“My liberal friends like to portray Donald Trump as some sort of a crazed warmonger.
But they also like to criticize him for his stance on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Trump was always highly critical of NATO, arguing it benefitted the Europeans at our expense. And recently it was reported in the book “I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year” that he was going to pull the U.S. out of NATO if he had won re-election.
In the book, Washington Post reporters Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig reported that Trump’s own defense secretary, Mark Esper, “was rooting for Joe Biden to win the election because he believed he cared about national security.”
Esper got his wish. But let us imagine the U.S. had pulled out of the alliance that was created back when there was a Soviet Union that was dedicated to spreading Marxism all over the world.
These days, Russia’s economy is smaller than Germany’s. It’s smaller than France’s. It’s smaller than Britain’s. It’s even smaller than Italy’s.
If those guys perceive a threat from Russia, they certainly have the wherewithal to defend against it.
But what’s in it for us?
That’s a question we should be asking ourselves amid the current kerfuffle over Russia and Ukraine.
Beltway politicians of both parties are taking a hawkish stance. On the right, Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently pushed a resolution to impose sanctions on Russia’s Nordstream 2 pipeline, which will carry natural gas to Germany, to discourage Russia from interfering in Ukraine.
On the Democratic side, our own Sen. Robert Menendez called it the “Trump-Putin” pipeline. He voted against the Cruz approach but instead demanded that the U.S be ready to impose even tougher, “crippling” sanctions in the event Russia invades Ukraine.
During a TV interview on the Ukraine crisis, a Mississippi senator suggested we need to warn the Russians about our nuclear weapons; that’s as nutty as the satire in the classic Cold War movie “Doctor Strangelove”
Meanwhile there are reports that the CIA is training Ukrainian troops to battle the Russians. The administration also warned of a possible “false flag” effort by the Russians to create a crisis that would permit them to invade.
All of this saber-rattling is based on the idea that Russian troops are poised to roll into Ukraine. But it doesn’t look that way to the military-intelligence expert who correctly predicted that Saddam Hussein would invade Kuwait in 1990.
Pat Lang, who was credited with that prediction in Bob Woodward’s book “The Commanders,” said aerial photos show the Russians are not ready for an invasion.
Back before the First Gulf War, “We knew the Iraqis were gonna invade Kuwait,” Lang said. “They moved all this stuff down to a zone 30 kilometers from the border and set up in positions from which they would attack.”
But in Russia, “This stuff is all parked in nice, neat rows like in a motor pool for easy maintenance.”
Putin’s real goal is to keep Ukraine out of NATO, Lang said, and the U.S. should accede to that request.
In the Cold War we wouldn’t have let the Warsaw Pact set up in Canada or Mexico; we should accept that Putin has the same fears, Lang said.
“I don’t think any of the fools who are messing around there understand what the stakes are,” he said. “Here we’re messing with a thermonuclear power.”
Trump had many weak points. but his desire to avoid getting the U.S. involved in more wars was not among them, he said.
“He’s a businessman and he doesn’t like war,” Lang said. “War detracts from your balance sheet.”
Unless of course you’re a military leader. Over his lifelong career in the Army, Lang met plenty of top officers.
“The leadership of the military, they’re just politicians in uniform,” he said “They’re politicians who try to look like soldiers.”
Their political positions tend to be interventionist, he said.
As for Trump, he may have been good at making deals, but “His problem is he doesn’t understand government,” Lang said. Trump kept appointing people like Esper and former Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo who held foreign-policy views the opposite of his. They argued that our position in NATO won us influence in Europe, and that position was popular among the Beltway insiders.
That helped bring about Trump’s demise, said a prominent Russian expert who often posts on Lang’s foreign-policy blog.
“I think Trump did get it, but he over-estimated his power and underestimated his enemies,” said Pat Armstrong, a Canadian Russia analyst who spent four years in his country’s Moscow embassy during the 1990s.
Armstrong is also skeptical of the hawks’ insistence that Putin will take over Ukraine.
“Ukraine is a decaying, impoverished, de-industrialised, divided, corrupt and decaying mess,” he writes. “Moscow does not want to take responsibility for the package,”
Well, we took responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan. And look how those worked out.
So why not?”