John McCain and Thinking the Unthinkable

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Americans must consider the terrible possibility that electing John McCain as president, and Sarah Palin as Vice-President, will result in a series of escalating confrontations with Russia over oil supplies in central Asia that will lead to a nuclear exchange.

In 1960, Herman Kahn wrote On Thermonuclear War, and in 1962, a follow-up, Thinking the Unthinkable, grim books about fighting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The dangers of a nuclear war have receded from the public’s mind since the fall of Soviet communism in 1989. But since the ill-advised invasion of South Ossetia by Georgian troops, and the swift response of Russia, the bellicose talk by American leaders means that the very real possibility of nuclear war must again be considered by every adult American.

Last week, in a clear warning to the United States, Russia flew nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela. The US, for its part, has sent naval vessels to the Black Sea, and is striving to make Georgia and Ukraine part of NATO. The Bush administration has been pushing to place missile interceptor systems in Poland, on Russia’s border.

Conservatives still shake their heads over the 1964 anti-Goldwater “Daisy” television commercial, which showed a girl counting petals from a daisy as a mushroom cloud appeared in the distance. That commercial frightened Americans and helped elect Lyndon Johnson.

There is little doubt that John McCain is a hot-tempered man, given to volcanic bouts of profanity and anger. It seems possible that his long captivity in Hanoi induced a form of “frontal lobe disorder,” a labile mood disorder characterized by impaired executive functioning, as well as disinhibition, emotional instability, aggression, irritability or impulsiveness. He has made asinine jokes about bombing Iran, and bizarrely declared that “we are all Georgians now.”

Such a man, no matter his war service, is clearly unfit for the presidency. Sarah Palin, an individual with no foreign policy expertise, has recently said that war with Russia may be necessary. Such an idiotic statement should immediately disqualify her for the Vice Presidency.

Could America fight a nuclear war with Russia and survive? Consider the reality of such a war. It would be nothing like the television show Jericho, or even, given the changes in America that have occurred in 50 years, like Pat Frank’s book Alas Babylon.

Even if your town or city survived the immediate destruction, and the radioactive fallout (dependent on prevailing wind conditions in the days and weeks after a nuclear strike), ask yourself how long would your community survive without electricity?

There would be no food on the shelves at your stores after the first 24 hours of looting.

There would be no gasoline stations capable of operating pumps. Major port facilities would be destroyed, or themselves without power. There would be no oil or coal to run power plants, no trucks to deliver fuel.

There would be no money, other than cash you happened to have on hand. It would be worthless. Financial markets would be closed. Computer screens would be dark. Wall Street would almost certainly be destroyed. Insurance companies, as well as pension funds, would instantly become matters of historical interest only.

There would be no medicine after on-hand supplies ran out. Pharmacies would be looted clean of their stocks within days, if not hours.

Do any of you imagine that America as it is now wouldn’t degenerate into savagery, as marauding armed gangs searched with increasing desperation for horded canned goods? The police would be able to do little without gasoline, and most would seek, rightly, to protect their own families. James Kunstler’s recent book, A World Made By Hand, would be at best an idyllic fantasy. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But worse.

Do you entertain ideas about being able to grow your own food? Who among you, even if you’ve stocked seed and can grow enough food to last an entire year, would know how to harvest seed for the following year’s crop? Do you know how to can and jar to last the winter? How much ammunition do you have with which to hunt? And what would you be hunting?

For those who live up north how long could you survive a winter without electricity or heating fuel? Do you have abundant trees nearby to use as fuel? What about the second year?

For those in the south, how would life be without air-conditioning? How will you water your food garden during hot summer months, and protect it from pests, animal and otherwise?

Do you live in a remote area? After your small supply of fuel runs out, you will be cut off. How long will you and your family last in those conditions? How long would your food stock really last?

Do you live in a large city which wasn’t hit? You will find yourself living through "Night of the Living Dead." Chaos will reign outside your apartment, and you can trust your last Starbuck’s cup that no farmer will be bringing you food; they’ll be too busy themselves trying to survive. Live on a high floor, without power or water? Good luck with that.

How many people have available, potable water? How would you guard against giardiasis and other contaminants? Even if you have water filters, how many extra canisters do you own?

There would be no antibiotics after the first year. No insulin for diabetics. No medicines of any kind for the elderly. No protection other than the most primitive against infections from cuts and other accidents. No effective treatment for injuries. No x-rays. Glasses break? Tough. How many shoes do you own? There won’t be any more coming.

