With such powerful forces determined to use 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein for good, the American people really didn’t have a chance in proverbial hell to stop it. As Woodrow Wilson knew with the U.S. entry into WWI, the media must play a central role in controlling the message, mainstraining public support, and crushing all dissent threatening that support.
Jack Matlock Jr., who was a young U.S. foreign service officer stationed in Moscow during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and then ambassador there 20 years later under the Reagan Administration, joined a seasoned panel of national security specialists, scholars, and journalists last week to discuss Oct. 27, 1962 – the most militarily fraught day of the crisis before back channel talks between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and US President John F. Kennedy produced an agreement and averted nuclear war.
Matlock, who has been quite vocal about the diplomatic mistakes made by the US after the fall of the Soviet Union – including NATO expansion – said he was worried that events today in Ukraine have gone well beyond control, with both sides raising the specter of nuclear war again, but this time with no talking. “It’s hard to see how we get out of this,” he said, shaking his head.
He was joined for the event (co-sponsored by the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord and the Quincy Institute) by moderator Katrina vanden Heuvel (ACURA/The Nation), Svetlana Savranskaya (National Security Archive, George Washington University), and Tom Blanton (director, National Security Archive).
Blanton, who has done extensive research into declassified materials relating to the Cuban Missile Crisis timeline, warned that like 1962, “events are in the saddle and riding mankind. The lessons are that nukes are a fundamentally destabilizing dark alley where none of us should go.”
Please listen to the entire event, here (opening remarks by me):
The tension and curiosity was palpable here in America when President Richard Nixon touched down in China with an entourage of government officials and press on February 21, 1972.
The reason was clear: the country had been fighting a war against communism in Indochina for the last seven years and this would be the first time in more than two decades that the United States would be engaging the Chinese Communist Party publicly, and in China. Most Americans — including the press — hadn’t a clue of what China was actually like beyond the politically-driven, exaggerated Hollywood caricatures of the Chinese people. As veteran journalist Dan Rather later put it, it was a bit “like leaving earth and going deep into the cosmos to some distant planet.”
On that plane was Chas Freeman. At the time he was a foreign service officer working for the U.S. State Department’s China Desk. Fluent in several languages, he was tapped to be the principal American interpreter for Nixon. Leaving from Washington on Feb. 17 and traveling to Hawaii, Guam, then Shanghai, Air Force One landed in Beijing (then still pronounced Peking), and was greeted by China’s premier Zhou Enlai. Famously, First Lady Pat Nixon wore a bright red coat, some saying it was chosen because of the color’s Chinese symbolism for luck, others reporting it was planned to contrast with the expected sea of gray and black suits on the tarmac.
From Nixon immediately grasping Zhou’s hand (the premier had been slighted when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake his hand years earlier), to the timed state dinners and speeches for American nightly news, everything was staged for peak visual consumption. It was a spectacle, but one that had serious strategic significance — this detente had been calculated to serve as a wedge between Communist China and Communist Russia on the chessboard of Cold War politics. Nixon had also hoped to gain leverage with China over the North Vietnamese in Washington’s ongoing war in Indochina.
Nixon proclaimed it the “week that changed the world,” and in many ways it did, explains Freeman, who sat down with us recently to talk about his experience as an interpreter during this audacious moment. The “Shanghai Communique,” the tangible outcome of the visit, was a joint statement affirming the detente and movement toward normalization, and set the tone of understanding for the next several decades on the Taiwan issue. Here, the United States underscored support for the “One China policy” and strategic ambiguity. They both agreed that neither party would pursue hegemony in the region and would oppose any third party’s effort to do so — very clearly meaning Russia.
“It was an almost unprecedented instance of American initiative and statecraft,” Freeman said of the trip, referring to the planning, execution, and accomplishments. Too bad it didn’t last. He talks about this — and that warm furry hat — in his interview below:
The Russians want NATO to close its doors to Ukraine and all further expansion into Eastern Europe — this is the red line Moscow as declared. Quincy Institute senior fellow Anatol Lieven talks here about why the U.S. and NATO must decide whether denying Russia is worth the bloody conflict that it might cause. He also talks about the imperative of revisiting the Minsk II agreement, resolving the Donbas dispute, and Ukraine neutrality as a longterm solution.
He also explains why he believes negotiations should take place between the U.S. and Russia only, how Europe is divided, and the consequences of U.S. military intervention (directly or indirectly) in anticipation of, or after a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The letter, which was signed by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, asks the White House to pursue the Minsk agreements which would “demilitarize the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and guarantee meaningful political autonomy to the region while retaining Ukrainian sovereignty over the area and its borders.” QI fellow Anatol Lieven has detailed the agreement and the promise it would hold for peace in the region here.
De-escalation is key, wrote the signing organizations, which also emphasized the need to stop NATO expansion and resist calls to send U.S. troops to defend Ukraine.
Investigative journalist, author, and Iraq veteran Jack Murphy sat down with the Quincy Institute’s Adam Weinstein to talk about U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan, and how loosened rules of engagement led to an accelerated number of strikes, unacknowledged civilian deaths, and moral injury among soldiers and veterans.
Murphy, who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group, recalled to Weinstein, an Afghanistan War veteran, how by 2018 the rules of engagement were loosened to the point where anyone on the ground who fit the “criteria” were vulnerable to a strike. Watch here:
The Taliban had been dismantling cell phone towers for years, so insurgents and civilians used walkie-talkies to communicate, he noted. “The ROE (rules of engagement) could be met by seeing someone speaking on a radio, carrying a radio, just touching a radio at some point.” There was no human intelligence or friendly forces on the ground, everything was communicated by surveillance drones monitoring potential targets via cameras. Once these “eagle scans” identified targets, they would call in the armed drones for the strike itself.
At this point in 2018 “you’re going back to Vietnam-era body counts…the metric for success is the number of strikes you’re doing, the number of people you are killing every day. And if commanders on the ground know that, they’re going to do things to make themselves look as good as possible. That means, at least in this case, striking people whether they are armed combatants or not.”
“It’s a very Orwellian, dystopian kind of way to think about it,” he continues. “You have this sort of unblinking eye, this surveillance eye hovering over population in Afghanistan, waiting for them to ‘fuck up.’ I think that a lot of the animosity that the people had for us.”
He and Weinstein talk about the trauma among drone operators. Following targets on the ground, close enough to see whether they are wearing eyeglasses, for hours and days on time, then striking them, watching their bodies get picked up, and the family grieving — it takes a toll. “There’s a significant moral injury that these people incur, especially when they are part of lethal strikes that they feel are immoral or unethical,” Murphy contends.
A lot of these feelings, he said, have been resurrected with the withdrawal and the war in Afghanistan now in the rearview mirror. Many veterans are now asking “what did it all mean? What was it for?”