The Soviet Union may be long gone, but Americans would do well to remember its weaknesses. Both military powers short on imagination, the similarities are sobering.
I have deplored more than once the lack of flexibility and creativity in American foreign policy formulation under Obama. Obama’s Iran policy is perhaps the most obvious example, in particular in the aftermath of the agreement Iran made with Turkey and Brazil that opened a diplomatic door Obama rushed to slam shut.
The consequences of American intransigence in this case are likely to be serious. The failure of a reform candidate (Obama) to make a sincere effort at finding a solution different from the old neo-con bullying of Iran will discredit “liberalism,” flexibility, compromise, engagement, and diplomacy even though Obama gives no more than a nod in the direction of any of those concepts as far as Iran policy is concerned. And on the other side of the coin, his policy will lay the groundwork for a resurgence of American bullying, militarism, and empire-building.
It is ironic, to use the mildest term I can think of, to recall how during the old Cold War days of the 1970s we sneered at “arterioschlerosis of the bureaucratic arteries” in the USSR of the aged Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko. How much more nimble and creative does Washington look today than Moscow back then?
The reasons for this failure of American policy makers to devise ways of piloting the U.S. ship of state through international waters deserve serious introspection. One clue comes, again, from the Soviet Union. As the old leadership dug its heels ever deeper into the Kremlin floors in the 1970s in an increasingly desperate attempt to retain power, famed Marxist Russian dissident historian Roy Medvedev described the curious inability of Soviet reformers to defend themselves against a resurgence of hard-line, militarist, anti-democratic Stalinism (for clarity, let’s call them the Soviet neo-cons). One of his points seems directly applicable to the timidity of the Obama Administration vis-a-vis discredited hard-line American politicians:
A most important determining factor in the activity of the moderate-conservatives of all shades is the desire to avoid any kind of crisis or open conflict and as far as possible to maintain or in any case to prolong the none-too-stable equilibrium which now exists in the top ranks of the party. They are therefore in no hurry to find now long overdue solutions for many economic and political problems, and some very crucial ones they simply try to ignore or hush up. [Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (NY: Norton Library, 1975), 55-56.]
The Soviet Union of course collapsed less than two decades later, and there is hardly a word in the above description that does not apply to the confused Democratic wing of the American establishment. Every day that Obama avoids clear public condemnation of neo-con innovations such as preventive war, pretending that Iran is the new global threat, and empire-building only further compromises him.