Getting into the elevator Wednesday evening to go up to the BBC Washington studios, I felt as I had since the beginning of this eternal presidential campaign in January 2005: pulse slightly elevated, the dull ache of an eyestrain headache, but otherwise normal. Leaving after two interviews, I felt strangely rejuvenated.
The first interview, with Philippa Thomas, was good but uneventful. I said that Russia was back to its ancient habit of imperialism and that we had to treat them as an adversary. There need be no war: we won the first Cold War with nary a shot fired. Only an aggressor — or a nation that planned to be one — could object to a missile defense being put in Poland. And then came the second interview for the Newsnight program.
I was pitted against a Russian gent who went on and on about how Russia only wants stability and always extends its hand in a gesture of peace toward NATO. At that point, I began to smile, my age seeming to melt away. The bad old days were back. I answered him, saying that he was following the old Soviet script, regurgitating their tired agitprop nonsense. That if Russia wanted peace, it should withdraw from Georgia, not use cyberwar to try to topple Estonia’s government, and stop threatening Poland with nuclear attacks, as a senior Russian general did earlier in the week.
Leaving the studio, there was a new spring in my step. Something new, yet old, faced us again. The Bear is prowling the European woods. And we know how to deal with it.
It will be spy vs. spy, their aircraft intruding on our airspace, their ships dragging their coat off our shores, our submarines shadowing theirs. We know the rules, and so do they. They will undermine freedom at every opportunity, and we will stand fast against them. We can deter them, contain them, and we must.
There will be the usual liberal caterwauling about bloated military budgets, protestations that the — now operational — partial missile defense we have does not work, though it does. Our next president will have to face a very ugly fact, that Russia has developed new classes of aircraft, submarines and missiles while we have lagged badly. That Russian cyberwar capability — and that of the Chinese — probably surpasses our own. But those facts can be changed, to our advantage, if we and our allies are to remain free.
The Islamic radicalism that plagues the world must still be our primary enemy. To reach the uneasy stability of the old days, we have first to defeat the Islamists and their ideology. But when that is done, Russia will still be there. And whether it is Putin or some other neo-tsar, Russia will be just as it has been since the 17th Century under Peter the Great: expansionist, threatening Western Europe. They will be aiming, first and always, at America and its allies abroad.
So, to my old friends, let us take heart. They can only beat us if we let them. We stand, as we always have, for freedom and against oppression.
You’ll be able to find me, as you always could when we were younger. I’ll be sitting in the shadow, gazing out toward the Fulda Gap, sipping slowly from a glass of Johnny Walker Black, with my back to the wall in the booth at the far corner, in the Bar at the Bottom of Red Route One.