13 Days in August: The Polish Missile Crisis

Maui Time | August 21, 2008
"The Cold War is over," Condi Rice said last week. This may be true. She and her lame duck boss seem to be starting up a hot one instead.

Imagine Russian or Chinese military bases in Tijuana or Ciudad Juárez, across the Mexican border from El Paso. Add some more in Toronto and Vancouver. Now imagine that Russia managed to persuade Canada and Mexico to join it in some weird new Eastern bloc military alliance whose purpose was to "contain" the U.S., and then placed a battery of long-range missiles in one or both countries. How long would it take before we went to war?

Of course, you don't need an imagination. The U.S. didn't tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba, and is still trying to overthrow its government.

Given America's refusal to accept an unfriendly regime in its neighborhood--remember Grenada?--you'd think it would know enough to stay out of Russia's hair. You'd be wrong.

Driven by its twin original sins of greed and arrogance, the United States began nibbling at Russia's edges soon after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Clinton Administration wooed oil-rich ex-Soviet states such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. It's as if Florida were to declare independence, and crawled into bed with Iran.

Efforts to de-Russify the old Soviet sphere of influence accelerated under Bush, who used 9/11 and the "war on terror" as a pretext to establish permanent military bases in the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Bush's CIA even funded a coup d'état in Kyrgyzstan, which overthrew Central Asia's only democratically elected president.

Central Asia, under Russia's sphere of influence for more than 150 years, began playing host to CIA "black sites" and other U.S. torture facilities.

The U.S. invited ex-Soviet bloc states--the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, the Baltic states--to join NATO, the Cold War-era anti-Russian military alliance. Recently, it even encouraged the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia to apply for membership, emboldening Georgia in its recent conflict with Russia.

Now the Bush Administration has convinced Poland to base ten RIM-161 Standard Interceptor Missiles (SM-3) along Russia's western border.

Republics that were once part of or fell under the influence of the Soviet Union are sovereign states. They are legally and morally permitted to form alliances with any other nation they choose, including the U.S. Still, you have to wonder: Don't these guys own a map? Doesn't it make more sense to suck up to the superpower next door than the one an ocean away?

From our perspective: Why would the U.S. think provoking Russia by encroaching on its traditional sphere of influence is a good idea?

For Russia, using newfound oil wealth to rebuild its military, the Polish-American missile deal is the line in the sand. Annual defense budget increases of 20 percent or more, which should bring at least half of its hardware up to modern standards by 2015, have transformed the dying dog of Yeltsin-era "shock economics" back into a growling bear.

"Poland, by deploying [U.S. missiles] is exposing itself to a [nuclear] strike--100 percent," says top Russian general Anatoly Nogovitsyn. The Russian government stood by his threat.

The U.S. claims the Russians have nothing to fear. "It [the missile system] is not aimed in any way at Russia," says Condi. Indeed, interceptor missiles are designed to shoot down other missiles, not launch attacks. But the Russians don't want to see their ability to strike first--a right also reserved by the U.S.--degraded by an anti-missile system. They also worry about the slippery slope: what new weapons will the U.S. place in Eastern Europe later on?

Russia's concerns are no different than ours would be if they were the ones arming Canada against us. But Condi's reassurances are too cute by half.

Shortly before signing the missile deal with Poland, she commented: "This will help us to deal with the new threats of the 21st century, of long-range missile threats from countries like Iran or from North Korea." Sounds reasonable--except for geography.

Nearly 2000 miles separates Iran and Poland. North Korea is nearly 5000 miles away from Poland. But Iran's longest-range missile, the Shahab-3, can only go 1200 miles--about the same as North Korea's equivalent. When you factor in the fact that America's Poland-based SM-3s only travel about 300 miles, it is mathematically impossible for them to intercept anything launched by Iran or North Korea.

The U.S. is occupying two of the largest nations bordering Iran--Afghanistan and Iraq. Wouldn't building a missile shield there make a zillion times more sense? As for North Korea, well, we have a base in Okinawa, not to mention 25,000 troops in South Korea.

Meanwhile, Condi is trying to recruit more former Soviet republics for NATO. "We are going to help rebuild Georgia into a strong Georgian state," Rice told Fox News. "The Russians will have failed in their effort to undermine Georgia. And we will be looking at what we can do with the states around that region as well."

Are the Bushies trying to create a "national emergency" pretext for canceling the presidential election? Are they crazy Christians lusting for the end times? Or are they just nuts? No one knows their motives. But it's hard to escape the conclusion that, after lying us into two losing wars, Cheney & Co. are using their closing months to try to provoke the mother of them all.

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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