On Dec. 30, this Friday, the Soviet Union was officially founded in 1922. As we look forward to 2017, the year will mark the dark centennial of the first communist revolution – one that promulgated over 70 years of butchery, imprisonment and economic catastrophe. To be sure, the tyranny would ebb and flow and reach a sanguinary crescendo under Joseph Stalin, but throughout its dictatorial longevity, the USSR excelled at murdering its dissidents, incarcerating its citizens and smothering its economy in collectivized farms and state-run industries. The relatively bloodless revolution that brought Vladimir Lenin to power did not betray the blood-letting that was to characterize the coming civil war – where millions died fighting for the political future of Russia.
Lenin and Leon Trotsky dominated the early years of the regime. Both were philosopher-thug bookends for whom human life was cheap and any means justified the Bolshevik end. But Stalin would outdo them both in terms of stone-faced brutality and sheer cynicism. We will never know how many perished in Stalin’s 30 years of terror: whether starved in the Ukraine, shot in multiple purges, worked to death in Gulag concentration camps or sacrificed as cannon fodder in the Second World War. Stalin was just on the verge of an anti-Semitic killing campaign when death claimed this pitiless despot.
Arguably the worst was over for the Russians with the end of Stalin, but Soviet communism persisted for another 35 years amidst a Cold War that dominated U.S. foreign policy throughout the entire period. The thaw began with Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s when we in the west first heard of words like “perestroika” and “glasnost.” Then the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Soviet eastern bloc began to crumble the following year and finally the Soviet Union fell in 1991 and something roughly congruent to democracy began to flower in what was soon described as the former Soviet Union.
The United States won the Cold War not only because it had a superior political and economic system but because anti-communism was a bipartisan issue. When the Cold War began President Harry Truman was invoking the Truman Doctrine to help free peoples resist communist aggression and enforcing the containment of Soviet expansionism. When the Cold War ended, President Ronald Reagan was continuing to demonstrate that while American democracy and capitalism continued to bring freedom and prosperity at home and abroad, Soviet communism continued to enslave and deny economic opportunity around the world.
The radical left was never part of that bipartisan chorus and throughout the Cold War, had neither a voice nor a role in the Democratic Party.
President Barack Obama, in his radical youth, would have wondered why America was so focused, so distracted by this seemingly vain ambition to defeat the Soviet Union. The American left was frankly defeatist during many moments of the Cold War, decrying those who declared “better dead than red” and advocating suicidal unilateral disarmament.
To be certain, the threat of nuclear annihilation was a very real one in those years. As a child of an Air Force father living next to a nuclear-capable base, I can tell you that even in the tender pre-teen years, we were all aware of what was possible if the Soviets attacked but grew up believing that we were fighting for something vitally worthwhile.
So why has the American left suddenly found its anti-Russian voice, decades after the fall of communism? Why is the left fostering war hysteria, feeding ridiculous conspiracies of Russian cyber-spies under every bed and risking actual war when it was willing during all those years of the Cold War to give the Russians – when they were commies – the benefit of the doubt?
Am I missing something?
Russia may not be a perfect democracy; it is probably not even a textbook democracy, but any amelioration of that political deficit requires not threats from the American president but constructive engagement. The real enemy in this world today remains – what Obama can’t enunciate – Islamic extremism – and victory over this clear and present threat is a goal that we share with the Russians. If we were prepared to tolerate Stalin in our quest to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazism then surely to goodness we can find some accommodation with the current regime of Vladimir Putin.
President-elect Donald Trump has a fighting chance of ushering in a new era of cooperation with Russia. The United States remains not only a superpower but the chief force for good in the world. No other country is capable of providing the example, inspiration and leadership required to ensure that Russia continues to evolve into a full democracy and does not devolve back into despotic rule.
As usual, Obama has refused that opportunity and abdicated that leadership. Trump can and must do better.
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