Last week, Thursday, Feb. 8 to be a bit more precise, I sat down at my computer and banged out a column highlighting the various threats that are lurking outside our borders.
At one point in said column I even mentioned that I occasionally look back on the Cold War with nostalgia… it was, in a way, a simpler time when we knew the enemy and that enemy was understandable and comforting in their familiarity.
And then, almost as if he had read the Peoples Weekly Brief, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped up to the microphone a couple days later and did his best Kruschev impersonation.
Well, he stopped short of taking off his shoe and smacking it on the podium. But it was a hell of a throwback speech, with the former senior KGB officer and would be president-for-life whining and whinging about the United States overstepping its borders, creating havoc and generally acting in an unseemly superpower fashion.
He basically accused us of running with scissors and not playing well with others. He’s upset about that NATO expansion plan… irritated about efforts to deploy military hardware in neighboring countries that Russia once governed with a generous and benevolent spirit… and feeling mighty buff due to lots and lots of oil and gas jack.
The speech sent politicians, pundits and policymakers into a frenzy of Cold War babble. It was The Return of The Cold War… and I suspect the attraction was just what we talked about last week… it was a welcome distraction from the messy and ill defined. Here at last was a threat we could cozy up to… threatening, but not too… and, added bonus, they dress and look like us.
What’s not to like? At the end of the day, nobody seriously believes we’ll be locked in an iron cage death match with the Russians any time soon. Defense Secretary Gates had a very well measured and appropriate response to Putin’s rant, his comments immediately lowered the temperature and we were all able to refocus on more critical issues such as Anna Nicole Smith’s death and the surreal story of the growing potential baby-daddy list.
Sorry, but I didn’t want to be the only column this week not to have a reference to Anna Nicole Smith. I won’t mention the story again. But tell me this… which list is longer, the list of fellas claiming to be the baby’s daddy… or the list of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates with absolutely no name recognition?
And speaking of lists… the PWB mailbag was stuffed full with excellent responses from readers around the country, and outside the country, taking part in our first Peoples Weekly Brief Reader Rating of Scary Stuff and Threat Survey. I’ve been meaning to work on the title, it’s a little cumbersome. Our Mailbag Command Center, located in a bunker set high in the Rockies overlooking NORAD, set to work, tabulating the survey results and writing software programs to make sense of it all.
Remember that the list we gave you of possible threats included China, Russia, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, global warming, oil and gas and the erosion of civil liberties in the pursuit of security.
In addition, you were offered the opportunity to suggest other threats that you perceive as more dangerous. That opened up a floodgate of write-ins… but one in particular was cited constantly, so much so that it made its way up to the number two spot in our final results. As a result, I’m providing the top 11 selections. And here, in reverse order after much tabulating, are those results:
#11 Global Warming… apparently many of you aren’t buying it. In fact, many questioned why it was on the list. Personally, my town’s been socked in with single digit temperatures for the past couple of weeks and snow and ice storms that have left my front yard looking like a scene from the Shackleton expedition. I wouldn’t mind a bit of global warming right about now.
#10 The Erosion of Civil Liberties in the Pursuit of Security… this was very interesting. The overwhelming majority put this in either the #10 or #11 spot. The consensus appears to be that there’s a willingness to sacrifice to some degree in an effort to improve our security posture. Kenny from California wasn’t worried about the government overstepping, noting that “… I have faith in our system of government with its many built in checks and balances.”
#9 China… showed up consistently in the #9 slot on over 75 per cent of the surveys. The general feeling seems to be that you view China as a nation we can work with or at least negotiate with. Mike, whereabouts not cited, mentioned that “… We can prevent their power from passing ours if we work with them and use their economy to our advantage.”
#8 Oil and Gas… here’s an interesting result… most of you (over 60 per cent) commented that oil and gas dependency is a key underlying element of many of the threats cited (Iran, Russia, Venezuela), but on it’s own the topic only merited the #8 ranking.
Justin from the great city of Cedar Rapids, Mich., writes “… People complain about gas that is $2.50 per gallon but then turn around and pay $6.50 for a grande latte mocha carmel frappe whipped with low fat soy cream coffee.” Frankly I only pay $3.76 for my coffee but I suspect we can all get on board Justin’s logic train.
#7 Russia… even with Putin’s channeling of Stalin at the weekend Munich security conference, most respondents had Russia in the #7 slot. Although some were more concerned than others. And Bruce, from parts unknown, has developed a Putin-Centric view of the globe. Bruce laid out the following survey response…
1. Russia… Look at Putin’s attempts to take over Russia, from the oil companies to their Constitution.
2. Iran… is Putin’s agent.
3. Al Qaeda… a dangerous wildcard. Putin is now their friend.
4. North Korea… an unpredictable brat.
6. Iraq… possible breeding ground for Putin’s agents.
And so on, you get the idea. Bruce is very concerned about Putin.
