THE COLUMN: How We Got Here

Michael Walsh07 Mar, 2022 6 Min Read
Wrong men at the wrong time in the wrong place, twice,

The seeds of the conflict in the Ukraine, now the subject of both a shooting war and a ferocious propaganda barrage on both sides—and by "both sides" I mean Russia vs. the West, using Ukraine as its proxy—were sown more than 30 years ago, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union on Boxing Day in 1991. At what seemed almost a single stroke, the goal of American foreign policy for the previous four decades had been achieved. The mother church of Marxism-Leninism had fallen, the Evil Empire destroyed, and the brave new world of "the end of history and the last man" was dawning.

Although Ronald "we win, they lose" Reagan was out of office, this was the Gipper's triumph. Playing poker against the Soviets' aging and disillusioned chess masters, Reagan bet the house on the Strategic Defense Initiative—widely opposed and even mocked by the pro-Russian Leftist press, led by the New York Times (who else?), as "Star Wars"—and essentially bankrupted the Kremlin. Unfamiliar with the concept of a bluff, Mikhail Gorbachev turned over his king and walked away from the board. 

I vividly recall standing outside in the freezing cold of a mid-February day in Dresden, on the 40th anniversary of the firebombing of the city by British and American bombers in 1945. Standing in front of the newly restored Semper Opera House, Erich Honecker, the East German party boss, gave a stemwinder of a speech, inveighing against the very "Star Wars" (that was the term he used: Sternkriege) the Times was mocking stateside. "I think Star Wars is bullshit," whispered a German-speaking American colleague of mine, "but it sure has these guys scared." Within six years, both the German Democratic Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were gone.

Fooled ya.

It took both the Times and the communists (but I repeat myself) to realize the truth of Reagan's game and by then it was too late. The Cold War was over, without a shot being fired. We won, they lost.

Officials in the "Star Wars" project rigged a crucial 1984 test and faked other data in a program of deception that misled Congress as well as the intended target, the Soviet Union, four former Reagan Administration officials said.

The deception program was designed to feed the Kremlin half-truths and lies about the project, the former Administration officials said. It helped persuade the Soviets to spend tens of billions of dollars to counter the American effort to develop a space-based shield against nuclear attack proposed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1983, they said. The test also deceived news organizations, which reported it widely.

Ha ha ha. With the U.S.S.R. prostrate and the former Warsaw Pact nations spinning away into freedom and autonomy, the largest fire sale in history was underway. Canny operators, such as George Soros instantly saw an opportunity, moving quickly into the economic and diplomatic vacuum with such aplomb that he overnight became a powerful figure among the ruins.

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All the United States had to do was be magnanimous in victory. The Germans under Helmut Kohl had already provided a model; Germany was reunited less than a year after the Wall fell and the East German government crumbled. Kohl's boldest decision was to exchange the worthless Ostmark (East mark) for the sound Deutsche mark at a one-for-one rate. While this was expensive for the West Germans, it turned out to be well worth it. There was little or no lingering resentment about the ways things had turned out, and while the Ossis were regarded as poorly dressed bumpkins, there was no trouble.

Magnanimity, however, proved too heavy a lift for the clueless and vengeful George Herbert Walker Bush administration. Widely seen in European capitals at the time as a "safe pair of hands" Bush I immediately squandered the greatest economic, diplomatic and intelligence community success of the modern era. The one-time Director of Central Intelligence could not or would not grasp that the game had changed, that Russia no longer had to be a mortal enemy of capitalism and the West, and that the overthrow of communism would usher in a prolonged period both of disruption and revanchism that could have been properly managed without triumphalism.

Your Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party, always wrong.

But the U.S. did... nothing. As Soros knew instinctively, all of eastern Europe and western Russia was now up for grabs. I can attest to the bewilderment and anger of friends and acquaintances in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere at the silence radiating from Washington at the time. 

Rather than extending the hand of friendship to the defeated but still proud Russians and the other "captive peoples," succeeding administrations under Clinton and Bush II added insult to injury by bringing the Central and Eastern European countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) starting in 1999—a deliberate provocation and a world-historical blunder of epic proportions matched only by George W. Bush's incomprehensible invasion of Iraq after 9/11. 

Meanwhile, post-Gorbachev, Russia descended into a gangster-driven oligarchy under the drunken Boris Yeltsin. I left the collapsing U.S.S.R. for the last time during the summer of 1991, just before the coup attempt against Gorbachev, and already the gangsters (Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Azerbaijani—everybody but the Slavs) had the run of the place. The Americans who were preaching the virtues of capitalism in a land that had only known empty shelves for 70 years were regarded as thieves out to fleece Russia (and many of them were), but regulated capitalism wasn't going to cut it at a time when it was every man for himself. "Joint venture" was one English phrase that every Russian knew, and Swiss bank accounts were the place to be. It took the firm, bloody hand of Vladimir Putin to restore some semblance of order.

