The Slide of America and the Rise of Armageddon
As we approach mid-2016, the world’s security is looking a little shaky – actually, really shaky (check out the Doomsday Clock). Despite bloated hyperbole from our political leaders, the world is facing a huge shortage of effective leadership, just when it’s sorely needed. Whether it’s Great Britain’s David Cameron who managed to get himself wedged into a June 23 referendum on whether the country should leave the European Union, or Germany’s Angela Merkel who got her country in over its head with over one million refugees, or Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who now has to start delivering on his truckload of election promises, where are the REALLY good national leaders?
When the world was on a downward slide during the 1930s with the rise of the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) one national leader saw the bigger picture and, in the face of resistance from that country’s citizens, stepped up to the plate. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man with his own eccentricities and quirky behavior, was the right leader at the right time at the right place. And the same can be said of Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, himself an oddball in many ways.
What’s the situation today when it comes to leadership from the world’s primary superpower? Well, the world’s watching aghast at the political spectacle that has been unfolding in the United States as the Republicans and Democrats procced through their respective tortuous primaries processes. Donald Trump, upon whom I wrote a recent post Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror, and Ted Cruz are clearly not presidential material. They actually scare the crap out of many people, whether you live in America, its northern neighbor Canada, or across the ocean.
Yet the Democrats are not ones to smirk. Hilary Clinton’s many unanswered questions related to her infamous home-based email server; the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya; or the Clinton Foundation (just by way of some examples) pose serious concerns about her as a potential president.
Those leading major super powers need to have an abundance of calm judgement, persistence and patience. Love him or hate him, President Ronald Reagan had the above three traits. He may have appeared disinterested at policy briefings, lacking curiosity in the minutiae of bureaucrats’ reports, but he possessed a big picture view of the abhorrent dangers of out-of-control nuclear proliferation by both the United States and the Soviet Union.
A special note to the liberal left from an apolitical correspondent: President Ronald Reagan’s desire to drastically reduce nuclear armaments held by the United States and the Soviet Union is well documented and a matter of public record. He was not a war monger as incorrectly portrayed by certain media sources and commentators.
Fast forward to today’s volatile geo-political global scene, characterized by Machiavellian practitioner Vladimir Putin, a highly dysfunctional U.S. Congress and an inept President, compounded by the rise of a serial bankruptcy real estate tycoon seeking the Republican leadership nomination, and you have a recipe for imminent nuclear catastrophe. Layer on that nuclear cake the rise of amorphous, non-state terrorist actors, notably ISIS (ISIL), and the world has suddenly become much more unsafe.
Indeed, civilization almost came to an end during the extremely tense periods between the US and USSR, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to numerous close calls in the seventies and eighties due to confusion over misperceived ICBM attacks by both superpowers (such as mistaking geese for incoming missiles). Eric Schlosser’s brilliant but terrifying factual account of an accident at an ICBM silo in Arkansas in 1980 reveals the precarious nature upon which the United States has based, in part, its nuclear weapons defense strategy. In Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety, Schlosser deftly incorporates other events that occurred before and during this era, such as the Manhattan Project, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the rise of the Cold War.
Along the same vein, consider journalist-author David Hoffman’s comments in his Pulitzer prize-winning book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, again another terrifying account of out-of-control nuclear weapons proliferation. Hoffman writes:
“By 1982, the combined strategic arsenals of the superpowers held the explosive power of approximately 1 million Hiroshimas. Even with their huge arsenal, Soviets leaders feared they could perish in a decapitating missile attack before they had a chance to respond. They drew up plans for a system to guarantee a retaliatory strike. They envisioned a fully automatic system, known as the Dead Hand, in which a computer alone would issue the order to launch.”
Fast forward to Hoffman’s concluding chapter where he refers to the strong relationship that Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev had developed since first meeting in 1985. At that point in time the U.S. and the Soviet Union and amassed some 60,000 nuclear warheads in various configurations. In 1986 in Reykjavik, Iceland, the two presidents met to pursue largest reduction in nuclear weapons between the two countries. Unfortunately, following Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s determined efforts nuclear weapon proliferation expanded in the succeeding decades. The nuclear weapons arsenals of the U.S., Russia and other nations are summed up below.
United States 7,100
Great Britain 225
North Korea 8
The above comments are in the context of the 40,000 foot view of the world’s two super powers: the United States and Russia (yes, Russia can still kick some ass, despite pronouncements from commentators who believe that America now rules the roost). As much as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive forays into Ukraine, Syria and Georgia are of extreme concern, President Obama’s nuclear weapons revival shouldn’t be ignored.
President Obama has been misperceived by many as a more pensive president compared to G.W. Bush, not reacting to citizens’ fear of terrorism or the media’s hyperbole. However, Obama has overused the deployment of drones in the Middle East, in contrast to President Bush, causing the deaths and injuries of numerous innocent civilians. On the country’s long-term defense spending, Obama aims to boost it by one trillion dollars over 30 years. This “modernization” is being criticized by a variety of people with defense backgrounds, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry who himself oversaw the introduction of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles during the eighties.
Strikingly, Obama seeks to acquire 1,000 missiles with adjustable nuclear warhead capacity, 100 long-range bombers and a new fleet off nuclear-armed submarines. As Perry put it, Obama’s defense procurement plan will be “…more likely to erupt in nuclear conflict than during the Cold War.” And as Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly stated, Obama’s plan involves “…spending ourselves into oblivion.”
President Obama’s nuclear-weapons extravaganza will not necessarily improve security for the U.S. or its allies, but rather further increase the risk of nuclear Armageddon.
Both Presidents Putin and Obama have set back the world when it comes to nuclear disarmament. Obama has faced a difficult rival, just as Ronald Reagan did three decades ago (indeed several rivals who rotated into power). Yet the current outgoing president never initiated a substantive effort to tackle nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately for Obama, the United States and the rest of the world, Vladimir Putin has the instincts of a predator, quickly seizing upon the weaknesses of his rivals.
Combined with the recent rise of non-state actors (eg ISIS, Boka Haram), the trend of nations arming themselves with nuclear weapons (North Korea is a particular concern) in the presence of little leadership from the U.S. presents a future of instability and potentially catastrophic consequences for human kind.
I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower
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