In his address to the Cuban people on Tuesday, President Barack Obama declared that he intended his visit to the Caribbean island to put an end to the Cold War in the Americas. He trumpeted the current 2016 presidential contest as an illustration of the United States moving on from the nearly half-century conflict with Soviet Russia. But America’s political tumult and current international affairs suggest the Cold War is merely entering a new phase.
Obama triumphantly announced:
I am here to bury the last remnants of the Cold War in the Americas. I am here to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
The president added that American democracy is so vibrant that the 2016 presidential election featured two Cuban Americans on the GOP side who attacked a president who is “a black man” and that the eventual winner of the Republican primary will face a Democrat nominee “who will either be a woman or a Democratic socialist.”
Cheekily, Obama quipped, “Who would have believed that back in 1959?”
Senator Joseph McCarthy, ironically enough. McCarthy would be far from surprised to hear that an outspoken Socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union during the Cold War would come close to the Democratic nomination. He would be surprised, however, to hear that hidden Soviet agents were not the reason for Bernie Sanders’ rise.
But McCarthy would also not be surprised to hear that Russia — importantly no longer the Soviet Union — has expanded its international involvement into Georgia, into the Ukraine, and into Syria. Russia’s bullishness is in its character, Soviet or post-Soviet.
The reports of the death of the Cold War are greatly exaggerated. Don’t get me wrong: the Soviet Union did collapse, true reform did sweep over many former Soviet republics which are now independent countries, and even today’s resurgent Russia is a weak shadow of the behemoth which threatened to remake the world in Stalin’s image. Reagan achieved some grand victories, and America can take much of the credit for ending phase one of the Cold War.
But things are not hunky dory, at home or abroad. Here are four major problems with Obama’s declaration that he has put the last nail in the Cold War coffin:
1. Political Polarization is Weakening America.
America united to face the Soviet threat, and it was largely due to our competition with that country that the United States put the first man on the moon. By contrast, the United States has become more politically polarized than at any time in the last two decades. The emergence of a declared Socialist candidate marks a new low on the Democratic side of the spectrum, and the success of a populist demagogue on the right — whose rallies feature violent protest — seems to confirm the poisonous nature of our politics.
Next Page: Russia Called Today’s Struggles “A New Period of Cold War.”
2. Russia Called Today’s Struggles “A New Period of Cold War.”
As for foreign policy, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev openly declared last month that “we have slid into a new period of Cold War.” He focused on the Russia-NATO squabbles in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the two coalitions have traded words over Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. In January, a British inquiry announced that former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was indeed poisoned on Putin’s orders in 2006.
3. Rogue Regimes Have Threatened International Relations.
This is not even mentioning the difficulties America has run into when placing sanctions on North Korea, which took strides in Nuclear testing this year, and imprisoned an American tourist last week. China has warned the United States against going too far with sanctions, but the rogue regime has surprised the world with its militancy.
The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for the terrifying attacks in Brussels on Tuesday, demonstrating that, even if the radical Muslim group is losing in the turf war in Syria and Iraq, it has the capability to deal devastating damage to the West. These attacks follow two terror strikes in Paris last year.
4. Cuba Still Has Political Prisoners.
President Obama does not pretend that everything is perfect, even in Cuba, however. Even while taking this trip to Cuba and encouraging ties with Raul Castro’s regime, Obama plans to visit about a dozen of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents at the U.S. Embassy. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who has Cuban origins, attacked Obama for pushing rapprochement with Cuba while the country still holds political prisoners, and after reports this week of nine migrants dying on their way to the United States.
Rather than touting the end of the Cold War, perhaps Obama should open his eyes. Cuba is still a messy place, Russia is still an audacious giant, and the United States faces a deficit of leadership. As Ted Cruz said in his scathing op-ed on Obama’s Cuba visit, “I have news, Mr. President: No progress has taken place. Cuba is going backward.” America must acknowledge the new Cold War, and show leadership without bellicosity.