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11 May 2013

NYT: Uh Oh, Benghazi Might Actually Be A Scandal



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By Walter Russell Mead

With the New York Times now running a front page story on what might be deliberately false statements made by the White House about the Benghazi emails, the scandal has entered a new stage. Benghazi isn’t about a few right wing press activists tooting their horns anymore; much against its inclinations, the MSM increasingly understands that substantive questions exist.

That doesn’t mean that politics have disappeared from the story line. Just the reverse: the political struggle over the Benghazi narrative is becoming more intense. On the one hand, Democrats generally will be trying to minimize the story while Republicans will push it. Within the Democratic ranks, the Clintonistas will be the most determined enemies of the story.

Nobody is more resilient than the Clintons when it comes to surviving bad press, but Benghazi has the potential to become a major liability for the Clinton brand. Unless Mrs. Clinton’s team can build a theory of the case that clears her and her associated of primary responsibility for both the mess and, potentially, the cover-up, Team Clinton has some tough weeks and maybe months ahead.

For the White House, there are two options: to fight the whole story, or to do everything possible to hand it off to former Secretary Clinton.

Given that the story can no longer be swept under the rug, steering the controversy to the State Department is what the White House wants. A big press brouhaha over the degree of Mrs. Clinton’s responsibility for the mess is the best possible outcome for Team Obama; the uneasy relationship between the two wings of the Democratic Party is coming under new strain. The White House wants and needs this to be a whodunit about editing talking points, not a story about a White House effort to avoid a public discussion about the crisis in its Middle East policy (the Libya intervention was a bungled mess, Al Qaeda is on the rebound, etc) in the closing days of the campaign.

The ugliest dimension of the story still trying to claw its way out of the Republican media ghetto is the narrative about the unseemly rush to pin the blame for the terror attack on a video, and the subsequent railroading of one of the world’s lousiest film makers into jail for essentially political reasons.

This was both ugly and cowardly: ugly because the administration absolutely knew that the attempt to blame the film for Benghazi was at best baloney and at worst a deliberate lie. Cowardly because there is a difference between cringing and sensitivity, and the panicky response to the film was definitely on the wrong side of the line. A reflexive moral crouch and a knee jerk apology reflex is not a sign of a sensitive and statesmanlike approach to cultural misunderstandings; it telegraphs weakness to our enemies and says that if you push us we fold.

It’s a good thing all this was done by a Democratic administration; if the GOP had blundered this badly the media universe would be Bengazigate wall to wall. The pack would smell Pulitzers and the hunt would be on.

We could get there yet; the Benghazi story has broken through the first firewall. One reason second terms tend to be more disappointing than the first in modern America is that second terms are often defined by scandals (Watergate, Iran-Contra, l’affair Lewinsky). Between the IRS Tea Party mess and Benghazi, the Obama second term is already playing fight-the-scandal; there could well be much more to come.





MSNBC Guests: Benghazi Scandal Makes White House ‘Look Terrible,’ Possibly An ‘Impeachment Issue’




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The Mohne Dam breaks...


Wow.  Just wow...


By Noah Rothman

After examining all the details that emerged on Friday relating to the efforts by members of President Barack Obama’s administration to remove references to Islamic terrorism when explaining the reasons behind the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, the panel guests on MSNBC’s Now agreed that the appearance of a scandal makes the White House “look terrible.” One guest even suggested that the controversy could lead to impeachment proceedings against the president.

NBC Reporter Kelly O’Donnell read from portions of emails in which high ranking State Department officials coordinated with the CIA to alter the official talking points on the Benghazi attack to remove any references to prior warnings or Islamic terrorism.

“This is quite the window into what is usually the hush-hush process about how to deal with these types of attacks and the spin that irrevocably comes afterwards,” NBC reporter Luke Russert opined.

“This is not good for the White House right now,” Russert said to BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith. “Does it stick?”

“Well, sure,” Smith replied. “They look terrible.”

Smith said that the emails indicate that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have been directly involved in the process of “scrubbing” references to Islamic terrorism from her department’s talking points.

“Does this become then an election politics thing?” Russert asked. He said that the Republican Party has been trying to link Clinton to the Benghazi scandal for some time.

The Daily Beast columnist Michael Tomasky said it does. He invoked “that word that starts with ‘I’” to describe the potentially significant political fallout that could result from the Benghazi scandal.

“It becomes a potentially impeachment issue as long as the Republicans are in control of the House,” Tomasky added.

