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February 18, 2007

Comments

"We seem to have forgotten that our right-wing hawks argued passionately for 'nuking' communist China during the Korean War and again during the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1954."

And to some degree, again in Vietnam. Remember that Barry Goldwater bruited this leading up to the 1964 election in which he was the Republican candidate, and leader/hero/savior of the conservatives.

"We also have apparently forgotten — although newly released archival evidence overwhelmingly confirms this — how close we came to a nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis."

And still very few people know about the events of Able Archer 83, in 1983; you don't even mention it, as if it's not worth mentioning.

I'm another person driven crazy by the forgetting, or simple ignorance now of the young, of the Cold War, but that's also just a subset of my general attitude towards people and ignorance of history, particularly recent history of the past one hundred years.

To read people -- people like SecDef-Weasel Robert Gates! -- blathering on about "the simpler days" of the Cold War makes me crazy. Ditto claims that we were "safer" then, or less worried or afraid, or should be more afraid now.

Ignorance!

"...old enough to recall how creepy it was to enter Walter Ulbricht's East German prison house of a state via Checkpoint Charlie in the late 1960s"

Or, like, in 1986, a tad more recently. "The Lives of Others" has gotten some excellent reviews, by the way.

I blame the progression of time. And the continued phenomenon of people having new children. If we could just stop both, and aging along with them, people would quit forgetting stuff, and go back to remembering it as if it were only yesterday, as well as engaging in this ridiculous practice of being born after things happened.

And still very few people know about the events of Able Archer 83, in 1983; you don't even mention it, as if it's not worth mentioning.

That one I know about firsthand. Here’s a list of other “mishaps” that may have led to accidental nuclear war.

Ulbricht was long dead, but I’ll confirm how creepy it was to go through Checkpoint Charlie, in the 80’s. Hell, just getting to West Berlin was creepy. Traveling the Berlin-Helmstedt corridor was a trip. Everyone has heard of Checkpoint Charlie – but few know anymore about Checkpoints Alpha (Helmstedt) and Bravo (Dreilinden). You started from the MP station in Helmstedt where you were briefed by the MPs. You drove on one and only one autobahn to Dreilinden (outside West Berlin). You were told in no uncertain terms that you could not leave the autobahn, could not stop anywhere and your trip was timed to be sure you didn’t deviate any.
We didn’t recognize East Germany (at least did not recognize that East Berlin was part of East Germany) so we did not recognize the authority of the East German police. If they tried to pull you over you were to ignore them. If they got you stopped, you were to lock the doors, roll up the windows, and hold up a pre-printed sign in German and Russian demanding to see a Russian officer.

Good times. Kids these days…

If they tried to pull you over you were to ignore them.

Just out of curiosity, did the East German police actually try that a lot?

What ever happened to the guy that exposed Bernie Kerik for the monster that he is? I think the country owes this guy a thank you for not letting Rudy put a guy like that in homeland security? How could Rudy have put a guy with no high school diploma in a position of authority in the jail system, and let him go into the Police Commissioner spot and then set him up for homeland security? What a Joke!!!! Something really stinks here!! What could Kerik possibly have on Rudy or even the president that nothing happens to this dirt bag? There has to be more!!! There Has to Be More!!!

It's obvious that Kerik and Rudy didn't want this guy Ray talking. What Happened to him? As soon as he exposed him, no one ever heard from him again. Is he even alive? What does Kerik have on Rudy that he would continue to let him get away with these atrocities? What does this guy Ray know that would make them react in this way? Obviously it's not in Rudy's or Kerik's best interest to have him talking. Ray was Kerik's best man at his wedding, he must have known something more that they did not want exposed. What would have happened if this loser Kerik slithered his way into the White House? What irreversible damage could have been done if not for the Patriotic bravery of Ray? This guy Ray did a huge service to this country exposing this monster for what he is. It's pretty obvious that Rudy is the brains of this operation and Kerik is the brawn in this politically corrupt scandal.

What has happened to America that when someone does the right thing that they should have fear for their safety, or even their family's safety? Is this the message that we should be sending that when someone does the right thing they might disappear without a trace? What happened to this guy Lawrence Ray? Did Kerik or some other corrupt official get rid of him for doing the right thing?

I think this should be the new theme for all Americans. "DO THE RIGHT THING". We need to embrace all people who do the right thing!!! I thank god that this guy Ray didn't think only of himself when he exposed that dirt bag for what he really is. He knew how powerful this monster was, and he did what was right anyway. Why do you think Kerik got kicked out of Saudi Arabia? It was for framing people that his bosses told him to frame.He got a couple of doctors thrown out of there strictly by framing them. This guy has no moral compass and obviously Rudy's not far ahead of him.

