Above Photo: U.S. seaman on a guided-missile destroyer directs a helicopter during operations in the South China Sea in 2020. U.S. Navy, Andrew Langholf.
The origins of the first Cold War have been hopelessly blurred in the histories.
We can watch this time. It is occurring before our eyes.
In the early months of 1947, President Harry Truman and Dean Acheson, his secretary of state, made up their minds to prop up Greece’s openly fascist monarchy against a popular revolt they had cast as a Soviet threat. After much hand-wringing, Truman went to Congress on March 12 to ask for $400 million in aid, not quite $5 billion today when adjusted for inflation.
Truman and Acheson knew the Greek intervention would be a hard sell: Congress was in no mood to spend that kind of money, and the war-weary public harbored hope for FDR’s vision of a postwar order built on the principle of peaceful coexistence. As the speech went through its multiple drafts, Arthur Vandenberg, Republican senator from Michigan and a presence in the planning of America’s postwar posture, offered advice that must be counted elegantly forthright, if diabolic in its cynicism.
It comes down to us today, and for good reason. “Mr. President,” Vandenberg said during White House deliberations, “the only way you are ever going to get this is to make a speech and scare hell out of the American people.”
Truman made his since-famous “scare hell” speech. The Greeks got their $400 million (a remarkable proportion of which was embezzled by government ministers), and the American public was kept scared for the next 40–odd years — the Cold War years.
When It Started
There are various thoughts as to when the Cold War started. Some scholars argue it began as early as the Yalta Conference in early 1945, when Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt told Joseph Stalin there would be no Allied support for the reconstruction of the Soviet Union, which had sacrificed 20 million to 27 million lives to defeat the Germans — a victory that left the Soviet economy in ruins.
My date is March 12, 1947, when Truman delivered his address to a joint session of Congress. And it is remarkable how faithfully the intervention in Greece, the first of Washington’s major Cold War undertakings, has been reproduced during all the decades since. A year later the U.S. (with Britain’s assist) corrupted Italy’s first postwar general elections. Then came the coup in Iran, then the coup in Guatemala, and so on without interruption until our time.
Last Wednesday President Joe Biden announced a new trilateral security agreement with Britain and Australia. Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, respectively the British and Australian prime ministers, joined him electronically from London and Canberra. Biden couldn’t remember Morrison’s name — “that fella down under” is as far as he got — but let us not allow the shocking incompetence of the man driving our bus to distract us from the gravity of the moment.
There are numerous things to say about the new accord, by which the U.S. and Britain are to provide Australia with the sensitive technology needed to build a fleet of eight or more nuclear-powered submarines. But before we get to anything else, get used to Roman numerals: Last Wednesday was a three-sided declaration that Cold War II is now our new, flesh-and-blood, steel-and-bombs, propaganda-and-paranoia reality.
The Ides of September: Remember the date. Sept. 15, 2021, is our March 12, 1947. Xi Jinping’s People’s Republic is in 2021 what Stalin’s Soviet Union was three-quarters of a century ago. Truman and Acheson changed the world when they drafted the full-of-lies “scare hell” speech — greatly for the worse, of course. Biden, Johnson and Morrison just did the same. It would be hard to overstate the dangers and burdens Cold War II is going to inflict upon us — we Americans, we the rest of the human population.
Remember this, too, and bear witness. It is the U.S. that has assiduously sought to kindle Cold War II, just as it, and not the Soviet Union, was responsible for starting Cold War I. I mention this because the origins of the first Cold War have been hopelessly blurred in the histories. We can watch this time. It is occurring before our eyes.
There had been talk of a new Cold War at least since the U.S. recklessly, stupidly sponsored the coup in Ukraine in February 2014 and the monstrously paranoid Russophobia our authoritarian liberal friends began cultivating two years later. But we seem to have had our oceans and continents mixed up. Hardly are the policy cliques (and their clerks in the press) going to now encourage Americans to see Russia simply as it is. No chance. But it is China and the Chinese that they are now going to distort to the point whether neither is recognizable.
What does this bode for all of us? What will life be like as Cold War II is waged? I shudder to pose these questions, having lived through all of Cold War I, but for the first few years of it. Take my word for it, those too young to share the memories: This ain’t going to be no kind of fun.
What happened last week is worth thinking about for those details so far available to us. David Sanger, who is far too intimate with the national security state for our good if not his own, reported in The New York Times Saturday that the Americans, Brits and Aussies had been secretly negotiating their new accord for months while keeping the French in the dark. France had a longstanding contract, worth $60 billion in today’s money, to supply Australia with a dozen diesel-electric submarines.
With that contract now broken, the French are irate — properly, I would say. No tears to shed for France’s Naval Group, which won’t get to build a fleet of vessels with which Australia can indulge its animosities toward the Chinese simply for being Chinese and being a large country on the Pacific’s western rim. But there is the potential for something good to come of French President Emmanuel Macron’s heat-of-the-moment decision to recall his ambassadors in Canberra and Washington.
Contours of Cold War II
There is a lot more to this turn of events, surely, that will remain submerged such that we will never see it. But we nonetheless have in outline the contours of Cold War II and can begin to reckon what it will look like and what those waging it will inflict upon us.
To begin with, the core of the Anglosphere — Canada and New Zealand apparently sidelined for the time being — will be the tip of the West’s spear as Cold War II is waged. This is important to note for a couple of reasons.
