As one who grew up in the 80’s, it seems strange that we have to talk about America flexing her muscles. I never thought that there would come a time, in which the US would have to give a show of force. Even in the Cold War, the mighty Soviet Army would not have dreamed of threatening an American ally. But this is the new America.
On Wednesday, the US Army did something that seemed, and maybe was, dangerously provocative: it paraded soldiers and armored vehicles from the Second Cavalry Regiment in the Estonian town of Narva, just 900 feet from Russia’s border.
Max Fisher does a good job of framing the situation for his readers. One might ask, if the move was so dangerous and provocative, why make it? Fisher writes:
There is a logic to this sort of demonstration, which is surely meant to show Russia that the US is sincerely committed to the defense of Estonia, which is a member of NATO. In other words, it is meant to deter Russia from starting a Ukraine-style conflict in Estonia, which could plausibly spiral into World War Three. At the same time, such a demonstration is also dangerous, as it risks being misinterpreted by Moscow as an act of aggression and thus making war more likely.
Now, this means that for some reason, Moscow does not know that we will not stand for Russia threatening our allies or meddling in their business. However, they did just that recently. Right after Obama delivered a speech in Estonia, Russian agents kidnapped an Estonian official, proving that analysts were correct in stating that Putin likely has his eye on the Balkans next. And like in Ukraine, Putin will likely use small provocations and incite pro-Russian sentiments.
Putin does not want World War Three, though, so he’s not going to simply invade Estonia. What’s more plausible, and in many ways scarier, is the possibility that he could attempt smaller and more indirect provocations of the sort he deployed at first in Ukraine.
Though this is probably a correct analysis, the scariest thing is that we should have never been here. The point of Fisher’s article is that there might be a misunderstanding between the U.S. and Russia. Putin and his advisors might miscalculate where the final line is drawn. He explains:
The core danger is not that Russia would deliberately start a war. It’s that Russia and the US might have different understandings of where the bar is for what would trigger war. A fear you hear expressed by some analysts is that Russia believes the US has set that bar very high — that Russia could get pretty aggressive with Estonia without an triggering a retaliation — but that the US has in fact set it quite low.
This is a scenario that has been feared and played out in the minds of both American and Russian citizens since the 1950’s. I do not mean to say that this could not happen. I just mean to point out that this whole “Strange Love” plot is one we should have been past by now. After Fisher lays out in a clear fashion the situation, he allows his politics to blind him. He writes:
To be clear, this is distinct from the popular and wrongheaded conservative argument that Obama is emboldening America’s enemies by being insufficiently tough or by not bombing enough countries.
I do not want the president to bomb more countries, like some foaming at the mouth warmonger. Rather, I pine for the days when, whether it was Reagan, Bush, Clinton, or Bush 2, the world knew that we were not kidding.
If you messed with the bull, you got the horns.
Now if you mess with the bull, he tells the world why you had a right to mess with him. Then he says “We are sorry.”