Conventional wisdom would have us believe that Russia became America’s sworn enemy in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. As is often the case, however, conventional wisdom can be illusory.
In the momentous 2016 showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a faraway dark kingdom known as Russia, the fantastic fable goes, hijacked that part of the American brain responsible for critical thinking and lever pulling with a few thousand dollars’ worth of Facebook and Twitter adverts, bots and whatnot. The result of that gross intrusion into the squeaky clean machinery of the God-blessed US election system is now more or less well-documented history brought to you by the US mainstream media: Donald Trump, with some assistance from the Russians that has never been adequately explained, pulled the presidential contest out from under the wobbly feet of Hillary Clinton.
For those who unwittingly bought that work of fiction, I can only offer my sincere condolences. In fact, Russiagate is just the latest installment of an anti-Russia story that has been ongoing since the presidency of George W. Bush.
Act 1: Smokescreen
Rewind to September 24th, 2001. Having gone on record as the first global leader to telephone George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Putin showed his support went beyond mere words. He announced a five-point plan to support America in the ‘war against terror’ that included the sharing of intelligence, as well as the opening of Russian airspace for US humanitarian flights to Central Asia.
In the words of perennial Kremlin critic, Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia, Putin’s “acquiescence to NATO troops in Central Asia signaled a reversal of two hundred years of Russian foreign policy. Under Yeltsin, the communists, and the tsars, Russia had always considered Central Asia as its 'sphere of influence.' Putin broke with that tradition.”
In other words, the new Russian leader was demonstrating his desire for Russia to have, as Henry Kissinger explained it some seven years later, “a reliable strategic partner, with America being the preferred choice.”
This leads us to the question for the ages: If it was obvious that Russia was now fully prepared to enter into a serious partnership with the United States in the ‘war on terror,’ then how do we explain George W. Bush announcing the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty just three months later?
There are some things we may take away from that move, which Putin tersely and rightly described as a “mistake.”
First, Washington must not have considered a security partnership with Moscow very important, since they certainly understood that Russia would respond negatively to the decision to scrap the 30-year-old ABM Treaty.
Second, the US must not considered the ‘war on terror’ very serious either; otherwise it would not have risked losing Russian assistance in hunting down the baddies in Central Asia and the Middle East, geographical areas where Russia has gained valuable experience over the years. This was a remarkably odd choice considering that the US military apparatus had failed spectacularly to defend the nation against a terrorist attack, coordinated by 19 amateurs, armed with box cutters, no less.
Third, as was the case with the decision to invade Iraq, a country with nodiscernible connection to the events of 9/11, as well as the imposition of the pre-drafted Patriot Act on a shell-shocked nation, the decision to break with Russia seems to have been a premeditated move on the global chessboard. Although it would be hard to prove such a claim, we can take some guidance from Rahm Emanuel, former Obama Chief of Staff, who notoriously advised, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”
So why did Bush abrogate the ABM Treaty with Russia? The argument was that some “rogue state,” rumored to be Iran, might be tempted to launch a missile attack against “US interests abroad.” Yet there was absolutely no logic to the claim since Tehran was inextricably bound by the same principle of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) as were any other states that tempted fate with a surprise attack on US-Israeli interests. Further, it made no sense to focus attention on Shia-dominant Iran when the majority of the terrorists, allegedly acolytes of Osama bin Laden, reportedly hailed from Sunni-dominant Saudi Arabia. In other words, the Bush administration happily sacrificed an invincible relationship with Russia in the war on terror in order to guard against some external threat that only nominally existed, with a missile defense system that was largely unproven in the field. Again, zero logic.
However, when it is considered that the missile defense system was tailor-made by America specifically with Russia in mind, the whole scheme begins to make more sense, at least from a strategic perspective. Thus, the Bush administration used the attacks of 9/11 to not only dramatically curtail the civil rights of American citizens with the passage of the Patriot Act, it also took the first steps towards encircling Russia with a so-called ‘defense system’ that has the capacity to grow in effectiveness and range.
For those who thought Russia would just sit back and let itself be encircled by foreign missiles, they were in for quite a surprise. In March 2018, Putin stunned the world, and certainly Washington’s hawks, by announcing in the annual Address to the Federal Assembly the introduction of advanced weapons systems – including those with hypersonic capabilities - designed to overcome any missile defense system in the world.
These major developments by Russia, which Putin emphasized was accomplished “without the benefit” of Soviet-era expertise, has fueled the narrative that “Putin’s Russia” is an aggressive nation with “imperial ambitions,” when in reality its goal was to form a bilateral pact with the United States and other Western states almost two decades ago post 9/11.
Now, US officials can only wring their hands in angst while speaking about an "aggressive Russia."
"Russia is the most significant threat just because they pose the only existential threat to the country right now. So we have to look at that from that perspective," declared Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of US Strategic Command, or STRATCOM.
Putin reiterated in his Address, however, that there would have been no need for Russia to have developed such advanced weapon systems if its legitimate concerns had not been dismissed by the US.
“Nobody wanted to talk with us on the core of the problem," he said. "Nobody listened to us. Now you listen!”
To be continued: Part II: Reset, or ‘Overcharged’