And so the opportunity was lost to turn Russia from an enemy to, if not a friend, at least an adversary with whom we could live and do business. America does have an enemy today, but it's China, not Russia.

Putin, who was a KGB operative based in Dresden during my time in the former DDR (among the Stasi, he had a reputation for ruthlessness and cunning even back then), is not the kind of man into whose eyes you can look and see his soul. The moody Slavic temperament is very poorly understood by sunny Americans, alternating between pride and despair, all laced with centuries of grievance against a West it both passionately wants to belong to and equally passionately wants to reject.

No American has ever had the experience of watching his country vanish before his eyes, and those who think that Putin operates by the same set of "values" as the international atheists who currently populate the upper reaches of the American government, foreign-policy establishment, and bureaucracy have never met a Russian, read a single word of Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy, or heard a note of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, based on Pushkin. As Aristotle intimates in the Poetics, culture and politics are the same thing, and it's only Americans who don't seem to be able to understand that. 

The current American fixation on "diversity" (itself the partial result of decades of KGB meddling in the civil-rights movement and inflaming black sensibilities) has no purchase in the rest of the world, which regards it as inexplicable and the very antithesis of social cohesion and the nation-state. The last thing the Ukrainians want right now is diversity: they want a Ukraine for Ukrainians. Meanwhile, for the Russians, the notion of admitting the Ukraine to NATO has proven to be the last straw; the closest American analogy might be turning Texas into an "independent" extension of Mexican hegemony in the southwest. The differences are irreconcilable. 

Bush II's second inaugural address has proven to be spectacularly wrong in its central observations, a woolly wish list of platitudes and bromides that has only worsened America's position on the global stage. After all, a country that doesn't try very hard to maintain its cultural and territorial integrity isn't much of a country and certainly won't last very long. 

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. 

As the war in the breadbasket of Europe rages on, freedom is only secondarily the issue now. It's the hunger in the dark places that we have to worry about. “The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state," wrote the Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1795the natural state is one of war." Just 123 years after Kant wrote those words, once-formidable Prussia disappeared from the map. Putin is determined not to let that happen to the Russia of his imagination, the Russia of Peter the Great and of Tsar Alexander I, who saved the Motherland from the existential threat of Napoleon. He may not succeed, but he's willing to die trying—and to kill as many people in the process as he has to.

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. His latest book is Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, published by St. Martin's Press. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, coming this fall.

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13 comments on “THE COLUMN: How We Got Here”

  1. Your analysis is an extraordinary portrayal of our times. One that says the people of eastern Europe can only be a vassal of Russia for the greater good of others.
    It's like the non Russian people of eastern Europe aren't real. The Poles, Ukrainians and others are just disposable plastic characters in a larger picture and don't have any inherent value. The Poles invaded by Russia in WW2 and then forced into a slave state controlled by Russia after the war. The Ukrainians hunted down by the Russians post WW1, starved and moved to distant places in the decades that followed and always living in a police state with dismal lives and no economic opportunity.
    And one day, they get free. The rebuild their countries and begin to create free and prosperous lives for themselves. Despite the past, they make no effort to get revenge on Russia. Armies are modest with no ability to project power. Ukraine even gives up nuclear weapons (1994) for the promise of border security (a promise of Russia & the USA). Ukraine didn't even go on the offensive when Russia broke the promise and took Crimea and part of eastern Ukraine.
    The only thing these people did was try to preserve their way of life by joining a cooperative called NATO. An organization that never attacked Russia and exists only to provide mutual support in case a third party tries to take their country.
    This small and feeble attempt to keep the freedom and opportunity recently gained is condemned because it might upset some superpower 'game'.
    ====
    I get having an American centric real politic view of the world, it's close to my view. I even get trying to understand the view and position of Russia. But the people of eastern Europe also have views and it is unreasonable to expect that they wouldn't act on it.
    And frankly, what should the people of Ukraine do post 2014 when the treaty was abrogated and Ukraine left defenseless and under constant threat from Russia.
    Maybe the problem is that for 3 decades we have refused to look at the actions of Russia and to dismiss Russian interference with other sovereign nations. My parents saw appeasement in the 1930s and I see it now. It is not Bush's fault, it is the fault of Russia and our not taking action in the first decade of this century when the trend in Russia was clear. Putin was as clear as "Mein Kamph" in words (2007/8) and actions in Georgia.
    We were successful in Germany and Japan because we occupied the country long enough to change the culture. That was never going to happen in Russia and the only policy was to let Russia fully engage in the western economy and to see if they would / could self reform. And keep the military ready in case it didn't work out.
    We should not get into a hot war with Russia over Ukraine (for a bunch or reasons not part of this discussion) but we should exact a price ... put Russia back in the box they were in for 40 years. Take them out of the western economic system and also anyone who supports them or interacts commercially with them. It will take a couple of costly decades but the alternative is a real war.
    =====
    Michael, I like your work but I think you missed the mark on this one.