Think. We are no longer a pioneer people. After three years, almost the entire population of the United States would be dead, if not from the initial effects of nuclear blasts, then from ensuing violence, disease, and starvation.

There would be a few survivors. I would estimate less than 5% of the population would have any hope of surviving beyond three years. There would be a few, perhaps, of our “leaders,” who made it into their Cheyenne Mountain-type bunkers before the bombs hit. The world they would emerge to “rule” would be a nightmare world.

The living would envy the dead.

For 7 years since the attacks of 9-11, Americans have been told by their government to be afraid of “Moslem terrorists.” We were bombarded with absurd color-coded “threat levels,” until we tired of the game. Most thinking Americans have long realized that terrorists do not constitute a material threat to our way of life. Possibly a bomb here, a plane there, maybe someday a hazmat attack or a small dirty nuke, but nothing that would seriously disrupt our nation’s ability to survive.

A nuclear war with Russia is a very different matter. If we are to be afraid of anything, that is what we need to be fear. Loss of preeminence as an economic power, a Greater Depression, we can survive. But a nuclear war we won’t.

The world is a very different place than it was even 20 years ago. 80% of the world’s petroleum is now controlled not by Anglo-American oil companies, but by state-owned oil firms, such as Gazprom in Russia, Pemex in Mexico, and Chavez’s Venezuela. Even these supplies are dwindling. The fight in Georgia was not about nascent democracy, or even Saakashvili’s ambition. It was about control of oil being piped out of central Asia. Securing supplies of oil will be the critical determinant of near-term foreign policy. Our bid to control Iraqi oil has turned to dust, and any attempt to take over Iran’s fields will prove to be madness. Russia announced last week that any military action against Iran, whether by the United States, or Israel, will be “unacceptable.” China also cannot be expected to stand by and have its oil supply, much of which now comes from central Asia and Africa, compromised.

Compounding the problem of peak oil and foreign control is the fact that the United States is now a beggar nation. We have to borrow 2 billion dollars a day, over 600 billion dollars a year, just to fund our government. Federal taxes collected from Americans go to pay the interest on the debt. The recent bail-out of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will add untold hundreds of billions to our debt. It is by no means clear that foreign governments will continue to purchase our debt, particularly if the United States is using its military to seize foreign oil supplies.

This election is not about family values, or the color of Sarah Palin’s lipstick or Barack Obama’s skin. It is about navigating our way through these treacherous minefields without finding ourselves at war with Russia. There will be no “renewed cold war.” This time around it won’t be about ideologies, it will be about resources. Russia has lots of oil, and we don’t. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or ANWAR won’t change that reality. War with nuclear-armed Russia is not something we can entertain. Anyone who doubts Putin’s seriousness over the oil issue can read his graduate thesis. That paper was not written by a fool, and can be read here.

Do we really want the hot-tempered McCain, whose campaign chair is a paid lobbyist for Georgia, or the clueless Sarah Palin, sitting by the red phone, and by the nuclear football?

The terrible game of "prisoner’s dilemma" shown towards the end of the recent Batman film could become quite real if a hot war in the Caucasus or Black Sea breaks out. Just as in the film Dr. Strangelove, which seems to us a comic relic of the cold war, both sides would find themselves pressured into a first strike, “before the other guy does it.” With even a few ballistic submarines at its disposal, Russia would be able to inflict catastrophic damage to the United States. We should not pretend that in 2009 or 2010, we would survive such an attack. Americans are no longer a self-sufficient people. Without food and goods at the local Wal-Mart or minimart, without gas at the local Racetrak, we would perish.

I, like many readers of LRC, supported Ron Paul. I watched the videos, I donated money to all his money bombs, I bought the book. I know he has recently called for his supporters to vote for the third-party candidate of their choice. In normal times I would agree.

But these are not normal times.

I think it imperative, and very possibly a matter of national survival, that Barack Obama, and not John McCain, becomes president. Yes, it will mean higher taxes and boondoggle social programs and yes, he has called for more troops in Afghanistan and waffled on any number of key issues.

But Obama, or even Joe Biden, will be better able to act prudently in a time of crisis and not plunge our country into a war with Putin’s Russia. We should seek friendship with Russia, not war.

We need not fear Moslem terrorists. But we should rightly fear an intemperate man like John McCain, and the clueless Sarah Palin.

September 16, 2008

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