I hope that with Rudy making a run for the White House that people take notice of what his track record has been in his dealings with Kerik. More than likely, Kerik is not the only morally insufficient criminal that Rudy's got his hands dirty with.

it's just politics. the fear mongers can't very well say "it's the fourth or fifth most dangerous period in the history of our country, vote for me!"

cynical jingoist demagogues are doing their damnedest to sell the current situation as a dire existential crisis, because, by over-selling it, they can accuse everyone else of underselling it and not caring about America (or even better, as being actively anti-American).

but, of course, you look at their actions, and it's clear that they don't believe what they're saying: no draft, no financial sacrifices, only the meekest of restrictions on civil liberties (bad as BushCO has been, they could be far worse, if they thought this really was a matter of life or death of the entire country).

it's just cheap, manipulative, lying from douchebag politicians. it's simply pathetic when ordinary citizens fall for it, parrot it, and goose-step around accusing everybody else of not taking their cheaply-manufactured partisan panic seriously.

f' em.

Doubtless from some points of view, cleek's words will sound like, or be taken, as some sort of crazed left-wing rhetoric, but in fact he's perfectly correct. In my opinion.

(The d word used might skirt the posting rules, though, which are supposed to be concerned with what filters will prevent posts from being read by various office computers.)

Just out of curiosity, did the East German police actually try that a lot?

I made the trip 3 times without incident. I never heard a firsthand account of it happening, but the MPs always assured us that it did.

The whole thing was about using it (the corridor) to keep it open and available to allied forces. There was a lot of brinksmanship even in the smallest things. The Soviet guards would scrutinize your papers and passport for the smallest discrepancy or mistake, even a spelling mistake. They would not let you through unless everything was 100% correct. So to reduce incidents the MPs would scrutinize everything first and they would not pass you on unless everything was 100%. They kept very careful track of who was on the corridor and a late arrival would trigger quite a response. The Soviets would use any excuse to reduce our use of the corridor, while we would go out of our way to use it. There was a duty train that also had a lot of restrictions, etc. They always went with a Russian translator, MPs, and a radio operator to keep US forces advised of where they were in the trip.
Good clean fun.

Thanks for this post Hilzoy.

I to am very curious about this supposed existential threat, worse than the cold war. In particular, why is that we negotiated with both Russia and China, but won't with Iran. It makes no sense.

"Here’s a list of other 'mishaps' that may have led to accidental nuclear war."

Good cite.

I've not forgotten your previous mentions of serving in Germany, and of Able Archer, incidentally.

It's also worth reminding everyone that the U.S. went to Defcon III during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, as well, which was another of the times we came dangerously close to war with the Soviet Union.

"The whole thing was about using it (the corridor) to keep it open and available to allied forces."

This goes back to the Soviet blockading of West Berlin, and Berlin Airlift, in 1948, of course.

It's also worth reminding everyone that the U.S. went to Defcon III during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, as well, which was another of the times we came dangerously close to war with the Soviet Union.

And I believe that nuclear weapons were actually uploaded on Israeli aircraft. Blackmail for US help – but I wonder how close they came to nuking Egypt.

only the meekest of restrictions on civil liberties (bad as BushCO has been, they could be far worse, if they thought this really was a matter of life or death of the entire country).

I agree with that.

I'll goose step along now.

OCSteve - thanks for the anecdotes, I liked those, I love the sign asking for Russian officials. The absurdity of dipomatic positions when they meet reality on the ground never ceases to entertain me.

Hilzoy - I like the general gist of your post, but what's with the comicbook bad guy portrayals of the USSR and PRC? Agitprop like: "we spent over forty years with a hostile country that was in fact bent on world domination, and whose leaders ranged from merely bad to flat-out insanely evil" doesn't suggest you've actually wised up to the techniques you claim to rail against in contemporary US politics. America has the best historians in the world, I suggest you avail of that magnificent resource.

But Kennedy's observation is a welcome dose of anti-BS in a guff-ridden field. That's why he's still the man for me.

Democracy is the best system of government there is. People do want to be free (though, obviously, they want other things as well.)

no. do people want other people to be free?

"America has the best historians in the world, I suggest you avail of that magnificent resource."

This is probably a touch too vague, and condescending, to make an effective point. Perhaps you'd care to discuss specifics, instead? How would you characterize, say, Yagoda, or Beria?

In 1979, I was a graduate student in Brussels. I would get together with the other Americans in the program for beers w/ a couple of the students from Canada, Holland and Ghana after class and we'd try to figure out where we'd run to once the bombs started coming down. We'd get really drunk and scare ourselves pretty seriously in the process. I'd forgotten til this post. Thanks hilzoy.

I'll goose step along now.

see ya

byrningman: I was thinking of the fact that Stalin, aided of course by the delightful Beria, was in charge of the USSR during the beginning of the Cold War. I'm absolutely fine with calling him insanely evil. Do you have some alternate take on the purges or the Ukrainian famine that you'd like to share?

"Don't you know that we spent over forty years with a hostile country that was in fact bent on world domination, and whose leaders ranged from merely bad to flat-out insanely evil, pointing tens of thousands of nuclear weapons at us? And that, despite this, we somehow survived?"

And yet you admit that it was folks here in sanity central who advocated nuking China, etc. Having lived through the whole of that era, I am less sanguine about exactly who was intent on world domination, and I can easily appreciate how the Soviets may have looked on us as madmen as well. This is not to imply that I think that the Soviet Union was cute and cuddly, but that there was plenty of hubris and just plain obstinate stupidity to go around. The hysteria of anti-communism has blinded the West for a long time and has left us in a situation where most people think in terms of choices that are objectively silly, as if so-called communism and capitalism were the only choices of how to order a society.

