So it was a huge risk for Putin to cozy up so closely to America post-9/11. He went out on a limb, made a bold move against his own powerful base, in the hope that the benefits of a mutually-supportive relationship with America would in the end prove him right and make him, and Russia, stronger.And at first it looked like he might be right, as America was undergoing Pootimania.
But then America won the war in Afghanistan much more easily and quickly than we or anyone else thought. And that war victory went to our heads. Suddenly, we decided we didn't need Putin's help anymore. In fact, as the Newsweeks triumphantly declared, we didn't need anyone's help anymore. America was not just a superpower, it was a hyperpower, perhaps the most powerful (and benign) empire that the world had ever seen. We were finally the true "Number One!" That kind of thinking went to our heads and turned us into assholes. Really, really stupid assholes, not smart, ruthless ones like Imperial Brits. Overnight, America became what can only be described as "If the Death Star were piloted by the child stars of Diff'rent Strokes." And here is where the Timeline for a New Cold War really begins.
On December 13th, 2001, after it was clear that Afghanistan had fallen to our allies, Bush announced that America was unilaterally withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.
Putin went on national television, clearly stunned and weakened, calling Bush's move a "mistake." It was a painful broadcast, egg dripping from Putin's face. I've never seen Putin so clearly pimp-slapped before or since.
And I remember being shocked at what assholes we'd turned out to be. I couldn't understand why Bush didn't wait even, say, two or three months, at least for the victory dancing to settle down in Afghanistan, maybe throw Russia a bone or two. What was behind the timing?
I contacted a good friend of mine in the Defense Department to ask him why we chose to withdraw from the ABM treaty in such a time and manner as to maximally embarrass Putin for having sided with us. Why didn't we wait?
My DoD friend seemed surprised. "We didn't even consider the effect on Putin," he answered. "We only considered what's in our own interest, which is to withdraw now. Besides, we got rid of the Taliban, that was a favor enough for the Russians in our opinion." At the time, Russian anger over Bush's decision to start building a missile shield was dismissed as old Russian paranoia, a holdover of Cold War thinking. Russia had "nothing to worry about," we said.
In fact, the Russians were entirely right to be shocked and paranoid. As Professor Kier Lieber, one of the authors of the recent controversial Foreign Affairs article, "The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy," admits that the shield is offensive in nature and only makes sense as a weapon aimed at an enemy like Russia or China. With the sole aim of allowing America to launch a first strike against Russia...and win it. Otherwise, it's a waste.
"The missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal - if any at all." As for deterring North Korea, Dr. Lieber told the eXile, "You wouldn't have a shield for them, you'd put AEGIS ships all around the Korean peninsula and hit the missiles upon launch."
This is where the bad blood started. At America's darkest hour, we reached out to Russia and got full cooperation and trust. And literally the second we felt tough again, we announced our intention to build a weapons system that targeted Russia for total annihilation.
* * *
A couple of months later, in early 2002, Bush announced that he was sending Green Berets into Georgia to fight against alleged Al Qaeda terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge. I visited Georgia then, and literally no one on the ground there believed that there was a real Al Qaeda threat. What it had everything to do with was training up a strong pro-American Georgian army to secure a planned Caspian Sea oil pipeline, which was due to be constructed through southern Georgia's territory on its way to Turkey, a route chosen to bypass Russia and remain in pro-Western (i.e., American) hands.