Is there another Cuban missile crisis in the offing?

BY SAEED NAQVI

Is another Cuban missile crisis in the works? The agreement between Nicaragua to post Russian soldiers in the communist country must disturb Washington. What happens to the Monroe doctrine which Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson announced “was alive and kicking today”. Will Biden’s Secretary of State repudiate this?

Cardinal Ovando Bravo, if he is still around, must be in a state of feverish anxiety. When I visited Nicaragua’s capital Managua in the 90s, when Daniel Ortego was just about to be crowned President, the venerable cardinal virtually led me by the hand to Mother Mary’s statue in Central Managua so that I could see the miracle with my own two eyes: Mary was weeping copious tears because communist rule was imminent. It reminds me now of another miracle which gripped India in 1995: Ganesh statues slurping vast quantities of milk.

The Nicaragua agreement has been given vast amplitude: seven Latin American countries “to enter the country and participate”, says Fox News. There was more for Washington to worry about. This time the salvo comes from cardinal Bravo’s supreme boss. Pope Francis rubbished the diligently orchestrated western propaganda that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was “unprovoked”?

In an interview to a Jesuit magazine, the Pope quotes a “wise head of state” who had predicted much before the invasion that “they are barking at the gates of Russia; the situation could lead to war.”

There is no great difference between what the statesman said and what the Pope said some weeks ago. He said NATO may have “facilitated” Kremlin’s invasion by “barking” at the Russian door.

That Russia was consistently “provoked” has been clear as daylight since 1998 when the US senate voted in favour of NATO expansion. The wisest historian of Russia, the one who invented a policy of containing the Soviet Union, George Kennan, announced loud and clear “There will be repercussions.”

At the 2008 Bucharest summit of NATO, to which ironically Putin was also invited, Georgia’s and Ukraine’s possible entry into the fold was announced. It turned out to be a dramatic summit because President G.W. Bush was also in attendance, lobbying like there will be no tomorrow for Georgia and Ukraine to be ushered into NATO. “This would be like a knife on my throat” said Putin. What was suggested, Putin said, was an existential threat to Russia. A deep, dark red line was drawn.

2008 was memorable for two events: Russia-Georgia war which Russia won, and the collapse of Lehman Brothers with $619 billion record debt which hit the US where it hurts most. The expression “US decline” gained currency since this event. It was a dramatic turn of fortune: 1990-91 Soviet collapse brought about the “sole superpower” moment. Who ever imagined that contradictions of capitalism would catch up with the world’s most powerful economy and make it look weak kneed in the boxing ring.

During the West’s build up to the Ukraine expedition I had pointed flaws in the strategy because three of the US’s earlier expeditions, which I had watched from close, had failed. After 20 years of occupation the US left Afghanistan in disorder and unspeakable hunger. On April 3, 2002 it occupied Iraq, for a decade, with gains hard to see unless you see things from the Israeli perspective.

Then the US brought Syria into its focus with an altered strategy. It would not occupy this time but allow Gulf countries, scared of Iran, to break the Shia axis in order to place the knife on Iran’s throat which remains the existential threat for Israel and a fickle cast of characters leading the Gulf States.

When Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, with an imperious wave of the hand, demanded “Assad, get out of the way”, I was moved to question her cocksure demeanour indicating regime change. Within days Assad would fall. The gist of my logic was this: when you failed in Afghanistan and Iraq with extended spells of occupation, where do you derive your certitude from that Assad would full by what looked to me like cross-border terrorism. I can never forget the image of Gen. Lloyd Austin, much before he became Defence Secretary, among whose various tasks was to train “good militants” to plague Assad. A budget of $500 million was set aside. The “good” militant learnt all the drills and, one morning, collected all the weapons they had been trained to handle and walked away presumably to join the “bad” terrorists. The General had to face the Senate Armed Services Committee. “How many of the soldiers you trained are still in battle?” the General looked at the panel with sad eyes, “four or five”.

If Assad could not fall by external pick prick, how did you dream up a proxy war on the turf of Ukraine which would defeat Putin with his arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. You have caused the destruction of Ukraine with your weapons because you wished to get at Putin’s jugular. But why do you wish to “weaken Russia” as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin or “debase Putin”? In an earlier instance also you played this kind of Billiard: your eventual target was Iran but Syria leading the subsidiary Shia arc, stood in the way.

In the instance of Ukraine you are having kittens because China, your eventual target, has held Russia’s hand and announced a “friendship with no limits”. Your hope is that a “debased” Russia will be that much less attractive to China. It is like throwing acid on a woman’s face so that the bridegroom rejects her.

One would have watched the outcome with interest because the complete devastation of Ukraine is not in any one’s interest. But alas your own allies are undermining your war effort. The unofficial line to all “European officials is to accelerate trade with Russia in food grains, fertilizers, oil and gas.” Your media too has fallen silent. Have they seen the writing on the wall?

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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