Policy makers sometimes, like the cliche about generals, fight the last war. The containment policy of Harry Truman formed the framework that kept the world from destruction until the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in on itself. But the wisdom that begat that policy endured a very hard birth. The destructive force of McCarthyism, in addition to terrorizing progressives across the country, also cost several China experts their jobs, leaving nobody to point out simple insights.
One of those facts was that defeating Hitler would not provide a clear blueprint for defeating Stalinism. The evil of appeasement was the lesson of the battle against Nazism. Nobody really wanted to hear that Communism was not a monolith, that not every bearded revolutionary was taking orders from the Kremlin. The working assumption was that a unified worldwide conspiracy was the root of all evil. And so well meaning people got us into Vietnam, which was to become the bulwark against the fall of surrounding domino nations. The entire Pacific rim was at stake.
It wasn't, of course. Not one Soviet commissar so much as got his whiskers singed as nearly sixty thousand American military personnel lost their lives in service to their country.
There is some debate about what caused the evil empire itself to fall. Most conservatives like to credit Ronald Reagan. He made it expensive for the USSR to continue the arms race, and so their economy toppled inward. Or he intimidated them into restraint in Germany. Or Star Wars, the Strategic Defense Initiative, tamed the beast until it died. "Tear down this wall!" was a direct challenge.
I'm okay with the debate. Sometimes I point out that Daniel Patrick Moynihan applied his considerable intellect in the early 1970s to the inherent contradiction in Soviet economic practice. He predicted almost to the month just when the Soviet state would collapse.
I remember watching it happen on television. Mikhail Gorbachev had become increasingly popular in the United States, as he tried to apply a more liberal attitude to Soviet tyranny. The old guard finally had enough and Gorby disappeared in a coup. It was with some astonishment that we watched ordinary citizens rally around Boris Yeltsin. The coup collapsed, Gorbachev was released, and, under pressure from Yeltsin, Gorbachev ended the communist system.
One comedian posed a brief riddle. What is the difference between Russia and America? The answer was: in America the Communist Party is still legal.
Gorbachev has his place in history. But I agreed with President Bush in his admiration for Yeltin. The man not only risked his own life in a society that tolerated no dissent, he managed to lead huge crowds in defiance. He stood atop a tank, exposed, vulnerable, seemingly unafraid. He was magnificent.
The cold war of containment, the brushes with nuclear disaster, taught us that an evil empire, in combination or in conflict with other dictatorships, could sponsor all sorts of underhanded mischief. Parry and thrust combined with deterrence became the standard model for security.
Of course, we misapplied those lessons a decade after the Soviet Union was dead and gone. In 2001, attacks the USSR would never have dared sponsor took down buildings and planes within the borders of the United States. Thousands were murdered within a few hours.
Close friends disagree, but I believe the circumstantial evidence is strong. When the United States invaded Iraq, it was not because of imaginary weapons of mass destruction, or even because of nuclear potential, as a few conservative idealists continue to fervently believe. Nor was it because of oil reserves, as more liberal cynics suspect.
I think it was because those in charge knew to a moral certainty, but could not prove, that the attacks that happened on September 11 were state sponsored. Generations of battle against an evil empire and smaller tyrants had driven the lesson home. That a comic book villain in a cave on the other side of the world could have engineered such a massive attack was beyond reason. And the primary suspect, the one who had to have been the center of planning and execution, was Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
As I see it, that was why the decision was made to let bin Laden and the rest of his deputies get away during the Battle of Tora Bora. America was busy preparing for invasion. Yeah it would be nice to get the little scapegoat. But it was vital that we bring the real culprit to the gallows. Saddam had to go.
The cost in American lives was enormous, and the terrorist network flourished unchecked until a new administration got the focus right.
The Soviet Union is gone, but the pieces still float around, defanged in important ways. Earlier this week, Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration for neglecting our strategic preparations for war against Russia and for a defense against terrorism that is not focused like a laser on state sponsorship. It was a call to arms from decades past, from the evil empire that is no more, from the USSR that disappeared 20 years ago.