It's also worth reminding everyone that the U.S. went to Defcon III during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, as well, which was another of the times we came dangerously close to war with the Soviet Union.

I was a senior in high school in Kaiserslautern, Germany at the time and remember that we were on alert during the Yom Kippur War. I lived on two blocks of US housing in downtown Kaiserslautern and had a number of friends at Ramstein AFB. Whenever I used to visit them during this time, I can remember everyone getting grilled with questions after we showed our ID cards.

Got some other choice memories here.

One of the most terrifying moments during the run up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, was the absolute paranoia seeping throw the cracks.

A Fifty-Five year old man, from the wealthy and comfortable hills of Palos Verde Estates, told me with all seriousness, that his grandchildren WILL grow up in a world where they would be forced to wear a burka.

"A Fifty-Five year old man, from the wealthy and comfortable hills of Palos Verde Estates, told me with all seriousness, that his grandchildren WILL grow up in a world where they would be forced to wear a burka."

An awful lot of people have worked themselves up into rabid hysteria about this. An awful awful lot. It's the not-particularly-underlying theme of most all of the folks who remain pro-Iraq-War, which they see as just one tiny front against The Worldwide Muslim Hordes, of course.

See this Dan Simmons piece for some of the pure quill, for example.

I expect DaveC thinks it's spot-on. Similarly, all the folks who think Mark Steyn is a genius, Victor Davis Hanson one of the most insightful thinkers ever, etc.

Not a lot of faith in Western culture amongst these sort of "conservatives," it appears.

Fortunately, Michelle Malkin is out there to alert us all about the True Nature of so many Islamic Terrorist Attacks we'd otherwise be unaware of.

grackel: does our conduct show anything in particular about the intentions of the USSR?

What about Korea? If we had lost or surrendered to North Korea, would the world be a better place? I for one think not, but making South Korea into a modern country took over 30 years.

If the US had ceded West Germany to the Soviets would Germany be a better place? US troops were in Germany a long long time., right?

I don't understand what you are getting at by citing Korea and Germany as examples in an argument in favor of abandoning our allies in the Middle East.

Do you have some alternate take on the purges or the Ukrainian famine that you'd like to share?

Sheesh, you keep that up, hilzoy, and people won't be able to compare you to Walter Duranty!

"Got some other choice memories here."

Thanks, Randy. I vividly remember our duck-and-cover drills at P.S. 99 in Brooklyn (one can get a facsimile view of how the older classrooms looked, in Annie Hall, since Woody Allen went to P.S. 99, grew up around the corner from me, on Avenue K [twenty years earlier], and we shared a few of the same teachers), under our desks, as well as the ones where we were led into the halls, to duck down on the ground and cover our heads; once in a while we went down to the gym, although the amount of increased protection on the first floor, as opposed to the second or third, was more than a tad murky.

Of course, there was still some attempt left in those days at selling us the notion that nuclear power was still going to be "too cheap to meter," as we saw in a cheery little animated film they showed us, before taking us to tour Indian Point to show us how neat nuclear power could be. [And the plant really was pretty neat, actually, though not a design I'd recommend for today.]

I was too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, I have to say; I have earlier memories, but my very first political memory is the JFK assassination, when I had just turned five years old.

But I didn't really start paying any attention to politics and national and world affairs until 1967, when I started reading the daily NY Times; I had some awareness of Vietnam before that, from bits of the newspaper, and the tv news, and parental talk, and being taken to protest marches, though. Civil rights protests earlier than Vietnam, though.

If I'm not confused, I believe that my first protest in Washington was the May 16, 1966 one, following the one my parents took me to in Manhattan on March 26 of '66, but I'm really really digressing.

Anyway, global thermonuclear war was an omnipresent concern in my life until the Soviet Union collapsed; the demarcation between those too young to remember it, and those who lived through it, is major.

A huge number of people were convinced nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was inevitable -- it was merely a matter of when. (I've just gotten through reading the massive draft manuscript of the Robert Heinlein biography, and was freshly reminded of how much he believed that, along with some other erroneous stuff. Come to think of it, I watched 2010 again last week, for the umpteenth time, and it's all based on the Cold War still flaring up to being hot and threatening nuclear war, over Latin America, in 2010, as well.)

"What about Korea? If we had lost or surrendered to North Korea, would the world be a better place?"

Why would we have "surrendered to North Korea," either in Korea, or the entire United States? Who ever argued for that? Ever?

In case you've forgotten, it was a Democratic President, and a Democratic Congress, that defended South Korea.

Meanwhile, right-wing Republican newspapers like the Chicago Tribune came out against defending South Korea, saying it wasn't worth the life of a single American.

What was the position of Senator Styles Bridges, Republican Minority Leader? He opposed defending South Korea (naturally, he was also a major supporter of his fellow Senator, Joe McCarthy, and was one of the leaders of the "China lobby").

