Sunday, November 09, 2014

Brave New World

Austin Bay has thoughts on the 25th anniversary of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. It was the first step in the world we've lived in since then, and which seems to be ending with Russia's military revival and aggression, China's new assertiveness, and the battle for the soul of Islam raging in the greater Middle East region.

We see the Cold War as a victory for the American-led West, but don't forget, as Bay states, that at the time there was more relief than celebration in the West:

NATO nations whose troops for some four decades defended Western Europe from Communist Russian attack will also commemorate the Wall's demise, as a moment of joy and immense relief more than victory.

It was a defeat for Soviet communism and a victory for the West, have no doubt:

The Wall's fall mattered for everyone who understood the Cold War's stakes and risks. The stakes were freedom versus tyranny.

That wall kept Russia's subject people in their empire from escaping to the West. It was not a defensive wall.

Yet it did not really feel like a victory at the time.

I believe it took our victory in Desert Storm (aka the Persian Gulf War) in 1991 to really make it seem like a victory over the Soviet Union:

The Persian Gulf War was more than the liberation of Kuwait. We learned we beat a second-rate military power, but by smashing a scaled down replica of the Red Army, America really beat the USSR by proxy. The Gulf War was the military victory that confirmed the end of the Cold War as a decisive Western victory. With the obvious domination of American ground and air power culminating in the 100-hour ground war, no revivalist Russian nationalist can argue that the West did not really beat the Soviet Union.

Victory also reassured Americans that we won the Cold War--we did not merely falter last in an exhausting struggle between two teetering systems. Victory made America a "hyper power" feared or envied. Without the military victory of the Persian Gulf War, we may have viewed ourselves as lucky survivors of that struggle rather than the victors who dominate the globe. Remember that the fall of the Berlin Wall took place scant years after the argument was made by Professor Paul Kennedy that America was a declining power burdened by "imperial overstretch."

And don't forget that by the end of that year of battlefield victory, the Soviet Union itself disappeared as the imperial provinces declared independence and the Russians refused to use force to retain them (well, until 2008 with Georgia and 2014 with Ukraine, of course).

So I believe that the sequence of fall of the Berlin Wall, the Persian Gulf War victory, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union were necessary to deliver the appearance of a real victory over our Soviet enemy.

Perhaps when Ukraine builds a real wall--for defense--along the Crimean isthmus, we will declare the transitional post-Cold War era that never really got a name of its own over.

That's in the works:

The defensive structures will include ditches, test-track lanes, vehicle-barrier trenches and optical surveillance towers to detect troop and vehicle movement from the Russian side, the government says.

And then we can figure out what kind of world we have now. Win that world. And then name it.

Let's see if we are brave enough to win this new world, which still has creatures intent on achieving evil ends in it.

As Bay notes (and as I have), the Western  useful idiots who defended the Soviets are still around in Putin's service.