Readers of a certain age will remember the Cuban Missile Crisis all too well. In October 1962, the presence of Soviet missile facilities in Cuba prompted a confrontation between Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy.
For a few days the USA and the USSR seemed to be on the brink of nuclear war. I remember sitting with my parents every evening, glued to the evening news on TV, waiting for the latest developments. One morning I went to school and our teacher told us that we might be in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union within the next day or so.
The crisis finally broke, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk delivered his famous line: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”
In the 46 years since then, a lot more details have emerged about the Cuban missile affair. Different interpretations are now available: Khrushchev was in over his head, or Khrushchev was playing the US like a fiddle. Kennedy was a steely-eyed hero, or Kennedy was engaged in an ignorant and macho game of brinkmanship that put his country and the whole of the Free World at risk. Take your pick.
With all that in mind, you’d think we could have avoided a repeat of the same scenario. But here we are again in 2008, on the brink, eyeball to eyeball. Only this time the front line is in Poland instead of Cuba, and the major players are an unpopular lame-duck American president and a puppet leader of a Russian nation shorn of its Soviet buffer republics.
According to The Daily Mail:
Russian General Threatens Nuclear Strike on Poland As Bush Demands Moscow Withdraws From Georgia
Russia reacted furiously today to an announcement that Poland is to host an American global anti-missile shield. General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said that by accepting the missile defence battery Poland “is exposing itself *to a strike”.
I’m no fan of Russia, and I won’t try to make a case for what
Putin Medvedev is doing in Georgia.
But in 1962 terms, this affair is a bizarre mirror image, the equivalent of Khrushchev putting missiles in Cuba and then denouncing our intervention in the Dominican Republic. I know, I know — the Dominican Republic was in 1965. But the general analogy still holds.
The article continues:
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“By hosting these, Poland is making itself a target. This is 100 percent certain,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted General Anatoly Nogovitsyn as saying. “It becomes a target for attack. Such targets are destroyed as a first priority.”
The general’s hawkish comments came amid Moscow’s fears the missile shield makes Russia a target of the United States. The two former Cold War superpowers are locking horns over fighting in Georgia.
Today American President George Bush warned Russia that it does not want “contentious relations” with the United States, demanding Moscow leave Georgia. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice echoed him from Tbilisi, where she was meeting with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili: “Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once,” she said. “This is no longer 1968.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded cautiously, saying Moscow would strike back “in the same way we have responded” if it were further attacked. Referring to the missile shield, General Nogovitsyn said that Russia’s military doctrine sanctions the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them,” Interfax said.
Once again, I make no arguments on behalf of Russia. The current government in Moscow is a vast improvement over the USSR, but it is still an undemocratic, illiberal, and brutal regime.
However, so is the Georgian regime, and Mikheil Saakashvili is a despot in the traditional Russian style.
No democracy is involved here, on either side. No nation-building can be done. The “War on Terror” is not furthered by this enterprise. A brutal thugocracy is battling its Mini-Me in the Caucasus.
So why are we doing this? Why push the Russians to the brink in their own backyard?
I hope George W. Bush and Condi Rice have some toothpicks, because they’re going to need to prop their eyelids open for this little caper.
Hat tip: VH.