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Archive for the ‘cold war’ Category

Obama doesn’t want to celebrate the anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s beneficient self-destruction in 1989 for several obvious reasons:

  • One, during the Cold War he was more concerned about the evils of helping the Contras and the El Salvadorans than with the much greater evils inflicted against Europeans by the Soviets and their lackeys.
  • Two, his fundamental perception of the world is narrow, parochial, self-obsessed and black-obsessed, and thus has little use for highlighting the Cold War and the West’s triumph.
  • Three, he will be a bit player rather than the main attraction.  Unacceptable.
  • Four, his present-day inability to lead Europeans, treat them as important to us and our destiny, will show that the promise of greater respect and influence around the world post-Bush under Obama is a chimera.

The fall of the Berlin Wall is a very meaningful event for me.  In 1989 I was in high school and studying German.  I was fairly in tune with current affairs.  I strongly supported the United States and its principles of freedom over communism.  I admired our military strength.  I rejected the false equivalence of the two sides so often spouted by half-witted social studies teachers and news broadcasters.

On the day the wall fell, we took the day off of class to discuss the meaning of events.  It was an exciting time and a tangible symbol of the victory of the freedom-loving West over the backwards, inefficient, and often murderous regimes of the Warsaw Pact.  Ronald Reagan fought this fight, along with Maggie Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and thousands of American servicemen who fought communism in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, and as a deterrent force in Western Europe.  Reagan led the charge when dominant “sophisticated” opinion was that rapprochement and accommodation to the Soviet system were inevitable and desirable.

Obama and his team were on the wrong end of this fight.  Outside of a few hawkish Southern Democrats, the mainstream Democratic Party proffered a policy of military weakness and moral confusion.  John Kerry, Mondale, and Dukakis with their opposition to MX Missiles, arming the Contras, and standing up to the Soviets make this plain.

Obama wrote his college thesis on nuclear disarmament; other papers of his suggest he went for the totally naive liberal idea of unilateral disarmament–the so-called “nuclear freeze.”  Thank God we didn’t freeze our arms, nor did we freeze our moral resolve.  We won.  They lost.  And as a consequence civilization and the Christian religion have been restored in Eastern Europe and Russia.  Thanks for nothing Obama.

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Fouad Ajami contrasts Obama’s wishful thinking internationalism with McCain’s American-exceptionalist neo-imperalism:

[During the Nixon-Kennedy election of 1960] The national consensus on America’s role abroad, and on the great threats facing it, was firmly implanted. No great cultural gaps had opened in it, arugula was not on the menu, and the elites partook of the dominant culture of the land; the universities were then at one with the dominant national ethos. The “disuniting of America” was years away. American liberalism was still unabashedly tethered to American nationalism.

We are at a great remove from that time and place. Globalization worked its way through the land, postmodernism took hold of the country’s intellectual life. The belief in America’s “differentness” began to give way, and American liberalism set itself free from the call of nationalism. American identity itself began to mutate.

The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington, in “Who Are We?,” a controversial book that took up this delicate question of American identity, put forth three big conceptions of America: national, imperial and cosmopolitan. In the first, America remains America. In the second, America remakes the world. In the third, the world remakes America. Back and forth, America oscillated between the nationalist and imperial callings. The standoff between these two ideas now yields to the strength and the claims of cosmopolitanism. It is out of this new conception of America that the Obama phenomenon emerges.

The “aloofness” of Mr. Obama that has become part of the commentary about him is born of this cultural matrix. Mr. Obama did not misspeak when he described union households and poorer Americans as people clinging to their guns and religion; he was overheard sharing these thoughts with a like-minded audience in San Francisco.

Nor was it an accident that, in a speech at Wesleyan University, he spoke of public service but excluded service in the military. The military does not figure prominently in his world and that of his peers. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention, as was the case on the campaign trail, he spoke of his maternal grandfather’s service in Patton’s army. But that experience had not been part of his own upbringing.

Ajami seems to think Americans like McCain because he’s the more competent imperial administrator.  While that is true of some, I think the fact that he wraps his imperial vision in the rhetoric of nationalism is why he’s effective.  Between an anti-American cosmopolitan, and a bellicose ideological neo-imperalist, Americans, particularly Americans of a conservative bent, will choose the latter.  Why?  Because for conservatives who are uneasy about imperialism, it is still better to be in charge, even if the endeavor is self-defeating than to let other people, with similar but opposing imperial visions, to be in charge of us.

