The Cold War Ends: Squandered Opportunities – Part III

The following is an excellent excerpt from the book “THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES” by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick from Chapter 12 “THE COLD WAR ENDS: Squandered Opportunities on page 478 and I quote: “Despite Cheney’s insistence that congressional approval of the use of force was not needed, Bush decided to take the measure to Congress. With antiwar protesters filling the streets, the House passed the war resolution on January 12 by 250-183. The Senate passed it 52-47.
By mid-January, the United States had 560,000 troops in the region. Almost 700,000 would serve by the end of the war. This gargantuan force was justified by even larger estimates of the number of Iraqi troops. Powell estimated half a million, Cheney a million, and Schwarzkopf 1.5 million.
The Security Council resolution had given the Iraquis until January 15, 1991, to withdraw their forces. Had Saddam been more savvy, he might have outfoxed the Americans who were most bent on war. “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller had earlier described what one European diplomat termed “nightmare scenario” for the Americans; an Iraqi withdrawal that would leave Saddam in power and his arsenal intact, especially if it were accompanied by calls for elections to determine Kuwait’s future political structure. If that had happened, the carefully crafted U.S. game plan could have unraveled and Saddam would have survived. The Saudis would have felt compelled to request the removal of all international forces, whose stay in the country, Bush and King Fahd had promised, would last only as long as the danger persisted. The ruling Sabah family in Kuwait would either be toppled or have its powers sharply constrained. U.S. plans to establish a long-term presence in the Gulf region would be thwarted.
The Iraquis would pay severely for Saddam’s failure to snatch diplomatic victory from the jaws of military defeat. Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991. The United States pummeled Iraqi facilities for five weeks with its new high-tech weapons, including cruise and Tomahawk missiles and laser-guided bombs. After having crippled Iraq’s communications and military infrastructure, U.S. and Saudi forces attacked battered, demoralized, and outnumbered Iraqi troops in Kuwait, who put up little if any resistance. U.S. forces slaughtered escaping Iraquis along what became known as the “highway of death.” They deployed a new category of weapons made out of depleted uranium, whose radioactivity and chemical toxicity would produce cancers and birth defects for years. Victims may have included U.S. soldiers, who suffered from what became known as Gulf War Syndrome. But enough of the Republican Guard escaped the slaughter to ensure that Saddam would retain his hold on power.
Bush and his advisors decided not to push to Baghdad to overthrow the regime, recognizing that such a move would bolster the regional hegemony of Iran, antagonize the United States’ Arab allies, and embroil the United States in a costly and complicated occupation. Cheney warned, “Once we cross over the line and start intervening in a civil war. . . it raises the very real specter of getting us involved in a quagmire figuring out who the hell is going to govern Iraq.” On another occasion he elaborated:
“It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United Stated military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?”
Colin Powell agreed with Cheney. The United States didn’t want to occupy Iraq, and there was no “Jeffersonian democrat waiting in the Ba’ath Party to take over.” The United States, he argued, was better off not getting ”mired down in a Mesopotamian mess.”
Wolfowtz and fellow State department official I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby disagreed. But Bush resisted their urgings. “Trying to eliminate Saddam. . . would have incurred incalculable human and political costs, “ he later explained. “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq.” He added that “there was no viable ‘exit strategy.’”
U.S. officials urged the Iraquis to rise up and topple Saddam. Shiites and Kurds responded en masse. But the United States stood idly by while the Iraqi government crushed the uprising, using poison gas and helicopter gunships. Still, the war showcased U.S. military power. Bush proclaimed a new world order and gushed, ‘The ghosts of Vietnam have been laid to rest beneath the sands of the Arabian desert.” One White House speechwriter programmed his word processor so he could write “New World Order” by hitting a single command key. Among those who dismissed this empty “burst of triumphalism” was conservative columnist George Will, who wrote, “If that war, in which the United States and largely rented and Potemkin coalition of allies smashed a nation with the GNP of Kentucky, could . . . make America ‘feel good about itself,’ then America should not feel good about itself.” He noted “how close Bush came to unilaterally amending the Constitution by stripping from Congress all right to involvement in the making of war. Bush only grudgingly. . . sought constitutional approval for launching the biggest military operation in U.S. history, an attack on a nation with which we were not at war.” In two months of bombing, the United States destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, sanitation facilities, waterways, railroads, communications systems, factories, and the electrical grid, and caused immense suffering. In March, the United Nations desc4ibed the bombing as “near apocalyptic,” driving Iraq back into the “pre-industrial age.” A Harvard team reported a “public health catastrophe.” The continuing UN sanctions exacerbated a miserable situation, reducing real wages by over 90 percent. Although estimates vary widely, credible sources report that over 200,000 Iraquis died in the war and its aftermath, approximately half of them women and children. The U.S. death toll stood at 158.
