Trigger Warning: Washington’s Dangerous Standoff With Moscow

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One day after the United States cut off talks with Russia over the war in Syria, Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine double down on the American oligarchy’s endless appetite for provoking a bear intent on defending its range

By Mark Cromer

First published here in October 2016, it seems worth a revisit…

However many millions of Americans tuned into the vice presidential debate and watched Gov. Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Kaine exchange fire over tax returns, unsecured Internet servers, insults over beauty pageant contestants and ‘irredeemable deplorables’ and, oh yeah, jobs, it’s unclear just how many Americans were acutely aware that the United States and Russia are continuing to tango ever closer to a violent clash.

And enough missteps and crushed toes in that dance promises rather literal earth shattering consequences.

But who would have known it from the vice presidential parley?

America’s increasingly curdled relationship with Russia was indeed evoked during the debate, but moderator Elaine Quijano from CBS News pitched softball national security set-ups that allowed both candidates to slip into canned talking points and easily frame their responses—without serious challenge from Quijano—along the lines of who was going to be ‘tougher’ on Moscow’s geopolitical positioning.

It was a dishonest premise that allowed both Kaine and Pence to put on their chef hats and start serving Blue Plate specials fresh from the neocon grill of an American empire that remains hellbent on dominating the planet even as it disintegrates at home.

Pence and Kaine met onstage just a day after Washington pulled the plug on bilateral efforts to dial down if not end the slaughter from the country formerly known as Syria following Russia’s escalating air war in support of its ally Damascus. In Syria’s once great city of Aleppo, which is now a smoldering pile of rubble, government forces appeared poised to recapture the key city as Russian warplanes pulverized the rebel-held districts even as the candidates were onstage in Farmville, Virginia. And in response to America’s diplomatic walkout, Moscow deployed batteries of its advanced SA-23 Gladiator anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic missile system in Syria—the first time it has ever unveiled the state-of-the-art weapon beyond its borders—as well as scotched a plutonium disposal deal with the West that had been an integral component of a nuclear drawdown between Russia and America.

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Russia’s SA-23 Gladiator advanced anti-ballistic missile and anti-aircraft system, which the Kremlin has begun deploying in Syria.

This is a dramatic escalation in no uncertain terms and it unfolded across the landscape of the hot mess that is the meltdown of the Middle East just 24-hours before the two major American parties prospective number twos met to debate the imperative issues facing the nation, though viewers would have been hard-pressed to grasp the magnitude of such developments during the debate.

Questions that Quijano could have asked, should have asked, needed to ask, might have opened with a simple: “Does America have a national security interest, one that necessitates initiating open and direct hostilities with Russia, over the fate of the current conflict in Syria? And if so, please explain in some detail what that critical American interest is that would rise to the threshold of risking World War III.”

Quijano might have then followed up with: “Following the 1992 implosion of the Soviet Union, the administrations of presidents George H. W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton both assured Moscow that NATO would absolutely not seek to exploit the geopolitical vacuum by undertaking a membership drive for the Atlantic Alliance through the former Soviet states right up to the borders of Russia herself—yet that’s exactly what they did, rolling up a dozen new member states and in the process committing the United States to their defense. In light of that, might not Moscow have a point in drawing a red line in Ukraine and Georgia? And, as a follow-up question, are either of you prepared to commit America going to war with Russia over Lithuania, Estonia or Latvia?”

Another question that the Tiffany Network’s reporter might have asked the candidates was: “Gentlemen, with the United States maintaining more than 700 military bases around the globe, is Russia’s reassertion of its global interests while operating less than a dozen military installations outside its borders a truly outrageous projection of its power and a threat to America?”

If Quijano had asked even one of those questions to Pence or Kaine it may well have resulted in some serious contemplation from the vice presidential candidates and perhaps some thoughtful replies as well as a better alerted populace as to the true danger now faced with the unspooling of relations with Russia. Or not. Perhaps more likely they would have stuck to their script of platitudes about America’s moral authority and obligation to intervene around the globe and to confront the Russians whenever it appears she may be challenging the United States.

Or perhaps they would have thanked Quijano for the question and then veered back into more salient issues to American national interests like 3 a.m. tweets and coughing fits from their respective running mates.

But whether the Republican and Democratic candidates are talking about it beyond vacant claims of who’s the real American bad ass when it comes to putting the hurt on Russia, the disintegrating relationship with our former partner in the Grand Alliance that smashed the Axis powers poses a threat far more grave than Tehran, Pyongyang and even Beijing—combined.

Despite the complexity of the issue in many regards, one cold fact is crystal clear: there is only one nation on the planet that possesses the power to destroy the United States in its entirety, and her name is Russia.

The imperial elites that govern America have not only ignored this fact over the past quarter century to the country’s great peril, but they have continued to dance a gleeful jig not only across the globe in some delusional post Cold War victory strut, but have done the NATO Shimmy Shake to within just hundreds of miles from Moscow. By adding its own ‘Baltic Balcony’ to the Atlantic Alliance with the additions of Latvia and Estonia specifically, Washington effectively created forward operating bases for NATO within several hundred miles of the Russian capital.

