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May 14, 2014
STEP BY STEP TO WORLD WAR III?
by Arshad M. Khan
May 13, 2014
As 2014 commenced, the media was awash in the events leading up to WWI a
hundred years previously: the diplomatic miscalculations, power plays, honor pride,
and other human frailties in an ineluctable march to hostilities; all with a vain conceit
that it could not happen in today’s world. Yet in the current Ukraine crisis, Washington
is offering its own mix of myopia, evangelic righteousness, a Washington beltway echo
chamber where dissent is drowned out, and an amazing capacity to transform reality
into its narrow misguided hegemonic strategy.
To press forward with the effort to corner and neutralize Russia, German Chancellor
Angela Merkel was invited to Washington in an effort to pressure the most significant
European opposition into stronger sanctions. At the onset of her trip, however, four
major German companies
signed and delivered a letter to her opposing any such escalation. On her return
there have been signs of some initial progress with Mr. Putin – given the change in his
Meanwhile, the first clashes, fatalities and what some are labeling a massacre (of 38
civilians sheltering in an Odessa labor union building which was firebombed), have
turned peaceful demonstration into confrontation. The latest attacks in Mariupol have
killed another score or more. It could have been expected when Kiev dispatched the
far-right militias to accompany the military. As in all such situations, events are murky
with charges and counter-charges. Nevertheless, two things are certain: many have
died, and the prevailing sentiment in the east has hardened against Kiev. It did not
help that the Mariupol killings occurred while Russians commemorated the end of WW
II in which 26 million Russians (including Ukrainians) perished, and during which the
far-right Ukrainian militias were Nazi sympathizers.
Russian troops have been massed on the eastern border (which Mr. Putin claims –
and NATO disagrees – are being withdrawn) while NATO is developing a response on
the western side, and the game is becoming exceedingly dangerous. Pressed further,
the Russians may feel impelled to defend their brethren in the east. If NATO, urged by
Kiev enters from the west, we have a tinder box with the possibility of a serious
miscalculation and a direct clash. Russia, of course, is not Iraq; it, like the U.S., has
enough nuclear weapons to obliterate the world. So why this madness?
The fact is US strategic thinking is embalmed in the cold war – Russia must be
contained. This containment strategy has absorbed almost all the former East
European Russian satellites in contravention of the agreement with Gorbachev. NATO’
s march is now into the heartland, into Ukraine. Bottling Russia up or marginalizing it
has been and still is the intent: denying the Mediterranean, or attempting to, forcing it
to act, first in Crimea and now possibly in eastern Ukraine to bring chaos on its
western flank. But it remains in Kiev’s interest to negotiate a solution if it wishes to
retain the industrial east.
A clear-headed analysis and a future horizon would orient towards economic
cooperation with a nuclear-armed state the size of Russia. Unfortunately,
Sovietologists of the past holding sway in the US are still tied to their geopolitical
imperative of European domination, of a strategic encirclement to neutralize Russia.
The rigid mindset trumps economic considerations, or the dangers of going
backwards to the cold war days when people were building nuclear shelters in their
backyard, or even some odious Kiev allies. US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a former
speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and far from a liberal, forced Victoria Neuland (of ‘f***
the EU’ fame) to admit
to the latter in a recent appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The backward thinking does not stop in Europe. It sees China’s economic growth as a
future threat to be countered militarily. The US is now building a base on Jeju island in
South Korea not 300 miles from Shanghai as a part of the ring of missiles and nuclear-
armed aircraft around China.
All this brings to mind the award-winning documentary filmmaker Robert Frye’s latest
effort In My Lifetime
. Spanning the arc of time from 1945 to the present day, it follows the theme of
nuclear weapons, the buildup of an arsenal capable of destroying the earth. In one
scene, a janitor is shown sweeping the floor right next to a neat line of a score or
more bombs, each one a hundred times more powerful than Hiroshima and Nagasaki
which together killed 240,000 people. As he casually continues his task, the contrast
between a single human being and a bomb capable of killing tens of millions is a stark
reminder of our nuclear insanity.
Evan Thomas’ book Ike’s Bluff
reveals an Eisenhower who was opposed to dropping the atomic bombs on Japan,
and who, as President, used guile and wile to protect us from nuclear catastrophe in a
perilous time with a raging Korean war (which he ended), and the memories of killing
hundreds of thousands in a night of bombing fresh enough to desensitize some
policymakers and generals into adding another zero to the numbers and imagining
nuclear war as a real option.
And on Korea, University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings latest book, The
Korean War: A History
, reminds us of the origins of the Korean conflict where the Northerners who fought
the Japanese in WWII were branded ‘commies’ whereas the collaborators with Japan
in the South were installed there by the U.S. as a countervailing force. The
subsequent hell (1950-1953) killed more Koreans than the number of Japanese killed
in the entire Second World War.
Eisenhower might have had the courage and military heft to stand up to the
warmongers; the worry is who can do it now, and who can do it when alternative
voices have been all but silenced in the major US media space, and the public is