On September 1, 1983, Korean Airlines flight 007 was shot down by the Russian Air Force. The flight had originated in New York City and was on its way to Seoul after briefly stopping in Anchorage. In a news conference on September 9th, the Russian spokesman (Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov) claimed the 747 had been mistaken for an RC-135 surveillance plane that had been operating in the area at about the same time. The RC-135 uses the same aircraft chassis design as a Boeing 747, which gave the explanation a sense of legitimacy even though the American government denied that any RC-135s were even in the air at the time.
In September 1983 I was a Sergeant in the United States Army. One critical region of concern at the time was Beirut, Lebanon which was in the midst of a bloody and prolonged civil war. Over the course of this conflict western diplomats and journalists were often targets of kidnapping or assassination by any of a number of Islamic militias, including Hezoballah which is still one of the largest, best-organized Islamic militias in the world. Then, as now, radical Islamic terrorism was a daily news item right alongside deepening tensions between the United States and the now defunct Soviet Union. The internet had not become a consumer reality yet, but bookshelves were filled with many of the same conspiracy theories that dominate the internet today. 1983 was an extremely tense year and the threat of global thermonuclear war was so real that waking up each day to learn it had not happened yet was considered something of a miracle. Less than a decade later, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended.
The disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was one of the most celebrated moments of my life. I grew up in a world where everyone went to bed at night with no expectation of waking up the next morning. Nuclear annihilation was thought of not in terms of "if it happens" but in terms of "well, it didn't happen last night so I suppose I ought to get out of bed and start my day." I don't think anyone born after 1991 will ever truly understand what it was like to live in a world where everyone knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that today might very well be the last day of life for all of us. No sane person who lived during those times ever wants to see them return.
My memories of growing up in the Cold War are exactly why this election year has been so disgusting for me. Watching the international relations between the United States and Russia decay over the tenure of President Barack Obama has been one of the most alarming trends of the past eight years. The "Arab Spring", so celebrated by President Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, filled me with trepidation. I felt like I was seeing a replay of 1983 on a massive scale. Now, instead of just Beirut, Lebanon, every single Islamic country stood on the brink of violent, bloody civil war. I am still surprised at how quickly the entire region passed through a social convulsion that could have been bloody beyond imagining. I suppose, on some level, some small credit does go to Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for not making things worse, but it is a very small credit. French, British, Russian, Chinese, and European Union diplomats, spies, covert military operators, journalists, and aid workers are the true heroes. In the near complete absence of leadership by the Obama/Clinton team, they are the ones who worked tirelessly to minimize bloodshed while paving the way for new governments to replace the old.
The Obama/Clinton team focused their efforts on Egypt and Libya. As a direct result of their bumbling incompetence, Egypt passed through a second social convulsion and Libya is even now still embroiled in civil war. Syria and Assad were neither ignored nor aided. Instead, Barack Obama tried to rally the United Nations into directly intervening in Syria in order to force Assad from power and replace him with some unnamed, "democratically elected" leader. Isolating Assad economically and politically drove him straight into the waiting arms of the Medvedev/Putin team that was working hard to build their new "Russian Federation" from the now twenty or so nations that had once been the Soviet Union. Putin now has exclusive control over Russia and is still continuing to use a combination of military force, diplomatic persuasion, and economic isolation to convince the new democracies surrounding him that things really would be better if they once again joined together into a single political, economic, and military bloc. This is his ultimate goal and the underlying strategy behind everything he does on the international stage.
Unfortunately, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left him feeling abused and angry. By seeking closer ties with Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian industrialists while openly criticizing Putin's own efforts to reunite the surrounding countries into a single political and economic bloc, she completely undermined his life's work. Most infuriating from his perspective is that she did not do this in order to advance the agenda of the American government. Her entire purpose was to bring cash flooding into the Clinton Foundation and its related charities, effectively using her office as Secretary of State to line her own pockets while blocking Putin's efforts to resurrect his beloved USSR. Putin had spent his entire life learning how to counter the American government. Faced with Barack Obama's complete disinterest in the region and Hillary Clinton's unchecked avarice, he had no tools available to him to drive a wedge between the United States and the countries he was working so hard to bring back into the fold.
And now, after eight years of dealing with President Obama, Vladimir Putin finds himself facing the very real possibility that the greediest, most despicable capitalist of them all stands poised to enter the White House on a platform that looks very nearly identical to the old Soviet definition of "democracy". The hypocrisy of Hillary Clinton coupled with the possibility of having to counter her arrogance if she gains the White House is too much for him to accept. He has dealt with her before. It is not so much her being a powerful woman that causes him grief. After all, in almost every diplomatic sparring match they have had so far he has bested her time and time again. The difficulty for Putin is her ability to use her own personal greed to tap into the greed of newly minted capitalists in Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and all of the other postage-stamp sized nations surrounding him. Capitalism has always been Putin's nemesis and for him, Hillary Clinton represents the worst kind of capitalist of them all: a self-centered narcissist able to con her allies into believing she actually has their best interests at heart. For Putin, the only thing worse than a greedy capitalist is a hypocritic one and that is how he sees Hillary Clinton.
This is why Putin has put the entire Russian nation on a warfooting. This is why Putin is willing to join forces with China, the only country he hates more than America. This is why Putin has begun working to undermine the NATO alliance by drawing Turkey into his bosom with promises of pipeline investments and free agricultural trade. This is why Putin is willing to start a nuclear war to defend a petty Syrian tyrant from certain death at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists funded, trained, armed, and organized by President Barack Obama. This is why Putin is bombing every rebel group in Syria and Northern Iraq except ISIS. For Vladimir Putin, conflict with the United States is no longer a war of ideology or even a war of supremacy. It has become a personal war between himself and Hillary Clinton.
Bloomberg: Russia Joining China to Counter US Missile Defense
Independent: US Behaviour Could have Nuclear Implications
Business Insider: US-Russia Relations Reach Biggest Chill Since Cold War
Wikipedia: Al Nusra Front (a.k.a, Jabhat Al Nusra)
Wikipedia: Korean Airlines Flight 007