April 7, 2006
Sweet Cold War, How I Miss Your Gentle Embrace
Reading the international sections of the NYT makes me nostalgic for the Cold War. They seem like gentler times compared to now. Seemingly the Bush administration yearns to return to less menacing times, and they have a funny way of remembering how history unfolded. To the victor–the spoils? But the U.S. never 'won' the Cold War.
In Wednesday’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank column “A Warm Farewell for a Cold Warrior” is on former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s funeral. One of the most interesting parts was Rumsfeld’s eulogy for Weinberger:
“Today, some think back on the Cold War as if victory in that war was inevitable; that was not the case," Rumsfeld said. It was Weinberger, he said, who “helped restore pride in our country's uniform and helped win the Cold War.”
Really–that's how it went down? Maybe he can sell that to a sixth-grade social science class. But what about Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost? Economic restructuring and domestic democratization made it difficult for Gorbachev to reassert central control and influence over Eastern Europe. The huge amounts of foreign and military aid the Warsaw Pact members had grown to expect made Gorbachev’s efforts to improve a stagnating economy very challenging. In addition, these waves of reform helped grassroots organizations in like Poland's Solidarity movement gain legitimacy. In 1989, we started to see the Communist governments of Poland and Hungary hold competitive elections.
I confess–I didn't learn this last part either 'til after high school. I wonder if this revision of history gave the Bush administration delusions of grandeur and they thought they would see a similar outcome in Iraq?
Milbank goes on to say: “Rumsfeld preferred to remember the unyielding Weinberger. ‘For many years, a quote from Winston Churchill hung in Cap Weinberger's office,’ he said. It said: Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in.”
Should Weinberger be remembered for this? A couple years ago David Schultz wrote an op-ed , “Uncertainty Factor”, in the NYT and told a different story on the former Secretary of Defense. Weinberger argued that in times of uncertainty, leaders shouldn’t be unyielding or aggressive but cautious in their decisions. Hmm….cautious in decision-making…like not falsely leading a country into war?
Weinberger told the Times:
“The Pentagon is more aware of the downside of military operations and therefore is cautious about undertaking operations where the results are as unpredictable as in pre-emptive strikes against terrorists.”
Twenty years later and it’s hard to believe anyone associated with the Pentagon would make these remarks. Rumsfeld and co. did not learn these lessons or they were too busy drawing up maps of the New Middle East to ask ole' Caspar for sound advice. With the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has proven it can’t operate intelligently in a world of uncertainty nor has it understood the decisions made by its Cold War predecessors.
Let's see in 10…20…or 30 years…the eulogies for how our fearless leaders brought democracy to a region should be most interesting.