The Russian hypothetical

THE RUSSIAN HYPOTHETICAL…. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered Russia use of an island for military purposes. Likewise, Cuba has runways that could be used by Russian forces. Yesterday, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, the chief of staff of Russia’s long range aviation, publicly acknowledged the possibilities.

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that the country could base some strategic bombers in Cuba or on an island offered by Venezuela, the Interfax news agency reported, but a Kremlin official quickly said the military had been speaking only hypothetically.

The U.S. and Russia have been trying to reset their relationship, severely strained over U.S. plans to position missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic and by Russia’s invasion of U.S. ally Georgia last year.

Russia has nothing to gain strategically from basing long-range craft within relatively short range of U.S. shores, independent military analyst Alexander Golts said, calling the military statement a retaliatory gesture aimed at hitting back after U.S. ships patrolled Black Sea waters near Georgia.

Responding to Zhikharev’s remarks, far-right blogger Ed Morrissey said, “It took John Kennedy more than a year to precipitate a military standoff with the Soviet Union over Cuba in the 1962 missile crisis. It’s taken the Obama Amateur Hour less than two months…. Can you imagine Russia trying this with George Bush? … Russia is doing this now because Putin and Medvedev understand that they can get away with it.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. First, there is no “military standoff” with Russia. There’s no reason to think there will be a “military standoff” with Russia. The article Morrissey links to doesn’t point to a “military standoff” with Russia. Zhikharev was posturing with an obvious hypothetical. A Kremlin official later told the AP that “the military is speaking about technical possibilities, that’s all.” Morrissey is comparing yesterday’s comments to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is obviously pretty silly.

Second, Russia is “doing this” now because its leaders think “they can get away with it”? If “this” and “it” refer to hollow posturing then, sure, Russia can “get away with it.” Countries engage in bluster and bravado all the time. It does not an international incident make.

Third, I can’t imagine why anyone would think George W. Bush was some kind of intimidating international figure, who struck fear in the hearts of would-be rivals. Morrissey asked if we could even “imagine” Russia showing this kind of pomposity under Bush’s leadership. Daniel Larison answered the question: “Well, since Russia went to war with Georgia, resumed long-range bomber flights and sent a warship to Venezuela during the years of the mighty Bush, yes, I can imagine it.”