Thus, a more cogently-inclined Elaine Quijano of CBS News might have asked Pence and Kaine: “Given that the United States and her allies have created a forward positioned conventional strike capacity that’s a 48 to 72-hour tank-ride away from the Kremlin, under what circumstances would either of your tickets be prepared to allow the Russians that sort of frontloading military capability within a similar range to Washington?”

Is there any real doubt as to what Washington’s response would be if Canada were to announce a realignment with the Russians and would thus be allowing Moscow to build airbases in Quebec, naval ports in Nova Scotia and place an armored division on a jump line between Toronto and Montreal?

Yet that’s an academic hypothetical that presumes Quijano knows the historical backdrop of the geopolitical map in Eastern Europe today, that she’s been briefed on what tactical offensive military bridgeheads actually mean and accordingly what they represent in the larger strategic picture. It assumes she grips the rich hypocrisy of the United States encroaching ever further into Russia’s not only long established sphere of influence in Eastern Europe but is able to grasp Moscow’s legitimate historical claims on much of these lands that stretch back to before the United States declared its independence and it ultimately assumes she or her network care at any rate.

And of course they don’t. The three broadcast networks and their colleagues in the cable news universe, along with most of the major metro daily newspapers, have little interest in presenting a journalistically honest estimation of the American and Russian standoff.

The fact is that Quijano likely doesn’t know any of the historical backdrop to this simmering crisis and even if she does, she apparently doesn’t care a lick more about it than Pence or Kaine.

So with tens of millions of Americans watching—and perhaps a whole lot of Russians too—Quijano gracefully glided both vice presidential candidates into their mutual pre-programmed caveman rap of ‘Russia bad, America good.’

Amid this backdrop the Russian’s decade long aggressive upgrade of their ground force capability and their strategic nuclear projection capabilities have coincided neatly with Vladimir Putin’s steely determination to reassert Russia to her natural role on the global stage. As such, Russia has retained and expanded her nuclear triad capabilities; from a massive tactical and strategic land-based missile force, to her strategic bomber fleet and her blue ocean naval ‘boomers’—the nuclear subs she can place off our coasts with SLBMs.

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Vladimir Putin, a career KGB officer determined to reassert Russian power on the global stage and, where necessary, confront America.

To be clear, America possesses all of the same and far more.

America’s naval prowess is unmatched, our strategic bomber force of B-52s, B-1Bs and B-2s, and the swath of our land-based ICBMs salted across the American heartland ensures that any country—but Russia in particular—must understand that any atomic attack on the American homeland is synonymous with their own suicide.

And yet, the long-standing doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction aside, the United States has continued to provoke a Russian bear that has emerged from her long slumber.

The United States has professed to be the arbiter of global freedom—albeit by its own very fluid standards—while Russia has been increasingly concerned with regional order; thus America’s shake, rattle and roll across the Middle East and the absolute chaos it has engendered has fallen flat on Russian ears. Moscow wants stability and the American governing elites desire more of the same global chaos dressed up as a civil rights march. For all the alarm bells of American ‘isolationism,’ the country hasn’t ceased to be a rabid interventionist since 1945.

Which brings us back to Syria.

Russia has made it clear she will not let her old friend and ally be summarily clipped as a result of America’s surreal and arbitrary musings of ‘freedom’ in the same way it brought ‘liberation’ to Iraq and Libya, which subsequently erased those former nation-states and replaced them with chaotic swamps of terror.

Kaine and Pence blathered on about America’s role and responsibility to dig the imperial trench of the American empire ever deeper into a region that once had functioning nations but today is reduced to facts on the ground that are infinitely more confusing than Vietnam was in 1965.

Yet Washington remains on a path of escalation, openly considering declaring ‘No Fly’ zones over Syria—the unilateral fast track that will get the shooting started between Russia and America—to equipping a range of rebel groups/terrorist squads with the latest in battlefield gear and guns, a plan sure to expand on the great success America had with arming al-Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1980s when the Soviets were trying to keep a lid on that country’s disintegration as well.

But the difference is that in Syria and Ukraine, Russia is no longer willing to accept an American dictated outcome, mostly because she has seen how that’s worked out too many times before. And Russia is no longer willing to accept an America stumbling across the globe, tipsy on its imperial libation, two-fisting a pair of smoke wagons and issuing diktats as to what will and will not be.

So if Kaine and Pence, the GOP and the Democrats and their media screenwriters are insistent in casting Putin as a Hollywood heavy, I suggest he’s more akin to Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone, with Washington appearing increasingly like the drunken Johnny Ringo amid his gang of cowboys intent on running the town and territory.

And Putin is standing there with an icy smile on his face and offering “I’m your huckleberry. That’s just my game. Say when.”

Let’s hope America’s leadership sobers up real quick and decides, for once, to simply walk away.