#6 Venezuela… he’s my favorite old school Socialist, and apparently he ranks consistently high on many readers lists. Greg from somewhere out there in the hinterlands had an interesting comment, “… Another psychopath with lots of money and now unlimited constitutional power. Of course, we created the environment that he was able to step up into with our dysfunctional Latin American foreign policy.”
Full marks to Greg for noting that the U.S. for many years now has paid little to no serious attention to Latin America. You reap what you sew. Or don’t sew as the case may be.
#5 North Korea… a strong showing with over 70 per cent of respondents putting this isolated and beat down country run by the Kim clan in the #5 slot. Just this past week they demonstrated their unique ability to extract aid from the first world nations by yet again promising to cease and desist with all their nuclear shenanigans. Just to be clear, we will be doing this same thing over again within the next two to three years when this latest aid package runs out.
#4 Iraq… there was some real angst among the respondents with this issue… not over where it ranks (80 per cent had it in the top three position), but rather why it was such a serious concern and threat. Most expressed some variation on the theme that we can’t afford to leave and let Iraq potentially collapse. It is true that the enormous sucking sound would be the vacuum left by Iraq’s collapse just after we left and just prior to the country becoming a battleground for fundamentalists, Al Qaeda, associated elements and regional players with no interest in the welfare or lives of the Iraqis.
However, there is a sense in your responses that, while the majority believe we need to stick it out, the majority is also less than certain that we can make it work.
#3 Al Qaeda... in reality, Al Qaeda was consistently lumped into a larger category by many that used some variation of the term Global Islamofacism. Dale down in Florida commented that “… Al Qaeda will attack U.S. interests when they can, where they can. All they need is some breathing room to regroup. Failure in Iraq could give them that.”
But not all were on board with this ranking. Greg, who opted not to identify his whereabouts, believes that Al Qaeda is “… way over-rated. They spend almost as much time in-fighting as they do fighting. They are largely ineffective.”
#2 The Democratic Party… I kid you not. We had over two dozen additional threats or concerns written-in by readers to supplement the original suggested top ten list. This was the big daddy of write-ins, with almost as many votes as our number one selection. I’d like to include some of the reader comments here, but I’m worried that there may be kids reading the Peoples Weekly Brief.
#1 Iran… selected by more than 80 per cent of respondents to sit at the top of the hit parade. Apparently the combination of President Ahmadinejad, the fundamentalist element, oil revenues and nuclear technology has many sensible, well adjusted people slightly concerned for the stability of the region.
If we’re lucky, the clerics of Iran will eventually neuter the president (that position has traditionally been relatively weak in the Iranian power structure) and the moderates will gain more of a voice within the country. If we’re unlucky, you PWB readers are going to look back on the survey results and marvel at how clever you were to spot the top threat.
Finally, we couldn’t wrap this up without giving a nod to some of the assorted write-in threats and concerns that were submitted. Some of the favorites included:
“… U.S. citizens who don’t educate themselves before forming opinions.”
“… Sloth and greed.”
“… the United Nations.”
The U.N. actually received numerous votes, including from Ed in California who wrote “… if there were ever a more useless organization in the history of the world, I can’t think of it.”
“… the U.S. Congress.”
And, not to sleight our neighbors to the north, Al from Ontario, Canada weighed in with the following: “… I couldn’t help but notice that the USA is missing from your list of top terror threats. I know that as an American you would be loath to include your own country in such a list, particularly given that country’s staggering propensity to deny its own misdeeds. I would hereby like to nominate the USA as my pick for Global Top Terror Threat.”
Well, how special is that? Al from Ontario, suffering under the yoke of oppression all these years from the United States has done a reasoned study of the world’s various ills and decided that the U.S. is to blame. Apparently Al hasn’t had much opportunity to watch over the years as the U.S. consistently airs its mistakes and misdeeds in public. What he’s missed is the country’s staggering propensity to create commissions, committees and investigative panels to examine, evaluate and criticize actions taken by politicians, government agencies and the military.
I prefer to end on an upbeat note… let’s turn it over to Elsie from Nebraska, who, along with her survey selections, offered up a defense of the United States by way of a quote from Tony Blair: “… The true measure of a country is to look at how many people want in… and how many want out.”
But that's just my opinion. Let me know yours.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, and appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker also serves as a script consultant and advisor within the entertainment industry, lending his technical expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," and the major motion pictures "Proof of Life" and "Spy Games."