Joe Biden warned us that Barack Obama would get tested by unfriendly nations in the first six months of his administration because of his inexperience.  That prediction now looks like sunny optimism.  Just days after China aggressively challenged the US Navy in international waters in the South China Sea, Russia now says they may start basing bombers in Venezuela — and Cuba:

A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic Russian bombers, the Interfax news agency reported.

The chief of staff of Russia’s long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, also said Cuba could be used to base the aircraft, Interfax reported. …

Zhikharev said Chavez had offered “a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers,” the agency reported. “If there is a corresponding political decision, then the use of the island … by the Russian Air Force is possible.”

Interfax reported he said earlier that Cuba has air bases with four or five runways long enough for the huge bombers and could be used to host the long-range planes.

It took John Kennedy more than a year to precipitate a military standoff with the Soviet Union over Cuba in the 1962 missile crisis.  It’s taken the Obama Amateur Hour less than two months.

Recall that Barack Obama ran in part on a campaign to “restore diplomacy” in foreign relations.  Hillary Clinton made a big show of bringing a “reset button” to her first meeting with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, in which the button was labeled incorrectly and not spelled in Cyrillic.  This followed her bumbling show at the EU, making it clear to the Russians that our foreign service was in complete disarray, run by imcompetents.

Can you imagine Russia trying this with George Bush?  For that matter, can you imagine Bush losing Kyrgyzstan — and a vital military route — to Putin?  Russia is doing this now because Putin and Medvedev understand that they can get away with it.

The Kremlin later said that Zhikarev spoke “hypothetically”.  We’ll see.  I’d guess that it won’t take long for Moscow to start landing bombers 90 miles off our coast if the Obama administration continues the feckless performance we’ve seen thus far.

Update: Daniel Larison attempts to tell us that there’s nothing to see here and we should just move on:

There is a non-story making the rounds that the Russian military might base bombers in Venezuela and Cuba, provided that the Kremlin wanted to do this. In the same story that is being circulated, the Kremlin ruled out the idea as hypothetical speculation. Naturally, this had no effect whatever on wild accusations of Obama’s foreign policy failure.

When a Russian general tells the press that his country might start basing its bombers in Cuba, it’s not just some wild speculation on my part.  Bruce McQuain at QandO points this out to Larison:

However it seems Larison’s research into the story must have omitted this CNN version. The lede:

Russia expressed interest in using Cuban airfields during patrol missions of its strategic bombers, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

I put them in bold so they might catch Larison’s eye. You see, when most people see the words “Russia expressed interest” they interpret them to mean the state of Russia – you know, the country?- is interested enough in something to actually express that interest outloud to where a news agency heard it and reported it. And the words “Cuban airfields” usually mean, well, you know, airfields in Cuba – the object of the Russian interest. The thing airplanes fly off of. The fact that a Russian news agency reported the story about Russia’s interest and Cuba’s airfields, while also mentioning strategic bombers, kind of ties it all together and gives the statement some credibility over and above Larison’s hand-wave of dismissal. It certainly makes it more than a “non-story”.

Well, yes.