clip of General Clark's October 2007 speech, what leaped out at me was that the neocons had been enabled by their assessment that -- after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- Russia had become neutralized and posed no deterrent to U.S. military action in the Middle East.
This was startling enough, I grant you, since officially the United States presents itself as a nation that respects international law, frowns upon other powerful nations overthrowing the governments of weaker states, and -- in the aftermath of World War II -- condemned past aggressions by Nazi Germany and decried Soviet "subversion" of pro-U.S. nations.
But what caught my eye this time was the significance of Clark's depiction of Wolfowitz in 1992 gloating over what he judged to be a major lesson learned from the Desert Storm attack on Iraq in 1991; namely, "the Soviets won't stop us."
That remark directly addresses a question that has troubled me since March 2003 when George W. Bush attacked Iraq. Would the neocons -- widely known as "the crazies" at least among the remaining sane people of Washington -- have been crazy enough to opt for war to re-arrange the Middle East if the Soviet Union had not fallen apart in 1991?
The question is not an idle one. Despite the debacle in Iraq and elsewhere, the neocon "crazies" still exercise huge influence in Establishment Washington. Thus, the question now becomes whether, with Russia far more stable and much stronger, the "crazies" are prepared to risk military escalation with Russia over Ukraine, what retired U.S. diplomat William R. Polk deemed a potentially dangerous nuclear confrontation, a "Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse."
The geopolitical vacuum that enabled the neocons to try out their "regime change" scheme in the Middle East may have been what Russian President Vladimir Putin was referring to in his state-of-the-nation address on April 25, 2005, when he called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [past] century." Putin's comment has been a favorite meme of those who seek to demonize Putin by portraying him as lusting to re-establish a powerful USSR through aggression in Europe.
But, commenting two years after the Iraq invasion, Putin seemed correct at least in how the neocons exploited the absence of the Russian counterweight to over-extend American power in ways that were harmful to the world, devastating to the people at the receiving end of the neocon interventions, and even detrimental to the United States.
If one takes a step back and attempts an unbiased look at the spread of violence in the Middle East over the past quarter-century, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Putin's comment was on the mark. With Russia a much-weakened military power in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was nothing to deter U.S. policymakers from the kind of adventurism at Russia's soft underbelly that, in earlier years, would have carried considerable risk of armed U.S.-USSR confrontation.
I lived in the USSR during the 1970s and would not wish that kind of restrictive regime on anyone. Until it fell apart, though, it was militarily strong enough to deter Wolfowitz-style adventurism. And I will say that -- for the millions of people now dead, injured or displaced by U.S. military action in the Middle East over the past dozen years -- the collapse of the Soviet Union as a deterrent to U.S. war-making was not only a "geopolitical catastrophe" but an unmitigated disaster.
In his 2007 speech, General Clark related how in early 1991 he dropped in on Paul Wolfowitz, then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (and later, from 2001 to 2005, Deputy Secretary of Defense). It was just after a major Shia uprising in Iraq in March 1991. President George H.W. Bush's administration had provoked it, but then did nothing to rescue the Shia from brutal retaliation by Saddam Hussein, who had just survived his Persian Gulf defeat.
According to Clark, Wolfowitz said: "We should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein. The truth is, one thing we did learn is that we can use our military in the Middle East and the Soviets won't stop us. We've got about five or 10 years to clean up those old Soviet client regimes -- Syria, Iran (sic), Iraq -- before the next great superpower comes on to challenge us."
It's now been more than 10 years, of course. But do not be deceived into thinking Wolfowitz and his neocon colleagues believe they have failed in any major way. The unrest they initiated keeps mounting -- in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Lebanon -- not to mention fresh violence now in full swing in Yemen and the crisis in Ukraine. Yet, the Teflon coating painted on the neocons continues to cover and protect them in the "mainstream media."
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