What was the position of leading Republican Senator Wherry?

14.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Wherry of Nebraska made the comment that the blood of our soldiers in Korea was on the shoulders of Secretary of State Acheson. Would you care to comment on the accuracy of that remark?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is a contemptible statement and beneath comment.

He, also, disagreed with defending South Korea.

What did leading Republican Senator Robert A. Taft, the Republican who was the leader of the conservatives in the party, the Senate Majority Leader in 1953, seeking unsuccessfully the nomination in 1940, 1948 and 1952, say about Korea?:

Nor do they recall the strong Republican opposition to this policy led by Senator Robert Taft. Taft declared: I have never felt that we should send American soldiers to the Continent of Asia, which, of course, included China proper and Indo-China, simply because we are so outnumbered in fighting a land war on the Continent of Asia that it would bring about complete exhaustion even if we were able to win.

If the President can intervene in Korea without congressional approval, we can go to war in Malaya.

Who wrote these communistic accusations?
Republican White Paper Prepared by the Staff of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, Washington, 1967
Taft also "did not see Stalin's Soviet Union as a major threat."

Then he opposed NATO, along with other conservative Republicans.

Good job with your history here, DaveC.

"I don't understand what you are getting at by citing Korea and Germany as examples in an argument in favor of abandoning our allies in the Middle East."

Who is the "you" you are arguing with?

Which "allies in the Middle East" is someone arguing in favor of abandoning? SCIRI? Jaish al Mahdi? MeK?

Re 2010: is the Cold War stuff in 2010 more a result of the story arc that he started in 2001: A Space Odyssey? This is not to speculate on how much Clarke believed that the Cold War would continue (with the Chinese getting into the act) (which would be an interesting question), but to suggest that it is really difficult to dream up new antagonists. I wish it would be the same in real life.

The Cold War stuff in 2010 wasn't in the book (which does, however, have a still-extant Soviet Union); the plot line about escalating tensions back on Earth was introduced for the movie. I wonder if it was even Clarke's idea.

Ahh, you are right, Matt. I'm getting the movie and the story confused. Though iirc, the whole series is a bit of a push me pull you sort of thing, because Kubrick was finishing the movie as Clarke was finishing the novel, and Clarke got his arm twisted to write 2010, though I'm sure folks here have more exact data on all this.

Still, what I think is interesting if and how much science fiction writers are tied to their conceptions of the future and is it different than the way non-speculative fiction writers are. (if those terms are grossly offending, please substitute your preferred terms)

What about Korea? If we had lost or surrendered to North Korea, would the world be a better place? I for one think not

Worth remembering that North Korea was as much or more a Soviet satellite as it was a Chinese. During the Sino-Soviet split the DPRK lined up with the USSR, not the PRC. The alignment with China is a result of the disappearance of the USSR as a great power sponsor.

So - a unified Communist Korea would have been less of a siege state in the absence of an obvious threat (the South) and might well have liberalised in 1989 when the rest of the Soviet Bloc went under. In which case, Pyongyang would now be the capital of a moderately authoritarian and fairly prosperous regional power.

Yeah, I remember the Cold war. And I've got to say the memory doesn't inspire me to say, "Hell, yeah, let's do it again! Only this time let's have a dozen evil/crazy nuclear powers, any one of which could start armageddon!"

Honestly, it's the main thing that led me to vote for Bush, the belief that he was actually serious about making sure rogue nations didn't get nukes, even if he had to break a lot of eggs in the process of making that omlette.

Of course, turned out he wasn't serious about making that omlette, but neither are the Democrats. So I guess I've got to dust off my survival manuals, and finish that fallout shelter.

Thankyou for this post - it helps to remind us what real fear is.
The only contemporary comparable issue in terms of possible (in this case, probable) destruction today is also one of the least adressed. It fills me with a fear that dwarfs that of the cold war (and I remember that well). Global warming suffers from denial on the right and inadequate provision and action from the left. Until we admit that it is happening, and that simply immediately stopping CO2 production is not only entirely impossible in practical terms (there are too many engines in the world already for that) and not enough to rectify the situation, we are doomed even more than comprehensively than we thought we were during the cold war. We need options and we need them fast. Why is nobody listening?!

An interesting and compelling post. I don't think that Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., forgot about the Cold War- they cut their eye teeth on it. Rather, like old generals fighting their last war, they see everything in terms of a Cold War overlay, no matter how distinguishable the new facts are. As you point out, Iran has no delivery system for nuclear weapons against the US (Israel may not be so lucky). Yet the old Cold Warriors overlook this. Also, the radical Islamic threat may be more formidable in the sense that MAD has reached its logic limits; we're now dealing with individuals or even entities who are not necessarily deterred by their own assured destruction. This is different from the Cold War.

I grew up in West Berlin (*1973)(and still live there). The next underground station was a nuclear shelter.
We took the situation as "normal" because we didn't know anything else. It took actually several years to get used to not being controlled on the transit route to Western Germany or to be able to go to East Berlin without filling out paperwork weeks in advance.

