Deja Russia All Over Again

Rarely is daytime TV on in our house and C-Span is little more serious than other fare with sinecuristas and wonks and bureaucrats declaiming how with just one more tranche of moolah no child will be left behind nor suffer bullying or some other curse.

Passing by the ignored screen, my ears perked up as I heard the words, "Putin does not eat babies." Now that is news. It is contrarian enough in the current climate to almost be considered treason. Who was this woman making sense?

It was not just any woman. Suzanne Massie is, arguably, the lady who ended the Cold War. True, she was promoting a book, but that is no crime. Granted it’s a tough market. There are so many brilliant tomes by public figures. After all, who cannot forget, It Takes a Village or The Audacity of Hope or Decision Points or the others that slip my mind?

Intrigued by her account, I asked the editor of a regional magazine if he would let me review it for the June issue. A copy of her Trust But Verify: Reagan Russia and Me was procured and the pages have been turning.

I am at the point she had met the President, reported his message to her contacts and come back and reported to him.

Previously, Reagan had declared the Soviets an "Evil Empire" and then the KAL airliner was shot down with the world suspecting it was an unthinking reaction if not crime with the Russians responding defensively.

The rhetoric was hot, but how close were we to war? In Massie’s account, very close and she made it her quest to open a channel and maybe write about the Pavlosk Palace.

In that atmosphere, a Russian officer might have saved an undeserving humanity from annihilation. Ms. Massie’s recount reminds us. Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty by accident in Russia’s early warning headquarters. A report came in that a US ICBM had been launched. In short order, five were observed. Petrov could have followed protocol and what was left of the Soviet Union could not have blamed him. Might have gotten a decoration for it.

On his own, the man used logic to calculate it could not be a real attack. The long and short of it is that my generation’s kids grew up in a world filled with drugs and terrorism and inane 24/7 entertainment, but the day’s weather report does not include roentgen levels. Whatever they are?

One the most courageous acts of the last century and your man never got the rewards he deserved. The Colonel got a bad paperwork reprimand and reassignment. He did get the Dresden Prize. For what it’s worth Stan, in a world of the overrated, you are one of my heroes.

Which brings us back to the present and Mrs. Massie’s comment. The Russian president has been hit hard recently. So far it’s been only rhetorical. This is difficult to understand as Putin has tried to be more American than most of us. He does a passable Blueberry Hill and has a talk show.

Ah but he is not doing things the way we want him to. That has led to him being referred to, inevitably with us, as the Hitler du jour. This was by no less than our future president, Hillary Clinton. This is her second turn at being the future president so we know she is serious.

With what there is to lose if the situation is allowed to get out of hand, one would think it would be time to tone down the hysteria. Whether it’s Victoria Nuland agitating on the ground, to Kerry saying the other day that Russia is not keeping its word as sanctions are heaped on sanctions. Well, we did support the overthrow of an elected government but that was a legitimate coup under something like Monty Python’s unwritten law.

Now, a loudmouth foreign policy is one thing with Iraq. There was nothing they could do except wait for invasion, and then wait for us to leave. It may have not been planned, but it worked. It was all words anyway. Condoleezza didn’t believe the Smoking Gun/Mushroom Cloud thingee. At least one hope’s she was not that mindless.

We can mouth off about Syria all we want and not have to worry about them coming after us with the Big One. North Korea has it, but with them the Big One is little more than a cherry bomb with fallout.

With Russia, there may be a cost. That cost may be me affectionately calling my future grandkids crispy critters. Should we take it seriously? Forbes national security contributor Loren Thompson seems to see the possibility. There is much to read in his April 24, 2012 article, but let’s go with this, if the pushing and shoving led to troops on the ground,

"Whichever side found itself losing would have to weigh the drawbacks of losing against those of escalating to the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Moscow would have to contemplate the possibility of a permanent enemy presence near its heartland, while Washington might face the collapse of NATO, its most important alliance. In such circumstances, the use of "only" one or two tactical nuclear warheads to avert an outcome with such far-reaching consequences might seem reasonable – especially given the existence of relevant capabilities and supportive doctrine on both sides."

We probably can’t just say no harm no foul at that point.

As an American nobody from nowhere, I’m sorry I just don’t see how important The Ukraine is to us. Then again, there has not been much success to show for our post Soviet efforts anywhere.

Gulf War I, had to do it again and then leave a mess. Afghanistan, we’re saying au revoir and we all know it. We want to keep some presence, but what’s the point? Libya is a mess as are the Arab Spring countries. Why we want to be Al Qaeda’s air force is beyond most of us. Except that is policy gal Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Slaughter wants to see the bombers hit Syria to show Putin we’re tough. She makes sense among policy makers in think tanks, I guess, as she’s one of them. Anne-Marie is president of the New America Foundation. Its founders back in 1999 had its mission as to "invest in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States." Bombing Syria to bug the Russkies is not, as Dr. Johnson would put it, original or interesting, however. Anyway, some might say she got the job as a ticket punch on the way to being the next Hillary, but we would never.

We got lucky in the eighties. Two people of common sense were on the scene, the Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Massie. The first didn’t start a war and the second did her part to end a cold one. Now all the women want to be bigger warriors than the Bush frat team, but in a nice way, of course.

If you always have to rely on luck, you lose. Hang out at the track if you don’t believe me.

Richard Morchoe is a columnist, book reviewer and article writer for a regional monthly magazine in Western Central Massachusetts. His email address is rmorchoe@ymail.com.

Read more by Richard Morchoe