The Second Time As Farce

Russia’s brazen revanchism in Ukraine has led to talk of another Cold War, and that does not bode well. After five decades of toil and trouble and the occasional close call on a nuclear catastrophe the last Cold War ended more or less to the satisfaction of the free and democratic world, but this time around the people in charge of our side have forgotten how it was done.
Worse yet, they stubbornly refused to ever learn. The current Secretary of State was wrong on every Cold War issue his entire adult life, from his slanderous testimony against his fellow servicemen during the Vietnam War to his opposition to President Reagan’s aggressive moves against the Soviet Union to his embrace of the South American Marxists who continue to impoverish and oppress that continent, yet he seems not to have noticed how history repudiated his views. Our current president was smoking dope with the Choom Gang and reading Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” when the Cold War was being brought to a successful conclusion, but time clearly hasn’t changed his simplistic understanding of those complex events. Their Democratic party backed out of the Cold War during George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, and it remains so resentful of how it worked out that it seems intent on nominating the architect of the present apologetic Russian “re-set” diplomacy in 2016.
The people are ultimately in charge, according to a cherished theory of American government, but they also seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Cold War. Many of them are now too young to have any personal memory of the era, and what little they know of it has been gleamed from “The People’s History of the United States” that was assigned by their hippie high school teachers or the self-serving rationalizations of the tenured radicals at their state-funded universities, while those old enough to recall when the Iron Curtain first descended on the European continent are gradually dwindling in number and strength. Most of those in between are forgetful of a conflict they never had to fight, reminded only when the late movie is poking fun at the duck-and-cover fearfulness that Hollywood found so funny or praising the blacklisted communist screenwriters that it found so brave, and few care where a candidate stood in those long-ago days or even how they think of today’s foreign policy challenges.
In 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin warned that the weakness then-Sen. Barack Obama had shown in the recent Georgian debacle might provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and of course this was offered by the press as proof of what a dim-witted yokel she was. In 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney warned that Russia was seeking to re-establish its Soviet-era empire, and Obama responded by taunting that “the 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” The lame and unoriginal line got a big laugh in the press gallery and the faculty lounges and the other progressive corners of society, and it certainly didn’t hurt Obama’s re-election chances, but it should have served as a warning that the president was himself stuck in an ‘80s mindset of nuclear freezes and moral relativism and a naïve yearning for peace through weakness.
Now Obama is explaining that he doesn’t see Ukraine as a “piece on a Cold War chessboard,” and we are to be reassured that he won’t play the same dreary game that dragged on over the decades. Putin is clearly intent on playing it, however, and will not stop pushing the pieces around just because Obama declines to take his place at the board. To carry the chess analogy further the position has clearly changed, but the correct strategy and tactics of the game have not. Apologies and appeasement have always provoked aggression, cultural confidence and a strong military have always deterred it, and anyone paying attention during the Cold War has seen the proof. The administration is now vowing to “stand with the international community,” as if that might put a scare into the Russians, and threatening to revoke the country’s membership in the Group of Eight, as if Putin so yearns for those pointless meetings, and even suggesting economic sanctions, as if Russian had anything it wanted to sell except for oil and natural gas that Europe has to buy, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being intimidated by a president who is cutting the military and withdrawing from America’s global leadership role and is clearly embarrassed at the way his predecessors won the Cold War.

— Bud Norman

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