To offer a little context: In the early years of the Cold War, when the A-bomb and then the H-bomb were briefly American monopolies, there were, among American hardliners, those who, in the phrase of the time, wanted to "rollback" the Soviet Union in whatever fashion necessary. At an extreme, as early as 1950, the Strategic Air Command's Gen. Curtis LeMay urged the implementation of SAC Emergency War Plan I-49, which involved delivering a first strike of "the entire stockpile of atomic bombs" in a single massive attack," some 133 A-bombs on 70 Soviet cities in 30 days. However, it was another policy, "containment" (first suggested by diplomat George Kennan in his famous "long telegram" from Moscow and then in his 1947 essay, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," written under the pseudonym "Mr. X" in Foreign Affairs magazine), that took hold. Increasingly, as the years went by, as superpower nuclear arsenals came ever closer to parity, the U.S. and the USSR settled into the equivalent of family life together, bickering (at the cost of untold numbers of dead) only on the borderlands of their respective empires. In the later 1960s, containment became détente.
When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and relaunched the Cold War against the "evil empire," matters threatened to change, but in the end -- despite a massive rearmament campaign (that began in the Carter years) and the launching of Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), meant to militarize space, détente hung in there; finally, to the surprise of all American strategists, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe quickly unraveled without opposition from the remarkable Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (a rare instance of the head of an imperial order not turning to force as it was dismantled). After a moment's hesitation, America's cold warriors, including the massively funded intelligence community which had never so much as suspected the weakened state of the Soviet Union, declared global victory. Much of the rest of the story (the lack of a "peace dividend," the rise of the U.S. as the globe's supposed sole "hyperpower," the way the neoconservatives and others fell in love with American military might and its potential ability to alter the world in directions they passionately desired is now reasonably well known
except for the very large piece of the puzzle Cohen contributed last week.
In his essay, Cohen points out that Russia, despite recent gains, is still in "an unprecedented state of peacetime demodernization and depopulation," suffering "wartime death and birth rates" in a time of relative peace; while its unstable political system rests on the popularity of one man, Vladimir Putin. What was left of the USSR having almost imploded in the 1990s, he writes, even today we cannot be sure what the collapse of a power armed with every imaginable weapon of mass destruction might "mean for the rest of the world."
How, he asks, has every U.S. administration reacted to this globally perilous situation?
"Since the early 1990s Washington has simultaneously conducted, under Democrats and Republicans, two fundamentally different policies toward post-Soviet Russia -- one decorative and outwardly reassuring, the other real and exceedingly reckless. The decorative policy, which has been taken at face value in the United States, at least until recently, professes to have replaced America's previous cold war intentions with a generous relationship of 'strategic partnership and friendship'? The real US policy has been very different -- a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia's post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington's approach to Soviet Communist Russia. "[This policy includes a] growing military encirclement of Russia, on and near its borders, by US and NATO bases, which are already ensconced or being planned in at least half the fourteen other former Soviet republics, from the Baltics and Ukraine to Georgia, Azerbaijan and the new states of Central Asia. The result is a US-built reverse iron curtain and the remilitarization of American-Russian relations."
Destabilizing Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the United States
This is the new, American-driven cold war -- a striking feature of our landscape, almost utterly ignored by the mainstream media -- that Cohen lays out at length and in compelling detail. Since 2000, these new cold war policies have only taken a turn for the disastrous. From its first moments in office, the Bush administration, made up almost solely of rabid former cold warriors, has been focused with an unprecedented passion and intensity on what can only be called a "rollback" policy. Defined a little more precisely, what they have pursued, as Cohen makes clear, is a policy of Russian "destabilization" with every means at their command -- and, until recently, with some success.
Their view was simple enough. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire, the United States was the sole military power of significance left standing. It had, as they saw it, enough excess power to ensure a Pax Americana into the distant future, in part by ensuring that no future or resurgent superpower or bloc of powers would, in any foreseeable future, arise to challenge the United States. As the President put it in an address at West Point in 2002, "America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge." The administration's new National Security Strategy of that year seconded the point, adding that the country must be "strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
This was to be accomplished by:
*ensuring that the former challenging superpower, once rolled back to something like its pre-imperial boundaries, would never arise in any significant new form from the rubble of its failed empire.