Heart of Empire — December 12, 2014, 4:46 pm

Borderline Euphoric

Cold War II gets a bipartisan welcome

The notion that Washington politics are dominated by bitter partisan rivalry between the parties is conventional wisdom these days. In reality, on important matters such as measures desired by major banks or the defense industry, the parties are happy to cast aside petty differences in pursuit of a higher good—not to mention campaign contributions. For a recent example of comradely bipartisanship, look no further than House Resolution 758, passed on December 4 with an unequivocal majority of 411 votes to 10.

H.R. 758 strongly condemned “the actions of the Russian Federation, under President Vladimir Putin, which has carried out a policy of aggression against neighboring countries aimed at political and economic domination,” charging the evil empire with “invading” Georgia, in 2008, and Crimea, in 2014, as well as imposing “trade barriers as weapons to apply economic and political pressure.” The bellicose measure passed with little debate, though Californian Republican Dana Rohrabacher, one of the five Democrats and five Republicans who dissented, has since denounced the resolution as being “tantamount to a declaration that Russia is America’s enemy” with wording that “spilled over with uncommon vitriol and inaccuracy.”

Money speaks louder than words, and a few days later, Congress endorsed a $554 billion defense-spending bill that included $810 million for the “European Reassurance Initiative,” requiring that “not less than $175 million be spent in support of Ukraine and the Baltic nations.” That “not less than,” according to expert defense budget analyst Winslow Wheeler of the Project on Government Oversight, should be translated as, “hook up hose to Treasury, suck out as much as you want.”

In short, in the immortal words of Diane Sawyer (quoted in my piece on this topic in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine), it’s “game on” for the U.S. and Russia, again. Other signs of a Cold War reprise may be less obvious to the general public, but they evoke heartfelt nostalgia among defense insiders. One may recall that, during the Cold War, the capabilities of Soviet defense technology were regularly inflated to frighten lawmakers into consigning our hard-earned dollars to the tender mercies of the military-industrial complex. Generals and admirals regularly attested to the miraculous powers of newly spotted Soviet tanks, aircraft, and submarines. Once in a while a defector would turn up with an actual specimen, often an unwelcome intrusion, since these usually turned out to be underperforming clunkers that belied the inflated threats of budget-hungry Pentagon chieftains. (My favorite was the allegedly fearsome T-72 tank that nonetheless displayed an unwelcome tendency to load the gunner into the main cannon.)

Now, like the first signs of spring, Russian weapons systems are once again being brought out of the shadows to enjoy glowing praise. “The Russian Bear Roars in the Sky. Beware the SU-35 Fighter,” wrote a defense-aviation specialist in a recent article for the National Interest, which ascribed near-miraculous capabilities to this new Russian warplane. “It’s a great airplane, and very dangerous,” declared one U.S. defense official quoted in the piece, while others spoke gloomily about the threat it poses to its latest U.S. equivalents.

In truth, the SU-35 is another clunker. Pierre Sprey, co-creator of the USAF’s F-16 and A-10 fighters, has analyzed the plane’s performance parameters and told me that it’s a “turkey” and a “pig in maneuverability.” “The Air Force and Navy threat-inflators,” he said, “are happily engaged in touting the imagined wonders of Russian and Chinese fighter technology and producing heaps of horseshit not seen since the glory days of the CIA and DIA lying about the Mig-21.”

It is not just the Air Force and Navy that are looking to resurrect the Russian Bear. There’s plenty in it for the Army too. “Vladimir Putin has solved the sequestration problem for us because he has proven that ground forces are needed to deter Russian aggression,” declared Congressman Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and chair of an important defense subcommittee, at an October forum hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a growing presence among the stews of Washington think tankery.

Only one thing could mar this Cold War renaissance: noncooperation by the other party. To be sure, Putin has done all the right things so far, such as looking mean and annexing Crimea. But his interventions in eastern Ukraine have been markedly timid. Despite alarums from the likes of John Kerry, the Chauncey Gardiner of international diplomacy, who warns of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers committed to the fight, the largest force Putin has sent into action is a mere four battalions, at Novo Azovsk in the summer, since withdrawn. More recently there have been signs that any plans Moscow harbored for hiving off portions of eastern Ukraine are being abandoned. In any case, the oil price collapse, as generated by our good friends the Saudis in hopes of neutering our own resurgent oil industry, is putting paid to any projected Russian defense buildup.

Nevertheless, with budgets and political ambitions at stake, Cold War II is too big a prize to be discarded lightly. Defense-industry lobbyists greeted the Crimea takeover with “borderline euphoria,” according to a friend of mine who observes them at close quarters. As the vote on House Resolution 758 indicates, the mood won’t be allowed to pass anytime soon.