“I think, for Clinton, it looks Clintonian,” submitted Washington Post reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. “It also, I think, reminds us that there is only one person that the far right-wing hates more than Obama, and that’s Hillary Clinton.” 


Watch the clip below via MSNBC:






SoRo:  On Wednesday, MSNBC ran ZERO minutes of live coverage of the hearing and even yesterday morning, its presenters were claiming Benghazi was a big nothingburger. How fast they have changed.

I know that the Senate is a backstop. I’ve REPEATEDLY – on this site and others – pointed out the futility of impeaching Obama in the House. If only 45 Senators voted to convict and remove Clinton for perjury and 50 for obstruction of justice, it is patently obvious that Democrats will NEVER vote to convict and remove the first black President…unless he slits Michelle’s throat on live television and that’s still a ‘maybe.’
Barry Goldwater and two other GOP ‘statesmen’ went to Nixon and told him to resign; otherwise, he would be convicted and removed and he would destroy the Republican party. There are no Goldwater, et al, counterparts in the Democratic Party. They do not care how many legal eggs have to be broken to make a good, Socialist omelet.

Nevertheless, there has been a discernible shift in media’s attitude...and, that's a start:  No Republic or democracy can survive with a media that acts as a Praetorian Guard.  It is imperative that the MSM start acting like journalists instead of cheerleaders.  Scott Pelley of CBS said recently that the media has blown several big stories in the recent past and its 'house is on fire.'  I submit that this is what happens when journalists decide to become spokespeople for any regime.  They, inevitably, spout the latest talking points without nary a minute of reasoned debate and rationality.  When the truth invariably comes out, it destroys their credibility.  Remember how the media bought hook, line, and sinker that Benghazi was caused by a YouTube video and TEA Party activists were wearing tinfoil hats when they alleged that they were being systematically targeted by this Administration?  Who's embarrassed now? 

Hopefully, the Benghazi matter has left enough egg on the faces of the media that they will begin to treat Obama and any of his future Democratic predecessors with the same razors and salt that they do Republicans.  Our country requires it for survival.



http://tinyurl.com/clltpjw




Flashback: Media Ridiculed Claims IRS Targeted Conservatives





By Warner Todd Huston

During the 2012 presidential campaign, many conservatives complained that the IRS was targeting them for harassment, with some even claimed that Obama had an "enemies list." At the time, the progressive media complex ridiculed these claims, but now the IRS itself has come forward to "apologize" for just the sort of behavior that conservatives accused it of engaging in during the presidential campaign.

The New York Times led the way last year, not only dismissing claims that the IRS was acting in a partisan manner by saying that the IRS was just doing its job, but the so-called paper of record went further, calling for the taxing agency to step up its efforts to an even higher degree.

In another report, the Times attempted to spin the whole discussion as little more but a Republican effort to create a false political narrative.

The Huffington Post joined that line of attack with a piece by Dan Froomkin, who similarly praised the IRS for its targeting of political groups and insisting that more be done.

Froomkin additionally reported that everything the IRS was doing was "perfectly normal and appropriate."

Lefty PBS commentator Bill Moyers also got into the game with a piece penned with Michael Winship headlined "Pity the Poor Billionaires." The taxpayer-funded Moyers pulled no punches, saying that conservative complaints that the IRS was targeting them was something worthy of reply by "the world’s smallest violin."

Moyers ridiculed claims by a Romney supporter who said Obama had targeted him for harassment. In June of 2012, Frank VanderSloot made news with his announcement that Obama and his left-wing followers had targeted him for his support of conservative causes. The billionaire also reported that he had been the subject of no less than two federal audits.

Moyers referenced an American Prospect piece by Paul Waldman that also attacked VanderSloot for his claims of harassment. Waldman slammed VanderSloot, asking, "Is there a group of people you can think of who have thinner skin than America's multi-millionaires and billionaires?"

Waldman made fun of the whole claim of an Obama's enemies list and dismissed the idea that the IRS might be used as a dirty tricks squad. "I find VanderSloot's whining particularly grating because as a political writer, I get attacked all the time," he complained.

New Republic's Alec MacGillis was also full of sarcasm, snark, and ridicule over the whole idea that Obama could possibly have an enemies list or might use his power as president to target his opponents.

This discussion predates the 2012 election cycle, too. Back in 2010, another Huffington Post writer, Sam Stein, dismissed claims that Obama was using the IRS as a means to attack conservatives when the Koch brothers said that the IRS had been increasing its activities in their accounts.

