More shocking than the Russian seizure of the Crimea a few months ago was the return of crude Soviet style anti-Western rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin. Putin is an inveterate KGB master who has never given up on the old Cold War.  The KGB refashioned as today’s FSB has now taken over Russia.

Many analysts are quick to argue that there can be no new Cold War, since Russia lacks the ability to project forces globally.  Yes, this is clearly the case, but this misses one key point.  Soviet activities around the world in the 1970s seen at the time as Soviet resurgence is now viewed as imperial overreach by many critics.  Russia by nature is a landlocked country and it’s true strength remains in fighting in Europe.  The Russian Economy is far smaller relative to the US than the old Soviet Union and certainly the old Warsaw Pact, but the Russian military can be more focused in a particularly dangerous manner.

China is no true ally of Russia. The Chinese are successfully integrating into the Global Economy and have their own border problems to deal with. Unfortunately, Russia’s troubles do not make them less dangerous. In fact they make the restless Bear angry and desperate. Desert Storm in 1990 demonstrated the overwhelming conventional military advantage of the United States. However, Russia is learning ways to compensate and much of the technology is filtering through. What is also frightening for the long term security of Europe is the continent has largely disarmed as Russia works to modernize and repair its forces. Western European countries have tiny defense budgets and hollowed out militaries, and the last American and British tanks left Germany a couple years ago.

However, what makes Russia truly dangerous is that they have considerably more nuclear weapons than the United States. There is a strong naïve complacency among most educated people in the West about this. It is widely assumed that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is somehow irrelevant because of Mutually Assured Destruction. Unfortunately, MAD involves massive use of strategic nukes but really does not clearly deter the use of tactical nukes. The ABC Movie Day After depicted a frighteningly realistic scenario of how a limited nuclear war quickly escalates in a weekend to a total nuclear war largely devastating the United States. However, back in those days it was mostly NATO leaders who talked about limited nuclear war, fearing the numerical advantage of the Warsaw Pact’s conventional forces.

While our arms reduction treaties impose roughly strategic nuclear parity with the Russians, they unfortunately have never applied to Russia’s tactical nukes.  Russia has far more tactical nukes than the United States.  What makes this situation particularly dangerous is the Russians can use our fear of uncontrollable escalation and horror over even the smallest nuclear exchanges against us.  Perhaps, Russian spending on nuclear weapons is just a payoff to a politically favored industry, but what if it’s not?  It is hard to believe the Russian military is committed to friendly relations with the United States, when it continues to spend billions maintaining the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, which also happens to dwarf the Chinese arsenal.  Complicating further containing any possible Russian aggression against Europe is the fact that the type of bombing used in both Serbia and Iraq could be confused as part of a massive impending nuclear strike by the Russians.  Even worse the Russians may feel inclined to play up this fact to neutralize much of the power of our Air Force and Navy.  Highlighting the impressive capabilities of Russia’s rapidly modernizing nuclear delivery systems is that the United States is no longer able to return astronauts from orbit without using Russian space vehicles.  Even more frightening is the fact that the Defense Department has become highly dependent on Russian engines to launch its satellites.  Certainly, it’s hard to believe the Pentagon would not have alternatives, but clearly Russian Rockets work and are no joke.

The most frightening question that can be asked is what would the US do if one day Russia used even a single tactical nuke in a battle somewhere in Europe?   That is a terrifying question that I am not even sure is good to ask.

We are always hearing about how Israel is more threatened than ever.  Certainly, Hezbollah has more missiles and rockets stockpiled than ever and the continuing nuclear weapons program in Iran constitutes an unacceptable threat for Israel, Europe, America and the World.  Yet, this is only part of the story.  The glass is also truly half full.  This becomes far more clear if we look back 14 years.

Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in 2000 followed by the launch of the second intifada led to a very dangerous dynamic that could have come close to threatening Israel’s existence. The region was slipping towards a full scale regional war. Hezbollah was moving towards launching a massive attack aimed at drawing in the Syrian Army against Israel, while agitators in Gaza and Sinai sought to destabilize the border with Egypt.  The most popular song in Egypt was about hating Israel.  The rhetoric from Saudi Arabia about the Palestinian conflict was angrier than it had been for decades, while Iran was still enjoying a brief detente with Saudi Arabia.  The King of Saudi Arabia had even threatened to reassess relations with the United States over what he claimed were Israeli atrocities against Palestinians.  The jingoistic rhetoric emanating from still newly created Al Jazeera focused on portraying the IDF as war criminals and Israel as a illegitimate state thereby rallying the Arab masses’ anger against the tiny Jewish State.  Israel’s towns and cities faced a terrible terrorist onslaught orchestrated by Hamas and Iran.  It looked as if even the Camp David Accords guaranteeing the peace with Egypt was on the brink of collapse.  Saddam would have eagerly joined in with his Iraqi army despite his historic hostility to Hezbollah, Assad and Iran.

That was 2000. None of these threats are imaginable today. Even if the Egyptian military were capable of militarily sustaining an offensive against Israel, Egypt’s economic and political conditions make this more impossible than ever. The other major Arab power, Saudi Arabia, is now openly at war with Assad, Hezbollah and Iran.  For the first time in history there is no conventional army threatening Israel.

Hezbollah and Iran’s regional plans were thwarted indirectly by the US war against terrorism.  After 9/11 focused America’s attention against terrorism, Iran and Hezbollah worried that their past attacks against American targets in the 1980s and 1990s in addition to their recent links to Bin Laden could lead to them being broadly targeted by the American military. The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 initially caused further fear from the Iranians. The removal of one Arab dictator in Iraq played a key role of inspiring the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon against another Bathist despot in Syria leading to the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces.  The Cedar Revolution really was the beginning of the larger Arab Spring.  Despite all of the alarmist talk about the freed Shiite majority in Iraq, democratic elections in Iraq undermine the neighboring totalitarian rule of Khameini in Iran.

While the media has focused by and large on the Iranian nuclear threat, the greatest WMD threat to Israel has always been Syria’s nerve gas stockpile, the bulk of which has likely been destroyed.  This may have come from Assad’s cynical realization that these devastating poisons are far too volatile for his regime to safely stockpile or control, but the resulting enhancement for Israel’s security has been considerable.  Lost in the anger over poor intelligence on Iraq’s nuclear program in 2002 is the fact that international inspectors had discovered Saddam Hussein had come close to gaining nuclear weapons in 1990.  Only by removing him completely did the United States ensure he would never successfully resurrect his nuclear program.

Today Israel is increasingly protected by new missile defense systems from the Iron Dome to the Patriot and Arrow as well as the US Navy’s Aegis anti-missile system.  Iran and Hezbollah will likely largely lose the ability to wage war against Israel once Assad falls.  A Iranian nuclear arsenal, no matter how small poses an unacceptable threat to the free world, in large part because of the dangerous regional nuclear proliferation it could trigger.  However, the Iranian Government also knows well Israel’s powerful deterrent means a nuclear attack against Israel would likely trigger virtual annihilation for Iran.

Yes, serious threats to Israel remain.  However, in many ways Israel is far safer than she has ever been before.

Iraq seems more gripped by chaos and violence then ever. A Shiite led Government seems precariously on the brink of falling, and we are left wondering if our Shiite allies who look increasingly aligned with our Iranian adversaries are even worth supporting. This leads many to almost sound nostalgic for the rule of Saddam Hussein. However, this stems from collective amnesia and oversimplified histories.

The Carter Doctrine issued in 1980 reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to the security of our allies in the Persian Gulf including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates as well as the strategic importance of the region due to the danger of an adversary gaining control of the oil.  What later became known as the Reagan Corollary was the promise of the United States to defend Saudi Arabia from attack by any hostile power.  At the time the chief concern was Iran whose revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini railed against the United States and allies calling America the Great Satan.  President Reagan responded to unprovoked Iranian attacks against Kuwaiti oil tankers by reflagging them as American ships, which put Iran on notice that an attack on Kuwait was equivalent to attacking the United States.  Further acts of Iranian aggression were met with significant military strikes against their naval forces.

