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"Tom, I don't think you were a bad consigliari. I think Sonny was a bad don." US Policy and Russia


At the end of 'Godfather 2' the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is discussed.  Coincidentally, it takes place on the birthday of the Corleone family patriarch, Vito.  Sonny, the oldest Corleone son and heir apparent erupts in anger, "Can you believe the nerve of those Japs.  Dropping bombs in our own backyard!"  Tom Hagen, essentially a councilor and advisor to the Corleone family, strikes a more cautionary tone and states, "Well, we should have expected it after the oil embargo."  This only infuriates Sonny further and he screams, "What do you mean expect? Expect it or not, they got no right dropping bombs!  What are you a Jap lover or something?  You on their side?"

As will be discussed in the brief timeline below, US policy toward Russia has been designed by people with the same mixture of ignorance and incompetence as Sonny Corleone.  

First, some historical context: two times in what can be considered modern history, a continental power seeking hegemony over Europe invaded Russia.  These are of course the invasions of Napoleon in 1812 and Hitler (1941-1945).  The losses suffered by the Soviet Union in World War II are staggering.  Soviet war dead likely approaches ten-million, which is twenty-five times the war dead suffered by either the US,  France or the British Empire.  For all the talk about how the war was won on D-Day, the D-Day invasion wasn't even the largest attack faced by the German army in June 1944!  The D-Day invasion targeted the German 7th army while the Soviet summer offensive launched that same month, Operation Bagration, targeted an entire Army group, Army Group Center.  It is likely no exaggeration to conclude that more than 75% of German casualties were sustained on the Eastern Front. 

The Western Front - around which an entire cottage industry, celebrating the singular role the US played in winning World War II, has been built up - was only significant to the extent it influenced events on the Eastern Front.  The strategic center of gravity was always the Eastern Front.  That the searing impact of World War II and the completely unequal burden that fell on the Soviet Union would still have a significant impact on Russian attitudes today should be self-evident.  Regrettably - and as a review of the events here proves - these attitudes were never considered in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse.

09 NOV 1989: Berlin Wall Falls
Groaning under the weight of the the inherent economic and psychological contradictions that Communism is founded on, the Berlin Wall falls.  The Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union follow soon after.  All of this is a huge surprise to PhD economists in the West, who, throughout the 1980's,regularly praised the achievements of the Soviet Union.  (1)

09 FEB 1990 - James Baker; a NATO which includes a united Germany won't expand 'one-inch' eastward (2)
James Baker, US Secretary of State, promises Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that if a united Germany enters NATO, then NATO will not expand further into eastern Europe.  "If we maintain a presence in Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO's jurisdiction for forces one inch to the east."
Comment: This is not a conspiracy theory.  The document which describes Baker's verbal promise has been released under a Freedom of Information Act request.  It's referenced here.

03 OCT 1990 - Germany Reunifies
East and West Germany reunify and a united Germany is included in NATO. 

25 DEC 1991 - The Soviet Union Collapses
Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as president of the Soviet Union and signals a complete overhaul of the government and economy is necessary.  He adds, "An end has been put to the Cold War, and the arms race and the insane militarization of the country which disfigured our economy and the public consciousness and morals has been halted."
Comment: He was wrong about the Cold War ending.

07 MAR 1992 - The "Wolfowitz Doctrine is leaked to the Press
Paul Wolfowitz see Figure 1, authors the "Defense Planning and Guidance" document for 1994-1999.  The document established maintaining America's unilateral position in the world as the goal of US foreign policy.  It authorizes thwarting the goals and ambitions of other countries - including the pre-emptive use of military force - as the means of attaining this goal.  The document was leaked to the press and  caused a firestorm or protest.  The George H.W. Bush White House backpedaled and claimed the document was merely a draft.  Nevertheless, the presidency of President George W. Bush would see the Wolfowitz Doctrine placed into practice as the Bush Doctrine.  (most spectacularly in the Invasion of Iraq)

01 JAN 1993 - The "Velvet Divorce," Czechoslovakia Dissolves
The multi-ethnic state of Czechoslovakia splits into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  Its a concession to what had been obvious since the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918 - few of the unifying aspects that any nation relies on to keep it together were present in the multi-ethnic state of Czechoslovakia, and the countries peacefully splits along Czech and Slovak lines.
Comment: In a better world, something like this could have been produced in Ukraine.

05 DEC 1994 - Yeltsin Rails Against NATO Expansion, the 'Budapest Blow-Up' (3)
Russian President Boris Yeltsin tells a meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, "Europe not having freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War, is in danger of plunging into a cold peace.  Why sow the seeds of of mistrust?  After all, we are no longer enemies.  We are all partners... It is a dangerous delusion to suppose that the destinies of continents and the world community in general can somehow be managed from one single capital."

05 FEB 1997 - Architect of the Policy of Soviet Containment Criticizes NATO Expansion (4)
In a New York Times editorial, George Kennan, the coldest of Cold Warriors, writes, "And perhaps it is not too late to advance a view that, I believe, is not only mine alone but is shared by a number others with extensive and in most instances more recent experience in Russian matters.  The view bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era." 

18 JUN 1997 - Biden Discusses NATO Expansion & Dismisses a Russia-China Alliance (5)
Joe Biden predicts a "vigorous and hostile" Russian response to expanding NATO into the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and and Lithuania. 