Another thing. I grew up with "Wanted" posters for RAF (Red Army Fraction) terrorists everywhere. The paranoia was similar to that in the US after 9/11, I think. The real threat had no actual relation to the paranoia though.

As you point out, Iran has no delivery system for nuclear weapons against the US (Israel may not be so lucky). Yet the old Cold Warriors overlook this.

I’ll quibble with this just a little bit. A delivery system in this case could be as simple as taking any ocean going ship into New York harbor. A poor-man’s EMP weapon doesn’t require anything more sophisticated than an old 737. So while I agree that terrorists do not pose an existential threat to the entire country, individual cities are certainly at risk. And what would the long term economic and social impact be from losing say NY and LA in a day?

I'm certainly not nostalgic for the cold war, the threat of total nuclear annihilation it posed or the ugly proxy wars it caused, but I think Gates is correct when he talks about the situation back then being simpler: the number of players was much smaller, the players were rational and not suicidal, the threat was total. Now we have to deal with a multitude of potentially irrational actors, far easier proliferation and limited threats which yet might cause worldwide conflicts. I was against the Iraq war and am certainly against war with Iran, but that doesn't mean that proliferation isn't the biggest threat to world peace. The fact that the Bush administration has been very bad at dealing with this threat shouldn't lead us to trivialize then threat itself. And the isolationist argument that Iran's weapons cannot reach the US and shouldn't therefor be of concern to the US is flat out ridiculous, since an attack on a NATO member state would be all that is needed to trigger a US response.

DaveC: Did I argue, anywhere, that we should have surrendered to the USSR or in Korea? Anywhere? I didn't think so.

Do I argue, anywhere, for abandoning our allies in the ME? I don't think so either.

The post is about what we consider to be threats to ourselves. And the point was: Iraq was not a serious threat to us. Iran is not, either. There may, for all I say here, be all sorts of good reasons for going to war with them, or there may not. But the leap from 'a bad country has WMD' to 'we must go to war' is much too quick. The entire history of the Cold War shows us that there's an awful lot that we can do between those two points.

Brett: it was pretty clear before the 2004 election that GWB was just astonishingly unserious about "making sure rogue nations didn't get nukes." See e.g here.

What Able Archer tells me is how utterly stupid it was to go swaggering about with all that 'evil empire' talk. Act like you might make a first strike, and you just might get beaten to it.

I don't agree that "we" were close to nuclear war, though. The Soviet response was purely defensive, while Americans were just being cluelessly belligerent.

And in re: Germany and Korea, in both cases we "abandoned" people on the other side of the line, not pushing forward to liberate them.

I'm much less certain about this argument, hilzoy: "Democracy is the best system of government there is. People do want to be free.... Alternately, we could just get out of the way and let history take its course." Couldn't Cold Warriors plausibly argue that the reason for this trend is Pax Americana, not the will of people throughout the world? Put it this way, if the US trended toward isolationism (which I understand is not your argument), would the historical trend toward liberty continue? I'm skeptical that the trend toward democracy would continue unabated.

Hilzoy, admittedly the choice between "not serious about doing the right thing" and "serious about not doing the right thing" is both subtle, and infuriating, but such are the choices we're confronted with in real world elections.

Perhaps you'd care to discuss specifics, instead? How would you characterize, say, Yagoda, or Beria?

Do you have some alternate take on the purges or the Ukrainian famine that you'd like to share?

a simple grasp of chronology should suggest to you that these issues are not especially comprehensive when it comes to understanding the 70 year history of the Soviet Union, in particular the Cold War, which is what we seem to be discussing.

I respectfully suggest that you are falling victim to the cartoonish vilification of the 'bad guys', then as of now. I'm sorry if I sounded condescending, but I simply meant that this gullibility is particularly unforgivable for historical events, given the wealth of good literature out there already on the USSR, PRC etc. 'Totalitarian', 'fanatical', 'radical': these are words designed to evade analysis. They are to foreign policy analysis what 'intelligent design' is to science.

Do you think the world was objectively simpler 30 years ago? Or do you think (as I am suggesting) that people like Gates just had a simplistic view of the world?

[I would also like to problematise the idea that the USSR was 'the aggressor' in the Cold War]

"I respectfully suggest that you are falling victim to the cartoonish vilification of the 'bad guys', then as of now."

I respectfully submit that you are still being extremely condescending, and engaging in misjudgments about other people. I know that I've read hundreds and hundreds of books on the history of the Soviet Union -- and on the abuses committed by the United States -- over forty years, and I suspect Hilzoy is little different.

'Totalitarian', 'fanatical', 'radical': these are words designed to evade analysis. They are to foreign policy analysis what 'intelligent design' is to science.
Do I even need to explain how this analogy fails? "Intelligent design" is an unprovable concept of the creation of the universe; "totalitarian" and "radical" are adjectives. Saying one is like the other isn't even wrong; it's just a category error.

"...when it comes to understanding the 70 year history of the Soviet Union, in particular the Cold War, which is what we seem to be discussing."

Actually, no, we haven't been discussing that at all, that I've noticed. Which comments were "we" discussing that in, exactly?

