Cold Wars Are Not What They Used To Be (They Never Were)

Posted by Cutler on June 06, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Russia

Thank heavens the President of the United States relates on “a first-name basis” with the President of Russia.

Watching Bush discuss US relations with Russia, one almost gets the sense that the President of the United States is convinced that personal “friendship” will prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from appreciating the growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Here is Bush in Prague on Tuesday:

“My message will be, Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn’t fear a missile defense system,” Mr. Bush said during a morning appearance with the leaders of the Czech Republic at Prague Castle, high on a hill overlooking the city.

And Bush in Germany on Wednesday:

“I will continue to work with President Putin — Vladimir Putin — to explain to him that this (the missile shield) is not aimed at him,” Bush said.

Asked if the meeting with Putin would be tense, Bush said: “I’ll work to see to it, that it’s not (tense).”

Perhaps personal chemistry between “Condi and Sergey” will work similar wonders.

Does all this chummy warmth have any political meaning?  Maybe amidst all the talk of a new “Cold War,” there are pro-Russia forces pressing the President to tone down the hawkish rhetoric.  According to the Financial Times, the Russia hawks at the Jamestown Foundation seem worried:

But Glen Howard, president of the Jamestown Foundation, a security think-tank, noted Mr Bush’s invitation to Mr Putin to become the first foreign leader to visit Mr Bush in the family home in Maine in early July. US policy was not hardening, Mr Howard said. “It is just the opposite…”

The “family home” in Maine belongs to Bush Sr.–long criticized by Russia hawks like Frank Gaffney for being soft on Russia.

But the Financial Times also reports on fears among self-proclaimed Russia “realists” that Russia hawks are gaining ground inside the Bush administration:

Dimitri Simes, president of Washington’s Nixon Center think-tank… noted the “hardline” speech on Russia given last week by David Kramer, a State Department official.

Mr Simes said the departure of Thomas Graham as senior Russia director in the national security council in February had led to a lack of “realistic thinking” in policy. “There is no alternative voice in the administration now,” Mr Simes said, describing the more dominant role played by “hawks” Daniel Fried and Mr Kramer in the department.

In truth, the “new” Cold War began even as the “old” Cold War was ending.  The only difference today is the increasingly harsh tone of the rhetoric.

On Wednesday, Bush insisted, “The Cold War is over.  It ended.”

In a way, he is right.  Soviet Communism is dead… so the Cold War must be over.

Some folks–like Stephen Cohen, a writer for the Nation and partner of its publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel–seem to think the “new” Cold War was always about Communism and, indeed, still about Communism.

Alluding to that myopia on the part of people who had sought the destruction of the Soviet state, a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, “They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia.”

Similarly, Cohen seems dismayed that during the post-Cold War era, “US policy has fostered the belief that the American cold war was never really aimed at Soviet Communism but always at Russia.”

The advent of a “new” Cold War should foster the belief–a crucial revisionist project–that for many elements of the foreign policy establishment, the “old” Cold War was never really about Soviet Communism so much as Russian empire.

Perhaps the “crisis” of the Soviet Union was not so much the Soviet part but the “Union” that allowed Russia to win control of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, etc.

Stephen Cohen’s view of the Cold War is, in some sense, overly ideological.

But even the “ideologues” have long recognized (even as they regretted) that much of the Cold War was about the old fashioned power politics of the Great Game rather than ideology.

Norman Podhoretz, in his 1999 Commentary essay, “Strange Bedfellows,” expressed the disappointment of ideological true believers:

Of course, Kissinger and Nixon were themselves strong anti-Communists as well as devotees and practitioners of Realpolitik. Yet it was realism that won out over anti-Communism in the most spectacular example of their efforts (in Kissinger’s words) to “seize the initiative and control the diplomatic process.” This was the opening to China. From the realist perspective, it was a great triumph, driving a wedge between the two major Com munist powers; even many hardline anti-Com munists, to whom an alliance with Communist China against the Soviet Union was analogous to the one we had made with the Soviet Union in fighting Hitler, applauded it as a masterstroke.

But other hard-liners, I among them, saw matters differently…

In the American policy of holding the line against any further expansion of Soviet power, no one, up until that moment, could easily distinguish between ideology and power politics…

However, in allying itself with Communist China (even if, for diplomatic reasons, the word “alliance” was never used), the United States was in effect announcing that the enemy in the cold war was not Communism but Russia. This being the case, the methods of Realpolitik were best suited to dealing with it. Those of us who disagreed-who, in other words, saw the cold war as a struggle against Communism, not against Russia as such-feared that the new turn of events would confuse public opinion about the true nature of the enemy, and that the willingness of the American people to go on supporting the struggle would thereby be undermined. For we had no doubt that this willingness had always been based-as our own was-on a moral and ideological opposition to Communism rather than to Russia as a nation.

Today, Russia hawks like Anne Applebaum at the American Enterprise Institute try to muster some of that “moral and ideological opposition.”  But it rings hollow and they seem to know it:

Last week, I found myself in Dom Knigi, the very largest of all the very large Moscow bookstores, staring at the history section.

Spread out over an entire wall were books of a sort I’ve never seen in such quantities during 10 years of visits: endless glorifications of Soviet fighter pilots, Soviet war heroes, even Stalin himself. Stalin: the Author of the Great Victory was one title; others had cover illustrations featuring red stars, or hammers and sickles.

I don’t think this new publishing trend heralds a new period of Stalinism, or not exactly. But it does illustrate a growing Russian fascination–encouraged and manipulated by the Kremlin–with Russia’s imperial past.

Cold Wars are not what they used to be.  Indeed, they never were.

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