He then goes on to dismiss Russian threats to ally itself with China;
"They (the Russians) talked about they don't want this NATO expansion; its not in their security interest and on and on.  And, if you do that we may have to look to China.  And I couldn't help using the colloquial expression from my state, by saying, 'Lots of luck in your senior year.  Good luck.  And if that doesn't work, try Iran."  (to guffaws of laughter)

02 MAY 1998 - George Kennan calls NATO expansion a "tragic mistake" (6)
George Kennan presciently observes of NATO expansion, "I think is is the beginning of a new cold war.  I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies.  I think it is a tragic mistake.  There was no reason for this whatsoever.  No one was threatening anybody else.  This expansion would have the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves.  We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way.  (NATO expansion) was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.  What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was."

12 MAR 1999 - First Round of NATO Enlargement
The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland join NATO.

24 MAY 1999 - 10 JUN 1999 - NATO Bombing Campaign Against Serbia
Without explicit UN authorization, NATO embarks on a bombing campaign against Serbia, historically one of Russia's most steadfast allies.

07 MAY 2000 - Vladimir Putin elected President of Russia
On December 31, 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned as President of Russia and Putin became acting President of Russia.  Elections are then held in March and Putin's term begins in May.
Comment: Both Yeltsin and Gorbachev, among the two people most responsible for Russia breaking away from its Soviet past, are universally despised in Russia today.  The average Russian dismisses them as feckless and incompetent, and blame them for Russia's diminished position in the world.  (NATO expansion to the east being a particularly obvious manifestation of this diminished position.)  People who see in Putin the rise of an authoritarian Russia are, largely, the same people who created the circumstances that would produce an authoritarian figure in Russia. 

20 MAR 2003 - US Invades Iraq
Without UN authorization and based on completely inept intelligence of the serially incompetent national security apparatus, and buttressed by a horde of Ivy League educated 'experts, see Figure 1, the US invades Iraq.  The ignorance of the artificial nature of a country conjured into existence by the British and French to serve their colonial interests is complete. (7)  Rather than fashioning a Jeffersonian democracy in the sands of the Middle East, the invasion of Iraq plummets the country into chaos and fractionalism, thereby greatly improving the strategic position of Iran.  Many of the same people behind the Iraq invasion also figure prominently in US policy toward Russia.

FIGURE 1:  Some of the 'Experts' Behind the Invasion of Iraq and our Policy Toward Russia

29 MAR 2004 - NATO Expands Again
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia join NATO. 
Comment: See Senator Joe Biden's comment from 18 JUN 1997.

NOV 2004 - JAN 2005 - Orange Revolution in Ukraine
The deep division in Ukraine are laid bare in the Orange Revolution.  western Ukraine - with very few Russian nationals - supports the program of civil disobedience that follows a recent national election.  Unsurprisingly, the southern and eastern parts of the country - dominated as they are by ethnic Russians - don't support the protests at all. 

February 10, 2007 - Putin's Munich Speech (8)
In a speech at the 43rd Munich International Security Conference, Putin comments on recent American actions, especially the invasion of Iraq and positioning military hardware in formerly Warsaw Pact countries; "What is a unipolar world.  No matter how we beautify this term it means one single center of power, one single center of force and one single master." 

On the expansion of NATO, Putin says, "I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the the modernization of the Alliance itself, or with ensuring security in Europe.  On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.  And we have the right to ask, 'Against whom is this expansion intended?"

03 APR 2008 - Bucharest Declaration, NATO Welcomes Aspirations of Ukraine  (9)
NATO, failing to consider Putin's comments from the Munich International Security Conference of one-year before, announces that not only does its 'welcome' the aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia, it states these countries "will" become part of NATO.

FEB 2014 - APR 2014 - Maidan Revolution in Ukraine and Secession of Donetsk and Luhansk
A series of protests against the elected leader of Ukraine leads to a new government in Ukraine.  Whether the protests had the active support of American intelligence or not, Americans play visible roles in the revolt.  Senators John McCain and Chris Murphy give speeches in Kiev, see Figure 2.  Meanwhile, as the revolution was picking up steam, US assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland - wife of the neo-conservative Robert Kagan, see Figure 1 - was caught on tape discussing who should lead the new Ukrainian government.  Nuland then dismissed any concerns the European Union might have with "Fuck the EU."

In the aftermath of the revolution in Kiev, two regions dominated by ethnic Russians, Donetsk and Luhansk, declare themselves independent republics. 

FIGURE 2: Senators John McCain and Chris Murphy in Kiev (December 2013)

The British military historian and theoretician, B.H. Liddell Hart offered the following advice to statesmen,
"Keep strong if possible.  In any case keep cool.  Have unlimited patience.  Never corner an opponent and always assist him to save face.  Put yourself in his shoes so as to see things through his eyes.  Avoid self-righteousness like the devil - nothing so self-blinding."
It's pretty obvious that no one in any position of power or influence in the United States took this advice to heart.  Its a damning indictment of the Clinton, Bush II and Obama administrations.  Undoubtedly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine brings forth many emotions.  Whatever these emotions are, surprise shouldn't be one of them. 



Peter Schmidt
April 10, 2022
Sugar Land, TX 

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2.  Memorandum of Conversation between James Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev and James Baker in Moscow, February 9, 1990.  National Security Archive (see page 6 of the pdf)

3.  "Yeltsin, Clinton Clash Over NATO's Role," Daniel Williams, Washington Post, December 6, 1994

4.  New York Times, "A Fateful Error," George Kennan, February 5, 1997


6.  New York Times, "Now a Word from X," Thomas Friedman, May 2, 1998



(See Item 23 for the discussion of Ukraine and Georgia)