With health care reform stuck in the mud, President Obama is trying to find ways of bringing smiles to the faces of his left-wing compatriots. One way was slapping sanctions on Chinese tires. The United Steelworkers certainly smiled. The other happened last week, when the president backpedaled on pledges to Poland and the Czech Republic about missile defense.
The American left never liked the idea of missile defense. First, it wasn’t their idea. Second, it was Ronald Reagan’s scheme. Third, the left was convinced that the then Soviet Union and the United States were moral equals — sort of. There was no “evil empire,” unless you were referring to the United States, which was committing the unpardonable sin of capitalism — successful capitalism.
The Gipper never shared the left’s ideas about the Soviet Union. He made it public that the Russians were running a wicked racket. So did some Russians like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. Yet liberals branded Mr. Reagan as a red-baiting warmonger.
But President Reagan was more than words. Through an impressive military buildup, one that reversed his incompetent predecessor’s (Jimmy Carter’s) build-down, he made it clear that he intended to beat the Soviets and break their empire.
This made left-wingers more than unhappy; it made them irate. The Soviets couldn’t be beaten, they sneered. They derided Mr. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative as “Star Wars” science fiction on the one hand and as a needless provocation of the Soviets on the other. And they joined with Western European appeasers and Russian apologists to oppose the deployment in Europe of Pershing II medium range missiles.
America, they argued, had to make concessions and demonstrate good will to the Soviets by keeping the Pershing IIs in their crates. Peaceful coexistence with the Russian bear hinged on easing its paranoia. Accommodation, not challenge, was the way to keep the bear quiet.
Most liberals watched dumbly as Lech Walesa and Polish workers fomented rebellion. Yet it was President Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher who worked behind the scenes for the benefit of the Polish rebels.
Less than two years after Ronald Reagan vacated the presidency, the Berlin Wall was torn down. Not long after, the Soviet Union collapsed. Ronald Reagan’s prescience was fully validated, much to the sullen embarrassment of the nation’s liberal establishment.
With each brick pried from the Berlin Wall, so too was pried away whatever remaining credibility liberals had in foreign affairs and national security. It was a thorough, public repudiation of liberal doctrine. For conservatism, it was a triumph of historic proportions.
George H. W. Bush, the next president, was far too gracious toward vanquished liberals. He should have traveled from Maine to California and back again underscoring their failure. But to give the first President Bush his due, perhaps he thought liberal failure was so manifest that it needed no emphasis.
But, today, we find that it did. Liberals have clung to their dogma with the same ferocity that middle Americans cling to their guns and bibles. For liberals, appeasement, under the guise of dialogue, negotiation, and magnanimous concession has never proved lacking. Lessons unlearned are lessons repeated.
But this time, in a world of multiple threats, conventional and unconventional, the reemergence of the liberal rationale and approach to the nation’s enemies, under the guiding hand of Mr. Obama, may well prove especially dangerous to America and its allies.
Presidents have always had more latitude in foreign than domestic affairs. President Obama is using this latitude to apply a bit of balm to wounded liberal sensibilities.
At the very time when the president’s approval ratings are tumbling, public support for government-controlled health care is steadily hemorrhaging, and the rest of his domestic agenda is stalled, he decided to withdraw support for deployment of components of a missile defense in Eastern Europe. Coincidence?
For those who say that this is too cynical a formulation, then let’s concede this: that an action may serve more than one purpose. Leaving the Poles and Czechs high and dry serves well the Obama doctrine of strength through weakness. It’s part of the neutering America must undergo to demonstrate to its enemies that it’s forswearing a dominate role in world affairs.
But as Ralph Peters commented:
The worst thing is how this decision’s read in Moscow. Putin, Russia’s new czar, sees this as a triumph of his will over Obama’s weak, retreating U.S. And he’s right.
For those who say that the president has not retreated entirely from support for missile defense, that he’s only adjusting it to meet likely threats, misses the point. Even if that was the president’s sole motive, the nation’s foes see it quite differently. They see it as a strategic retreat, an abandonment of stalwart allies. The ramifications will not only be felt in Eastern Europe, but elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia, where China is watching closely.
The president is making it clear that he doesn’t intend to merely apologize for American misdeeds, real or imagined. He intends to act. Appeasing the Russians dovetails nicely with a floundering president’s efforts to appease his left-wing base as well.