Cynics often imply that the United States is just another predatory party interested in taking Middle Eastern oil. As the historian Michael Oren often points out the United States played a key role in freeing Iran from both British and Russian domination after World War II. President Eisenhower’s unfortunate decision to take part in the toppling of democratically elected Mosadeq came as a result of being misled by the British that Mosadeq would somehow let in the Communists. Not only did this unacceptable act turn many Iranians against the United States, but it also went to great lengths to embolden the radical ayatollahs most hostile to Mosadeq.

Moreover the oil power of Saddam was a very real threat. With his enormous financial resources, he was able to hire the renegade NATO scientist Gerald Bull to build for him warhead delivery systems with potentially even intercontinental range. Bull’s career as an agent of Iraq is believed to have been ended by the Mossad. Saddam also contracted with the French to build the Osirak Reactor. Israel realizing Saddam’s dangerous plans successfully destroyed the reactor with a single famous airstrike known as Operation Opera. In the beginning of the last decade of the Cold War, the United States still found NATO badly outgunned by Warsaw Pact Forces, and could not afford to confront both Iraq and Iran simultaneously. Despite our ostensible alliance with Saddam, the USS Stark was nearly sunk by an attacking Iraqi fighter using French Exocet missiles resulting in the deaths of 37 American Servicemen. Had the ship been sunk, the cost in American lives would have proved even greater. Saddam successfully explained this away as an accident, but Saddam was only getting started.

Early in the morning of August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces streamed into neighboring Kuwait, quickly overwhelming Saddam’s tiny neighbor. While initially slow to react to the clear Iraqi preparations over the week before, the first Bush administration rushed into action. Bolstered by the strong support of Margaret Thatcher, the United States and Britain rushed the forces necessary to defend Saudi Arabia. Early on, satellite photos showed that Iraq was on the brink of making a move on Saudi oil wells. If Saddam Hussein had successfully gained control of them, the amount of power he would have controlled would pose a global threat. Also, the Bush Administration recognized that Saddam’s “naked aggression” threatened the growing peaceful global order that began after the end of World War II and was bolstered by cooling off of the Cold War. Desert Shield successfully protected Saudi Arabia from Iraqi invasion.

The launch of Desert Storm to free Kuwait launched a new period in military history. The operation was a stunning success that demonstrated a new overwhelming American strength in conventional forces that still exists to this very day. While the US was aided by Soviet Premier Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, Russian and Chinese Generals would come to understand the full unchallengeable power of American conventional forces. Having secured the limited objectives of the mission, the Bush administration sought to quickly secure a lasting cease-fire.

A brutal slaughter of Shiite-Iraqis in Southern Iraq led to the creation by the Bush Administration of no fly zones in the North and South to protect both the Kurds and Shiites from the Bathist Regime’s continuing brutality. International inspectors quickly discovered that Saddam’s nuclear program to be far more advanced than previously realized. The next ten years were characterized by efforts to contain Saddam Hussein and the use of international inspections backed by the American and British military to dismantle Saddam’s WMD programs. Saddam’s cat and mouse games with the inspectors continued throughout this period. Efforts to stop Saddam during the Bush administration evolved into Clinton’s Dual Containment Policy against both Iran and Iraq. Even by the end of the Clinton Administration, the United States started to subtly change its aims towards regime change in Iraq.

Part of America’s efforts to contain Saddam Hussein involved debilitating sanctions. Unfortunately, Saddam was able to unfairly blame American sanctions for the suffering of the Iraqi people. He was even able to subvert the UN Oil for Food program intended to help his people so that he could still divert the funds for his ornate palaces and excessive military spending. Still the sanctions were critical for containing Saddam. Before his death, he admitted to planning to revive his nuclear weapons program once the sanctions inevitably fell apart. Islamic extremists could blame the United States for either being too weak to successfully remove Saddam, or possibly claim that it was actually the US secretly behind his continued rule. Additionally, preventing future aggression by Saddam against his neighbors required a large continuous deployment of forces in the region. Finally, the unpredictable nature of Saddam meant that he was perfectly capable of allying with his former Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah enemies against America and her allies in the region.

I will address some shortfalls of Operation Iraqi Freedom in a later article.