Eyeball to Eyeball Again

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:
– – – – – – – –

“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.

13 thoughts on “Eyeball to Eyeball Again

  1. Baron, I ask myself the exact same question. Are there some secrets we dont know about ?

    Though I have not studied the conflict closely, it seems to me that the US and EU have amateurishly promised
    Mikheil Saakashvili much more than they can ever grant him – and that he has believed it in the same manner.
    A Cuba crisis over Georgia ? Please, no! A tiny nation right under the undebelly of the russians.
    I remember those days in -62 all too vividly too. As I recall it, we gave
    the americans intelligence about the Sovjet ships passing the danish straits. Please convince me Bush and Condi knows what they are doing.

  2. I am sorry, but “hit a bullet with a bullet” purely mechanical ABMs, that have no explosives, are not the same as the Russian IRBMs put into Cuba in 1962. One may quibble about the Patriots. But please, get serious. Your moral equivalence argument is bogus. The Poles and US are within their rights here. It’s time to be more firm with the Bear, hopefully this is the first of many such steps.

  3. Steve, I’m not talking about the Poles. I think going to the mat for the Poles would be worth doing. If 1939 comes around again, we should stick up for them.

    I’m talking about the Georgians. As far as I can tell, it does not serve our strategic interests to stick our neck out for Georgia. They may a be heroic and valiant little nation, but American has to set limits about who it goes to bat for.

    Nobody is under the illusion that the threat to Poland is really about Poland. It’s about the Caucasus.

  4. It is time to bag this bear. Russian and the Russian have been running rampage for long enough. The Russian are are threat America position and they have take every actions with the sole purpose of oppose America interest. Georgia is a ally, by bilateral relationship and by military exchange. Georgia was attach for no other reason then because it is an ally of America so yes it is an attach on America.

    No we have been putting this off long enough, it time to face the bear, gut it and stuff it. America leadership always say that we are at war this leader or that leader, no when we go to way we should go to war with the people, because the people are the one that allow their leader to be a threat to us. It is time to punish the Russian people for their aggression against our ally. The Russian are a blood thirsty people – the only solution is to isolate and destroy their national resources so they will not be a threat to us. Let see if Russia have will to us those nuclear warhead they don’t even know still fly or not.

  5. Re: “It time to face the bear, gut it and stuff it. … The Russian are a blood thirsty people”

    I agree. Russians like Stalin have long dominated the innocent angelic Georgians.

    It’s time for the USA and it’s freedom-loving democratic allies in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan to destroy the real threat to freedom in the world!

    – Toidi Lufesu

  6. I really cannot understand all this heated discussion. Have you heard guys, there always were some ballistic missiles. And they are supposed to fly somewhere, that’s kind of their main purpose. And surely they must be aimed at something, because they are not supposed to fly randomly. From now on, a few of them will be aimed at Polish radars. It is obvious for every military person. General simply repeated this obvious consideration for general public. Hoping that public will keep it in mind. Russia has an army, but it is an old news. Does Russian General Staff plan a war? I can’t imagine any General Staff which is not planning a war. What else are they for? So nothing really happened. Everything is like it used to be.

  7. Two oil pipelines run through Georgia, to a major port. That alone is a strategic interest for the west.

    But also, the Georgians have been trying for the last decade to build a free-market economy from the ruins of socialism and by all accounts they were doing quite well. Growth is twelve percent last year.

    The russians have just gone in to crush a country that had no value to them, except those two pipelines. They want complete control of that oil all along its route so they can dictate to the west. So not only are we letting a nation that has tried to build itself into a free, democratic first-world economy get conquered by an autocratic muslim-loving regime like Putin’s, we’re letting the Russians gain even more leverage over our fuel supplies. How that isn’t a strategic disaster, I have no idea…

    Put it this way. In fifteen years lets say that a small country breaks away from a large, authoritarian regime with the intention of building itself a free market economy and providing its citizens with the freedoms normally associated with western nations. In breaking away it takes a major port city and a small enclave of citizens that are ethnically and culturally dissimilar from the majority population. Ok so lets say that this nation trubdles along for a few years, attempting to build up its trade and so on, whilst that small ethnic enclave is provided with citzenship of the former “owner” of the whole place, encouraged to be more belligerent and claimed as “oppressed” by the majority of that new country. Lets say the new country prevents that enclave from spreading but allows them a means to travel to their “home”… fast forward a few more years and the new country decides it wants to guarantee its territorial integrity. It prevents the movement of people from that ethnic enclave for a while.

