The Right’s Neurotic Addiction to War

Just to add on to Kyle’s piece about the Addicted to War crowd, their understanding of history is to laugh at. Take Jennifer Rubin’s rehash of the Great Cold War Myth:

And then there is is unbridled faith in diplomacy, unaffected by the lessons of history. Was it presidential visits with the Soviet Union that brought down the Berlin Wall? Or was it the 40 year history of bipartisan military deterrence, the willingness of Ronald Reagan to walk away from Reykjavik summit, the resulting bankruptcy of the Soviet Empire, the support of dissidents and freedom fighters in the war against tyranny, and the willingness to identify Communism as a center of evil in the late 20th century?

Neither, actually. Ronald Reagan did not “win” the Cold War. If any one person can be credited with bringing the Cold War to an end, that person was Mikhail Gorbachev. It’s true that the Soviet Union fell in large part because it was bankrupted by 40 years of the most unprecedented arms buildup in human history, but that’s nothing the United States should take pride in, because that arms buildup brought us to the brink of nuclear war at least twice, and it was totally unnecessary. The entire Cold War was premised on two false beliefs: one, that the Soviet Union had a military arsenal equal or superior to our own, so that we always had to “catch up”; and two, that the Soviet government had global expansionist ambitions, and was willing to launch a first strike on the United States to achieve those ambitions. In fact, the Soviets were convinced that the U.S. government was planning to launch a first strike on them. The Soviets never had the financial resources to conduct the kind of arms race that went on for those four decades, but they felt they had no choice, because, from their point of view, they could not imagine why the Americans would be so committed to building up their nuclear arsenal — way beyond the point of parity — if they were not planning on using those nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. This, and much more, is laid out in meticulously researched detail by Richard Rhodes, in his book Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, which I read a couple of months ago.

Reagan actually gets a fairly sympathetic portrayal in this book, as a man who fully understood what the use of nuclear weapons would mean for human existence. Reagan, in Rhodes’ portrayal, was genuinely horrified — even terrified — about the possibility of nuclear war. Reykjavik was a never-to-be-repeated moment in which two world leaders actually came within a hair’s breadth of halting the nuclear arms race. But the historic agreement was wrecked by hardliners in the Reagan administration — in particular, Richard Perle — who used Reagan’s obsession with his Star Wars project to scuttle the deal:

Rhodes reveals the early influence of neoconservatives and right-wing figures such as Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. We see how Perle in particular sabotaged the Reykjavik meeting by convincing Reagan that mutual nuclear disarmament meant giving up his cherished dream of strategic defense (the Star Wars system). Rhodes’s detailed exploration of these and other events constitutes a prehistory of the neoconservatives, demonstrating that the manipulation of government and public opinion with fake intelligence and threat inflation that the administration of George W. Bush has used to justify the current “war on terror” and the disastrous invasion of Iraq were developed and applied in the Reagan era and even before.

Here are a few more passages from Amazon’s editorial reviews of Rhodes’ book. On mutually assured destruction:

… Paralleling the careers of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, Rhodes builds up to a detailed account of the 1986 Reykjavik summit, at which the two leaders—both eager to achieve peace—nearly came to an agreement on eliminating their nuclear arsenals, before the accord, he says, was sabotaged by then-assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle. The insistence of Perle and other advisers that the U.S. required a strong deterrent against the Soviet Union is held up for particular contempt. There has never been a realistic military justification for accumulating large, expensive stockpiles of nuclear arms, Rhodes argues. Far from keeping America strong, decades of nuclear arms production have seriously eroded the nation’s domestic infrastructure and diminished its citizens’ quality of life, he believes. …

On how close we came to nuclear war :

In a narrative that reads like a thriller, Rhodes reveals how the Reagan administration’s unprecedented arms buildup in the early 1980s led ailing Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to conclude that Reagan must be preparing for a nuclear war. In the fall of 1983, when NATO staged a larger than usual series of field exercises that included, uniquely, a practice run-up to a nuclear attack, the Soviet military came very close to launching a defensive first strike on Europe and North America. With Soviet aircraft loaded with nuclear bombs warming up on East German runways, U.S. intelligence organizations finally realized the danger. Then Reagan, out of deep conviction, launched the arms-reduction campaign of his second presidential term and set the stage for his famous 1986 summit meeting with Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the breakthroughs that followed.

