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Washington Should Think Twice Before Launching a New Cold War


Heightened rhetoric about Russia and China seeking to undermine American influence will only reinforce Washington’s support for repressive regimes. The consequences of that could, in turn, prove to be potentially disastrous: a
 growing chorus of pundits and policymakers has suggested that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marks the beginning of a new Cold War. If so, that means trillions of additional dollars for the Pentagon in the years to come coupled with a more aggressive military posture in every corner of the world.   March 27, 2022 William D. Hartung, Nick Cleveland-Stout, Taylor Giorno  TOM DISPATCH

Before this country succumbs to calls for a return to Cold War-style Pentagon spending, it’s important to note that the United States is already spending substantially more than it did at the height of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or, in fact, any other moment in that first Cold War. Even before the invasion of Ukraine began, the Biden administration’s proposed Pentagon budget (as well as related work like nuclear-warhead development at the Department of Energy) was already guaranteed to soar even higher than that, perhaps to $800 billion or more for 2023.

Some supporters of higher Pentagon spending have, in fact, been promoting figures as awe inspiring as they are absurd. Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, is advocating a trillion-dollar military budget, while Matthew Kroenig of the Atlantic Council called for the United States to prepare to win simultaneous wars against Russia and China. He even suggested that Congress “could go so far as to double its defense spending” without straining our resources. That would translate into a proposed annual defense budget of perhaps $1.6 trillion. Neither of those astronomical figures is likely to be implemented soon, but that they’re being talked about at all is indicative of where the Washington debate on Pentagon spending is heading in the wake of the Ukraine disaster.

Ex-government officials are pressing for similarly staggering military budgets. As former Reagan-era State Department official and Iran-Contra operative Elliott Abrams argued in a recent Foreign Affairs piece titled “The New Cold War”: “It should be crystal clear now that a larger percentage of GDP [gross domestic product] will need to be spent on defense.” Similarly, in a Washington Post op-ed, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted that “we need a larger, more advanced military in every branch, taking full advantage of new technologies to fight in new ways.” No matter that the U.S. already outspends China by a three-to-one margin and Russia by 10-to-one.

Truth be told, current levels of Pentagon spending could easily accommodate even a robust program of arming Ukraine as well as a shift of yet more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe. However, as hawkish voices exploit the Russian invasion to justify higher military budgets, don’t expect that sort of information to get much traction. At least for now, cries for more are going to drown out realistic views on the subject.

Beyond the danger of breaking the budget and siphoning off resources urgently needed to address pressing challenges like pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice, a new Cold War could have devastating consequences. Under such a rubric, the U.S. would undoubtedly launch yet more military initiatives, while embracing unsavory allies in the name of fending off Russian and Chinese influence.

The first Cold War, of course, reached far beyond Europe, as Washington promoted right-wing authoritarian regimes and insurgencies globally at the cost of millions of lives. Such brutal military misadventures included Washington’s role in coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile; the war in Vietnam; and support for repressive governments and proxy forces in Afghanistan, Angola, Central America, and Indonesia. All of those were justified by exaggerated — even at times fabricated — charges of Soviet involvement in such countries and the supposed need to defend “the free world,” a Cold War term President Biden all-too-ominously revived in his recent State of the Union address (assumedly, yet another sign of things to come). 

Indeed, his framing of the current global struggle as one between “democracies and autocracies” has a distinctly Cold War ring to it and, like the term “free world,” it’s riddled with contradictions. After all, from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates to the Philippines, all too many autocracies and repressive regimes already receive ample amounts of U.S. weaponry and military training — no matter that they continue to pursue reckless wars or systematically violate the human rights of their own people. Washington’s support is always premised on the role such regimes supposedly play in fighting against or containing the threats of the moment, whether Iran, China, Russia, or some other country.

Count on one thing: the heightened rhetoric about Russia and China seeking to undermine American influence will only reinforce Washington’s support for repressive regimes. The consequences of that could, in turn, prove to be potentially disastrous. 

Before Washington embarks on a new Cold War, it’s time to remind ourselves of the global consequences of the last one. 

Cold War I: The Coups

………  In 1954, the Eisenhower administration launched a coup that overthrew the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. His “crime”: attempting to redistribute to poor peasants some of the lands owned by major landlords, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. Arbenz’s internal reforms were falsely labeled communism-in-the-making and a case of Soviet influence creeping into the Western Hemisphere……In 1954, the Eisenhower administration launched a coup that overthrew the Guatemalan government of President Jacobo Arbenz. His “crime”: attempting to redistribute to poor peasants some of the lands owned by major landlords, including the U.S.-based United Fruit Company. Arbenz’s internal reforms were falsely labeled communism-in-the-making and a case of Soviet influence creeping into the Western Hemisphere.

In 1973, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger followed Eisenhower’s playbook by fomenting a coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Chilean President Salvador Allende, installing the vicious dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet………..

Vietnam and Its Legacy

The most devastating Cold War example of a war justified on anti-communist grounds was certainly the disastrous U.S. intervention in Vietnam. ……………………………..

The defeat in Vietnam helped spawn what was called the Nixon Doctrine, which eschewed large-scale intervention in favor of the arming of American surrogates like the Shah of Iran and the Suharto regime in Indonesia. ………………….

Chief among this country’s blunders of that previous Cold War era was its response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a policy that still haunts America today……………………..

most of the Cold War policies outlined above, even though carried out under the rubric of promoting “freedom” in “the free world,” would undermine democracy in a disastrous fashion.

A New Cold War?

Cold War II, if it comes to pass, is unlikely to simply follow the pattern of Cold War I either in Europe or other parts of the world.  Still, the damage done by the “good versus evil” worldview that animated Washington’s policies during the Cold War years should be a cautionary tale. The risk is high that the emerging era could be marked by persistent U.S. intervention or interference in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in the name of staving off Russian and Chinese influence in a world where Washington’s disastrous war on terrorism has never quite ended.

The United States already has more than 200,000 troops stationed abroad, 750 military bases scattered on every continent except Antarctica, and continuing counterterrorism operations in 85 countries. The end of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and the dramatic scaling back of American operations in Iraq and Syria should have marked the beginning of a sharp reduction in the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Washington’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine may now stand in the way of just such a much-needed military retrenchment.

The “us versus them” rhetoric and global military maneuvering likely to play out in the years to come threaten to divert attention and resources from the biggest risks to humanity, including the existential threat posed by climate change. It also may divert attention from a country — ours — that is threatening to come apart at the seams.  To choose this moment to launch a new Cold War should be considered folly of the first order, not to speak of an inability to learn from history.  https://portside.org/2022-03-27/washington-should-think-twice-launching-new-cold-war

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March 29, 2022 - Posted by | USA, weapons and war

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