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Geopolitical amateur hour

By Arnaud de Borchgrave   |   May 16, 2014 at 1:56 PM   |   Comments

Before we plunge ourselves into Cold War II, it would behoove us to remember what Russia under Putin means to our geopolitical calculus.

Putin's Russia is still supplying the U.S. with its only means of transportation to the international space station, the one area where the two nations still enjoy a close working relationship. But the latest crisis in US-Russian relations prompted Moscow to announce that this crowning achievement of Russian-US cooperation would end in 2020. The original agreement was good through 2024.

The space station is a football field-sized, $100 billion multinational achievement made up of interlocking modules from U.S., Russian, Japanese and European segments.

Since the forced retreat of NASA's space shuttle program in 2011, NASA relies on Russia to ferry astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), continuously inhabited since Expedition I docked in 2000. Subsequent flights and docking are scheduled through 2015.

The U.S. pays Russia the $70 million fare per astronaut to the ISS.

By air and by rail, Putin and his geopolitical advisers have also facilitated the U.S. withdrawal of fighters and equipment from Afghanistan.

When the Soviets fought a decade-long guerrilla war in Afghanistan the U.S. supplied the Mujahideen guerrillas with a devastating anti-aircraft weapon -- the Stinger missile -- that grounded the Soviet Air Force and sealed the Kremlin's defeat.

The last Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan Feb. 15, 1989. Nine months later, the Berlin wall fell, the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire. It was Moscow's Vietnam.

A minority of foreign policy experts in the U.S. and Europe said it would be a tragic mistake to treat Russia as a defeated superpower. Instead, they said, Russia should be hailed as a victorious nation for having defeated Communism and then launched a major effort to free East European satellite nations and democratize Russia.

President H.W. Bush (41), from 1989 through 1994, carefully avoided Cold War victory rhetoric even though he was one of its principal architects. Bush 43, from (2001-09), had no such inhibitions, and led the U.S., the world's dominant superpower, into two wars.

From the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush 43, clad in fighter pilot flight suit, declared victory in Iraq, a war based on the alleged imperative need to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Nuclear weapons evidence, the casus belli for the Iraq war, came from an Iraqi army deserter who had made his way to Germany and then refused to move on to the U.S. Later he conceded he had concocted WMD evidence to be reunited with his German girlfriend.

The lie wound up costing the U.S. $1 trillion from 2003-2011, along with 4,800 KIA and 31,965 WIA, excluding several hundred billion dollars for the long-term care and rehabilitation of the severely wounded.

The Afghan war, this far, is also up at $1 trillion with little prospect of victory before the self-imposed exit at the end of this year. An Afghan government friendly to the U.S. will need a minimum of $7 billion a year to sustain the military effort and keep Taliban at bay.

This planned scenario, bolstered by 10,000 U.S. troops for an unspecified period, is eerily reminiscent of what happened in South Vietnam after the U.S. military withdrawal. No sooner did the U.S. Congress cut further military assistance to South Vietnam than our allies collapsed and the North Vietnamese enemy drove into Saigon -- and changed the capital city's name to Ho Chi Minh, the general who defeated both France and the U.S. and died at 79 in 1969.

Ignoring the lessons of history, dominant voices in the West couldn't resist humiliating Russia as a defeated superpower and pushing NATOs frontiers ever closer to the former enemy. This, in turn, fed long-held Russian fears of encirclement.

But Vladimir Putin was in no hurry. Russia's new Czar, a former KGB colonel in East Germany during the tail end of the Cold War, was biding his time to get even with the American superpower.

Putin's decision to reintegrate Crimea in mother Russia -- once handed by Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine at the end of a long liquid evening -- was a bold move regarded by most Russians as long overdue.

Are we really in a position to be dictating what Russia -- i.e., Putin -- can and cannot do? He and his topsider cohorts are cognizant of our dysfunctional system that led us into two unnecessary wars that achieved precisely the opposite of what was intended.

Following the insecurity of Pakistan's routes to the Arabian Sea, Russia supplied guaranteed air and land routes (to Baltic ports) in and out of Afghanistan for US and allied forces.

For the U.S. and its allies the anticipated end of the Afghan involvement makes for grim reading in the 23rd quarterly report to Congress on U.S. reconstruction efforts.

SIGAR -- Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction John Sopko -- has blown the whistle on a looming disaster. "Afghan revenues in 2014 could cover as little as a third of the country's $7.5 billion budget," Sopko said.

The decline "comes at a time when dozens of reconstruction projects and their associated operations and maintenance are being turned over to the Afghan government," says SIGAR.

This Special Inspector General has blown the whistle and cried foul in almost every report to Congress. Corruption undermines everything the U.S. is attempting to leave behind to help a new Afghanistan stand on its own feet -- and defend itself against a Taliban biding its time until the final U.S. exit.

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