  2. "Russia vs. the West"

    It's Russia vs Globohomos. Propagandists for globohomos, the degenerate criminal syndicate that in includes Soros, the WEF, the Bushes, the Clintons, the Bidens, and the Obamas, want everyone to believe the globohomos are "the West". They aren't. Stop buying into this BS propaganda.

  3. wrong
    the 1991 Iraq invasion was the Great Mistake
    without 1991, there's no 9/11, no 2003 invasion, no 2021 defeat at the hands of illiterate goatherders
    the troops that were supposed to be home by Easter 1991 were still in the Mideast cleaning up Bush I's mess thirty years later

  4. “ and already the gangsters (Armenian, Georgian, Jewish, Azerbaijani—everybody but the Slavs) had the run of the place.” Why the reference to a particular religion? Armenians and Georgians are Christian, Azerbaijani are Muslim. It is true that Jew was a designation on Soviet internal passports and had a designated region where they were obliged to reside at one time.

  5. I'm a fan of Michael Walsh, having read and enjoyed 'The Devil's Pleasure Palace,' but some of this is simply bad history. In what way did Bush I engage in triumphalism? Isn't it the case that he did nearly the opposite, and has been widely credited for deftly handling the Soviet Union's demise? I'm certainly willing to entertain criticism of that administration's actions, which apparently included a deliberate hands-off approach with respect to Hungary, Poland, et al so as to minimize provocation in Moscow, but there's no real evidence for such criticism on offer here. The more significant flaw is the notion that the Clinton and Bush II administrations brought "the Central and Eastern European countries into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) starting in 1999," as if NATO membership was somehow imposed externally in each case. In fact, the populations of these countries overwhelmingly favor closer ties to the West, including EU and NATO membership, as has been the case since the early 1990s. Given what they endured at the hands of Russians last century, who could blame them? I also think this characterization is broadly inaccurate: "Meanwhile, for the Russians, the notion of admitting the Ukraine to NATO has proven to be the last straw." Beyond Putin and his coterie, are we really to believe that the vast majority of Russians feel this way? I'm not convinced.

    1. I think you many have misread me, or perhaps I wasn't clear. I meant that Bush could have managed a handling of the victory without triumphalism, but they didn't even manage a handling of the victory. My larger point is that, in my opinion at the time, on the ground in the affected territories, and still today, Bush drastically mishandled the transition, largely thanks to James A. Baker III. Finally, "for the Russians" is simply journalistic shorthand for "the Russian government" and was not meant to include all Russians.

  6. Excellent, clear-sighted analysis that puts the blame precisely on whom it belongs although there is much more blame to go around. The question, however, is as always, "What is to be done?" I suggest that there is currently no possibility of extricating ourselves from the mess we are in, only a hope to ride it out pending regime change. And by that, I mean ousting the Democrat/Rino power center now controlling our destinies. Restoration of an America-centric government is the only viable alternative to utter dissolution and destruction. However, as The Duke of Wellington is alleged to have said, it will be "a close-run thing." Our domestic enemies may be too strong for the desired outcome to become reality, in which case, be prepared to switch from the ballot box to the bullet box and hope not to run out of ammunition.

  7. Spot on! The Bush family have damaged if not destroyed everything they touched. I apologize for voting for them.

  8. Too bad the North after the Civil War and America after the Cold War didn't follow the classic advice, "You won. Get over it."

    1. My $.02: Interesting point. Southerners did, in fact, "see their country vanish before their eyes," in 1865. Defeated on the battlefield, they moved to the political struggle, which one can posit they essentially won with the end of Reconstruction in 1876. By and after then, former Confederates filled the vacuum leading to de facto and de jure segregation that lasted the better part of 100 years.

  9. Er, ‘slam dunk’.

    Saddam hornswoggled everyone about his possession of WMD, in a successful attempt to keep Iran at bay, and was certainly an advocate of Jihad. So much for ‘incomprehensible’.

    However I’m with you on Soros and feckless American policy since then.

    I remember once Soros sneered at Gates’ charity saying that public health was easier than public policy.

    Please less ‘charity’ from these delusional megalomaniacs.
    ============

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