Vice President Joe Biden responded. He accused Mitt Romney and his advisors of outmoded thinking, ignoring current threats while living in the past. Cooperation with Russia had made Americans more secure, as accidental nuclear missile launches became less of a danger, and fissionable materials were locked away from terrorists.
"Governor Romney remains mired in a Cold War mindset," he said. He spoke of "Governor Romney and a very small group of Cold War holdovers" opposing those safeguards.
Romney advisor Rich Williamson, speaking for the Romney campaign, accused the Obama administration of ignoring trouble spots that are "strategically important to the Soviet Union." Yeah, that's what he said.
And that, depending on the election outcome, is what may be the foreign policy of the next President of the United States.
May a loving Creator save us.
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I especially like that part of Obama telling Medvedev to relay to incoming tyrant-- errr, I mean President, Putin to just give Obama some more time and he can be far more "flexible" after he is re-elected and then being able to dismantle our DEFENSIVE missile defense systems.
While Russia is a shadow of its old self, it is NOT our friend. Acquiescing to their demands is not only foolish, but downright dangerous. Cold war or not.
By the way, I think a vast majority of people, including us dim conservatives, realize that Saddam’s Iraq and the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were not connected.
I thought McCarthyism terrorized communists, not progressives. Or are you saying there isn't a difference between the two?
"I think it was because those in charge knew to a moral certainty, but could not prove, that the attacks that happened on September 11 were state sponsored. Generations of battle against an evil empire and smaller tyrants had driven the lesson home. That a comic book villain in a cave on the other side of the world could have engineered such a massive attack was beyond reason. And the primary suspect, the one who had to have been the center of planning and execution, was Saddam Hussein's Iraq."
I don't think that at all. Instead, I think those in charge were a little too opportunistic, took advantage of the war fever, and disposed of a known problem in the Middle East. I tend to think their motives really were to try and improve the cesspool that was/is the Middle East.
"The cost in American lives was enormous, and the terrorist network flourished unchecked until a new administration got the focus right."
I think this is completely false. The number of American lives lost were miniscule relative to past conflicts and the scale of the war. I would never say the losses were insignificant, but it's flat out wrong to make it sound like the cost was enormous.
It's also not true that the terrorist network continued to flourish. There is plenty of evidence that Al Qaida was surprised at our response (given the history of Clinton lobbing missiles) and was severely scattered. The network was broken quickly and we continue to crush the remnants.
And the suggestion that Obama's focus corrected the problem is, frankly, laughable. The most generous description is that he continued Bush policies and followed-through on Bush commitments, all of which eventually improved the situation in Iraq.
"Romney advisor Rich Williamson, speaking for the Romney campaign, accused the Obama administration of ignoring trouble spots that are "strategically important to the Soviet Union." Yeah, that's what he said."
Without defending the statements because I haven't seen them for myself, I think it's short-sighted not to take both China and Russia into account. Both will rise again and both actively undermine the U.S., desiring a world where we are not the only superpower.
It's only reasonable to ensure our defense policies prepare for the eventual rise of China and resurrection of Russia.
That you did not share the conviction of the Bush administration is commendable. Your speculation about their motives is reasonable. It differs from mine. I think they were patriots who misunderstood the nature of a post-Cold War world. As I mentioned, others disagree with my conjecture.
As to Romney's Cold War mentality, it is a serious difference that will lead us into other misadventures. He urges us to fight the last war.
In any event, and I hope we don't need to repeat this more than a few more times: the Soviet Union does not exist.
Why did you feel the need to say it once? My comments were focused on Russia, which does exist.
Forgive me for losing track of your intent. I continued to focus on the original topic. I congratulate you on your grasp on the history of the last 21 years. Now if you could reach, then educate, the top advisors on which Mr. Romney relies for his foreign policy expertise, perhaps the need to repeat basic facts would disappear.
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, Heathen Republican.
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