The Cold War Ides of March

The Cold War Ides of March By Stephen F. Cohen via The Saker

Heedless of the consequences, or perhaps welcoming them, America’s Cold Warriors and their media platforms have recently escalated their rhetoric against Russia, especially in March. Anyone who has lived through or studied the preceding 40-year Cold War will recognize the ominous echoes of its most dangerous periods, when actual war was on the horizon or a policy option. Here are only a few random but representative examples:

§ In a March 8 Washington Post opinion article, two American professors, neither with any apparent substantive knowledge of Russia or Cold War history, warned that the Kremlin is trying “to undermine our trust in the institutions that sustain a strong nation and a strong democracy. The media, science, academia and the electoral process are all regular targets.” Decades ago, J. Edgar Hoover, the policeman of that Cold War, said the same, indeed made it an operational doctrine.

§ Nor is the purported threat to America only. According to (retired) Gen. David Petraeus and sitting Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, also in the Post on the following day, the “world is once again polarized between two competing visions for how to organize society.” For Putin’s Kremlin, “the existence of the United States’ rule-of-law world is intrinsically threatening.” This is an “intensifying worldwide struggle.” So much for those who dismissed post–Soviet Russia as merely a “regional” power, including former President Barack Obama, and for the myopic notion that a new Cold War was not possible.

§ But the preceding Cold War was driven by an intense ideological conflict between Soviet Communism and Western capitalism. Where is the ideological threat today, considering that post–Soviet Russia is also a capitalist country? In a perhaps unprecedented nearly 10,000-word manifesto from March 14 in the front news pages of (again) the Post, Robert Kagan provided the answer: “Today, authoritarianism has emerged as the great challenge facing the liberal democratic world—a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge.” That is, “authoritarianism” has replaced Soviet Communism in our times, with Russia again in the forefront.

The substance of Kagan’s “authoritarianism” as “an ideological force” is thin, barely enough for a short opinion article, often inconsistent and rarely empirical. It amounts to a batch of “strongman” leaders (prominently Putin, of course), despite their very different kinds of societies, political cultures, states, and histories, and despite their different nationalisms and ruling styles. Still, credit Kagan’s ambition to be the undisputed ideologist of the new American Cold War, though less the Post for taking the voluminous result so seriously.

The 40-year Cold War often flirted with hot war, and that, too, seems to be on the agenda. Words, as Russians say, are also deeds. They have consequences, especially when uttered by people of standing in influential outlets. Again, consider a few examples that might reasonably be considered warmongering:

§ The journal Foreign Policy found space for disgraced former Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili to declare: “It is not a question of whether [Putin] will attack, but where.” (Saakashvili may be the most discredited “democratic” leader of recent times, having brought the West close to war with Russia in 2008 and since having had to flee his own country and then decamp even from US-backed Ukraine.)

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