The world we are living in now, and those “serious threats” that the neocons see everywhere they look, are the inheritance handed down to us from the Cold War and its enthusiastic adherents. All of the C.I.A.-engineered coups, U.S.-supported brutal dictatorships, arms deals, defense contracts, creation of new weapons systems, and wars — Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, the war of sanctions, the invasion of and war against Iraq, and the continuing military occupation — have not made Americans, or anyone else in the world, one bit safer. Which is why those who believe so deeply in war as a means to address existential threats continue to tout war as the way to go: It hasn’t worked yet, but they are still hoping that it will.

Cross-posted at Liberty Street.

10 Responses to “The Right’s Neurotic Addiction to War”

  1. Chief says:

    Those who believe so deeply in war have never had to fight one.

  2. RH Potfry says:

    So much nonsense in so few words. It’s beautiful in an odd way.

  3. Max says:

    Wow. Just wow.

    My understanding of the history of the Soviet Union sincw WWII comes from being old enough to have lived through that history. The Soviet Union was a monstrously murderous threat.

  4. Steve J. says:

    They really do seem to like war. Richard Weaver thought “Thus the historical soldier is by genus not, the blind unreasoning agent of destruction which some contemporary writers make him out to be. He is rather the defender of the ultimo ratio, the last protector of reason.”

    Leo Strauss was fascinated by the Peloponnesian war and so are modern wingnuts like Slots Bennett and Victor Davis Hanson.

  5. Chief says:

    Max,

    Perhaps your belief, “The Soviet Union was a monstrously murderous threat.” was because you listened to only that which the U.S. government fed to the media. Maybe the Soviet Union was reacting to it’s belief that the U.S would invade them AGAIN. In case you were not aware of it (and most Americans are not aware of) the United States invaded Russia in 1919. Check out the book “On A Field Of Red.”

  6. Kathy says:

    Perhaps your belief, “The Soviet Union was a monstrously murderous threat.” was because you listened to only that which the U.S. government fed to the media.

    Good points, Chief. And Max, I too “lived through that history.” I am 57 years old — 58 in July. I was born in 1950, a bit over a week after the Korean War began. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis — vividly — I was 12 at the time. I remember all of it.

  7. Brad says:

    To those who support Kathy and Jennifer’s view of world events, could profit by benchmarking their beliefs and the merits of this understanding by speaking to people who have lived under the domination of the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes.

  8. Kathy says:

    To those who support Kathy and Jennifer’s view of world events,

    Jennifer?

    And my post was not a challenge to the proposition that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian dictatorship and a human rights disaster. My point, clearly stated, is that the Western conviction that the Soviet Union had *global* expansionist ambitions and would have launched a first strike if given half a chance, was incorrect.

    And by the way, an understanding of the wrongheadedness of the Cold War is not incompatible with an understanding of the tyrannical nature of the Soviet system with regard to its own people and its orbit of influence in Eastern Europe. In fact, the two are related. By putting the Soviets’ backs against the wall, constantly threatening them with the fear of annihilation and forcing them to keep up with a ruinously expensive arms race — plus, for added measure, publicly demonizing them for 40 years — the U.S. contributed to the hardening of the Soviet Union’s domestic policies.

    Gorbachev’s historic achievement consisted in part of creating real democratic reform in the Soviet Union, even while the saber-rattling and arms buildup was still going on.

  9. Chief says:

    Max and brad are not understanding reality. Here is what is really happening vis-a-vis saber-rattling and foreign countries. If the foreign country will allow us companies (think United Fruit, for example) to come in and exploit the locals for the U.S companys profit, then the U.S. government treats them nice in the media. If they won’t let us rape their citizens, then we bad-mouth them in the press and maybe set up a coup de etat.

    IT IS ALL ABOUT MONEY. Stamp it on your brain. Don’t. Ever. Forget. It.

  10. Red says:

    The first government to declare its independence from the Soviet Union was that of Belarus. At the time, the leader of the government in Belarus cited the contamination from Chernobyl and the Soviet response to it as the main spark that triggered the cessation. The Soviets had drafted 600,000 people, gave them shovels, send them into the contaminated areas, and then ignored the resulting health problems. When Belarus revolted at the way they had been treated, the Soviet Union could do nothing because it was so drained of military, human, and financial resources by the war in Afghanistan and then Chernobyl. When other members of the Union noticed that nothing happened to Belarus, they soon followed.

    Unless you believe the conspiracy theory that Ronald Reagan helped fund Al Qaeda which in turn cost the Soviets dearly in Afghanistan, Reagan had very little to do with the fall of the Soviet Union. There is no reliable source, as far as I know, for the claim that the Soviet Union spent much money trying to protect Eastern Europe from the American military buildup. If the Soviets did have such a significant military buildup in the area that funding it threatened its very existance, don’t you think they would have used it to squash the various revelutions that followed the disaster at Chernobyl ?

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