Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Cold War, 15 years Later

How do anti-War activists and liberals view the Cold War, 15 years after it ostensibly ended? Was it worth fighting? What are the lessons we should have learned, or yet may learn from the struggles of the superpowers?

What is the view now of the Soviet Union, what kind of a threat did it really pose, and was there any validity in perceiving regional geopolitics as so many "dominoes," the fall of which might threaten (Western) democracy?

I can deeply respect true pacifists -- even as I am glad that there are rough men ready to fight on their behalf, that they might sleep peacably in their beds -- but I know that even the most ardent make certain exceptions for certain grave threats. I believe you have stated that you consider our struggle against Nazism and Fascism in WWII to be morally justified (or words perhaps close to that in effect).

Would you extend that same consideration to struggles against the USSR? Against Stalin specifically, if he might be the exception?

Were we right to fight the Cold War, and did we win?

LiberalAvenger's response #1:

We were indeed right to fight The Cold War against Stalin and the Soviet Union. We also unquestionably won.

That being said, there are still numerous aspects of our end of the Cold War that merit criticism. Some of our excesses during the Cold War marked low points in the great American experiment.

You ask specifically about the "domino effect." Containment of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe was a good thing and the right thing. The Soviets would have undoubtedly liked to have expanded their reach across Western Europe. Whether or not this was ever practical or if they would actually have done this are difficult questions. What isn't in question is that our Cold War presence in Western Europe acting as a deterrent to them helped keep westward expansion on their part impractical.

Fear of the "domino effect" in Southeast Asia and Central America caused us to make egregious mistakes.

The deaths of 58,000 Americans and 2+ million Vietnamese will forever be remembered as a shameful waste of human lives. After 10 years in the region and these horrific losses we still lost the Vietnam war, and more importantly, the domino effect did not cause the rest of Asia to collapse along with Vietnam.

I won't belabor the legal and ethical issues surrounding Iran-Contra, another sad episode in the Cold War, however the behavior of many in the government at that time puts the indignation and outrage expressed by Republicans over Bill Clinton's blowjob and the UN Oil-for-Food scandal in perspective.

McCarthyism was another American excess of the Cold War that should be a reminder to all of us that being on the right side of a great war doesn't justify the actions taken in every battle.

On the critical side of the ledger, I find it somewhat amusing that Ronald Reagan is unconditionally lauded as having "won" the Cold War when the coup de grace that finally took the Soviet Union out was its own internal bankruptcy, a side-effect of the conflict that was unrecognized, not part of the American strategy and came as a complete surprise to Reagan and the CIA when it came about. There is no question that Reagan played a major role in the collapse of the Soviet Union and our winning of the Cold War. Attributing the demise of the Soviet economy to his genius is overreaching and reeks of idolatry.

On the positive side, the Cold War strengthened American Democracy and fueled a passionate effort to spread American Democracy and capitalism abroad, a movement which, in spite of some flaws, paid dividends in ultimately improving the lives of billions of people.

The Cold War played roles of primary importance in the prosperity and freedom found in the democracies of Western Europe, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, etc.

[To be continued...]

Dadmanly Interjection #1

While I would agree that bankrupting the USSR was not a central feature of Cold War planning, as an Intelligence Analyst involved in efforts against them, I would state categorically that many of us by the mid 80's fully expected the USSR to collapse under the financial burden of the arms race, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative. Many prominent Sovietologists stated so at the time, I recall discussions in Foreign Affairs. Whether that system would have been practicaly within any near or far term, is debatable, but I believe the evidence is clear that the Soviets were very worried about it and our capabilities to make it happen.

As with many related issues, Reagan's legacy is hugely benefitted by the political tradition he inherited as a staunch anti-communist. Up until the fall of the Soviet Union, many of his prominent political opponents, and the majority of left leaning writers and thinkers, were dramatically opposed to any hardline opposition to Communism and Socialism. Realpolitik and detante were the rage, and Reagan was seen as an unsophisticated, cowboy simpleton (I wonder if that won't always be the complaint against a strong and assertive foreign policy). Up until the liberation of Eastern Europe and the collapse of the USSR, that is.

This was never envisioned by Reagan's opponents. (Although you would never know that listening to them now.) There is thus a great deal of revisionist history going on about the fall of the USSR. There were vehement debates about Reagan's Foreign Policy, and these are remarkably similar to those used against Bush and his policies. (I remember, I hated Reagan at the time.)

[To be continued...]

3 Comments:

At 11:48 PM, Blogger RepubAnon said...

There are several lessons we could learn from the Cold War:

1) Don't sell out your principles for short-term political goals. During the Cold War, we overthrew a number of democratically-elected governments (Iran, Greece, Chile...) and replaced them with military dictatorships. Had we put more faith in democracy, we'd probably be in much better shape today.

2) The enemy of your enemy may still be your enemy, too. (We helped Osama bin Ladin fight against the Soviets - he wasn't very grateful.)

3) Don't try and fit the world into an "us or them" framework, view it as it is. Ho Chi Minh liked the US until we tried to help the French re-colonize Vietnam. Even Mao wasn't very happy with Stalin on his borders - but we had already chosen Chiang Kai-shek as our side, so Mao had to play for the Soviets. (North Korea shows that sometimes it IS "us or them." It just isn't ALWAYS "us or them.")

4) Don't bankrupt yourself with unrealistic military spending. You don't need parity, just deterence. Had the USSR realized that, they could have sat back, watched Reagan spend the US into the ground, and picked up the pieces afterwards.

 
At 8:51 AM, Blogger Rhiannon said...

At least the cold war got people moving. I mean, we still wouldn't have gone to the moon by now without it. It actually did quite a bit to advance science. Without competition the world's just been dragging it's feet in advancing science.... some are even trying to walk backwards.

 
At 10:06 PM, Blogger Brian H said...

For all its purported jingoism, exceptionalism, and chauvinism, I believe Americans at the official and public levels STILL sell short the power of its principles, whether you dub them "founding" principles or not. When they are asserted and backed up, they blow away any number of "large battalions" in influence and effect. Just read Schransky or Havel or any number of Soviet escapees.

Words and ideas should not only not be sold short, they should not be undermined by self-doubt and resort to the crudities of realpolitik and "professional diplomacy" beyond the absolute minimum needed.

And every action that does not live up to these principles costs far more than they can ever provide in short-term benefits.

 

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