August 15, 2008
How the East Was LostBy Bruce Walker
Today, China is a brash, tough power -- unfree, undemocratic, enthused with nationalistic self-importance, and hosting the Olympic Games with fake-smiles hiding feral teeth. Today, Russia is a cynical authoritarian state, rallying behind a former functionary of the KGB as its "leader" and pushing around smaller nations, like Georgia, to show who is boss. Today, Moslems believe overwhelmingly that America, the liberator of tens of millions of Moslems from godless Communism, is the "Great Satan." What happened?
Ronald Reagan won the Cold War almost without firing a shot. He defeated Soviet power with moral fortitude, with strategic alliances in the Vatican and Number 10 Downing Street, and with American dollars instead of the American blood. Reagan and the men around him knew the horrors of war; they knew the nightmare of totalitarianism; they grasped the reality of weapons of mass destruction in evil hands; they understood lives of hardship. They were real men.
President Reagan brought victory but more than that, he brought hope. He brought hope not only to America, but he brought hope to the whole world. The work undone at the end of the Second World War was completed. For one brief moment, the whole world stared over the cliffs of ancient tyranny and saw the sweeping vistas of human liberty. Young people in Beijing saw these vistas; old men in Moscow saw them too; brave Moslem freedom fighters in the wilds of Afghanistan saw them; comfortable West Berliners saw them too. What Reagan did was more than just complete the Second World War: He completed the dreams of the American Revolution.
The Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 did not complete the miracle of America. These military and diplomatic victories simply made America possible. Washington could make the dream possible, and his leadership guided the new nation through difficult times, but the nation needed men like Jefferson, Mason, and Madison to work the dream into form. After our revolution, America was admired by much of the civilized world. That seems odd to us today -- we are so accustomed to being hated by the world -- but it was true: Latin Americans consciously modeled their new states after our new state (which is why there is a "United States of Brazil" and a "United States of Mexico") and the French consciously modeled much, though not all, of their revolution after us. Washington and those who completed the work he began made America the recognized hope of the world.
Ronald Reagan brought America back to that image of hope. But after Reagan, the candle glowed brightly, then it flickered, then it died. Why? The Old World has always been torn between the remnants of its ancient empires and the bold promise of human liberty. Its elites, its sophisticates, its nationalists have always whispered that America and its promises are lies. German culture, Japanese uniqueness, Chinese civilization, Islamic greatness, French grandeur and Russian tsars of myriad denominations -- these were truth, and liberty was a lie.
For a few brief years, the East no longer believed the tale of its political and ideological bosses. Hong Kong, not Beijing, was the future of China. Bricks of the Berlin Wall were solid souvenirs of Marx's folly. Russians dreamed of a joyful future. Reagan had been Washington again, and when Madison and Jefferson did their work, the world would be well, so it seemed.
Then nothing happened. When Reagan left office, it was like when Lincoln was shot. The keen mind and the wondrous soul which endured everything to emancipate men was gone. Small minds and smaller hearts scurried in. George H. Bush, famously, sacked the men of Reagan and replaced them with more sensible functionaries. He could "talk" to leaders, unlike Reagan, who talked to ordinary people.
Still, Bush tried hard. He knew war and hated war, which is hardly a fault -- Reagan, too, hated war: All morally sensible men do. He fought Saddam Hussein, and then considered a diplomatic victory equal to liberation, failing to do with the whole world behind him to do what his son would do largely alone. Bush Sr. knew the leaders of China and was comfortable working with them, but when the people of China rose up, the President seemed at something of a loss.
Worse, much worse, followed this president. George H. Bush was an honorable man. He loved his wife and children. He volunteered to fight for his nation as the youngest pilot in the Pacific Theater. He came from an old American family committed to public service. As vice president, he served President Reagan loyally. The Soviet Union disintegrated under Bush Sr., not under Reagan.
The president who followed Bush may even have thought that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a bad idea. He had, of course, visited Moscow during the Vietnam War and, far from volunteering to fight totalitarianism, had dodged the draft with deceptions.
Clinton was the antithesis of Reagan. God was at the center of Reagan's life, while Clinton was at the center of Clinton's life. Reagan adored Nancy and would never dream of hurting her (ditto for George H. Bush and Barbara), but Clinton used Hillary like he used everyone in his life: a chess piece, in her case a queen and not a pawn, but a chess piece nonetheless and not a person. Most of all, Clinton despised liberty. Governments, cultures, genders, races, international organizations and every other manacle of the human spirit were his most precious possessions.