"the 70 year history of the Soviet Union," that is.

Hilzoy-"...does our conduct show anything in particular about the intentions of the USSR?"

I'd have to defer to Charlie Carp's comment above: "The Soviet response was purely defensive, while Americans were just being cluelessly belligerent." I'd say that out conduct in that period says more about our fears than about Soviet intentions.

I'm afraid that cartoonish villification has played a role in our perception of the worldwide jihadist threat. Not that jihadists aren't evil, but the size and scope of their threat hardly justifies toppling ME regimes. The real threat post to us in the next 10-15 years is economic- say, a radical Islamic overthrow of the Saudi kingdom. Watch our head's spin when 60% of the world's oil reserves are controlled by jihadists. We've done little to address it (i.e., weaning ourselves off of our oil addiction through conservation, and alternative energy sources).

"And who still remembers 1984-85, when we were riveted by Jonathan Schell's argument in the New Yorker that even a few nuclear explosions would trigger such dust storms as to produce a "nuclear winter"?

Minor nitpick, but Schell's "The Fate of the Earth came out in 1980 or 81, I think--Turco, Toon, Ackerman, Pollack, and Sagan came out with their nuclear winter paper in 1984, though some other guys had a similar idea a year or two sooner (not counting the asteroid impact dust cloud theory which came out in 1980). Schell's book was memorable, though--the chapter title describing post-Apocalypse America was " A Republic of Insects and Grass".

It did have an impact on me. I took comfort in the fact that later work (last I read) moderated the original predictions, to the point where people were talking about "nuclear autumn", which has a rather more pleasant tone to it.

Minor nitpick, but Schell's "The Fate of the Earth came out in 1980 or 81, I think...

Aren't you infringing some copyright of Gary's or somesuch by starting a post in this fashion?

I thought of that, but Gary hadn't said anything yet on this subject and it was like this empty niche that had to be filled.

"The real threat post to us in the next 10-15 years is economic- say, a radical Islamic overthrow of the Saudi kingdom. Watch our head's spin when 60% of the world's oil reserves are controlled by jihadists."

The funny thing is that this is something we are much more able to handle. A COUNTRY in the hands of jihadists with an economic weapon can be defeated in straight out war.

"The funny thing is that this is something we are much more able to handle. A COUNTRY in the hands of jihadists with an economic weapon can be defeated in straight out war."

It's sure to work out at least as well as Iraq has.

Iraq:

Population: 26,783,383 (July 2006 est.)
Saudi Arabia
Population: 27,019,731
note: includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2006 est.)

""The funny thing is that this is something we are much more able to handle. A COUNTRY in the hands of jihadists with an economic weapon can be defeated in straight out war."

It's sure to work out at least as well as Iraq has.

Iraq:

Population: 26,783,383 (July 2006 est.)
Saudi Arabia
Population: 27,019,731
note: includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2006 est.)"

The problem with Iraq is the method. If our only goal is to rid ourselves of a ruling clique, and we don't care much about the result, we can go into installed puppet mode.

we can go into installed puppet mode

Now...why does most of the rest of the world have suspicions about the good faith of the United States?

One forever wonders.

we can go into installed puppet mode.

I think we've been in this mode since WWII.

Another thing. I grew up with "Wanted" posters for RAF (Red Army Fraction) terrorists everywhere. The paranoia was similar to that in the US after 9/11, I think. The real threat had no actual relation to the paranoia though.

Agreed, but there is a good lesson for Americans here: Europe has faced terrorism a lot longer than the US: ETA, Red Brigades, IRA, RAF, National Vanguard, etc., for far longer than the US has.

Another thing. I grew up with "Wanted" posters for RAF (Red Army Fraction) terrorists everywhere. The paranoia was similar to that in the US after 9/11, I think. The real threat had no actual relation to the paranoia though.

Agreed, but there is a good lesson for Americans here: Europe has faced terrorism a lot longer than the US: ETA, Red Brigades, IRA, RAF, National Vanguard, etc., for far longer than the US has.

Also one's perspective living on a US Army Post in Germany during the 70's did focus a little more of your attention on the RAF.

"I think we've been in this mode since WWII."

And forget about the Spanish-American War, America's history with Mexico, and with Latin America?

I think some Panamanians might object.

Sebastian: "If our only goal is to rid ourselves of a ruling clique, and we don't care much about the result, we can go into installed puppet mode."

But, then, installing a compliant government in, say, Iran worked so well in the long run, as did having one in Cuba, or in Iraq before 1958 (thanks to the British), or in Eqypt before that, or, why, it's always worked out well in the long run in the Middle East.

Clearly we should keep right on repeating that behavior. What could go wrong?

"Now...why does most of the rest of the world have suspicions about the good faith of the United States?

One forever wonders."

That wasn't a prescription, it was a description.

"But, then, installing a compliant government in, say, Iran worked so well in the long run, as did having one in Cuba, or in Iraq before 1958 (thanks to the British), or in Eqypt before that, or, why, it's always worked out well in the long run in the Middle East."

