Team B was a group of U.S. policy wonks that focused on the Soviet threat from the 1970s to the mid-1980s. I suspect that they would have happily continued focusing on the Soviet threat even after the fall of the U.S.S.R. because Soviets are just so much fun to hate.

You will probably recognize many of the technocrats involved in this group: Richard Peale, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Ed Teller to name a few. If you said that this group prefigured the neocons of the twenty-first century, you wouldn’t be far off. Team B was that shadowy group lurking in the backrooms of D.C. whispering doom into the ears of Republicans like Ronald Reagan.

Do read this Boston Globe piece on the memoirs of former Team B leader, Richard Pipes (“you don’t need to be a Dick to be on Team B, but it helps”). Pipes had lived through Nazi-occupied Poland and was rather down on totalarianism. And yet in 2003, he didn’t think highly of the plan to democratize Iraq:

«Democracy requires, among other things, individualism — the breakdown of old clannish, tribal organizations, the individual standing face-to-face with the state. You don’t have that in the Middle East. Iraq is tribally run.»

This from a man whose group advocated a nuclear first strike against the U.S.S.R.

Team B was fed highly sensitive intelligence about the Soviets capabilities and intentions for atomic warfare and were convinced that Ivan was ready to lauch a first strike against an admittedly hostile and aggressive NATO. They were also convinced, without a gossamer of evidence, that the Soviets had a kind of stealth atomic sub that was invisible to sonar and, presumably, waiting off the coasts of the U.S. for their launch orders.

Team B was charged with thinking “outside the box.” Apparently, that box was the one that included verifiable facts. Paranoid, sci-fi fantasies based on real U.S. black budget military projects seem to have been well-trodden territory for this thinktank.

Anyone with passing familiarity with Russian history should not have been surprised by the Soviet’s aggressive defensive posture. Getting invaded repeatedly over the centures seems to make people a little touchy about their borders.

Of course, there’s a fine line between a siege defense and expeditionary force. You have to imagine that there was a Soviet counterpart to Team B who would have been the kind of loonies that the American Team B were afraid of. It’s not hard to see how this paranoia can become amplified by a hall of mirrors on both sides of the Cold War. Each shadowy group would have been convinced that the other was ignoring détante policies based on Mutually Assured Destruction and instead was planning how to win the ultimate zero-sum game.

Although Team B has long since disbanded, it’s members and even it’s paranoia continue to poison our “post-9/11” world. History is important, since it is the only guide we have to the future. Know who told me that? Newt Gingrich. No joke. If that’s the case, old Newt would surely agree with Pipes’s criticism of Paul Wolfowitz:

«Paul didn’t have much education in history. It’s not his field. He was educated as a military specialist, a nuclear weapons specialist. Like most scientists, he doesn’t have a particular understanding of other cultures.»

Fortunately, Paul now has a job without touchy-feely problems like “culture.” He’s the current head of the World Bank. I’m sure his noted cultural sensitivity will used as successfully there was it was during his tenure as Don Rumsfeld’s Deputy Secretary of Defense.

We are all doomed.