“By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!” Bush rejoiced. But privately he was more circumspect. As the war was coming to an end, he wrote in his diary that he was experiencing “no feeling of euphoria.” “It hasn’t been a clean end,” he regretted. “There is no battleship “Missouri” surrender. This is what’s missing to make this akin to WWII, to separate Kuwait from Korea and Vietnam.” And with Saddam Hussein remaining safely ensconced in power, victory seemed hollow and incomplete.
Gorbachev, meanwhile, had even less to celebrate. Just a few days after signing the START I treaty, on August 18, 1991, as he prepared to give even greater autonomy to the Soviet republics, Communist hard-liners placed him under house arrest. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, led a popular uprising that returned Gorbachev to power. But Gorbachev’s days were numbered. He was determined to use whatever time he had left to pursue his nuclear arms control agenda. Start I would limit both sides to 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads and 1.600 delivery systems. Gorbachev also pushed for elimination of the 45.000 smaller-yield tactical nuclear weapons that the United States and Soviet Union had placed in Europe. Although less dangerous than the powerful strategic weapons that were being slowly reduced, some of these battlefield weapons could yield up to a megaton, which was the equivalent of almost seventy Hiroshima bombs. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell had commissioned a study that recommended eliminating the tactical nuclear weapons, but it was rejected by the Pentagon. “The report went up to the Pentagon policy staff, a refuge of Reagan-era hard-liners, who stomped all over it, from Paul Wolfowitz on down,” Powell wrote in his memoirs. Cheney stomped, too. Despite the setbacks, both sides made significant unilateral cuts in their nuclear arsenals that would reduce, though not eliminate, the danger of complete nuclear annihilation.
On Christmas Day, having lost his base of support, Gorbachev resigned. The Soviet Union was no more. The Cold War had ended. The most visionary and transformative leader of the twentieth century had yielded power. Even some people in the United States had come to appreciate the immensity of his contribution. James Baker had said to him in September 1990, “Mr. President. . . nobody in the world has ever tried what you and your supporters are trying today. . . . I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never met a politician with as much bravery and courage as you have.”
As wasteful and dangerous as the Cold War was, it had brought a kind of structure and stability. What would happen now? Would peace and tranquility return? The United States had been blaming social and political upheaval on the Soviet Union or the previous forty-six years. In truth, though, the Soviets had more often than not exercised restraint upon their allies. And what would now become of the United States’ vast military and intelligence establishment, which had been constructed to counter a deliberately exaggerated Soviet threat? How would the hawks justify the bloated military budget that for decades had diverted resources from needed development to expensive weaponry and gaudy defense sector profits? And what would come of Gorbachev’s promise to reduce the once massive Soviet nuclear arsenal to less than 5,000 warheads?
The answers would soon be forthcoming. In 1992, Paul Wolfowitz oversaw the creation of a new “Defense Planning Guidance,” forecasting future challenges to U.S. interests. An early draft insisted that the United States not allow any rival to emerge that could threaten U.S. global hegemony and that it take unilateral and preemptive action against states attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The draft outlined seven potential war scenarios and warned that the United States must be prepared to simultaneously fight wars against North Korea and Iraq, while resisting a Russian incursion into Europe. The “New York Times” reported that the classified “documents suggest levels of manpower and weapons that would appear to stall, if not reverse, the downward trend in military spending by the mid-1990s.”
The plan provoked a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad. It was a “Pax Americana,” Senator Joseph Biden charged–”an old notion of the United States as the world’s policeman.” Senator Robert Byrd called the pentagon strategy “myopic, shallow, and disappointing.” The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: ‘We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world and we want so much to remain that way that we are willing to put at risk the basic health of our economy and well-being of our people to do so.’” Future presidential candidate Pat Buchanan called it “a formula for endless American intervention in quarrels and war when no vital interest of the United States is remotely engaged.” The “New York Times” decried its “chest-thumping unilateralism.” The Pentagon backpedaled so fast that it tripped over its own lies. A pentagon spokesman insisted that the plan hadn’t been seen by Wolfowitz, who drafted it, or by Cheney, though he admitted that it was in line with Cheney’s thinking.
Bush’s 91 percent approval rating at the end of the Persian Gulf War blinded leading Democrats to his electoral vulnerability, leaving the door open for Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Clinton, who chaired the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, ran as a “new kind of Democrat”–one positioned midway between the liberals and the conservatives. He promised a business-like administration that would lower the deficit, cut middle-class taxes, strengthen the military, and “end welfare as we know it.” With Ross Perot siphoning off 19 percent of the popular vote, Clinton trounced Bush in the electoral college.
