The Guns of August is a book about the blunders, miscalculations and general fuck-ups starting with an assassination in Sarajevo that led the death of 10 million soldiers and 5 million civilians in the First World War. Thirteen Days is Bobby Kennedy’s account of the Cuban Crisis and the narrow escape from nuclear holocaust in 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev tried to move missiles into Cuba. These books should be must reads for Barack Obama while he vacations on Martha’s Vineyard in August.
In July Obama will sign an agreement with Fidel Castro’s Brother Raul restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba some 50 years after the crisis. He should remember how close we came to the brink of disaster when we intercepted and blockaded missile carrying Russian freighters bound for Cuba in international waters. He might want to reconsider his announced plan to deploy “battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons … in several Baltic and Eastern European countries”.
In response to Jack Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs Invasion Khrushchev’s decision to deploy medium-range and intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles in response was tantamount to a declaration of war. The United States could not allow offensive strike capabilities to exist some 90 miles south of Miami and within striking distance of every major American city including Los Angeles and Seattle. What makes Obama think that this proposed deployment of forces only 500 miles from Moscow [Riga, Latvia to Moscow, Russia] will go unchallenged and unanswered?
Kennedy’s embrace of the Monroe Doctrine – “Don’t Tread on Me” or the Western Hemisphere – was as rational and prescient in 1962 as it was when first made by the President in his State of the Union Address in 1823: any interference with countries in North or South America “would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring United States intervention”. What makes Obama think that Putin and Russia do not ascribe to their own “Don’t Tread on Me” policy?
Like it or not the agreements made at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam divided Europe into two spheres of influence – Western Europe dominated by NATO and the United States and Eastern Europe dominated by Russia and it puppet states. That has changed with the demise of the Cold War. Russia has been downsized with the defection of former client states and the independence of post-Soviet states – Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and 10 others.
On the other hand NATO has dangerously expanded beyond its original mission and Charter. Between 1999 and 2004 it has co-opted 8 former Warsaw Pact countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, all on Russia’s very borders. It is no wonder that Russia feels threatened.
An enemy on your border is not to be tolerated which explains our Cuban policy of embargo and containment for 50 years. Socially media reflected this mind set. Red Dawn, possibly the worst movie ever made, played on our fears – Russia using Cuban and Nicaraguan forces invades the United States in that make believe scenario and an intrepid band of teenagers led by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey wage a guerilla war for freedom, justice and the American way.
A mirror image of this scenario is playing today on Russian TV with the American aggressors supported by NATO forces trying to gain control of Ukraine and the Crimea. On domestic TV the Cold War series Deutschland 83 premieres on Wednesday with an East German spy telling an American general “On your maps, Russia may be very far away but it’s as close to Bonn as say, Ohio is to D.C. The fallout alone would destroy us”. The reverse sends shivers up Putin’s spine.
Obama’s plate is full with Iraq and Afghanistan disintegrating, Syria and Libya imploding, Isis and the Taliban ascending. Why add another distraction by positioning battle tanks, heavy weapons and advance equipment and 5,000 battle ready troops within striking distance of the Kremlin? This is an unnecessary provocation. It violates a “crucial provision of a 1997 agreement between Russia and NATO in which the alliance [NATO] pledged not to station substantial combat forces near Russia”.
To claim that the Pentagon “is merely deploying the equipment, not the troops themselves” notwithstanding the 5,000 soldiers “guarding” and “maintaining” the equipment or that “positioning the equipment forward saves the United States Army time, money and resources” are a silly word games to be derided with appropriate hoots and hollers.
Putin and Obama should re-read The Guns of August and Thirteen Days and cancel any deployment of forces. There is no good reason to tempt fate just to save face.
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney and Op Ed columnist lives and write from New York and is a frequent contributor. He is the author of Letters from America and Contrary Views. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com