Yet, despite the media's skepticism that the IRS could be used as a tool to harass Obama's opponents, the IRS has now apologized for doing just that.

One group that was targeted, TheTeaParty.net, has told the IRS that "its apology is not accepted."


"What we’ve long suspected to be the case is now confirmed to be true. The Obama administration has used the IRS as a political weapon. The IRS may claim that it is 'sorry.' But given the damage that has been done, their apology is not accepted,” said Niger Innis, Chief Strategist for TheTeaParty.net.


Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice provided legal counsel for several of the organizations targeted by the IRS. Sekulow also released a statement on the admission by the IRS.


"We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations,” Sekulow said in a statement. “This admission by the IRS represents a significant victory for free speech and freedom of association. There was never any doubt that these organizations complied with the law and applied for tax exempt status for their activities as Americans have done for decades. And for the many tax-exempt groups we represent, this is an important day--and underscores the need to stand up and defend your constitutional freedoms."








10 May 2013

The Benghazi Lie




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A failure of character of this magnitude corrodes the integrity of the state.


By Mark Steyn


Shortly before last November’s election I took part in a Fox News documentary on Benghazi, whose other participants included the former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu. Making chit-chat while the camera crew were setting up, Governor Sununu said to me that in his view Benghazi mattered because it was “a question of character.” That’s correct. On a question of foreign policy or counterterrorism strategy, men of good faith can make the wrong decisions. But a failure of character corrodes the integrity of the state.

That’s why career diplomat Gregory Hicks’s testimony was so damning — not so much for the new facts as for what those facts revealed about the leaders of this republic. In this space in January, I noted that Hillary Clinton had denied ever seeing Ambassador Stevens’s warnings about deteriorating security in Libya on the grounds that “1.43 million cables come to my office” — and she can’t be expected to see all of them, or any. Once Ambassador Stevens was in his flag-draped coffin listening to her eulogy for him at Andrews Air Force Base, he was her bestest friend in the world — it was all “Chris this” and “Chris that,” as if they’d known each other since third grade. But up till that point he was just one of 1.43 million close personal friends of Hillary trying in vain to get her ear. 

Now we know that at 8 p.m. Eastern time on the last night of Stevens’s life, his deputy in Libya spoke to Secretary Clinton and informed her of the attack in Benghazi and the fact that the ambassador was now missing. An hour later, Gregory Hicks received a call from the then–Libyan prime minister, Abdurrahim el-Keib, informing him that Stevens was dead. Hicks immediately called Washington. It was 9 p.m. Eastern time, or 3 a.m. in Libya. Remember the Clinton presidential team’s most famous campaign ad? About how Hillary would be ready to take that 3 a.m. call? Four years later, the phone rings, and Secretary Clinton’s not there. She doesn’t call Hicks back that evening. Or the following day.

Are murdered ambassadors like those 1.43 million cables she doesn’t read? Just too many of them to keep track of? No. Only six had been killed in the history of the republic — seven, if you include Arnold Raphel, who perished in General Zia’s somewhat mysterious plane crash in Pakistan in 1988. Before that you have to go back to Adolph Dubs, who died during a kidnapping attempt in Kabul in 1979. So we have here a once-in-a-third-of-a-century event. And at 3 a.m. Libyan time on September 12 it’s still unfolding, with its outcome unclear. Hicks is now America’s head man in the country, and the cabinet secretary to whom he reports says, “Leave a message after the tone and I’ll get back to you before the end of the week.” Just to underline the difference here: Libya’s head of government calls Hicks, but nobody who matters in his own government can be bothered to.

What was Secretary Clinton doing that was more important? What was the president doing? Aside, that is, from resting up for his big Vegas campaign event. A real government would be scrambling furiously to see what it could do to rescue its people. It’s easy, afterwards, to say that nothing would have made any difference. But, at the time Deputy Chief Hicks was calling 9-1-1 and getting executive-branch voicemail, nobody in Washington knew how long it would last. A terrorist attack isn’t like a soccer game, over in 90 minutes. If it is a sport, it’s more like a tennis match: Whether it’s all over in three sets or goes to five depends on how hard the other guy pushes back. The government of the United States took the extremely strange decision to lose in straight sets. Not only did they not deploy out-of-area assets, they ordered even those in Libya to stand down. Lieutenant Colonel Gibson had a small team in Tripoli that twice readied to go to Benghazi to assist and twice was denied authority to do so, the latter when they were already at the airport. There weren’t many of them, not compared to the estimated 150 men assailing the compound. But they were special forces, not bozo jihadists. Back in Benghazi, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty held off numerically superior forces for hours before dying on a rooftop waiting for back-up from a government that had switched the answering machine on and gone to Vegas.

