From the archives: Russian Bear Redux
This is from the archives, written in 2014, presented for your consideration. We knew this was coming.
Author’s note: I wrote this on March 3, 2014. It was probably published in my RedState diary, or on my old personal website, which is now shut down. When I read it today, I realize how on target it was.
When I was a young teenager, the Russians were the big enemy.
We were worried about nuclear bombs exploding, and the Russians overrunning Europe. I grew up in those years, the late 70’s and early 80’s, in the seacoast region of New Hampshire. There was a Strategic Air Command base up there in Portsmouth, Pease AFB, complete with FB-111 nuclear bombers. It was the 509th Bomb Wing, which was in WWII the 509th Composite Group, the only nuclear-capable air wing which completed real missions with The Bomb.
To say that I grew up a bit obsessed with the Russians was not far from the truth. I saw them invade Afghanistan, and our response was to boycott the Olympics. I saw Iran, what I thought was a friendly country, become a violent enemy, holding Americans hostage, while we watched “Nightline with Ted Koppel” every night while the graphic counted up the days.
I used to play simulation “war games,” which were far more realistic than plain old Dungeons & Dragons (yeah, I was a geek, and I played that too). We went to conventions and participated in mass simulations with Russian armor columns, loaded with T-72 tanks, BMP-2 armored personnel carriers, ZSU-23 anti-aircraft guns, and lots and lots of them. Russian war doctrine is that quantity has a quality of its own, and overwhelming the enemy with speed and numbers was their strategy. Americans had run down M60A2 tanks left over from Vietnam, placed in West Germany as a bulwark against Communist aggression. I’ve played the simulation game on both sides. Honestly, playing the Russians was more fun, and most of the time, they won, forcing NATO to abandon their positions and gather for a later counterattack.
In the 1980’s, I watched plenty of “Russia” movies, including War Games and Red Dawn. There was a real incident a few times when the computers at Cheyenne Mountain, home of NORAD, triggered a false “real” alert. I was at the mall across from the base one of these times, when the blue busses pulled up, and all the airmen ran out to get back to their posts, while the FB-111’s rolled down the runway. It was pretty scary, in a teenage exciting way.
I remember Ronald Reagan taking office, being shot a few months later, and recovering. I remember him calling the USSR an “evil empire.” I agreed with that sentiment. I used to read a lot of history—still do—and saw how the Russians were tenacious in battle during WWII, and how they were ruthless, in many ways more ruthless than their Nazi foes. I read The 900 Days by Harrison E. Salisbury, about the 3 year near-total siege of Leningrad—now called the pre-Soviet name St. Petersburg. Russians can be very determined, and fight to the last man. Reagan was more determined, and purposed to crush the USSR using economic means, for he knew that communism could never keep up with a fully-developed capitalist state.
Then I grew up, and in 1989 I visited Europe. I was in Munich, just weeks before the wall fell in Berlin. It all seemed so surreal. Then we had Gorbachev in New York, Boris Yelchin in Moscow. We had the attempted coup; I still have the newspaper from August 21, 1991. Funny how the old-guard party hacks tried to take power when Gorbachev was at his dacha in the Crimea, and today the Russians have retaken the Crimea.
The USSR was no more. We saw a new day dawning for millions of Russians, Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, Germans and others who were buttoned up behind the Iron Curtain for 50 years. Reagan was leaving office, and Bush (41) had a new threat to deal with: Iraq.
It was shocking how much was in disrepair in the old USSR. Now fast forward 24 years. Flush with cash from oil and gas, free from any restraint or oversight from the west, and armed with the western belief that Russia is seeking to become a democratic, consumer-oriented, free and modern country, Russia is rebuilding the Bear from the ground up.
Breaking a 70-year streak of communist rule, with a few hundred years of oppressive Tzars before that, does not happen in 24 years. In 1991, Putin was 39 years old. He resigned on August 20, the day of the attempted coup, from his intelligence post at Leningrad State University. Putin was a product of the USSR, and he worked in the KGB his entire career until the end. By no means was he, or is he now, the image of the Soviet bureaucrat apparatchik. His Ph.D. is in international law, with a slant toward business law. He studied how oil and gas and national energy policy would be the key to Russian economic success—he wrote his doctoral thesis on the subject.
It is no accident that Putin is in power, and power is what he wants. He isn’t a crude kleptocrat like Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko, who lived better than a king while his people starved. Putin carefully crafts his image, a hero to his people, a savior for greater Russia. He is media-savvy, ruthless, and politically apt on the international stage. In education, theory, and raw horsepower, he’s a point for point match with Barack Obama.
In fact, I believe Obama and Putin agree on more than they disagree.
In realpolitik, global power projection, and winning influence, Obama is no match for Putin.
While Obama leads America to new heights of navel-gazing, carbon emissions limits, green energy, anti-child obesity, and universally-bad healthcare, Putin rebuilds the Russian Bear day by day.
Sarah Palin in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012 were not prescient or prophecy-laden. They were listening to the international experts who have been watching for the past 24 years, and had the common sense to see the Bear rising again.
The USA, with its eyes turned firmly away from such ugliness, chose to ignore common sense. And in an orgy of disarmament, declared that our Army should be cut to levels unheard of since 1979—the year that the USSR invaded Afghanistan. We were so weak then that the only response Carter could muster was “we won’t go to the Olympics in Moscow.” Eerily similar to today’s “we won’t go to the G-8 meeting in Moscow.”
The time of the Bear is rising again. Will we have a Reagan, a leader who is unafraid to use our economic might, international favor, and military power to counter the Bear, point for point? Or will we see another 70 years of an Iron Curtain, replaced by a Steel Ring, run from Moscow by a man unfettered by western morals, but skilled in crafting his own image at home, and abroad.
Those same Latvians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Romanians, are all very concerned, and some are panic-stricken. Their very freedom is very much at risk. In 1991 we didn’t let them down. I don’t think they have the same confidence now.
I have a warning from the Department of Common Sense: get ready, because it’s coming.
The Bear is back.
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Your war game experience echos what General Jack Keane said on Fox, He did not go into details, but he hinted that the Balkans would have been toast. Things change rapidly. In the 1960s the USA military had a huge technology advantage. I was cross training as an electronics warfare officer with Army Air Defense Command in the mid-1960s. It was relatively easy to defeat Russian electronic measures, but we could not compete with the USAF.
This country needs to rebuild its military advantage and to further encourage NATO allies to tend to their security as much as the USA does. They are far more prosperous than Russia except for their reliance on Russian gas.
Have you read William Douglas's book, International Dissent? I think you'd like it.
“Our image of communism devouring the earth and Russia’s image of capitalism guided by greed and inhumanity are still strong. Yet, the two systems seem to be converging… The important point is that neither our Pentagon nor Russia’s Pentagon nor anyone else’s Pentagon has any major role to play in evolving cooperative regimes for dealing with disputes and dissents at the international level."” — Justice William O. Douglas, International Dissent (1971, paperback)