    The authoritarian regime says “no thanks” and moves in to “secure the rights” of that enclave. Then it starts shelling the port and moving toward the country’s capital, claiming it wants to “secure” the enclave when it’s really overrunning the entire country in order to re-incorporate it into the larger whole and regain complete control of the country’s strategic assets.


    No. Flanders, 40 years from now.

    Think about it.

  8. @Graham

    “The russians have just gone in to crush a country that had no value to them, except those two pipelines. “

    Not true. The problem here is once again the interference of the US. Organising revolutions in Baltic states and providing military training to them, in this case, supporting Georgia who is the aggressor here.

    I tried to post this article but something went awry. It raises some very serious questions about the US, as well as shedding somemuch neededlight on Russia’s response:

    Putin Walks Into A Trap

    From the chaos of Kosovo – when the US backed muslim terrorists – to encircling Russia with military bases, enrolling Baltic states in both NATO and the EU to now supporting a nation that has killed 2000 people and ethnically cleansed 30-40000 others from its land, we should be asking what the US is playing at.

    Provoking a nuclear super-power is an act of insanity.

  9. “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.”

    I beg to differ. The current Putin government is a pure ‘thuggocracy’ and is not an improvement compared to the USSR because its actions are a lot more unpredictable.

    The USSR was a reliable supplier of natural gas for decades. It was Putin’s Russia that started using energy as a weapon of extortion.

    Russia’s infrastructure is in an abominable state and in some places a hundred years behind its times. The birth rates have collapsed and the population is declining hundreds of thousands per year. The state of health care and education is dismal at best.

    The rise of oil price has temporarily given Putin’s Russia a new lease of life like it did to Brezhnev’s USSR back in 1973. However, the oil industry is in dire need of investment, which isn’t coming because Putin has bullied most of the Western companies out of Russia.

    Putin’s regime enjoys a wide popular support because the media has been bullied to the government line and a large part of Russians feels nostalgic about the Soviet era and has never really understood why the USSR ceased to exist. In addition, most of them have never been abroad so they don’t know how much better life is outside Russia.

    To this kind of people Russian army flexing its muscles brings back memories of glorious past and helps them to endure their miserable existence.

    If the West lets Russia get away with its actions, Georgia will not be the last but the first of many victims to come. The Ukraine stands next in line, then the Baltic countries and then maybe Finland, who knows.

  10. And what do you suggest, starting a nuclear war that will reduce the world to ash?

    Leave Russia alone. Of all the insane things to care about in the world of today!

    It’s time to become energy independent and stop using that as an excuse to invade the world. There’s more oil, gas, and coal in the United States than the entire middle east. Instead of trying to secure oil and gas all around the world in some of the most barbarous, backwater, dangerous quarters of the globe—how about we just start drilling for the oil right in our own backyard? Nice, peaceful, good infrastructure, free money and jobs for americans. I wish people would not resort to nuclear war with Russia over oil pipelines when we still aren’t willing to hurt the CARIBOU in Alaska and drill for oil there. Reality check people!

    And why are we trying to protect Georgia’s borders, Poland’s borders, or Ukraine’s borders with military force from Russia, who however different is still a civilized white nation–when we aren’t willing to protect our very own borders from the most uncivilized detritus from the third world? Is the conquest any less final? Are they any less in control once they reach the majority? How about we secure OUR borders first, and Georgia’s, as high a priority as they no doubt are, only second. We have our own problems to worry about. We cannot afford to save everyone else when we ourselves are about to die! Sheesh!

  11. “And what do you suggest, starting a nuclear war that will reduce the world to ash?”

    Dealing with Russia does not require starting a nuclear war. Showing determination is enough, which is, of course, in short supply in the EU countries. Appeasement only leads to Russia taking over its former colonies.

    Russia should be kicked out of G8 and Council of Europe effective immediately.

  12. Showing determination is enough.

    Ahem. ‘Credible’ determination, that would be. And that’s a little hard if that determination would require our supposedly defensive armies to go fight in that hornets’ nest named Caucasus.

    I think the US foreign policy is severely overextended. And expensive, too. Unfortunately, stepping down from that may be percieved as ‘weakness’ and exploited.

    Not easy.

    While the Russians are busy helping their friends in Cuba, it might be instructive to watch the Stone classic Thirteen Days, which (more credibly than, say, JFK) reconstructs the decision-making game of the Cuba crisis.

    Sure, kicking Russia from G8 makes sense. Just as we kicked the NATO countries when they attacked Serbia, right? Or did we?

    Leave Russia alone.

    Better that way. We have worse enemies to face up to.

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