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Feb 23, 2017

A Nuclear War?

tags: Putin;Trump; Schumer

This post is by Murray Polner,  a blogger, writer and HNN’s senior Book Department editor.

Here's what Senator Chuck Schumer said after Washington erupted in a nasty civil war between Trump & Company and the Intelligence Community's accusation of Russian hacking. Chuck warned that our new President was "really dumb to criticize the intelligence community because they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you." Translated, that means that even so powerful a guy as the Senate Minority Leader has to take great care before he and presumably others in Washington dare cross what Mike Lofgren once famously dubbed "The Deep State."

As  Lofgren, who spent 28 years working for Congress put it in his book The Deep State, a "shadow government" of corporate and national security interests from Wall Street to Washington, are the real bosses and not the White House, Congress and the courts, many of whom are tied one way or another to the real  movers and shakers. "The Deep State," he wrote," is the big story of our time. It is the thread that runs through the war on terrorism and the militarization of foreign policy."

Agree or not, we're currently inundated with accusations that Trump is Putin's stooge while his presidential responses only add to the confusion and inflames our domestic war.

We could use some clarity and common sense.  Arthur Pearl, a  writer I admire, warned  long before the emergence of Donald Trump and his critics that the most reasonable and probable result of arguments and counter-arguments without a defensible alternative is a change that is really no change.

Which is precisely what the memorable Admiral Gene La Rocque, who died last October 31 at age 98, tried to do. He wrote an article or two for a magazine I edited and as a result I once had a leisurely lunch with him and his friend John Glenn.  They agreed that Ike's farewell warning about the failure to heed the growing power of our military-industrial complex was a critically missed opportunity.

La Rocque, a combat veteran of 13 major naval battles in WWII and recipient of the Legion of Merit, was effectively dumped by his postwar comrades because he believed the Vietnam War was a mistake.  He co-founded  the Center for Defense Information, its main aim to avoid a nuclear war with the Russians while keeping a close eye on the very lucrative military-industrial complex, all of which challenged views held by many of  his erstwhile comrades, who deemed his views  an unpardonable offense.

We can use similar realists now. Avoiding a nuclear war with Russia (or for that matter any nuclear power) will sooner or later involve dealing with Vladimir Putin. He (or his successors) runs a vast country spanning nine time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean and occupying one-sixth of the earth's land mass. It also possesses, thanks to the original Cold War, thousands of nukes.

Putin is no angel but calling him a war criminal and a monster as some American politicians and pundits have been doing is not exactly helpful.  He's a classic Holy Mother Orthodox Church Tsarist ruler, though still without gulags. He reminds me of Konstantin Pobedonostsev, the lay head of the Russian Orthodox Church from 1880 until 1905 and chief advisor to the Tsar, a powerful Russian who loathed democracy, censored the press, crippled the zemstvos (local governments established by a reform-minded Tsar), excommunicated the great Tolstoy, who he called "a madman," and silenced prominent critics like Vladimir Soloviev, the theologian, as I described in my 1965 Foreword to his book Reflections of a Russian Statesman.

Putin certainly violated international law by annexing Crimea.  But somehow in all the outraged, sometimes justified, commentaries about that peninsula's takeover there was little said about other violations of international law, let alone morality, as in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Grenada and Panama, a bloody proxy war in Central America,  helping wreck Libya and turning it into a terrorist's paradise, and now inflicting misery on Yemen.

These days few Washington-based VIPs (pro and con Trump) seem too concerned about the potential for a nuclear war with Russia, now that an erratic and unpredictable President controls the nuclear button. At the very least we desperately need  a law requiring that,  unlike Truman, LBJ, Clinton, Bush 2,  and Obama, no President can make war or declare a state of emergency, without congressional approval.

I like best what David Foglesong, a rational professor of history at Rutgers, wrote recently:

"Trump must vigorously make the case for cooperation--as Reagan did with Gorbachev and as Kennedy did in his American University speech of June 1963, when he urged Americans 'not to see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threat.' "

I know it's commonplace to say that a nuclear war would finish most of us off. But as Robert McNamara explained in the documentary "The Fog of War," few outside JFK's inner circle knew how close we came  to a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963.  It can happen again if we're not careful, very careful.

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