Monday, January 04, 2010

Truth Will Out

It may take twenty years, but eventually, truth will out:
The year 1989 changed the world. It moved us from a world of division and nuclear blackmail to one of new opportunity and unprecedented prosperity. It set the stage for our contemporary era: globalization, the triumph of free markets, the spread of democracy. It ushered in the great global economic boom that lifted billions out of poverty around the world and established America as the one and only superpower.
Yet it was a dangerous triumph, chiefly because we claimed it for our own and scarcely bothered to fully understand how this great change came to pass. We told ourselves stick-figure parables of defiance and good-versus-evil triumph, summed up in Ronald Reagan's clarion call: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
From the vantage point of 20 years, we should be wiser. The reality is that "our" victory in the Cold War was not what we thought it was, nor did it happen the way we think it did. Most painfully, the myths we spun about it have hurt the world and ourselves.
It was, in truth, a Pyrrhic victory that took more than 40 years to come about, and was more about the edificial nature of the Soviet Union and its weak economy than about America's "strong defense"...altho to be fair that had a large part to play in the drama, certainly in terms of speeding it up.
Meyer raises some interesting points beyond this obvious trope, that the United States and in particular the Reagan administration have been too quick and too self-centered in picking up all the credit.
Indeed, many myths, like populist revolt overthrowing the Warsaw Pact, come into question.
The central point is, the Soviet Union was doomed from the beginning. It was really a matter of time and economics.
Just as the fall of America was ordained in the early days of its creation: one nation was not under God, but several disparate islands of view. White, black, male, female, rich, poor, these groups, history shows, cannot all live under the same roof forever. It really is just a matter of time, as history demonstrates.
But note Meyer's third fallacy that came out of 1989:
A third myth is the most dangerous: the idea of the United States as emancipator, a liberator of repressed peoples. This crusading brand of American triumphalism has become gospel over the past two decades in certain foreign policy circles, especially among neoconservatives.
He has a point: every war we've engaged in, with the exception of one, since 1989 has been a patrician war of "freedom". The sole exception? Preventing ethnic cleansing in the former Warsaw Pact state of Yugoslavia.
Indeed, many of our wars for freedom have ended up oppressing sectors of population worse than before we arrived to fight (the Kurds after Gulf War I spring to mind), and most, if not all, have left the nation we've battled in far worse for the wear and war. This lesson is being demonstrated now in Iraq (and eventually Afghanistan) to our utter embarassment.
Imagine if we had invested that postwar "peace dividend" in our infrastructure, or education, or job retraining, or healthcare, and freed Americans instead of people who meant us no harm, caused us no harm, and whom we could have safely ignored (obviously, the Taliban and Al Qaeda do not fit this profile).
Imagine the trillions we would have shored up our economy with. Imagine actually going in and winning a quick war against Al Qaeda because we weren't tamping down Somalia in the 90s (or worrying ourselves over which orifice of what woman our President was filling, but I digress...).
It's a shame that it takes history to give us wisdom, that we do not learn from the mistakes of our ancestors or even from our elders, who fought and beat a hegemonic empire, likely the most powerful on the planet, to win our freedom. Practically by ourselves (the French helped).
Wouldn't we be ashamed if some other nation, say, Italy, came here and fought for our freedom for us?