If they have Internet access in the afterlife, the late Chicago Tribune publisher (and legendary isolationist) Colonel Robert R. McCormick must be a very happy spirit, indeed. Reading the latest column from Pat Buchanan would bring a smile to the old Colonel's face, for it sounds like something straight out of the America First Committee, the McCormick-led movement to keep America out of World War II.
But then again, Buchanan has long been a fan of America First, citing the organization's "monumental" achievements in postponing our entry until after Germany attacked Russia. Because of that, Buchanan writes, Soviet Russia, not America, bore the brunt of the fighting, bleeding and dying to defeat Nazi Germany." Never mind that a better prepared--and armed--America, entering the war sooner, might have saved Eastern Europe from 40 years of Soviet domination. In Patrick J. Buchanan's 1940 World View, it was preferable to let the Russians fight the Nazis, whatever the long-term consequences might have been.
Similar thoughts are on display in his new column, entitled "Who Lost Russia?" Buchanan begins by contrasting the current chill in U.S.-Russian relations with the heady days of Reagan and Gorbachev, fresh from their agreement to eliminate intermediate range weapons in Europe. He remembers the two leaders walking in Red Square, being congratulated by throngs of ordinary Russians:
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.
Since then, he contends, successive U.S. administrations have squandered the relationship forged between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. And, Buchanan places much of the blame on the Bush White House, for "interfering" in matters on Russia's doorstep. A few sample observations:
-- 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.
-- 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.
--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?
Apparently, Pat is channeling Charles Lindbergh these days. But I digress.
Truth be told, the U.S. didn't "lose" Russia as much as Russian democracy lost its own way under Vladimir Putin. As John O'Sullivan writes (ironically enough, in the Chicago Sun-Times), Mr. Putin's government has:
"...imposed a tight control on political life, allowed the state seizure of private assets held by political opponents, threatened to cut off energy to former Soviet satellites, blockaded the Estonian embassy in Moscow, and refused to cooperate with a British police investigation into a murder committed by Russian agents in London."
Mr. O'Sullivan notes that President Bush has an historic opportunity to confront Russia's recent threat-and-intimidation campaign, by fashioning a "stable, long-term Western response to Russian aggressiveness." He advocates using money and soft power to promote democracy in eastern Europe, while showing Russia that it also has a place in this trans-Atlantic economic union.
As for Patrick J. Buchanan, he seems to prefer that Russia remain on its present course, so Putin can anoint a successor who will attempt undermine pro-western regimes in Tiblisi and Kiev; launch cyber-wars against a Baltic State, and modernize its nuclear arsenal in response to deployment of a missile defense system.
Buchanan is correct when he notes that Moscow's internal politics are its own affair. But when those politics manifest themselves in policies that pose a threat to the west, the U.S. has an obligation to respond. The "NATO expansion," which Buchanan describes in such ominous terms is more an economic and political construct that a military redeployment. As we noted recently, the planned U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe will be almost minuscule, even with the proposed WMD basing in Poland and the Czech Republic. If that's not a deferential nod to Russia, I don't know what is.
Likewise, President Bush has been equally cordial in his overtures to Mr. Putin, inviting him to join the western economic alliance and even cooperate on missile defense. But the Russian leader wants none of that, believing that the spread of political and economic freedom represents a threat to his country's power and influence. Lest we forget, Vladimir Putin learned about politics in the ranks of the KGB. Given that background, it should be little surprise that he would adopt a perspective--and the bullying tactics--of a Soviet-era leader, while accusing the U.S. of re-igniting the Cold War. Talk about chutzpah.
As for Mr. Buchanan, that trip down Memory Lane and into Red Square omits one important fact. The intermediate range arms treaty came about only because the west--behind the leadership of Ronald Reagan--was willing to take on the Soviet Union, using all available resources to counter its influence and military might. Gorbachev agreed to dismantle his SS-20s because Mr. Reagan made good on a promise to deploy cruise missiles and Pershing IIs in Western Europe. The Russians understood that Reagan meant business and wouldn't be intimidated by Soviet threats.
It's an example that Pat Buchanan has apparently forgotten, and George Bush would do well to emulate.