It was only a little over a week ago when I wrote of Andrew O’Hehir’s disturbing and objectionable efforts to rewrite the history of the Cold War. I harbored the desperate hope that O’Hehir’s revisionism was the exception, and not the rule. But I see that such hopes are in vain; no less than the President of the United States glossed over the tough matter that makes up the telling of the Cold War while he was in Russia this past week.
Speaking at the New Economic School in Moscow, President Barack Obama had the following to say about the Cold War:
Like President Medvedev and myself, you’re not old enough to have witnessed the darkest hours of the Cold War, when hydrogen bombs were tested in the atmosphere, and children drilled in fallout shelters, and we reached the brink of nuclear catastrophe. But you are the last generation born when the world was divided. At that time, the American and Soviet armies were still massed in Europe, trained and ready to fight. The ideological trenches of the last century were roughly in place. Competition in everything from astrophysics to athletics was treated as a zero-sum game. If one person won, then the other person had to lose.
And then, within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Now, make no mistake: This change did not come from any one nation. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.
While one might be willing to give the President plaudits for being diplomatic in his telling of the history of the Cold War, the end result is that the President’s relation of that history only served to mislead his audience concerning the gravity of the threat the Soviet Union posed to the international community, and the degree to which the United States sacrificed and struggled in order to defeat hegemonic Soviet designs. If it weren’t for American actions, the international system would have been significantly destabilized, and the loss of freedom for millions would have been pronounced and barbaric.
One understands that the words of the progeny of a supposedly genuine Dark Lord of the Sith–progeny who continues to use that Dark Lord’s last name, no less!–will provoke some to a state of apoplectic fury. Still, at the risk of enraging certain readers, it is necessary to cite Liz Cheney, daughter of the erstwhile Vice President of the United States, to counter President Obama’s habit of twisting historical narratives depending on the occasion, and on his audience:
It is irresponsible for an American president to go to Moscow and tell a room full of young Russians less than the truth about how the Cold War ended. One wonders whether this was just an attempt to push “reset” — or maybe to curry favor. Perhaps, most concerning of all, Mr. Obama believes what he said.
Mr. Obama’s method for pushing reset around the world is becoming clearer with each foreign trip. He proclaims moral equivalence between the U.S. and our adversaries, he readily accepts a false historical narrative, and he refuses to stand up against anti-American lies.
The approach was evident in his speech in Moscow and in his speech in Cairo last month. In Cairo, he asserted there was some sort of equivalence between American support for the 1953 coup in Iran and the evil that the Iranian mullahs have done in the world since 1979. On an earlier trip to Mexico City, the president listened to an extended anti-American screed by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and then let the lies stand by responding only with, “I’m grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for the things that occurred when I was 3 months old.”
Asked at a NATO meeting in France in April whether he believed in American exceptionalism, the president said, “I believe in American Exceptionalism just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” In other words, not so much.
As Cheney goes on to detail, the only time Team Obama is willing to sound a victorious note on the trumpet is when the tune is meant to aggrandize the President’s own personal glory. When it comes to speaking of America, the President is far more ambivalent.
Of course, no one thinks that Barack Obama is not a patriot, but it is not patriotism that is at issue here. Rather, the issue is the power of rhetoric and the degree to which the President–ironically, well-known for being an excellent rhetorician–is not using the power of rhetoric to advance American values and ideals, or to convince the rest of the international community of America’s indispensable and exceptional status amongst nations. This reluctance has consequences, as Cheney notes. No one is going to be a better press agent for the United States than will Americans and the American President. If the President fails to do proper justice to American ideals, and the history of American actions–the vast majority of those actions being laudable and palliative–then no one will, and America’s enemies will fill the rhetorical silence with divisive, misleading, and negative rhetoric of their own.
There is a lot of gray in this world. But along with World War II, the Cold War was one of the most clear cut struggles between good and evil, right and wrong, that humankind has ever witnessed. It is a pity that President Obama soft-pedaled this aspect of the Cold War when he gave his speech to the students at Moscow’s New Economic School. One can understand if the President felt the need to be polite in addressing his audience. But even politeness can go too far, and in this case, politeness was served to mask the truths about the Cold War that everyone needs to know about.
Read more at Pejman Yousefzadeh’s blog.