Gary, you're rather a better researcher than that aren't you? Pushing for US friendly governments has in fact worked well in many instances worldwide. If Saudi oil was at stake, I suspect we could pull off at the very least an Egypt. And remember, if Saudi oil were at stake, France and Germany would be interested in an oil trading state as well...

"Agreed, but there is a good lesson for Americans here: Europe has faced terrorism a lot longer than the US: ETA, Red Brigades, IRA, RAF, National Vanguard, etc., for far longer than the US has."

There are similarities and differences. None of those had single terrorist events with the magnitude of 9-11. (You could perhaps argue that after 9-11 the Spanish bombings counted) But on the flip side there hasn't been even a small-scale repeat so the analogy cuts different ways.

That wasn't a prescription, it was a description.

Okay. But don't you think that reassurance is a bit, and by a bit I mean completely, undermined by:

Pushing for US friendly governments has in fact worked well in many instances worldwide.

Very puzzling. Also, there isn't a single instance I can think of where the United States has directly meddled in the internal politics of a country that's "worked out well". For the country, that is. And quite often, for the United States.

Well, like all analogies, it is not a perfect fit, but it depends on how you define single terrorist event. I think that the Brighton hotel bombing, unsuccessful as it was, had as much magnitude (or potential for magnitude), given that the IRA could have assassinated the PM and all of her ministers. Also, the IRA, taking responsibility for this, said:
Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.

Which goes to the point, it's not how many are killed, it is how much disruption can be generated.

"Very puzzling. Also, there isn't a single instance I can think of where the United States has directly meddled in the internal politics of a country that's "worked out well". For the country, that is. And quite often, for the United States."

It depends on your definition of 'directly meddled' I suppose. I presume we're ignoring the WWII countries. So South Korea? Egypt? Philippines (post-colonial)? Bosnia?

South Korea and Bosnia were external interventions based on stopping...external interventions. Yes, Korea is one country and the North's invasion was from a certain literalist point of view an "internal" event (ditto Bosnia), but I don't think that's a persuasive argument. It's the one Kim Il Sung made. NK - an independent country - invaded SK - an independent country, and the United Nations voted to intervene.

And SK was for decades a repressive dictatorship. What democracy and entrenchment of human rights that exist now is due to the efforts of the S. Korean people to dispense with the pro-U.S. junta.

The United States props up Mubarak, and earlier, Marcos. Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm quite certain both gentlemen came to power through their own efforts, rather than some U.S. action. Which is what an invasion of Saudi Arabia and installation of some friendly puppet would be.

If Saudi oil was at stake, I suspect we could pull off at the very least an Egypt.

We could do a lot of things. By what right would we presume to do so?

There are similarities and differences. None of those had single terrorist events with the magnitude of 9-11.

How are we measuring "magnitude" here? Simple fatality numbers, societal impact, or something else?

For precision, I should have used "nation" instead of country and "independent state" instead of "independent country".

we can go into installed puppet mode

now wait a d*mn moment.

after all the other arguments in favor of the invasion of Iraq were proven ... unsupported, the neo-cons talked a lot about needing to get away from the old ways of supporting dictators and instead we needed to be a friend of liberty. I could swear I even read SH comments/posts supporting the idea that one lesson of 9/11 is that modern technology no longer allows us to rely on our oceans to protect us, so we needed to strike at the root causes of terrorism by supporting democratic opposition in autocratic states.

and NOW we're talking about stationing troops and a puppet government in the home of Islam? Are you NUTS? you live in a port city. are you trying to have your death wish fulfilled by a Pakistani Bomb going off in San Diego harbor?

please excuse the intemperate tone. whiplash makes me cranky.

"Which is what an invasion of Saudi Arabia and installation of some friendly puppet would be."

You know that already? I'm being slammed with a hypothetical jihadist regime successfully taking over Arabia and I can't posit an internal counter to help prop up? Ok.

"please excuse the intemperate tone. whiplash makes me cranky."

Now you know I feel every time I talk here about Social Security. :)

Look, it was suggested that the REAL danger is of jihadists taking over Saudi Arabia. I suggested that isn't very likely and that a country taking acts we don't like is something we could deal with more easily than spread out jihadist terrorists if it was as threatening as controlling the Saudi reserves. Gary then came up with a relatively random population figure (ignoring important facts like oh the actual religious skew being rather different than in Iraq).

Look, if there were a jihadist regime that let the oil flow, I'm sure we could learn to live with it. If not we are quite capable of dealing with. It wouldn't be a great wonderful thing, but we aren't powerless either. With no try at democracy, things could be much easier to deal with.

Is this a prefered outcome? Ummm no. But you're spinning off into all sorts of hypotheticals and I'm running with them. But the fact of the matter is that our military is much better equipped to deal with a hostile government than it is a hostile dispersed network of terrorists. That point, which was all I was saying, is almost indisputably true. A truly hostile Islamist government in Saudi Arabia (in the sense of actually trying to do serious damage to the US) would not survive. Period. Would there be lots of nasty aftereffects? DUH! I'm certainly advocating a diplomatic stance where we would try to have a jihadist regime come to power in Saudi Arabia just because we technically could defeat it if we had to.


