It’s back: The Cold War

See updates through March 6, 2022, at end of post.

Figure 1 (added August 22, 2014, recovered from original, March 2, 2022). Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to ‘New Russia’, an apparent reference to territory historically encompassed in the Russian Empire. New York Times. Fair Use.

Figure 2 (added August 22, 2014, recovered from original, March 2, 2022). Historic extent of the Russian Empire. New York Times. Fair Use.

I was critical of Stephen Cohen in a Democracy Now! interview for excusing Russia’s imperialism while criticizing that of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[1] He has reappeared on the program, continuing to view Ukraine through the old—very old—lens of the Grand Game, a contest between empires for geostrategic position, saying explicity,

We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable.[2]

And so it is, with neoconservatives leading the charge for a more aggressive policy, even as the Obama White House has all but written off Russian President Vladimir Putin[3]:

“They’re playing us,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the Russians, expressing a sentiment that is also shared by some inside the Obama administration. “We continue to watch what they’re doing and try to respond to that,” he said on CNN on Friday. “But it seems that in doing so, we create a policy that’s always a day late and a dollar short.”[4]

It does indeed echo the Cold War:

Even as the crisis in Ukraine continues to defy easy resolution, President Obama and his national security team are looking beyond the immediate conflict to forge a new long-term approach to Russia that applies an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment.

Just as the United States resolved in the aftermath of World War II to counter the Soviet Union and its global ambitions, Mr. Obama is focused on isolating President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state.[5]

Such a policy is what the anti-Communists of the last Cold War, the ones who were initially willing to launch nuclear war, not with the confidence, but rather with the mere hope that some would survive, had to settle for.[6]

I don’t even want to think about how the Cold War helped propel the military-industrial community, with its subsidiary intelligence community, to the position it now occupies in our society. I don’t want to think about the abject futility of an arms race in which each side obnoxiously and stupidly hoped the other would be unable to keep up, costing each side billions if not trillions of dollars. I don’t want to think about an era where any challenge to a policy of ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’ (which carried the all-too-appropriate acronym, ‘MAD’) would be viewed as ‘surrenderist’. I don’t want to think about the fear I grew up with, a factor in my decision to get a vasectomy while Ronald Reagan was president, that innocents would be subject to a nuclear holocaust, perhaps due to aggressive stupidity, perhaps due to lesser stupidity, perhaps just due to a simple mistake.

It’s just stupid and it’s just madness.

And yet, it is the game that elites have been playing since the Neolithic. We have borders. We have ‘us’ and we have ‘the other’, human beings on one side of those boundaries cast as ‘patriotic’, ‘God-fearing’, ‘brave’, and ‘free’; human beings on the other cast as ‘treacherous’, ‘atheistic’, ‘aggressive’, and ‘enslaved’.[7] It is always a Grand Game for the elites, one that costs the lives of the innocent, likely often the poor,[8] likely often those who couldn’t find jobs in the civilian economy.[9]

And for all of it, you can barely hear the voice of the people in Ukraine themselves. The news coverage is all about Putin and Obama, barely mentioning even the NATO allies:

While widely regarded as political theater under the Kremlin’s direction, the protests [in Eastern Ukraine] could help promote what analysts say is Moscow’s primary interest of destabilizing the shaky government in Kiev and preventing it from drifting into the West’s orbit or signing any agreements with Western organizations like NATO.

The protesters themselves may be trying to provoke a violent response from Kiev, analysts say, hoping to provide the pretext for a Crimean-like military incursion in a country Moscow considers an integral part of historical Russia.

In recognition of the potential dangers, Secretary of State John Kerry told the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, in a phone call on Monday that there would be “further costs” if Russia took additional steps to destabilize Ukraine, the State Department said.[10]

On the rare occasions we do hear an appeal to hear the voices of the people themselves, it is by partisans seeking to exploit uncertainty, who had asked the Russians to send troops:

And in the hours after the accord, brokered in part by Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia, militants occupying the government building in the name of the newly declared and wholly unrecognized People’s Republic of Donetsk said that they would not be bound by anything Russia had agreed to.

Roman Velikodny, who called himself commandant of the occupied building, said he had no intention of asking militants to leave until after a referendum that would allow residents of the region to choose autonomy from Kiev. “Before they let people openly express their opinions on the future of this land, we won’t leave the building,” he said. “There will be no handing over of weapons and buildings before people express their views.”

Vasili Domashev, who described himself as an aide to the commandant, said the armed men would not leave because they did not trust the Kiev government. “Lavrov and Kerry decided, but who are they to us?” he said as a guard sat beside him, tapping the flat side of a samurai sword against his boot. “We are the Donetsk Republic. We have people who make their own decisions.”[11]

One Cold War in my life was more than enough. But we continue to acquiesce to this style of social organization, in which some are accorded the privilege to exploit and abuse others, for political and/or economic advantage—in this case, the old Grand Game, recast as a second Cold War.

Figures (added August 22, 2014, recovered from original, March 2, 2022)

  1. Original heading: “Putin refers to swath of southeast Ukraine as ‘New Russia’.”[12]
  2. Original heading: “Russian Empire.”[13]

Update, August 28, 2014: Those who have persisted in seeing the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the sole aggressor in Ukraine surely now have some explaining to do as it now appears that Russian troops have invaded. Russian President Vladimir Putin is “not even making a good-faith effort to come up with explanations that anyone in the United States or Europe could believe,” Stephen Long, an international security expert at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told McClatchy News. “No matter what Russia calls it, it’s been obvious for a long time that Russia is actively involved.”[14]

Update, March 6, 2022: The images I had added in the previous update had not survived my move to Pittsburgh. I have located the originals, taken new screenshots, and restored them.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Democracy Now!’s not-so-good interview with Stephen Cohen on the Ukraine,” Not Housebroken, February 20, 2014,
  2. [2]Stephen Cohen, quoted in Democracy Now! “‘We Are Not Beginning a New Cold War, We are Well into It’: Stephen Cohen on Russia-Ukraine Crisis,” April 17, 2014,
  3. [3]Peter Baker, “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin,” New York Times, April 19, 2014,
  4. [4]Peter Baker, “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin,” New York Times, April 19, 2014,
  5. [5]Peter Baker, “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin,” New York Times, April 19, 2014,
  6. [6]George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works’,” March 15, 2012,; David Benfell, “A Colonized Academy and a Colonized People,” November 22, 2013,
  8. [8]United Press International, “Military Recruits Come From Poor Areas,”, November 3, 2005,,13319,79770,00.html
  9. [9]National Priorities Project, “Military Recruitment 2010,” May 5, 2011,
  10. [10]David M. Herszenhorn and Andrew Roth, “Protesters in Ukraine’s East Call On Putin to Send Troops,” New York Times, April 7, 2014,
  11. [11]Michael R. Gordon and Peter Baker, “Deal is Reached to Ease Tension in East Ukraine,” April 17, 2014,
  12. [12]New York Times, “Ukraine Crisis in Maps,” n.d.,
  13. [13]New York Times, “Ukraine Crisis in Maps,” n.d.,
  14. [14]Stephen Long, quoted in Matthew Schofield, “Russia appears to invade Ukraine, opening 2nd front,” McClatchy, August 28, 2014,