Within the U.S. “defense” establishment there’s an eagerness to refight the Cold War with Russia and China, notes Michael Klare at TomDispatch.com. The “long war” on terror, although still festering, is not enough to justify enormous defense budgets and traditional weapon systems like aircraft carriers, bomber and fighter jets, and tanks and artillery. But hyping the Russian and Chinese threats, as Defense Secretary James Mattis is doing, is a proven method of ensuring future military growth along well-trodden avenues.
Hence an article at Fox News that I saw this morning. Its title: “Here’s why Russia would lose a second Cold War — and would be unwise to start one.” The article happily predicts the demise of Russia if that country dares to challenge the US in a Cold War-like binge of military spending. Bring it on, Russia and China, our defense hawks are effectively saying. But recall what happened when George W. Bush said “Bring it on” in the context of the Iraq insurgency.
Our military leaders envision Russian and Chinese threats that directly challenge America’s conventional and nuclear supremacy. They then hype these alleged threats in the toughest war of all: budgetary battles at the Pentagon and in Congress. The Navy wants more ships, the Air Force wants more planes, the Army wants more soldiers and more weapons — and all of these are more easily justified when you face “peer” enemies instead of guerrillas and terrorists whose heaviest weapons are usually RPGs and IEDs.
Yet Russia and China aren’t stupid. Why should they challenge the US in hyper-expensive areas like aircraft-carrier-building or ultra-modern “stealth” bombers when they can easily assert influence in unconventional and asymmetric ways? The Russians, for example, have proven adept at exploiting social media to exacerbate political divisions within the US, and the Chinese too are quite skilled at cyberwar. More than anything, however, the Chinese can exploit their financial and economic clout, their growing dominance of manufacturing and trade, as the US continues to hollow itself out financially in a race for conventional and nuclear dominance in which its main rival is its own distorted reflection.
In essence, then, America’s “new” National Defense Strategy under Trump is a return to the Reagan era, circa 1980, with its much-hyped military buildup. Yet again the US is investing in military hardware, but China and Russia are investing more in software, so to speak. It makes me think of the days of IBM versus Bill Gates. Bill Gates’ genius was recognizing the future was in the software, the operating systems, not in the hardware as IBM believed.
But the US is being led by hardware guys. A hardware guy all the way, Donald Trump is all about bigger missiles and massive bombs. Indeed, later this year he wants a parade of military hardware down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s as if we’re living in 1975 — time to review the troops, comrade general.
Who knew the triumphant “new world order” of 1991 would become a quarter-century later a sad and tragic quest by the USA to refight the very Cold War we claimed back then to have won? Isn’t it easy to envision Trump boasting like an old-style Soviet leader of how, under his “very stable genius” leadership, “America is turning out missiles like sausages”?
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.