Over at Power Line, Scott Johnson is giving President Obama a hard time for minimizing the importance of the United States in winning the Cold War. First, the context:
Then, within a few short years, the world as it was ceased to be. Make no mistake: this change did not come from any one nation alone. The Cold War reached a conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years, and because the people of Russia and Eastern Europe stood up and decided that its end would be peaceful.
Then, in a later interview:
Q: In your speech this morning, you said the Cold War reached its conclusion because of the actions of many nations over many years. Mr. President, are the Russian sensitivities so fragile that you can’t say the Cold War was won? The West won it? And it was led by a combination of Democratic and Republican American presidents?
OBAMA: Well, listen, the — I think that you just cut out Lech Walesa and the Poles. You just cut out Havel and the Czechs. There were a whole bunch of people throughout Eastern Europe who showed enormous courage.
And I think that it is very important in this part of the world to acknowledge the degree to which people struggled for their own freedom. I’m very proud of the traditions of Democratic and Republican presidents to lift the Iron Curtain.
But, you know, we don’t have to diminish other people in order to recognize our role in that history.
It’s certainly true that many nations played a role in winning the Cold War, and it’s also certainly true that America, led by Ronald Reagan, played the primary role. Obama brings up Lech Walesa and Solidarity. In late 1981 and 1982, when Solidarity was being actively suppressed by the Polish and Soviet tyrants, the United States stood virtually alone in its support for Solidarity (see Reagan’s War, chapter 15), without which they would have been crushed.
It’s not uncommon for Democrats to minimize the role played by Reagan and America in winning the Cold War, and, in context, Obama might even have a point. What I find most remarkable about Obama’s remarks is that he concedes that our victory in the Cold War was not inevitable. This is a major change from the standard liberal position.
When Reagan took office, the conventional wisdom said that the Soviet Union would be around forever. We had to learn to coexist. Ronald Reagan disagreed. He said that we could defeat the Soviet Union, and he laid out a plan to do it. Reagan recognized that many of the things we were doing to coexist with the Soviet Union were actually propping them up, making it possible for their tyranny to survive.
Except for the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic party (which is now extinct), Liberals were appalled by Reagan’s effort. They said that the Soviet Union could not be defeated, and Reagan’s effort would just lead to nuclear war. They were wrong. The Soviet Union was defeated, the Cold War ended, and there was no nuclear war.
This put liberals into a very awkward position. They had opposed the very policies that won the Cold War. If they wanted to deny Reagan credit for the victory, they had to take a new position. They now argue that the Cold War victory (which they previously said was impossible) was actually inevitable. Reagan’s efforts were unnecessary; the Soviet Union would have fallen anyway.
Obama’s remarks take him off that message. By saying that the victory in the Cold War required the efforts of many nations, he implicitly concedes that it was not inevitable. He doesn’t say so, but if it was not inevitable, there is no way not to credit Reagan’s leadership, and no way to deny that the liberals were wrong.
Why the change? I think Obama sacrifices little by conceding the bad judgement of the liberals of the early 1980s. He is too young to be personally tainted by it, and most of them are retired anyway. Given that, why not acknowledge the obvious truth?