I read an article some time ago by William Lind in which he stated that America was behaving like Imperial Germany circa World War I. Specifically, he claimed we were embarking on an ill-focused strategic offensive that was accumulating new enemies faster than we could defeat the old ones.
When you look at a map and identify Germany’s adversaries in both world wars, it is staggering that a comparatively small nation tucked away in the corner of the Eurasian land mass actually believed it could win two successive wars against most of the rest of the planet.
But with a toxic mixture of arrogant leadership, cultural hubris, and rampant statism, all things are possible.
Since 9/11, America has embarked on a strategic offensive that is proving just as successful as the Kaiser’s. The neocons, who engineered the invasion and occupation of Iraq using falsified intelligence and cynical propaganda, have exposed America to the virulent hatred of virtually the entire Muslim world. The war has already claimed the lives of thousands of our soldiers, and its geometrically increasing costs threaten to bankrupt our government.
And there is no end in sight.
One might think that such a predicament would give rise to a more sober mind-set among our rulers in Washington.
But alas, such thoughts are not part of the contemporary zeitgeist in the Imperial City.
Not satisfied with the debacle in Iraq, the Bush Administration has been beating the war drums against Iran, which is several times larger than Iraq (in land mass and population) and which has much more inhospitable terrain.
And it doesn’t end there. (After all, Kaiser Wilhelm, having gone to war with Russia, France, and Britain, apparently decided to toss America, Italy, and Serbia in for good measure).
Not to be outdone by the German Emperor’s well-known geopolitical genius, the Bush Administration recently launched rhetorical broadsides against two other regional powers.
This curious geopolitical strategy began with the recent Washington visit by Chinese President Hu.
The Chinese president received a hostile and often insulting welcome in Washington last month. The administration refused to host a formal state dinner for him (which is customary when meeting with a leader of another large nation and which was correctly interpreted by the Chinese as a slap in the face), and the White House allowed a Chinese dissident into the press corps, who proceeded to harangue and threaten the President Hu during a news conference.
Not satisfied with the Chinese debacle, the administration proceeded to launch a nasty public attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking in Lithuania, made a laundry list of accusations against Russia, including bullying of neighboring nations, engaging in energy blackmail, and suppressing the rights of its citizens.
Many observers were surprised by the scathing tone of Cheney’s comments.
This leads one to an obvious question: Why on earth is our president picking fights with China and Russia when we are already up to our neck in a quagmire in Iraq?
China is a rising power with a burgeoning economy, a huge population, and a formidable military. China and America have no fundamental geopolitical conflicts. China does not present a realistic threat to the American mainland and has no particular reason to want anything but mutually prosperous trade with us.
While I have major philosophical disagreements with the way the Chinese government operates, its domestic policies are none of our business. If the Chinese people wish to alter their government, it is up to them.
As for Russia, this administration has no room whatsoever to accuse Putin of "creeping authoritarianism". Not a day goes by that the neocons don’t cook up yet another outrage against our constitution. Nor can they credibly lecture the Russians about using blackmail and threats against other nations when such tactics have become an integral part of Washington’s geopolitical armamentarium.
As for claims that Putin is a dictator, Cheney should remember that Putin was democratically elected (and probably has a higher approval rating in Russia than Bush has over here.)
So what are we to make of this?
Our country is embroiled in several hot wars in the Middle East and is drifting toward a generalized civilizational war with Islam. Add China and Russia to the mix, and things start to look pretty grim. Even our situation in Latin America is badly deteriorating, with hostile leaders in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Peru, Nicaragua, and Mexico may also soon fall into the hands of virulently anti-American demagogues.
The only countries with which we currently have warm relations are various Eastern European satrapies (though recent events in Bulgaria show that things may soon turn sour there too).
Try as I might, I can only find two explanations for the administration’s new tone of hostility toward China and Russia.
The first possibility is that America is being led by morons. Only someone with an extremely limited intellectual capacity would cho ose, at the precise moment when America finds herself embroiled in a war with radical Islam, to pick fights with two of the most powerful nations on earth.
While the president himself may fit this category, I reject this as an overall explanation. Too many of the folks surrounding Bush have enormous experience in foreign relations and have track records of academic achievement. Writing them off as mere cretins would be a dangerous underestimation.
That leaves the second explanation. Namely, the Bush Administration is attacking Russia and China because those nations are using their seats on the U.N. Security Council to stonewall our march to war with Iran.
Factions within the Bush Administration desperately want war with Iran to stop their alleged nuclear program. They want a new Security Council resolution condemning the Iranians and threatening future "unspecified action" if the Iranians don’t back down (resolutions which, just like the pre-Iraq War resolutions, can be conveniently reinterpreted by the neocons to "justify" an attack).
The Russians and Chinese, who’ve seen this movie before, are having none of it.
Thus, the neocons are baring their fangs and going after them with threats and intimidation.
It truly is a strange world when the presidents of two foreign powers (nations with whom we have had hostile relations in the past) are the ones who are, albeit unintentionally, looking out for the true interests of the American people. While our own government is scheming against us, Presidents Hu and Putin are attempting to abort America’s drift toward another senseless conflict. War with Iran would be a disaster for America (though it might add another healthy dollop of the “creative destruction” to the Middle East that the neocons seem to love so much). But our government is already bankrupt and our military is already stretched past the breaking point.
We can only hope that the Russians and the Chinese hold firm and don’t give this administration the authority, in the form of a vaguely worded U.N. resolution, to plunge America into yet another Middle Eastern war.
Otherwise, like poor Kaiser Wilhelm, the neocons just might bite off more than America can chew.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.