Fifteen years ago, the late Jean Kirkpatrick spoke at the Pumpkin Papers Dinner in Washington, D.C. The annual dinner featured her remarks following the Victor Navasky Award. It was named after the editor of the Nation Magazine who remained convinced his entire life that Alger Hiss was innocent.
During her remarks, she celebrated the end of what she called the “largest conspiracy in history” — the Soviet Union. Said the former UN Ambassador, “the central project of Communism was to invent a reality not so much to make Hiss innocent but to discredit his accusers. The aim of the lie was to destroy the very idea of objective truth. From the very beginning, said Kirkpatrick, “Lenin believed they could define reality for their political purposes”, a reality “beyond the reach of facts”.
The Soviets could thus call a coup a revolution and a dictatorship a democracy. The goal of course was to render “incredible and very…politically incorrect” the whole idea that communism itself existed. Thus it was the Soviets became extremely adept at denying unwelcome truths and fabricating welcome untruths. There was no famine in Ukraine, and they had the New York Times say so to prove it. They manufactured evidence that South Korea had started the Korean War, and I.F. Stone’s Weekly said so.
That evening she had earlier attended a reception at the Department of State in honor of Armand Hammer, the US industrialist. The award was for Hammer’s “contributions to world peace”. Shortly afterward, Kirkpatrick left the reception to be as noted above the featured speaker at the Pumpkin Paper’s Dinner. At which the Victor Navasky Award was given to none other than Armand Hammer.
While a parallel political universe has always existed in America, it was always something that existed largely on the fringes of politics. But the election of President Reagan revealed a political “reality” that had become dangerously main stream. This was the belief that both peaceful coexistence and détente were not only adequate for America’s survival but the only “reasonable” path to follow. Thus it was that Hammer could be “a contributor to world peace” while at the same time claim the Soviets with which he did business were no threat.
We tend to forget, but Reagan’s strategy was far removed from détente and peaceful coexistence. Warren E. Norquist’s “How the United States Won the Cold War” (in the 2003 Winter/Spring Intelligencer: Journal of US Intelligence Studies), explains Reagan sought to support internal disruptions with special emphasis on Poland, promote freedom, dry up sources of hard currency, overload the Soviet economy with an arms race, stop the flow of western technology, raise the costs of the wars the Soviets were supporting, and demoralize the Soviets and generate pressure for change.
But as the now Secretary of Defense Robert Gates correctly observed in his 1996 book, “Reagan, nearly alone, truly believed in 1981 that the Soviet system was vulnerable…right then.” In addition, it was Reagan says Norquist that was convinced the Soviets were master’s of the worldwide promotion of “revolutionary violence and terrorism”, even though later evidence obtained after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact revealed even the President had underestimated the extent of Soviet terrorism.
We now have an election in a year that could very well determine whether the US confronts the security issues of the new millennium or whether we pretend they do not exist. Diana West’s new book “The Death of the Grown-Up” explains why we may still have difficulty being serious about these threats: “Five days after the 9/11 atrocities, President Bush…counseled patience…telling Americans ‘This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while’”. She then continues: “The multicultural grandees and guardians of PC declared the President in error…So what if Manhattan was still burning?…So what if squads of hijackers had just transformed four US passenger planes…into ballistic missiles against American office buildings? Characterizing the response as a crusade was just as offensive.”
West further explains this adolescent response by noting how the world responded to supposedly offensive cartoons, why we failed to profile terrorists and the initial response to 9/11 — “why do they hate us”? So too with the ballistic missile and nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea. We argue whether we should meet these dictators “without conditions” as if “meetings” hold some magic elixir for peace. It appears we have forgotten the 1990’s where in the face of all the bloody terror of Hamas and Hezbollah we devolved the US response to a “peace process”– as if the Clinton era meetings with Arafat and Assad — in greater number than any other two “leaders”– led to anything else but Intifada I and II?
Too many politicians here in the US and Europe believe we are not under threat, wishing away evidence to the contrary and making excuses for the terror masters and their thug accomplices as they murder and bomb their way around the globe. We mumble about “an inside job”, “a government conspiracy” or “Bush knew”. Unwilling to face reality, we have retreated to bumper stickers and slogans, conspiracy theories and as Ambassador Kirkpatrick warned a political reality “beyond the reach of facts”. There is great danger in this, an adolescent political reality unwilling to grow-up.