Great Power Competition
Ghoulies, Beasties & The Second Cold War
The internal disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) began in 1988 with the growing unrest within its constituent republics. It ended in 1991 when the three principal Soviet republics (Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia) declared that they no longer existed. Eleven other republics followed suit. President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned; what remained of the Soviet parliament announced the end of the Soviet Era. By the time William J. Clinton assumed the presidency, the world had already entered into a new geo-political phase.
In 1990, America’s primary competitors were the Soviet Union and Red China. In 1991, only red China remained to challenge American leadership. Russia re-emerged, of course, but for the ten years it took to re-organize, the former Eastern Bloc was relatively quiet. In February 1993, Islamic fundamentalists bombed the World Trade Center. Six people died, a thousand were injured, a blind sheik was arrested, and America went back to sleep.
The world’s conversation changed again on 11 September 2001, when Islamic fundamentalists launched a coordinated attack against the United States. From that date, the United States shifted its focus toward the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq). We entered a new phase, called the Global War on Terror — a confusing time for Americans because President Bush wasn’t sure what his short and long-term strategies should be.
Was it, for example, finding fundamentalists and killing them, building shopping malls in Afghanistan, or purchasing oil for American blood? What Mr. Bush did accomplish was a transformation of victory in Iraq into a resounding cockup, which he then expanded into Afghanistan (where Americans continue to serve at great risk to themselves).
President Obama’s fascination — his Islamic nation of choice — was Syria, with a peculiar fascination with Libya. He was aided in this by his former rival for the presidency, Senator John McCain, who in helping to arm Al Qaida insurgents with American weapons, helped to create ISIS. Thinking Americans began to wonder about our national interests in the Middle East, particularly since the Syrian civil war was the mischief of Saudi Arabia, our best-ever friend. As a reminder of how well the United States managed its Global War on Terror —
US Taxpayer Obligations (Costs) Associated with the Global War on Terror (2001 — 2017) [Notes 1, 2]
DoD War Spending: $1.9 Trillion
GWOT Homeland Spending $1.054 Trillion
DoD War related Base Spending $803 Billion
Medical Disability Payments $437 Billion
State Department/GWOT $131 Billion
Interest paid on borrowed money $925 Billion
Total costs in dollars $5.25 Trillion
Total cost in human lives 800,000 (Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan)
Cold War Returns
Between 2015-2021, another shift has occurred: a return to Great Power Competition (GPC). Islamic fundamentalism is still with us, of course — and has been since the late 1790s, so it is unlikely that US spending on its favorite past time, the business of war, will in any way diminish. But now, in addition to the Islamic hordes, the United States’ focus on international relations and the foreign policy has returned to Russia and Red China.
The precious national resources wasted during the global war on terror notwithstanding, the United States government has embarked upon a new “grand strategy” with implications of substantial increases in defense spending.
Presently, US debt approaches $82 trillion, including interest. What this means is that government spending has cost each taxpayer $222,192, or broken down per capita obligations, $84,238 — including minors who only just now entered the life cycle. As the debt clock races forward, government changes to meet this new reality will cost the
American people even more. It is at this point that one begins to suspect that Wu Flu and the subsequent shutdown of the American economy served China’s interests quite well. With less tax revenue flowing into the US Treasury, taxes have nowhere to go but up.
The new cold war (Cold War II) will demand that the US Department of Defense realign to “counter” Chinese and Russian military (and bio-War) capabilities. We are already witness to a few of these changes, such as the recent creation of the U. S. Space Force. DoD envisions that the US Cyber Command will evolve into yet another “combat command,” and then there are high level discussions about where to redeploy US military assets to counter America’s greatest threat (China).
The Congress, through funding, has two choices: either realign our military/naval forces to address “critical concerns,” or increase manpower levels and equipment capabilities of US forces. Presently, DoD contingency planning includes Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) (Army/Air Force), Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) for the Navy and Marine Corps, Littoral Operations and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations for the Marine Corps. I’m quite sure that a Marine expeditionary brigade has China sitting on pins and needles.
The renewal of GPC has already led to a revived emphasis on nuclear weapons/nuclear deterrence. Both China and Russia now boast of their status as nuclear powers, and China in particular makes such claims while undertaking massive military modernization efforts. Imagine: what is any country’s justification for massive military spending if there is not some plan or intention to employ them.
Revival of the US’s competition with Russia began with the seizure and annexation of Ukraine in 2014 — it may have been one reason Obama needed to get back with Vladimir after the election of 2012. US military planning now includes the strengthening of US and NATO military capabilities to counter Russian aggression in other areas of Europe.
Some experts claim that present US and NATO forces are woefully inadequate to this task (blaming Donald Trump, of course, because none of the NATO allies wanted to pay their fair share), even after Army and Air Force capabilities have been expanded in Poland, and an increase in Navy and Marine Corps activities in Norway.
The bad old days of cold war have returned. There isn’t much that any of us can do about this — competition is in the nature of man. I suppose we Americans could follow the European Union’s lead in all this and simply bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well in the world.
On the other hand, there is a time to deploy our troops to confront evil in the world — and a time to exercise some restraint in that regard. Lately (since the first Gulf War), our diplomatic efforts seem centered on military intervention. It’s all we know, apparently — and I’m still trying to figure out what our national interests were/are in Afghanistan and Syria.
The costs of the Middle Eastern Wars have been high, but worse than this, our diplomatic faux pas has driven the enemy (Iran, for example) solidly into a China and Russia alliance. While Bush/Obama sent our troops to eradicate armed goat herders, Vladimir Putin was engaged in his energetic efforts to extend the hand of comradeship and empathy to Middle Eastern puppet masters.
China’s efforts in the Middle East, Africa, and closer to home, in Central and South America have been no less ambitious. We will soon find ourselves within range of Iranian ICBMs and surrounded by Chinese missile installations in Cuba, Honduras, San Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and Venezuela.
I’m no expert, but it would appear reasonable to ask, “Who are our diplomats working for?” The risk to this and future generations is obvious. Two “clear and present” dangers remain: physical harm to the American people through long-range missiles, and the peril to our economy as a foolish government continues to spend far more than it produces in revenues.
Meanwhile, members of Congress who have never seen an armed conflict they didn’t love, and US/Globalist corporations who make gazillions from the DoD’s demands for more stuff that goes bang, will eventually reduce the once-strong American economy to the level of an undeveloped country.
As an aside, China’s and Russia’s economic strategy toward the United States seems remarkably similar to the one the US employed against the Soviet Union (1980-1991); through our technological developments, we quite literally drove the USSR into bankruptcy [Note 3].
Now the tide has turned — and it occurs to me that the US would be in much better shape in our international relationships if we had qualified people running the government rather than the eggheads who have orchestrated the DoD and foggy bottom since around 1988. In choosing Joe Biden as president, the American people — in all their wisdom — have assured us of a much greater danger than ever existed before.
Well-done, voters. You shall reap that which you have sown.
 Project on Government Oversight/Congressional Oversight Initiative: a public advocacy group, Mark Thompson, 2019.
 Watson Institute, Brown University, Study 20 September 2020
 I once spoke with a retired (former Soviet) military officer who told me that the USSR had no idea how advanced the US war machine was until the first Gulf war. He said to me that the revelation made him ill.
Mustang also blogs at Fix Bayonets and Thoughts From Afar