No one could have been worse for America and worse for the world than this pampered, vain man-child. America and the world needed, at least, a Truman to take over after Reagan. Anyone who cared about posterity could see that our first priority was to see that Russia after the Cold War became like Germany after the Second World War; whatever the cost to us, Russia must become a prosperous, peaceful, free democracy.
Anyone could see that the pressure which worked on the Soviets would work on the Chinese Communists as well. Students in Beijing begged the world for freedom in 1989, something unprecedented under the Soviets. The theme of liberty should have permeated every transaction between America and China. Not just government, but business should have resonated with the importance of human rights over commercial profits. If Clinton believed that, he might have been able to rally the nation, but Clinton emphatically rejected the value of liberty over comfort.
The Presidency in eight short years went from being occupied by a moral colossus to a moral dwarf. Clinton sold national security secrets for something as banal as campaign contributions. Although Yeltsin was President of Russia during all of Clinton's administration, our clever Clinton was unable to prevent on August 19, 1998 - one decade ago - the collapse of Russian financial markets and the destruction of the hope of a Russian middle class. This was the midpoint between the presidential campaign to elect the successor to Reagan and our grim world today -- ten years ago.
What was Clinton doing ten years ago? He was on national television, the very same day that the Russian economy collapsed and the rise of Putin was assured, explaining that he had an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky and, by the way, he was ordering cruise missiles to hit aspirin factories in Sudan to combat a terrorist threat. Soon he would be waging a politically correct war against Serbia, infuriating ordinary Russians and hitting the Chinese embassy during this "war."
When Clinton left office, the dream of Chinese students was dead -- washed away not just by a morally indifferent American government but also by a patently disgraceful American president. When Clinton left office, Putin became the new Tsar of Russia. When Clinton left office, the image of America as a liberator of Moslems was a memory and the image of a debauched American president was in the minds of every devout Moslem.
Some pundits have compared today with 1938. That is a gross disservice to Neville Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin and other politicians in the democratic West. Chamberlain was willing to do almost anything to prevent the Great War from again murdering a whole generation of young men in the trenches of France. His heart, if not his mind, was working well. Chamberlain ultimately declared war on Hitler and, after Churchill took over in 1940, Chamberlain, who was dying, provided Churchill with indispensable political support in cabinet so that Britain fought on and did not make peace with evil.
Clinton was not fit to shine the shoes of Chamberlain. The American president in 1993, with a partisan majority in Congress and a reservoir of goodwill, needed only to spend the largess of the Reagan peace dividend on completing the liberation of the world. He needed only to use his influence with Democrats to persuade them to support, with automatic Republican support, a structure of national and international pressure on China to embrace freedom. He needed only to ensure that the proven superiority of American arms in Desert Storm be used as a lever for liberty around the world. He needed only to use his gifts of rhetoric to ennoble and advance, before all else, human rights.
Within months after Clinton left office, the dam burst, the war began, and the hope of Reagan turned sour. The bosses of China quietly maneuvered their rising empire into a geopolitical position that supported genocide in distant Darfur because that hurt America. The new Tsar used natural resources and natural envy to brew venom in the Russian mind and to make America again the "main enemy."
The legacy of Reagan was lost. His peace dividend was wasted on midnight basketball and other shameless pandering. The moral high ground of Reagan tumbled down into the muck of Clinton. The world that watched Reagan with awe now turned away in disgust. It is all gone, or just about all gone. Our nation once elected wise men. It now votes for small children like Clinton and Obama. Panting for power and fame has replaced fighting for principles, often alone.
Can anyone imagine Clinton or Obama doing anything... alone? Government is, to them, a toy, an object of amusement, a super-sized television set. The blood that brave men and women shed for them each day so that we may be safe and free means nothing to immature schoolchildren like Clinton and Obama. Human freedom, served to them on a silver platter all their lives, requires no cost -- they never had to pay for it did they? -- and so it requires no blood, no sweat, no tears.
I fear for my country and the world. Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan left us with nothing but hope -- hope that seemed eight years earlier, in the malaise of Carter and his astonished discovery that Bolsheviks were bad, the hope of an impossible dream -- and since Reagan left his hopeful world has dimmed each year. The Russian people should be happy and free. The Chinese government should be retreating before the banner of freedom. The East, the Old World, was won -- and then it was lost. At what cost to the world, we can only consider with dread.
Bruce Walker is the author of two books: Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie, and his recently published book, The Swastika against the Cross: The Nazi War on Christianity.