The standoff that Ajami speaks of is a tragic one, an unfortunate consequence of the domination of the Republican party by the neoconservative vision of foreign policy, a vision that demands intervention, the continuation of American power, and the erasure of distinctions of the nation and the foreigner. 

Missing from both candidates’ views, and the political scene generally, is a true nationalist voice that is neither excessively indebted to nor overly influenced by the rest of the world.  A humble view that is aware of our limitations and jealous of our advantages.  A view that does not seek to manage or influence world with the exception chiefly of providing a good example to others and protecting what is ours. 

This tradition, stretching from George Washington and James Monroe, to the so-called Know-Nothings, and more recently to Charles Lindbergh, Robert Taft, and Pat Buchanan has been the abiding idiom of American conservatism.  It’s absent from both parties, yet it finds support in what is likely a numerical plurality of working class ethnic whites, business-oriented conservatives, many Vietnam veterans, as well as a swath of anti-war Americans who come from a variety of traditions.

The nationalist is against the continuation of the Iraq War not because it is wrong or an evil to the Iraqis, but because it distracts us from our chief concern, which is our own flourishing as a people and the protection of that people and our way of life.

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The blog Your Lying Eyes had a quite brilliant and nuanced essay on the politics of restraint:

So by crediting Putin/Russia with restraint, I’m hardly slabbering them with praise. But it is an indication of self-interest at work, and this is a very important thing to know about a country. When you can be sure a country is merely acting in its self-interest, you’ve got something to work with and a basis for negotiation and diplomacy. One of the scary things about the old Soviet Union was that it appeared to have some very big goals in mind besides what was best for Mother Russia, such as International Socialism. It often over-reached internationally and in its devotion to socialism at home starved and enslaved its own people. We pretty much had to take it at its word that it sought world domination, and thus the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union is long gone. Russia no longer shows any interest in fomenting revolution abroad and imposing totalitarian rule on its neighbors. It does not threaten the United States or Western Europe or even the non-Soviet Iron-Curtain nations of Eastern Europe. It would clearly like to have less hostile countries on its immediate border. Imagine Chavez’s Venezuela bordering the U.S. – I don’t think we’d put up with that, quite frankly (as, for example, with Cuba). Yet both Ukraine and Georgia are openly hostile and pro-American, yet both remain independent. This is hardly the behavior of a reckless, dangerous, rogue state.

In its actions in Georgia, Russia is clearly making a statement about Western influence on its borders, and appears willing to back off provided this message is heard and respected. Thus the restraint. Putin doesn’t want trouble with Europe or America, but he’s not willing to be boxed in by an expansionist NATO, either. It is critical that the U.S. not escalate tensions with continued talk of NATO membership and anti-missile installations*. We have nothing to gain from an antagonistic relationship with Russia, and very little to gain from friendly relations with her neighbors. Self-interest and self-assessment suggest one thing is required on our part: restraint.

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Kissinger reminds us that Russia is moving in its own way towards the rule of law and that we should not needlessly provoke her:

Speeches denouncing Russian shortcomings and gestures drawn from the Cold War have occurred frequently. Proponents of such policies assert that the transformation of Russian society is the precondition of a more harmonious international order. They argue that if pressure is maintained on the current Russia, it, too, will eventually implode. Yet assertive intrusion into what Russians consider their own sense of self runs the risk of thwarting both geopolitical and moral goals.

Some groups and individuals in Russia undoubtedly look to America to accelerate a democratic evolution. But almost all observers agree that the majority of Russians perceive America as presumptuous and determined to stunt Russia’s recovery. Such an environment is more likely to generate a nationalist and confrontational response than a democratic evolution.

In many ways, we are witnessing one of the most promising periods in Russian history. Exposure to modern open societies and engagement with them is more prolonged and intense than ever before — even in the face of unfortunate repressive measures. The longer this continues, the more it will impact Russia’s political evolution.

The pace of such an evolution will inevitably be Russian. We can affect it more by patience and historical understanding than by offended disengagement and public exhortations.

I was encouraged that such a wise man of foreign policy echoed some themes I had written about earlier in my own non-expert musings on Putin and Medvedev here and here.

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