Subscribe to Harper’s Magazine today and receive instant digital access to “Game On”—plus our entire 164-year archive.

Share
Single Page

More from Andrew Cockburn:

From the January 2018 issue

Swap Meet

Wall Street’s war on the Volcker Rule

From the October 2017 issue

Crime and Punishment

Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?

Letter from Washington September 10, 2017, 9:00 am

Crime and Punishment

Will the 9/11 case finally go to trial?

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2018

The Bodies in The Forest

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Minds of Others

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Modern Despots

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Before the Deluge

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Notes to Self

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Within Reach

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Minds of Others·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Progress is impossible without change,” George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1944, “and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” But progress through persuasion has never seemed harder to achieve. Political segregation has made many Americans inaccessible, even unimaginable, to those on the other side of the partisan divide. On the rare occasions when we do come face-to-face, it is not clear what we could say to change each other’s minds or reach a worthwhile compromise. Psychological research has shown that humans often fail to process facts that conflict with our preexisting worldviews. The stakes are simply too high: our self-worth and identity are entangled with our beliefs — and with those who share them. The weakness of logic as a tool of persuasion, combined with the urgency of the political moment, can be paralyzing.

Yet we know that people do change their minds. We are constantly molded by our environment and our culture, by the events of the world, by the gossip we hear and the books we read. In the essays that follow, seven writers explore the ways that persuasion operates in our lives, from the intimate to the far-reaching. Some consider the ethics and mechanics of persuasion itself — in religion, politics, and foreign policy — and others turn their attention to the channels through which it acts, such as music, protest, and technology. How, they ask, can we persuade others to join our cause or see things the way we do? And when it comes to our own openness to change, how do we decide when to compromise and when to resist?

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
Article
Within Reach·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a balmy day last spring, Connor Chase sat on a red couch in the waiting room of a medical clinic in Columbus, Ohio, and watched the traffic on the street. His bleached-blond hair fell into his eyes as he scrolled through his phone to distract himself. Waiting to see Mimi Rivard, a nurse practitioner, was making Chase nervous: it would be the first time he would tell a medical professional that he was transgender.

By the time he arrived at the Equitas Health clinic, Chase was eighteen, and had long since come to dread doctors and hospitals. As a child, he’d had asthma, migraines, two surgeries for a tumor that had caused deafness in one ear, and gangrene from an infected bug bite. Doctors had always assumed he was a girl. After puberty, Chase said, he avoided looking in the mirror because his chest and hips “didn’t feel like my body.” He liked it when strangers saw him as male, but his voice was high-pitched, so he rarely spoke in public. Then, when Chase was fourteen, he watched a video on YouTube in which a twentysomething trans man described taking testosterone to lower his voice and appear more masculine. Suddenly, Chase had an explanation for how he felt — and what he wanted.

Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Before the Deluge·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the summer of 2016, when Congress installed a financial control board to address Puerto Rico’s crippling debt, I traveled to San Juan, the capital. The island owed some $120 billion, and Wall Street was demanding action. On the news, President Obama announced his appointments to the Junta de Supervisión y Administración Financiera. “The task ahead for Puerto Rico is not an easy one,” he said. “But I am confident Puerto Rico is up to the challenge of stabilizing the fiscal situation, restoring growth, and building a better future for all Puerto Ricans.” Among locals, however, the control board was widely viewed as a transparent effort to satisfy mainland creditors — just the latest tool of colonialist plundering that went back generations.

Photograph from Puerto Rico by Christopher Gregory
Article
Monumental Error·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1899, the art critic Layton Crippen complained in the New York Times that private donors and committees had been permitted to run amok, erecting all across the city a large number of “painfully ugly monuments.” The very worst statues had been dumped in Central Park. “The sculptures go as far toward spoiling the Park as it is possible to spoil it,” he wrote. Even worse, he lamented, no organization had “power of removal” to correct the damage that was being done.

Illustration by Steve Brodner
Post
CamperForce·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

After losing their savings in the stock market crash of 2008, seniors Barb and Chuck find seasonal employment at Amazon fulfillment centers.

Cost of a baby-stroller cleaning, with wheel detailing, at Tot Squad in New York City:

$119.99

Australian biologists trained monitor lizards not to eat cane toads.

Trump tweeted that he had created “jobs, jobs, jobs” since becoming president, and it was reported that Trump plans to bolster job creation by loosening regulations on the global sale of US-made artillery, warships, fighter jets, and drones.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today