Throughout the all-night firefight in Benghazi, Washington’s priority seems to have been to do everything possible to deny that what was actually happening was happening at all. To send “soldiers” on a “mission” to “fight” the “enemy” was at odds with the entire Obama narrative of the Arab Spring and the broader post-Bush Muslim world. And so the entire U.S. military was stood down in support of the commander-in-chief’s fiction.

As Mr. Hicks testified, his superiors in Washington knew early that night that a well-executed terrorist attack with the possible participation of al-Qaeda elements was under way. Instead of responding, the most powerful figures in the government decided that an unseen YouTube video better served their political needs. And, in the most revealing glimpse of the administration’s depravity, the president and secretary of state peddled the lie even in their mawkish eulogies to their buddy “Chris” and three other dead Americans. They lied to the victims’ coffins and then strolled over to lie to the bereaved, Hillary telling the Woods family that “we’re going to have that person arrested and prosecuted that did the video.” And she did. The government dispatched more firepower to arrest Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in Los Angeles than it did to protect its mission in Benghazi. It was such a great act of misdirection Hillary should have worn spangled tights and sawn Stevens’s casket in half.

The dying Los Angeles Times reported this story on its homepage (as a sidebar to “Thirteen Great Tacos in Southern California”) under the following headline: “Partisan Politics Dominates House Benghazi Hearing.” In fact, everyone in this story is a Democrat or a career civil servant. Chris Stevens was the poster boy for Obama’s view of the Arab Spring; he agreed with the president on everything that mattered. The only difference is that he wasn’t in Vegas but out there on the front line, where Obama’s delusions meet reality. Stevens believed in those illusions enough to die for them. One cannot say the same about the hollow men and women in Washington who sent him out there unprotected, declined to lift a finger when he came under attack, and in the final indignity subordinated his sacrifice to their political needs by lying over his corpse. Where’s the “partisan politics”? Obama, Clinton, Panetta, Clapper, Rice, and the rest did this to one of their own. And fawning court eunuchs, like the ranking Democrat at the hearings, Elijah Cummings, must surely know that, if they needed, they’d do it to them, too. If you believe in politics ├╝ber alles, it’s impressive, in the same way that Hillary’s cocksure dismissal — “What difference, at this point, does it make?” — is impressive.

But the embassy security chief, Eric Nordstrom, had the best answer to that: It matters because “the truth matters” — not least to the Libyan president, who ever since has held the U.S. government in utter contempt. Truth matters, and character matters. For the American people to accept the Obama-Clinton lie is to be complicit in it.



Russia: A Totalitarian Regime In Thrall To A Tsar, Who's Creating A New Facist Empire



In light of the apology issued today by Barack Obama's Internal Revenue Service to 75 conservative groups for its unconstitutional, illegal, unethical, and immoral actions, it should be borne in mind that the threat of prosecution for tax fraud is the Kremlin's weapon of choice...



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By Jonathan Dimbleby, 17 May 2008

As ex-President Putin settles in to his new role as Prime Minister, he has every reason to congratulate himself.

After all, he has not only written the script for his constitutional coup d'etat, but staged the play and given himself the starring role as well.

Of course, he has given a walk-on role to Dmitry Medvedev, his personally anointed successor.

But the transfer of power from Putin to his Little Sir Echo, Medvedev, and the show of military strength with those soldiers and clapped-out missiles in Red Square on Victory Day which followed it last week, made it clear who is really in charge.

No decision of any significance for the Russian people or the rest of us will be made in the foreseeable future without the say - so of Medvedev's unsmiling master. 

Just before he stood down as President, Putin declared: "I have worked like a galley slave throughout these eight years, morning til night, and I have given all I could to this work. I am happy with the results." 

As he surveys the nation today he reminds me of that chilling poem by Ted Hughes, Hawk Roosting, in which the dreaded bird sits at the top of a tall tree musing: "Now I hold all Creation in my foot - I kill as I please because it is all mine - I am going to keep things like this." 