The Democrat’s euphoria over capturing the White House proved short-lived. Republicans weakened Clinton out of the gate by blocking his attempt to secure the open admission of gays into the military, but the much more telling blow would be struck in defeating his plan to overhaul the heath care system Among advanced industrial countries, only the United States and apartheid South Africa lacked a national health care system. The Republicans and their business allies spent $50 million to frighten the American public and deny health care coverage to tens of millions of citizens. Richard Armey, chair of the House Republican Conference, prepared for what he called “the most important domestic policy debate of the past half century. . . the Battle of the Bulge of big-government liberalism.” Armey believed, “The failure of the Clinton plan will. . . leave the President’s agenda weakened, his. . . supporters demoralized, and the opposition emboldened. Our market-oriented ideas will suddenly become thinkable, not just on health care, but on a host of issues. . . . Historians may mark it as . . . the start of the Republican renaissance.”
The 1994 midterm elections gave Republicans control of both branches of Congress for the first time in forty years. Both parties lurched further to the right. Succumbing to conservative pressure, Clinton ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which had helped poor families since the Great Depression, and supported a war on drugs and tough-on-crime legislation. The U.S. prison population exploded from a half million in 1980 to 2 million twenty years later. Forty-five percent of those incarcerated were African American, and 15 percent were Hispanic.
Post-Soviet Russia also moved to the right. Yeltsin turned to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs and other USAID-funded Harvard experts for help in privatizing the economy. Sachs had advised on Poland’s initial transformation from socialism to capitalism, an effort that would double poverty by 2003. Sachs and company encouraged First Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais to subject Russia to even more intense “shock therapy” than Poland had experienced. Gorbachev had resisted similar demands by the G7, IMF, and the World Bank. Another key player was Undersecretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers. As the World Bank’s chief economist, he had recently created a furor by signing a supposedly sarcastic memo, declaring, ”The economic logic behind. . . toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable,” adding, “I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted.” Brazil’s secretary of the environment told Summers, “Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane. . . a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation. . . social ruthlessness and . . . arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists.’”
Russia’s flirtation with crony capitalism proved equally insane. Before the Russian people knew what hit them, Yeltsin had deregulated the economy, privatized state enterprises and resources, eliminated desperately needed subsidies and price controls, and established privately owned monopolies. The Western aid and debt relief that Sachs promised never materialized. Sachs later blamed Cheney and Wolfowitz for pursuing “long-term U.S. military dominance over. . . Russia.” conditions worsened while Clinton was in office. In what Russians called the “great grab,” the nation’s factories and resources were sold off for a pittance to private investors, including former Communist officials, who became multimillionaires overnight.
Yeltsin responded to the popular outcry against his policies by dissolving parliament, suspending the Constitution, and ruling primarily by decree for the rest of the decade. The World Bank’s chief economist for Russia told the “Wall Street Journal,” “I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”
The Russian people didn’t share in the frivolity. Russia’s economy collapsed. Hyperinflation wiped out people’s savings. Tens of millions of workers lost their jobs. Life expectancy plummeted from sixty-six to fifty-seven years. By 1998, more than 80 percent of Russian farms had gone bankrupt. Russian GDP had been almost cut in half. The Russian economy shrank to the size of Holland’s In 2000, capital investment stood at 20 percent of what it had been a decade earlier. Fifty percent of Russians earned less than $35 per month—the official poverty line—and many hovered just above. Russia was rapidly becoming a third-world nation. Embittered, Russians joked that they thought the Communists had been lying to them about socialism and capitalism, but it turned out they were only lying about socialism.
Sachonomics worked similar miracles in the other former Soviet republics, where the number of people living in poverty jumped from 14 million in 1989 to 147 million—and that was before the crash of 1998. Famed Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who returned to Russian after being exiled for two decades, described the situation in 2000:
“As a result of the Yeltsin era, all the fundamental sectors of our state, economic, cultural, and moral life have been destroyed or looted. We live literally amid ruins, but we pretend to have a normal life. . . . great reforms. . . being carried out in our country. . . were false reforms because they left more than half of our people in poverty. . . . Will we continue looting and destroying Russia until nothing is left?. . .. God forbid these reforms should continue.””


LaVern Isely, Progressive, Overtaxed, Independent Middle Class Taxpayer and Public Citizen and AARP Members


About tim074

I'm a retired dairy farmer that was a member of the National Farmer's Organization (NFO). Before going farming, I spent 4 years in the United States Air Force where I saved up enough money to get my down payment to go farming. I also enjoy writing and reading biographies and I write about myself as well as articles and excerpts I find interesting. I'm specifically interested in finances, particularly in the banking industry because if it wasn't for help from my local Community Bank, I never could have started farming which I was successful at. So, I'm real interested in the Small Business Administration and I know they are the ones creating jobs. I have been a member of Common Cause and am now a member of Public Citizen as well as AARP. I have, in the past, written over 150 articles on the Obama Blog ( and I'd like to tie these two sites together. I'm also on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook and find these outlets terrifically interesting particularly what many of these people did concerning the uprising in the Arab world. I believe this is a smaller world than we think it is and my goal is to try to bring people together to live in peace because management needs labor like labor needs management. Up to now, that hasn't been so easy to find.
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