"A soft answer turneth away wrath," teaches Proverbs 1:15.
Our new secretary of defense, Roberts Gates, seems familiar with the verse. For his handling of Saturday's wintry blast from Vladimir Putin at the Munich security conference was masterful.
"As an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday's speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time," said Gates, adding, "Almost." A former director of the CIA, Gates went on to identify with Putin: "I have, like your second speaker yesterday ... a career in the spy business. And I guess old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.
"However, I have been to re-education camp, spending the last four-and-a-half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either 'be nice' or 'be gone.'"
Gates added he would be going to Moscow to talk with the old KGB hand, who will be retiring as Russia's president around the time President Bush goes home to Crawford. Excellent.
For one of the historic blunders of this administration has been to antagonize and alienate Russia, the winning of whose friendship was a signal achievement of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. And one of the foreign policy imperatives of this nation is for statesmanship to repair the damage.
What did we do to antagonize Russia?
When the Cold War ended, we seized upon our "unipolar moment" as the lone superpower to seek geopolitical advantage at Russia's expense.
Though the Red Army had picked up and gone home from Eastern Europe voluntarily, and Moscow felt it had an understanding we would not move NATO eastward, we exploited our moment. Not only did we bring Poland into NATO, we brought in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and virtually the whole Warsaw Pact, planting NATO right on Mother Russia's front porch. Now, there is a scheme afoot to bring in Ukraine and Georgia in the Caucasus, the birthplace of Stalin.
Second, America backed a pipeline to deliver Caspian Sea oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, to bypass Russia.
Third, though Putin gave us a green light to use bases in the old Soviet republics for the liberation of Afghanistan, we now seem hell-bent on making those bases in Central Asia permanent.
Fourth, though Bush sold missile defense as directed at rogue states like North Korea, we now learn we are going to put anti-missile systems into Eastern Europe. And against whom are they directed?
Fifth, through the National Endowment for Democracy, its GOP and Democratic auxiliaries, and tax-exempt think tanks, foundations and "human rights" institutes such as Freedom House, headed by ex-CIA director James Woolsey, we have been fomenting regime change in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics and Russia herself.
U.S.-backed revolutions have succeeded in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia, but failed in Belarus. Moscow has now legislated restrictions on the foreign agencies that it sees, not without justification, as subversive of pro-Moscow regimes.
Sixth, America conducted 78 days of bombing of Serbia for the crime of fighting to hold on to her rebellious province, Kosovo, and for refusing to grant NATO marching rights through her territory to take over that province. Mother Russia has always had a maternal interest in the Orthodox states of the Balkans.
These are Putin's grievances. Does he not have a small point?
Joe Lieberman denounced Putin's "Cold War rhetoric." But have we not been taking what cannot unfairly be labeled Cold War actions?
How would we react if China today brought Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela into a military alliance, convinced Mexico to sell oil to Beijing and bypass the United States, and began meddling in the affairs of Central America and Caribbean countries to effect the electoral defeat of regimes friendly to the United States? How would we react to a Russian move to put anti-missile missiles on Greenland?
Gates says we have been through one Cold War and do not want another. But it is not Moscow moving a military alliance right up to our borders or building bases and planting anti-missile systems in our front and back yards.
Why are we doing this? This country is not going to go to war with Russia over Estonia. With our Army "breaking" from two insurgencies, how would we fight? By bombing Moscow and St. Petersburg?
Just as we deluded ourselves into believing this war would be a "cakewalk," that democracy would break out across the Middle East, that we would be beloved in Baghdad, so America today has undertaken commitments, dating to the Cold War and since, we do not remotely have the resources or will to fulfill. We are living in a world of self-delusion.
Somewhere in this presidential campaign, someone has to bring us back to earth. The halcyon days of American Empire are over.