Oh, the burden of empire! It weighs so heavily on John Kerry’s shoulders:
"Secretary of State John Kerry attested Tuesday to the massively complex challenges Washington faces in Ukraine, Russia, Iran and the Middle East, declaring ‘it was easier’ during the Cold War.
"In a candid moment during a State Department speech, the top US diplomat said changing global power dynamics made a quaint memory of the early East-West stalemate, when American children would ‘crouch under our desks at school and practice’ safety steps for a possible nuclear attack.
“’During the Cold War… it was easier than it is today – simpler is maybe a way to put it,’ Kerry told aid and development experts.
“’The choices were less varied, less complicated, more stark, more clear: Communism, democracy, West, East, the Iron Curtain.’”
Yes, those were the Good Old Days – when children in the schoolroom cowered beneath their desks – and we almost went to war with the nuclear-armed Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba which posed no more threat than missiles outside Moscow. Does "quaint" even begin to describe that vintage scene? It’s all so Currier & Ives.
We were the Good Guys and the Russkies were the Bad Guys – and never the morally equivalent twain shall meet! If only we could get back to those halcyon days, everything would be "simpler," says Kerry.
Having an implacable enemy of unrivaled evil supposedly bent on our destruction has its advantages – yes, a US Secretary of State actually does seem to believe this. Having nuclear-armed enemies is a Good Thing – because it makes the job of US officials so much easier. Should we support a South American dictator who murders his own people for looking at him cross-eyed – but of course we should, because he hates the Russkies! Do we really need to build more nuclear weapons than it would take to incinerate the world one-hundred times over? The answer – back then – was an obvious yes, at least to our wise rulers (who never considered how dangerous our arsenal would become once it started to age….). And how about getting involved in a war in Southeast Asia that would take tens of thousands of American lives – and easily a million non-Americans – a war this same John Kerry would refer to with unmitigated contempt as he threw his war medals right back at the Pentagon?
Ah, yes – the beauty of simplicity! No hard decisions. No moral conundrums. Surely this was meant as a joke – right? Alas, alack – I’m afraid not:
"In the post-war 1950s and 1960s, Kerry said, ‘we could make really bad decisions and still win, because we were pretty much the sole dominant economic and military power around. It’s not true any more.’”
Poor Kerry: he must’ve been suffering from jet lag during that little convocation, because back in the cold war era there were two big powers, not one: he seems to have forgotten about the Soviet Union. But no matter: that’s just a not-so-minor detail, the kind that makes all the difference in the world.
Because without the Soviets contesting us in every region on earth our poor, overworked, and completely clueless public servants are confronted with hard decisions on a daily basis, such as: which country do we invade next? And more importantly: how do we spin our regime changing campaign to make it look defensive rather than the unambiguous act of aggression it appears to be?
Kerry’s little moment of candid conversation gives us a clue as to why our foreign policy has suddenly reverted back to its cold war incarnation, and why we’re taking a sudden interest in such previously arcane subjects as the proper status of Transnistria, the legitimacy of South Ossetia’s desire for autonomy, and where Crimea belongs in the vast scheme of things. Now that Al Qaeda’s stock has dropped considerably – and some of their folks have magically morphed into our allies – the search for an appropriately powerful and sinister enemy has settled on our old adversary, Russia.
Some have asked: Is it really in our interest to bring back the cold war and gin up a confrontation with Putin over territory that has been an integral part of Russia since the days of Catherine the Great? Why revive this ancient conflict?
Kerry’s answer to these critics ought to be clear enough: it makes things easier for US officials, especially those who have ascended to positions way out of their depth. They don’t have to agonize over any hard moral choices: say, whether to align ourselves with open neo-Nazis in Ukraine or ridiculously despotic rulers like the megalomaniac "President" of Kazakhstan. The nature of the conflict makes those choices for us. All simpletons like Kerry have to do is set US policy on autopilot, and the "narrative" – Us vs. Them, Good vs. Evil, Amurrica vs. Those Heathens – does the rest.
When in the name of all that’s holy are we going to start treating Russia like a normal country again? Here it is almost three decades since the end of the cold war and we’re still acting as if commie missiles targeting New York and Washington are on hair-trigger alert to launch. We fought a world war against Germany and its allies, occupied their country, and seriously considered reducing it to an agricultural backwater that would never again rise to global prominence – and yet here we are collaborating with them in NATO and even joining with them to provoke regime change in Ukraine. Why the double standard?
The frightening and indubitably true answer is: because its makes matters simpler for clueless gaffe-prone buffoons like John Kerry.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.