How Is That Cold War Victory Feeling These Days?
I have always scoffed, publicly and privately, at the fanciful notion that the United States “won the Cold War.” No. Ronald Reagan won a battle in that war, but by no means the final battle. Since Reagan’s achievement, the U.S., along with the West in general, has left Russia to freely rearm and develop its strategy for long-term renewal. We are seeing the results of this American foolishness today, as Vladimir Putin, supported at least tacitly by many popular American voices of the “right,” ramps up his mission to restore the Soviet empire and Russia’s geopolitical preeminence.
Non-democracies always calculate, correctly, that they can win any war of attrition against democracies, because tyrants have few concerns about public opinion. First of all, they control and or frame the available information, thus reducing the flow and spread of serious opposing views. Secondly, they assume, and freely use, the authority to kill any leading oppositional voice or faction that threatens their official truth. Finally, they simply run roughshod over public opinion whenever that becomes pragmatically necessary.
Democracies, by contrast — and I am speaking of popular democracies, majority-rule regimes, such as those governing all Western nations today, whatever old papers they may store in their museums of political history for nostalgic or rhetorical purposes — are all about mass appeal, the glorifying of youth and newness, and pragmatic promises of “change.” In such a climate, dependent as it is on fostering a popular sense of comfort, dependence, and freedom redefined as lack of responsibility, the populace has no heart for a long fight, let alone for the insecurity of long-range planning tied to uncertain ultimate outcomes, and outcomes which might not come to fruition within the current voting generation’s lifetime.
The long war belongs to those who have the mental and material capacity to wait it out. By declaring victory in the Cold War on the basis of a mere strategic retreat by an amoral enemy, or on the word of a single Soviet leader who seemed more reasonable than his predecessors, the United States and its allies proved that they lacked at least the emotional and political seriousness to grasp the nature of their situation, and perhaps the strategic intelligence to understand their enemy at all.