The empire stays put with U.S. troops now in action in the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya while Sen. John McCain pushes NATO (and America) across the Balkans
By Mark Cromer
It was just the sort of fleeting moment that in historical hindsight may well come to be seen as a pivotal mistake that triggered a cascading series of consequences, intended or not, that finally led to a shooting war between the United States and Russia.
And not surprisingly, it was Senator John McCain standing in the middle of it.
As spring approached, the self-styled American warlord McCain aggressively worked the floor of the Senate to make his case for the upper-chamber’s approval of a treaty that would carry the banners of the Atlantic Alliance ever deeper into the Balkans by adding the tiny rump state of Montenegro to NATO’s roster of member nations—and by doing so committing the United States to its military defense. As he heads into his fourth calendar decade in the Senate, it was just the sort of moment that the senior senator from Arizona has dedicated his political life in pursuit of, another American military commitment with a cherry on top of it that promised at least the potential for a final, violent military showdown with Russia.
But the esteemed Gentleman from Kentucky, Senator Rand Paul, had drawn the same sober conclusion as most other Americans have: Why the hell would we want to do that?
What imperative national interest of the United States rests in a pseudo-state remnant of Yugoslavia with a population of 600,000?
Yes, it’s true most Americans couldn’t find Montenegro on a map, but they don’t need a geography lesson to understand that the United States is already committed to the military defense of far too many nations all over the globe and is actively engaged in combat in former nation-states that have dissolved under the relentless pursuit of regime change and ‘nation building’ that Washington has conducted since the closing chapters of World War II. They don’t need a map of the Balkans to determine that the American treasury has been bled to a ghostly white by plunging the United States into perpetual conflict overseas that have ultimately paid little more than a dividend of dead soldiers arriving back at Andrews Air Force Base in a grim tide that flows and ebbs but never really ends.
At least for one in Washington, Paul has had enough. He objected to the procedural maneuvering on Montenegro that McCain was championing and simply walked out of the chamber without further comment. It was a cold, fitting slap down that set McCain ablaze and prompted the octogenarian to denounce Paul as a dupe of Washington’s favorite all-purpose heavy these days of late: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.
“I note the senator from Kentucky leaving the floor without any justification or any rationale for the action he has just taken,” McCain seethed. “That is really remarkable, that a senator blocking a treaty that is supported by the overwhelming number—perhaps at least 98 of his colleagues—would come to the floor and object and walk away. The only conclusion that you can draw is he has no argument to be made, he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be a part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians…the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”
In fact, Paul tragically has every justification that any senator of mettle would need to halt McCain’s pornographic desire for expanding America’s commitment to confrontation and conflict around the globe. But Paul also certainly understood that a majority of his colleagues are simply beyond argument or reason when it comes to the global position of the American Empire and while he could have committed to the Senate record the clear and compelling rationale for his objection to adding yet another country onto the list of the United States’ military obligations, to whom exactly would he be speaking?
Certainly not his peers, nor the people, who seem to accept they have lost control of their American ship of state long ago. Posterity then? Perhaps, but Paul is already on record against maintaining the far-flung reaches of the American Empire, let alone expanding it even further. So rather than pointlessly grandstand, Paul delivered a quick riposte and went on his way.
While Paul would later retort that McCain had become “unhinged” in his feverish desire to see preferred parking spots for NATO generals at the Kremlin, that doesn’t even begin to describe the danger McCain’s long march for Pax Americana represents.
For McCain was right about one thing: a majority of senators favor extending NATO membership to Montenegro and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled votes to approve the treaty this coming week.
Russia views this as a further inflammatory betrayal of the assurances that Washington had given Moscow as the Soviet Union collapsed that the West would not seek to exploit the resulting vacuum and carry NATO deep into the East and to the borders of Russia itself—which in fact is exactly what Washington & Co. has done, doubling the size of the alliance during a two decade march eastward—but it seems to be a politically risky time to publicly consider how a vote on a geopolitical stance will be viewed in the Kremlin and what consequences it may carry.
The electoral implosion of Hillary Clinton has accelerated the Democrats reversion to the historic interventionist ‘war party’ positions that have defined much of its modern incarnation with the notable exception of the Carter administration.
There isn’t much daylight between the Democrats and the establishment GOP on whether to continue to grow the American Empire—one that currently maintains nearly 800 military installations and bases on foreign shores—or to revert back to a Republic that’s committed to its own people and their military and economic security.
To the contrary, the vote on Montenegro this week and its ascension into NATO will most assuredly be followed with new entreaties by McCain and his sidekick, Sen. Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, joined by any number of Democrats, for both Ukraine and Georgia to be folded into the alliance as well, thus tightening “the noose” that Graham has publicly stated he seeks to geographically wrap around Moscow’s neck.
While both countries admittance to NATO pose clear ‘red lines’ for Russia that may give McCain and Graham’s colleagues a moment’s pause (or not), it seems certain that a majority of senators will continue to support pouring money, weapons and invariably boots-on-the-ground into an expanding list of war zones that include eastern Ukraine, just as they will continue to call for President Trump to declare ‘No Fly Zones’ (except for American warplanes, of course) in Syria and to engage American troops even deeper into the sectarian conflict that’s consumed what’s still called ‘Iraq’ in diplomatic circles but has long been overrun with combat formations from Iran, Syria, Turkey and even Hezbollah from Lebanon.
As for Trump, just two months in the White House and he seems increasingly politically adrift, distracted and prepared to submit himself to the will of the Senate than to stake out a clear and compelling path as Commander-in-Chief that would begin to rollback the high tide of the American Empire and deliver on his promise to refocus the nation’s government on the nation itself. He campaigned on the stump with a pledge of ‘America First,’ not ‘America Everywhere,’ and yet he is allowing, almost by default, the continuation of the very policies that have been the hallmark of the United States’ imperial ambition for more than a half-century.
In his 1985 deconstruction of the Vietnam War, Backfire, Loren Baritz noted that the first few months of LBJ’s administration saw the beginning of a massive escalation of the conflict by sheer policy inertia, plodding deeper into war essentially by rote:
“In February 1964, the Johnson administration intensified its planning for increased secret actions against North Vietnam. On its face, this plan looked like more of the same, as practiced by the two previous administrations. But it was not. It was the unintended beginning of ‘Johnson’s war,’ of committing American troops, of massive bombing, and of ultimate failure. None of this was understood at the time, as the administration went about its business of incremental planning, taking only one step at a time, exercising what it considered to be enormous restraint and not knowing what else to do.”
More than a half-century later, the Trump administration seems equally confused about just what to do across the globe, other than more of the same: increased secret actions, increased American combat presence and, perversely, expanding the role of an alliance that only months earlier Trump had derided as a costly and ineffective partnership that had outlived its usefulness to American security.
And so the empire stays put, secure for now by the likes of McCain, a man whose pulse races at the prospect of squaring off with Moscow over Montenegro yet who has never seemed particularly interested in securing the border with Mexico and who has come to personify the dereliction of duty that has facilitated tens of millions of illegal immigrants being able to cross the American frontier unimpeded during his 30 years in the Senate.
As to which is more dangerous; a distracted Trump willing to go with the Washington flow that has put the American nation into this precarious state, or a focused McCain who is hell-bent on keeping America everywhere around the globe as long as it involves bombing or the prospect of it, well, it is a fair question.
But one thing is certain: if Trump doesn’t deliver but McCain continues to, the American Empire will indeed spread even further before finally proving to be just one massive web of fuses that eventually, inevitably, lit and burned down to one big bang.