The Corner


After linking to, and quoting from, Wesley Clark’s cover story in the Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum writes:

Clark’s point is a simple one: Neither Reagan nor any of the seven Cold War presidents before him ever attacked either the Soviet Union or one of its satellites directly. This wasn’t because of insufficient dedication to anticommunism, but because it wouldn’t have worked. In the end, they knew that democracy couldn’t come at the point of a gun; it had to come from within, from the citizens of the countries themselves.

Is this right? To argue otherwise is to suggest that our Cold War strategy was also wrong. Perhaps we should have rolled our tanks across the Iron Curtain after World War II, when the Soviet Union was exhausted and weary. Or attacked China instead of accepting a truce in the Korean War. Or sent NATO troops into Hungary in 1956.

Of course not. Even if we had “won,” we wouldn’t have won. In the end, the patient strategy of military containment and cultural engagement was the right call, and it’s the right call for the war on terror as well. Too bad George Bush doesn’t seem to get this.

Me: Am I alone or is this not a strikingly odd interpretation, even for a foreign policy liberal? First of all, where’s the mention of nuclear weapons? The main argument against directly confronting the Soviet Union was the whole problem of mutually assured destruction, not that democracy can’t be imposed at the point of a gun. In fact, at the dawn of the Cold War we were imposing democracy at the point of the gun in most of Germany and in Japan. We would have loved to have re-established democracy in most Eastern Europe, if it wouldn’t have gotten us nuked. In fact, later in the Cold War liberals constantly said rhetorical hawks were too hawkish because nothing was worth risking nuclear war.

But even before the Soviets got the bomb, the reason for not invading — i.e. liberating — Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, the Baltics, Eastern Germany, etc. wasn’t that “democracy couldn’t come at the point of a gun.” It was because the frickin’ Red Army was already set up in those places and the American Army — and public — was too weary to fight another war which had nothing to do with our original war aims.

While it’s fun to hear liberals embrace the morally sterile realism of detente, it’s also worth pointing out that while we didn’t attack the Soviet Union directly, we did fight a number of deadly proxy wars with the Soviets in order to contain them. We would have — and should have — done a lot more if nuclear annihilation weren’t a risk (National Review did call for “rollback, not containment”). Meanwhile, the threshhold for toppling Saddam was lower than the threshhold for toppling Stalin precisely because we could topple Saddam at a lower cost to ourselves — in much the same way that if we could liberate North Korea easily, I would say we should do that too.

Drum’s — and I presume Clark’s (though I haven’t read his article) — Iraq analogy is absurd in one basic sense. He is comparing the captive nations to a hodgepodge of Iraq-like states when they were mostly, if not all, much more like mini-Kuwaits. According to Drum’s analysis we should have left Saddam in power in Kuwait and waited for liberation and democracy to “come from within.” (By the way, How does Drum’s standard square with toppling Milosevic?)

The victims of Yalta did not want to live under the Soviet yoke and its puppet governments and Drum’s insinuation that they did is somewhere between nonsense and highly partisan revisionism. The Ukranians often greeted the invading Nazi soldiers as liberators for Pete’s sake.

I could go on, but maybe I’m missing something.


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