The evil empire, Ronald Reagan called it when Détente was in fashion and it was not done to call things by their right names. The tyrant might be offended, and his rage could prove almost as effective back then as the left's fashionable condescension. It was enough to call an aging B-movie actor with presidential pretensions a radical to dismiss him. That way, when he said the obvious, he could be ignored instead of answered.
By the 1970s, Radical had become, as it still is, a term of opprobrium -- unanswerable, undeniable, unrefutable. That settled the matter. As if truth is not always radical, much as it offends the superficially sophisticated, the bien pensant, the right-thinking. Or rather, back in the era of Nixon, Ford, Carter and Malaise, the left-thinking.
Those days are far from gone. Indeed, they're coming back strong. The old evil empire may be gone, but it takes new shape under new management. And it waxes strong without a leader of the free world to call its bluff.
Leader of the Free World -- remember when that was a synonym for president of the United States? Now the title can be used only ironically. What a dated reference it has become as this president "resets" relations with Moscow, first abandoning old allies in Eastern Europe and now subletting American foreign policy in the Middle East to a not so former KGB agent, that is, thug.
But those aren't observations the diplomatic will make, and if American leadership is anything these days, it is diplomatic to a (severe) fault.
Vladimir Putin is putting the old empire back together again, still evil but with all-new styling. Like the engine of an old Soviet T-10 tank installed in a body designed by Ferrari. This shadow Soviet Union no longer uses troops to enforce its way on satellites but economic pressure, like oil and gas contracts. Which can be much more effective. The evil empire may be as evil as ever and its ends just as ruthless, but its means are more subtle.
It's the same old empire but in a new version. Naturally the new model can no longer be called a Union of Soviet Socialist "Republics," that name having acquired a certain odium. So now the old empire is called a "customs union," but its essence remains the same: Moscow gives the orders and its satellites had better obey. Just as its subjects at home do when Tsar Vladimir tightens his autocratic grip, shuts down the press, rigs his re-elections, and in effect becomes president-for-life with all the outward grace and inner brutality of a typical Latin American caudillo. The more tyrannies change, the more they remain the same.
But if the evil empire is still there, waxing strong again with this administration's eager cooperation, the captive nations are still restive, too, if more abandoned than ever by the West's elites.
The latest case in point: Ukraine, formerly known as the Ukraine when it was only a subdivision of the Communist czardom in Moscow. Hundreds of thousands of protesters now gather almost daily in the middle of Kiev, capital of the first and oldest Russian state before the Mongols destroyed it and everything else in their path centuries ago.
Last weekend, old Kiev was new again as the crowds toppled a statue of Lenin in its Independence Square. What? There was still a statue of Lenin somewhere in the old Soviet Union to be toppled this late after the supposed demise of that empire?
Well, there was. And now it's gone, but not in spirit. Moscow still keeps a tight rein on the keystone of its old empire, and was mightily offended when the Ukrainians were about to conclude a trade agreement with the European Union. How dare they leave the Soviet -- excuse me, Russian -- sphere of influence! What do they think they are -- free and independent?
The more Russia changes, the more it remains schizoid, pulled this way and then that, first by its Westernizers and then its Slavophiles, a tug of war that's been going on at least since Peter and Catherine ruled. Captive nations caught in the middle, like the Ukrainians, can't be sure which way to turn. There's no use looking to the West for help, at least not now in the Age of Obama. Both the Europeans and Americans now draw back, afraid to antagonize The Bear, which has emerged from hibernation sullen and hungry again.
Europe has just dispatched the Baronness Ashton of Upholland, aka Catherine Ashton, its high Representative for foreign affairs and security policy -- that is, appeasement -- to soothe things over in Kiev. Doubtless she will, having just understudied John Kerry at the latest Geneva Conference, where Iran's mullahs were suitably propitiated. And may stay that way till they get within a hair's breadth of having their Bomb.
As for those of us so gauche as to notice this latest Decline of the West, the appeasers have a standard response à la Ring Lardner. Shut up, they explain.
But we won't. Keep the faith: One day the West will reawaken. Let's just hope it's not too late. And that the wake-up call won't come in the form of a "surprise" attack, like North Korea's invasion of the South back on June 25, 1950, or take the shape of a mushroom cloud. Edmund Burke said it long ago: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."