By 1988, Ronald Reagan, who had famously branded the Soviet Union "an evil empire," was striding through Red Square arm-in-arm with Mikhail Gorbachev. Russians were pounding both men on the back.
They had just signed the greatest arms reduction agreement in history -- eliminating all Soviet SS-20s targeted on Europe, in return for removal of the Pershing and cruise missiles Reagan had deployed in Europe.
"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" wrote Wordsworth about his first hearing the news of the fall of the Bastille.
Many of us felt that way then.
Within three years, the Berlin Wall had come down, the puppet regimes of Eastern Europe had been swept away, Germany was reunited, the Red Army had gone home, the Soviet Empire had vanished and the Soviet Union had broken up into 15 nations. The Baltic republics were free. Ukraine was free.
Yet, on the eve of the G-8 summit, Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia would re-target missiles on NATO. We must, he said, counter Bush's decision to put anti-missile missiles in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic. Why are we doing this?
The United States says the ABM system in Europe is to defend against an Iranian attack. But Tehran has no atom bomb and no ICBM.
We appear to be headed for a second Cold War -- and, if we are, responsibility will not fully rest with the Kremlin. For among those who have mismanaged the relationship are presidents Clinton and Bush II, the baby boomers who appear to have kicked away the fruits of a Cold War victory won by their Greatest Generation predecessors.
How did they do it?
-- When the Red Army went home from Eastern Europe, the United States, in violation of an understanding with Moscow, began to move NATO east. We have since brought into our military alliance six former members of the Warsaw Pact and three former provinces of the Soviet Union: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
-- Anti-Russia hawks are now pushing to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. If they succeed, we could be dragged into future confrontations with a nuclear-armed Russia about who has sovereignty over the Crimea and whether South Ossetia should be part of Georgia.
Are these vital U.S. interests worth risking a war? Why are we moving a U.S.-led military alliance into the front yard and onto the side porch of a country with thousands of nuclear weapons? Would we accept any commensurate Chinese or Russian move in the Caribbean?
-- After Moscow gave us a green light to use the former Soviet republics of Central Asia to base U.S. forces for the Afghan war, the United States has sought permanent bases there. Russia and China have now united to throw us out of their back yard.
-- America colluded with Azerbaijan and Georgia to build a Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline to transmit Caspian Sea oil across the Caucasus to the Black Sea and Turkey, cutting Russia out of the action.
-- In 1999, the United States bombed Serbia 78 days to punish her for fighting to hold her cradle province of Kosovo, which Muslim Albanians were tearing away. Orthodox Russia had long seen herself as protectress of the Balkan Slavs. That Clinton ignored Russia in launching this unprovoked war on Serbia was seen in Moscow as proof that Russian concerns had become irrelevant in Washington.
-- After helping dump over the government in Belgrade, our Neocomintern -- the National Endowment for Democracy, Freedom House and other fronts -- interfered in Ukraine and Georgia, helping oust pro-Moscow regimes and install pro-American ones. Since then, NED has been run out of Belarus and its subsidiaries are about to get the boot from Moscow.
Can we blame the Russians for being angry? How would we react to left-wing NGOs in Washington, flush with Moscow oil money, aiding elements hostile to the Bush administration?
-- The United States has been constantly hectoring Russia on backsliding from democracy. But compared to Beijing, Moscow is Montpelier, Vt. And why, if the Cold War is over, are Russia's political arrangements any of our business?
If we don't like the way Putin treats Mikhail Khorokovsky, Boris Berezovksy and the other "oligarchs" who robbed Russia blind in the 1990s, maybe Putin doesn't like how we treated Martha Stewart.
Harry Truman is often blamed for having started the Cold War. He didn't. Stalin did. But Clinton, George W. and the neocons have a strong claim to having started the second. A first order of business of the next president should be to repair the damage this crowd has done -- and to get out of Russia's face.
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