If the U.S., Britain and Australia share one thing above all others in their ideology and the common world view that arises from it, it is an unremitting hawkishness toward those nations who dare to resist the conformity neoliberalism demands. Cold War II will be harshly and aggressively fought, we can expect.
In addition, and not to be missed, there is the implied division of labor.
The U.S. has been spoiling to escalate tensions with China at least since Mike Pompeo’s tenure as secretary of state. The dim-witted Pompeo — Antony Blinken without the fluent French and the “deep concern” — was out of the closet altogether in urging some kind of Gog and Magog confrontation with our newest “evil empire.”
In March 2020, Congress asked the Pentagon to ask it for a lot of extra money to spend in the Pacific. The generals and admirals did and got a little more than $20 billion as a down payment on a six-year expansion of their operations in East Asia. In July the U.S. got the Federated States of Micronesia — by some combination of coercion and bribery if history is any guide — to let the Navy build a forward base on FSM soil. This is the shape of things to come.
But the imperium grows weaker. The imperium wheezes. We can, therefore, expect Australia and Britain to carry a lot more weight in Cold War II than America’s allies shouldered during the Cold War I decades. This is why all sides thought it was worth it to risk a serious breach with France at this moment. Nuclear-powered submarines have many times the speed and stealth of conventional vessels — handy for patrolling the South China Sea and the coastal waters of the mainland. Handy for escalating tensions, in other words.
There is an obvious cultural affinity among these three allies. We can read a unified determination and purpose into this.
Cold War I, from its middle decades onward, was colored by the subtle but increasingly detectable reluctance of non–Anglo members of the alliance to stay the course. Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO by degrees from 1963 to 1966. Three years later the Germans were going on about Ostpolitik. A year after that Willy Brandt, the Social Democratic chancellor, a pinko through and through, met with East Germany’s leader, the first such encounter between East and West.
No worries, as the Australians say, about flaky peaceniks given to “convergence” this time. The cheese-eating surrender monkeys can stay at home while we share our Freedom Fries with people who can speak English, for heaven’s sake. This implies something very big about Cold War II.
Blinken and Nod never miss a chance to take a running whack at the Russians, and there is no reason to think they will desist now that their attention is fully turned to China.
There have nonetheless been signs that the Biden administration, whoever may be running it, is losing interest in the Russian menace theme. Biden recently caved on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He more recently palmed off Volodymyr Zelensky when the Ukrainian leader came asking for the U.S. to back its campaign to join NATO. All for it, Nod replied in so many words. Can’t imagine when, though. Now we love ya but g’won, get outta here.
It is said that Emmanuel Macron, core Europe’s most outspoken advocate for greater autonomy and independence from the U.S., is now going to run many miles with last week’s contractual breach and diplomatic betrayal. This may be so. And I hope it is.
Go for it, Manny.
The Other Half of the Story
But that’s only half the story, in my read. It looks to me as if the U.S. may now be willing to cut the Continent loose. Just as there was reluctance during Cold War I to continue on with the East–West binary, the incessant anti–Sov noise and the frightening brinkmanship, the Europeans now — the French, the Germans, the Italians, each in their way — are ambivalent at the very least to sign on for a long run of the same with China.
We have, then, the promise — and let us count it a positive prospect — of true progress toward a more independent Europe, which would do Europeans and the rest of us a power of good. At the same time, we have a hard core of hawks who will wage Cold War II with no mitigating, reasonable voice among them. I count this a source of heightened danger. Neither of Washington’s allies in this new tripartite deal displays any givenness to applying the brakes as the American imperium proceeds on its desperate way.
The Australians have been unembarrassed vassals since its governor-general collaborated with the CIA and Buckingham Palace to depose the right-thinking Gough Whitlam as prime minister in 1975. On the China question they lost their minds some while back, shooting themselves in the foot in the name of sheer denial every chance they get.
As to the Brits, PM Johnson seems to entertain some fantasy of “Global Britain,” with its very own pivot to Asia. Like the Aussies, this is simply a dressed-up way of confirming the U.K. will continue holding onto America’s coattails.
No wonder Jean–Yves Le Drian had such wonderfully honest words for perfidious Albion when he explained the other day why Paris hasn’t recalled its ambassador to the Court of St. James. “Britain is a minion not worth our attention,” the French foreign minister said. “Recalling our ambassador to London was not necessary because we already know that the British government is in a logic of permanent opportunism.”
There are times when even those who don’t like the French have to like the French.
The submarines and carrier groups, the extravagantly equipped bases, the bombers and the endless joint exercises associated with Cold War II will come at a heavy cost at home. Our schools will continue to fall apart along with our roads, bridges and transportation networks. There will be no proper health care system. Corporate exploitation will worsen and the liberals among us will insist all will be well tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Propaganda will all but smother us. All this is already evident. But the fight for relief just got tougher.
Those able to recall Cold War I will understand that there is also a great psychological cost to waging these imperial campaigns. This saddens me as much as anything else. Cold War II, like the first, is likely to warp American minds in the same way. It will render an inability to see the world as it is, it will narrow the intellectual range, everything will be Manichean once again. It will render Americans lonely strangers among others.
These are not lethal consequences in the way a war with China, which just got a lot more real, would be lethal. But Cold War II will kill our spirits, or nearly, until enough people are prepared to shake off the torpor, stand up, and say, “No more.”
In this connection I venture a prediction. When enough people begin to resist the madness and we begin to get somewhere, Cold War II will turn out to be the American empire’s last stand.