Thursday, February 18, 2010

30 Years Ago 8: More Geopolitics

Tom Friedman, in his February 14 column in The New York Times, addresses a point I mentioned here, which is the contrast between the events of 20 years ago, centering around the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the events of 30 years ago, such as the hostage-taking in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I decided that I prefer to write about hockey 30 years ago, rather than geopolitics. But, as I noted here, the two are not totally separate issues. The performance of the U.S. hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics took on high symbolic importance in the context of the dark world scene that prevailed at that time.

One comment about the specifics of Friedman's article: He criticizes Ronald Reagan by writing that "Reagan glorified the Afghan mujahedeen" [Muslim militants who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan]. It is correct that Reagan did so, and that that laid the groundwork for networks of Islamist terrorists, including Osama Bin-Laden, to subsequently attack the U.S. and other Western countries. However, two caveats need to be mentioned:

First, American support for the majahedeen was initiated by Jimmy Carter's administration. There is a marvelous piece of video in the CNN miniseries "The Cold War", showing Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, looking almost James Bond-like as he exhorts the Muslim fighters to resist the Soviet invasion. Carter, who, as he began his presidency with naive idealism, thought he could negotiate our way out of the Cold War, had, by 1979, belatedly come around to the view that the Cold War was a real war, and that he needed to fight it.

Second, even if we had better appreciated at the time the long-term consequences, I don't see how we could have avoided siding with the mujahedeen. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenarios have repeatedly caused dilemmas for American foreign policy.

A prime example from a bit further back in history is our alliance with Stalin against Hitler during World War II. Many people (especially those on the left) justify that with the notion that Hitler was a uniquely evil tyrant that needed to be stopped at all costs. In this post, I expressed my disagreement with that point of view. A case can be made that Stalin was a worse tyrant than Hitler, but Hitler was more ruthlessly aggressive against other countries, so I agree that our distasteful alliance with Stalin was necessary.

Similarly, I consider the Soviet Union to have represented the greater evil in 1979, and therefore the U.S. needed to construct the necessary alliances to contain Soviet expansionism.

Let's hope that Friedman's dream of returning to the optimistic atmosphere of 1977, after the influence of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Soviet Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev had been eliminated from the Middle East, and when Nasser's successor Anwar al Sadat was willing to go to Jerusalem for a summit meeting with Israeli leaders, can be realized.

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