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Phil-osophically Speaking

Cold War Redux

Toward the close of WWII, Winston Churchill advised that the Allies should shake hands with the Russians as far to the east of the Elbe River as possible. The problem was that the Red Army was occupying Eastern Europe in large numbers. These were hardened troops; four out of five German soldiers who died in WWII were killed on the Eastern front. 


As a result, and despite the agreement at Yalta, where the U.S., Russia and Britain agreed that governments of liberated Eastern European countries would be self-determined, the gravitational pull of the Soviet military kept these countries locked in Russia’s orbit. 


Having lost several hundred thousand U.S. personnel and Japan still full of fight, neither FDR nor Truman was going to risk a holocaust of bloodshed to liberate these countries from their new oppressor. Instead, through a system of regional alliance and economic assistance to Western Europe, the U.S. committed itself to a policy of long-term containment of the Soviets. 


When Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest in 1956, and then Czechoslovakia 12 years later to crush rebel forces during the febrile years of the Cold War, the U.S. and its European Allies responded with nothing more than strong verbal condemnations. In 1981, when

Poland’s communist government, backed by the U.S.S.R, sought to break the back of the Solidarity movement led by an intrepid shipyard worker named Lech Walesa, Ronald Reagan imposed severe economic sanctions but he did not threaten military action.

When the Russians invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008, there were sanctions but no military response. 


In that light, only the delusional would expect President Obama to rely on the military in the wake of Putin’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Nor should it be shocking that Russia would cut off a move toward Western Europe. Putin, after all, has decried the collapse of the Soviet Union as the worst geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, an event that relegated tens of millions of people who he proprietarily calls his countrymen, beyond the borders of the Russian frontier. Like Mussolini, who yearned for Italy to be restored to the glory of Rome, Putin desires Russia to have the power and influence it had during the height of the Cold War. He’s an unreconstructed revanchist and the U.S places itself at a marked disadvantage by denying it. 


President Obama is well-intentioned but he misunderstands the world. The U.S. looked feckless when the installation of missile interceptors and radar tracking systems in Poland and the Czech Republic were scrapped for no other reason than Putin growled. Instead of a tough geopolitical strategy we have our poltroonishly hapless Secretary of State bloviating about global warming being the greatest threat to world peace.  


How could Putin, a wily, hard-headed KGB internationalist, take us seriously? The president’s “a price will be paid mantra” had already died of its own hand. Although he ordered the killing of Osama Bin Laden and his drones regularly incinerate terrorists, the Syria redline debacle and his capitulation on missile defense in Eastern Europe looms larger. Putin has taken Obama’s measure and found him wanting as he does America’s allies who disproportionately depend on Russia’s energy resources. 


It’s disconcerting to see knees wobbling and Putin smiling. Harboring large Russian populations, what will be the future of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland if Obama and our allies do not rally behind the Ukraine?  While we will never know for certain if Obama had acted more forthrightly in the past whether Putin would have gambled, I’m sure it would have given him pause.


Maybe the West will coalesce and punitive sanctions will work. The president looks weak, if not impotent and the CIA, once again, frightfully uninformed. It’s the summa of arrogance to believe that a reset button had been pressed regarding our relations with Russia.

Every country will act upon their interests and to think otherwise is irrational and anti-historical. In the end all we can do is rely on some time honored principles in terms of international affairs:


1. The goal of the United States is neither to confer liberty nor protect it with our armed forces unless it directly impacts our national interest. Wars of altruism, however inspiring, cannot be sustained on a frequent and long-term basis.


2. If our national interest is not at stake, the U.S. is still morally obligated, by virtue of those self-evident truths professed in our founding document, to be a voice crying out and supporting the oppressed.


3. Under such circumstances, as we find in the Ukraine, the U.S., in concert with like thinking nations, should employ against the aggressor every economic and diplomatic pressure at their disposal. In a world of economic interconnectedness such weapons can be potent.


4. The U.S. and NATO should endeavor for self-sufficiency in terms of energy and natural resources so moral imperatives are not enslaved by physical necessities.


5. Presidential pronouncements to friend and foe should be unambiguous, unwavering and definitively certain in its repercussions.