Robert Conquest, pre-eminent historian of the genocides, purges and terrors of the Soviet Union, has long contemplated the blinders the West wears so as not to look at the millions of dead bodies for which the gigantically Evil Empire was responsible.
"Why people didn't, and still don't, understand the communist regimes has to do with their concentration on reputable, or reputable-sounding, phenomena," Conquest wrote in a 2005 essay. "This is what amounts to an attempt to tame the data or, perhaps more correctly, a mental or psychological bent toward blocking the real essentials, the real meaning."
In only rare instances is this block ever exposed. One memorable example came when Jimmy Carter announced to the world that the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan "has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are than anything they have done in the previous time I've been in office." Since this was the president of the United States talking, not Little Bo Peep, such laughable naivete -- evidence of taming the data, or blocking reality -- was subject to ridicule, even at the time.
After all, what could be dramatically opinion-changing about the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan, given that it simply repeated familiar historical patterns of Soviet behavior? But such was the mental or psychological bent that compelled Carter, on meeting the regime's ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to say: "I've heard great things about you and your service in Washington. I hope to have a great relationship with you and also with Mr. Leonid Brezhnev."
It was great, all right -- at least until Carter finally got the message that Brezhnev was lying to his face, via the detente-era "hot line." Boo hoo: He couldn't trust the Soviet dictator anymore.
Such gullibility has long outlasted the Soviet Union, of course. Indeed, a similar story has been unfolding in official Washington as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly declared his disappointment with Pakistan's actions in support of jihad terrorism in Afghanistan as "part of their national strategy." Just as Carter took three years to admit what the Soviets were up to, so Mullen has taken three years to face any facts about Pakistan. And that's after no fewer than 27 visits to Islamabad since 2008.
"Each time I go, I learn more," a chastened Mullen told The Wall Street Journal. "But one of the things I learn more is I have a lot more to learn."