War and Peace Abridged: A Mort Report Extra

TUCSON - To riff on the NRA's moronic mantra: missiles don't kill people, stone-cold demagogues kill people. The issue is not whether we should fear new Russian supernukes. It is why Vladimir Putin so pointedly boasts about them.

Here is Michael Morell, who knows whereof he speaks:

"There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that after the invasion of Georgia, the invasion of Ukraine, the intervention in Syria, the meddling in our election, the attack last week by Russian mercenaries on U.S. forces in Syria, that we are again in a Cold War."

And this time, he adds, we are fast approaching hot conflict. Both sides reached mutually assured overkill decades ago and kept the lid on. Today, chest-bumping bullies - one far tougher and savvier -- could trigger the unthinkable.

Putin says Russia would join China to defend North Korea, if attacked. He sloughs off U.N. officials' accusation of war crimes in Syria. For starters.

I'd be less troubled if Morell still had his old job, acting CIA director. After 30 years out in the real world watching human behavior shape geopolitics, his soft-spoken guidance helped steer politicians clear of folly. But in Washington today, competence is a drawback.

Now he is a private consultant, one of those CBS News experts whose wisdom is too often lost among uninformed babble. I've seen the CIA up close at its worst and best since the 60s when it handed the Congo to Mobutu. He is the real deal.

As the presidential campaign neared showdown, Morell abandoned neutrality. Having seen Hillary Clinton in action, he trusted her to make sensible decisions. Trump's amateur-hour simplicities scared him silly.

Putin's greatest threat is democracy, Morell says, and if he can undermine it in the United States and Europe, he is stronger at home. Discord in America weakens its ability to act abroad. Without sanctions that bite and oversight of social media, he concludes, Putin will amp up his cyber-meddling in 2020.

It gets worse.

After Bashar al-Assad gassed civilians in 2013, Morell urged a targeted strike smack on his doorstep to get his attention and then tough negotiation in face-saving secrecy. Instead, Barack Obama waffled and let the Russians weigh in.

Now Putin dominates the Middle East backgammon board. The more Trump leans toward Israel and Saudi Arabia, the more Iran's proxy zealots crank up the heat. And Russia's priorities do not include protecting America from terrorism.
In a CBS News interview last week, Morell warned of the blowback:

"ISIS has for some time said that they want to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to use them and they've actually been able to manufacture chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria and use them on the battlefield.

“I think we need to be more worried about them making it here. This stuff is difficult to transport, it's difficult to get it by customs and immigration. I think it's more likely that they send the recipe here to their followers and they make it here.”

That, he concluded, is relatively easy. It takes only a degree in chemistry and a few basic elements.

Plenty of other seasoned analysts echo Morell's fears, basing assessments on hard data and trusted sources in the thick of things. But Trump demoralizes them, tuning them out and listening to his inexperienced ideologues.

Professionals understand how terrorists operate. Those we need to fear most find ways to come in the front door. Others are already here. Slamming our doors to all desperate refugees and qualified immigrants only creates yet more extremists ready to devote their lives to making us pay.

In the long run, America's challenge is China, with its insatiable need for raw materials and strategic metals along with its global efforts to quash free expression and human rights. Smart diplomacy and sensible politics can work out coexistence.

More immediately, we need to stop two megalomaniacs intent on comparing penis size before this gets out of hand, and they end up blowing a chunk out of the planet.