In a way he is right to be so self-satisfied. He has told the Russian people that life is much better than it was before he took over - and, after a journey of some 10,000 miles across the largest country in the world for a new book and BBC TV series, I am in no doubt that the majority of his subjects believe him.

I travelled from cities to towns to villages by road, rail and boat and met a great diversity of people - from St Petersburg glitterati to impoverished potato-pickers, from a witch who charms the sprites of the forest to the mountain herdsmen who worship fire and water, from oilmen to woodcutters. 

It was an exhilarating and revelatory experience in a land of extremes. But it was also deeply disturbing. 

Despite the fact that Putin's Russia is increasingly autocratic and irredeemably corrupt, the man himself - their born-again Tsar - is overwhelmingly regarded as the answer to the nation's prayers.


Vladimir Putin Dmitry Medvedev March 2008

Vladimir Putin welcomes his personally selected successor, Dmitry Medvedev
 


Russia has a bloody and tormented history. Its centuries of suffering - its brutalities, its wars and revolutions, culminating in the collapse of communism and the anarchic buffoonery of the Yeltsin years - have taken a terrible psychological toll.

Cynicism and fatalism which eat away at the human psyche have wormed their way into the very DNA of the Russian soul. 

In a nation that has not tasted and - with very few exceptions - does not expect or demand justice or freedom, all that matters is stability and security. 

And, to a degree, Putin has delivered these twin blessings. But the price has been exorbitant and the Russians have been criminally short-changed. 

Putin boasts that since he came into office investment in the Russian economy has increased sevenfold (reaching $82.3 billion in 2007) and that the country's GDP has risen by more than 70 per cent. 

Over the same period, average real incomes have more than doubled. But they started from a very low base and they could have done far better. 

Nor is this growth thanks either to the Kremlin's leadership or a surge of entrepreneurial energy. 

On the contrary, it is almost solely down to Russia's vast reserves of oil and gas.


Vladimir Putin

Ex-President Putin is overwhelmingly regarded as the answer to the nation's prayers


When Putin came to power, the world price of crude oil was $16 dollars a barrel; it has now soared to more than $120 dollars - and no one knows where or when this bonanza will end. 

But this massive flow of funds into the nation's coffers has not been used "to share the proceeds of growth" with the people; to reduce the obscene gulf in income between the rich and poor. 

It has not helped to resurrect a health service which is on its knees (and is ranked by the World Health Organisation as 130th out of the 190 countries of the UN), or to rebuild an education system which is so under-funded that the poor have to pay to get their children into a half-decent school or college. 

It has not brought gas and running water to the villages where the peasants have been devastated by the collapse of the collectives, or even developed the infrastructure that a 21st century economy needs to compete with the rest of the world. 

Russia may be a member of the G8 whose GDP (because of oil) should soon overtake the United Kingdom, but, in many ways, it is more like a Third World country. 

Stricken with an epidemic of AIDS and alcoholism which both contribute to a male life expectancy of 58 years, the population is projected to shrink from 145 million to 120 million within a few decades. 

So where has all the oil wealth gone? According to an Independent Experts Report, written by two former high-level Kremlin insiders who have had the courage to speak out, "a criminal system of government [has] taken shape under Putin" in which the Kremlin has been selling state assets cheaply to Putin's cronies and buying others assets back from them at an exorbitant price. 

Among such dubious transactions the authors cite the purchase by the state-owned Gasprom (run until a few months ago by Dmitry Medvedev) of a 75 per cent share in an oil company called Sifnet (owned by Roman Abramovich, the oligarch who owns Chelsea Football Club). 

In 1995 Abramovich, one of Putin's closest allies, paid a mere $100 million for Sifnet; ten years later, the government shelled out $13.7 billion for it - an astronomical sum and far above the going market rate. 

Even more explosively, the authors claim the Kremlin has created a "friends-of-Putin" oil export monopoly, not to mention a secret "slush fund" to reward the faithful. 

According to an analyst at Moscow's Carnegie Centre, which promotes greater collaboration between the U.S. and Russia, the report is "a bomb which, anywhere but in Russia, would cause the country to collapse". 

In Britain such revelations would certainly have provoked mass outrage, urgent official inquiries and a major police investigation - if not the downfall of the government. 

But because of Putin's totalitarian grasp on power (he has not only appointed his own Cabinet, which used to be the prerogative of the President, but will remain in charge of the nation's economy), there will be no inquiry. 

You can forget any talk from the new President about "stamping out" corruption. This social and economic disease is insidious and rampant. 