"How are we measuring "magnitude" here? Simple fatality numbers, societal impact, or something else?"

Well, that is rather my point isn't it? Depending on how you measure it, saying that 'Europe has dealt with terrorism' may or may not be correct. I mentioned two different views that point in different directions didn't I?

You know that already? I'm being slammed with a hypothetical jihadist regime successfully taking over Arabia and I can't posit an internal counter to help prop up? Ok.

You were not positing an internal counter. You originally said the problem with Iraq was the method, defined by having the wrong goal. The United States should have deposed the ruling clique and installed a more compliant one, etc.

Well, that is rather my point isn't it? Depending on how you measure it, saying that 'Europe has dealt with terrorism' may or may not be correct. I mentioned two different views that point in different directions didn't I?

By most measures, the Provos were responsible for the deaths of some 2,000 people over the campaign from 1969-1998. Basque separatists have killed nearly 1,000 people since 1968. If that isn't "terrorism," I'd suggest you're using a definition of the word that's nigh unto useless.

Unless you're engaging in the most solipsistic view of things possible, there is no set of circumstances whatsoever under which the statement, "Europe has dealt with terrorism," is not correct. I mean, really, Sebastian.

Phil, please read what I actually say!

"There are similarities and differences. None of those had single terrorist events with the magnitude of 9-11."

2,000 deaths over 30 year span is a different type of thing. A bad thing, yes but different. Calling one or the other 'terrorism' and assuming that they are therefore analytically similar such that is appropriate to say that one side of the Atlantic or the other has dealt with 'terrorism' as if we were talking about exactly the same thing is unwarranted. In some dimensions they are similar. In others they aren't. Which is what I said.

Well, no, what you said was that there are circumstances under which the statement "Europe has faced terrorism a lot longer than the US" is incorrect. Which, um, no.

There are similarities and differences. None of those had single terrorist events with the magnitude of 9-11. (You could perhaps argue that after 9-11 the Spanish bombings counted) But on the flip side there hasn't been even a small-scale repeat so the analogy cuts different ways.

Sebastian,

You're ignoring the most obvious one, however, and that is the fact these were all home grown, a prospect which in my mind is even more frightening.

Depending on how you measure it, saying that 'Europe has dealt with terrorism' may or may not be correct.

How is that not correct? In 1980 a bomb was detonated in the Bologna train station and killed 85 people, wounding 200 more. In 1987 in Barcelona, 15 people were killed by an ETA bomb. 29 people were killed by a bomb at Omagh in Northern Ireland in 1998.

Do these three examples I pulled from the top of my head not indicate that Europe has dealt with and continues to deal with terrorism?

All this talk of terrorism brings back some memories. I was in England in 82 when the IRA blew up the bandstand at Regent's and Hyde Park The one at Regent's park was during lunchtime concert and since I was still majoring in music performance at the time, my mom was worried sick thinking that I might have been there, especially after I told her how great it was to attend all the concerts in London during the summer.

The second time was when I was in France in 1986 during a string of bombings. I saw my then girlfriend off at Charles De Gaulle and set my backpack down to say goodbye and when I turned around, it was surrounded by CRS in full riot gear, and the head gave me a 20 minute lecture in very severe French until he found out that I was teaching at the school is niece was attending.

I compare these times in my mind with what I have seen about the recent scare in Boston and I think the US is not really ready.

Since I started the European terrorism discussion, I may make some extra remarks.
What I said was that the paranoia caused by the small-scale terrorism in Germany was similar to that in the US after 9/11. The reaction of the state was also similar. The constitution actually got a whole new sub section (the emergency laws) that allowed to abandon a number of civil rights, if parliament declared a state of national emergency. At the time the terrorism of the RAF was mainly directed at exponents of the "system", not against the general population (apart from the acceptance of collateral damage).
The difference to the US was/is, in my opinion, that those emergency powers were not abused large-scale for other purposes and that the country learned to deal with the threat in a rational manner after some time.

Hartmut,

Well said, which was exactly my point as well, perhaps not articulated as well.

There's at least one aspect of the British government's approach to the cycle of terrorism in Northern Ireland that I hope the U.S. isn't trying to imitate.

That's the placement of double agents into the upper reaches of both sides of the conflict, who were then given free rein to torture, assassinate, and bomb. Many lives were sacrificed to protect those agents, including those of civilians, but somehow the information that was the original justification for the whole setup was not shared with the rest of British intelligence.

The man who ran those agents, Gordon Kerr, was not only never held accountable for his operation, he was promoted. Where is he today?

Baghdad. Running a counter-terrorism unit that includes many of the veterans of the Ulster operation. My only comfort is that the damage his thugs can do may be limited by their inability to pass as Arabs.

Depending on how you measure it, saying that 'Europe has dealt with terrorism' may or may not be correct.

Please tell us, if they didn't deal with terrorism what in the world did they deal with?

Terrorism might vary in scale and style but it's first and foremost a tactic.

On my honeymoon I spent 15 minutes wandering Waterloo Station looking for a trashcan. 15 minutes! "The terrorists have won," I muttered to myself.

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