According to Transparency International - a global society which campaigns against corruption - Russia has become a world leader in the corruption stakes. Foreign analysts estimate that no less than $30 billion a year is spent to grease official palms to oil the wheels of trade and commerce. 

But when you raise the subject, Russians shrug their shoulders: "What's the problem?" they retort. 

"That's how the system works. It will never change." 

And that is because everyone is at it. From corporations (including foreign investors who claim to have clean hands but cover their tracks by establishing local "shell" companies to pay the bribes) to the humblest individuals who buy their way out of a driving ban. 

In a country where the "separation of powers" has become a bad joke, the law courts are no less corrupt. 

Except perhaps for minor misdemeanours at local level, the judiciary is in thrall to the Kremlin and its satraps. 

The threat of prosecution for tax fraud is the Kremlin's weapon of choice against anyone who dares to challenge its hegemony. 

When Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, used his oil wealth to promote human rights and democracy, Putin detected a threat to his throne. 

The oligarch was duly arrested and convicted of fraud. He now languishes in a Siberian jail where he is in the third year of an eight-year prison sentence. 

None of this is a matter of public debate in Russia where the media has been muzzled by the Kremlin, their freedom of expression stifled by the government. 

Almost every national radio and television station is now controlled directly or indirectly by the state, and the same applies to every newspaper of any influence. 

In the heady days immediately before and after the collapse of the Soviet empire, editors and reporters competed to challenge the mighty and to uncover scandal and corruption. 

Now they cower from the wrath of the state and its agents in the police and the security services. 

That diminishing number who have the courage to investigate or speak out against the abuses perpetrated by the rich and powerful very soon find themselves out of a job - or, in an alarming number of cases, on the receiving end of a deadly bullet. 

Some 20 Russian journalists have been killed in suspicious circumstances since Putin came to office. No one has yet been convicted for any of these crimes. 

Putin calls the system over which he presides "sovereign democracy". I think a better term is "cryptofascism" - though even the Kremlin's few critics in Russia recoil when I suggest this. 

After all, their parents and grandparents helped save the world from Hitler - at a cost of 25 million Soviet lives. Nonetheless, the evidence is compelling. 

The structure of the state - the alliance between the Kremlin, the oligarchs, and the security services - is awesomely powerful. 

No less worryingly is popular distaste - often contempt - for democracy and indifference to human rights. 

In the absence of any experience of accountability or transparency - the basic ingredients of an open society - even the most thoughtful Russians are prone to say: "Russia needs a strong man at the centre. Putin has made Russia great again. Now the world has to listen." 

The new Prime Minister has brilliantly exploited the patriotism and latent xenophobia of the Russia people to unify them in the belief that they face a major threat from NATO and the United States. 

This combination of national pride and insecurity has been fuelled by the America with its proposed deployment of missiles only a few hundred kilometres from the Russian border, allegedly to counter a nuclear threat from Iran. 

No serious defence analyst believes this makes any strategic sense, while even impeccably pro-Western Russians recoil from this crass assertion of super-power hegemony by President Bush. 

Similarly most Russians feel threatened - and humiliated - by the prospect that Ukraine and Georgia, once the most intimate allies of the Soviet Union, may soon be enfolded in the arms of NATO. 

Georgia, which is struggling to contain a separatist movement that is openly supported by the Kremlin, has the potential to become a dangerous flashpoint in which the Western allies could only too easily become ensnared. 

Does this mean - as some have argued - that we are about to face a new Cold War? I don't think so for a moment. 

With communism consigned to "the dustbin of history", there is no ideological conflict of any significance. And there is now only one military superpower. 

In comparison with America, Russia's armed forces are a joke. Only catastrophic stupidity on either side could lead to a nuclear confrontation. 

But this does not mean that we can all breathe a sigh of relief and forget about the Bear. 

An autocratic and resurgent Russia that feels bruised and threatened is an unstable beast. 

The Kremlin's growing rapprochement with Beijing (the adversaries of a generation ago are now not only major trading partners, but conduct joint military exercises) shifts the balance of power in the world. 

And as life on earth becomes less and less secure, with evermore people competing for a dwindling supply of vital resources, Russia, as an energy giant, is once again a big player on the world stage. 

Make no mistake, we are in for a very bumpy ride.

 
• The second episode of Russia - A Journey With Jonathan Dimbleby is on BBC2 tomorrow at 10pm. A book to accompany the series is published by BBC Books.