(Providence, Rhode Island) – Things have been a little frosty between the United States and Russia of late, especially after the shoot down of the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine. It got me to thinking that the old Cold War between the two world powers was heading back into the deep freeze. So, let’s “brunch” on some Cold Russian Borscht this week as we look back on the Cold War and what may lie ahead!
“The Beginnings” – The tug of war that led to the Cold War was well underway before World War II was even over. But it was the tension over how to divide up occupied Germany that sent what had been somewhat warm relations between the U.S. and Russia into the ice box. The establishment of the Eastern Bloc and the ultimate formation of the Soviet Union created a giant iceberg. Advantage: Standoff.
“Berlin as Ground Zero” – As things went from bad to worse, Russian dictator Joseph Stalin launched what came to be known as Berlin Blockade, in which food and other critical supplies were not allowed to be transported from East to West Berlin. The United States and its European allies had to form a massive Berlin Airlift, to keep people in the West from starving. Advantage: USA
“Atoms Away!” – The U.S. dropping the atomic bombs on Japan effectively ended World War II in the Pacific Theatre. Finding itself at a military disadvantage, Russia developed and tested its own atom bomb. The arms race was on, and both nations spent hundreds of billions over the next four decades, escalating the arms race and causing an economic surge in both nations that President Dwight Eisenhower dubbed, “The Military-Industrial Complex.” Advantage: Standoff.
“Changing Faces” – Presidents Roosevelt and Stalin died; Nikita Khrushchev took over in Russia and lasted through U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. He was probably the biggest and longest lasting thorn in the side of the U.S. Advantage: Soviet Union.
“Bay of Pigs” - When Fidel Castro seized control of power in Cuba in 1959, he changed his country’s allegiance from the United States to the Soviets. He welcomed Russian help, and, in response, President Eisenhower developed a CIA plot to overthrown Castro. The plan took two years to craft and by the time it was executed in 1961, President Kennedy was in office. The overthrow failed badly, and was an embarrassment to U.S. foreign policy. Advantage: Soviet Union.
“Cuban Missile Crisis” – On the heels of the Bay of Pigs disaster - just 18 months later – the U.S. detected Soviet made missiles on the ground in Cuba. The Russians wanted them there to counter the U.S. missiles placed in Europe. The Cuban Missile Crisis would last nearly two weeks, and was perhaps the closest the two nations ever came to going to war, nuclear missiles, and all. The Soviets backed down and removed the missiles. Advantage: USA.
“Afghan Invasion” – In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and, for nearly a decade, fought it out with various bands of tribal rebels (many of whom were supported with money and weapons from the United States). The mountainous territory was eventually no match for the Russians, nor was the bad public relations the war created for Moscow worldwide. The U.S. offered a paper tiger of a protest by not participating in the Russian Olympics in 1980, which accomplished nothing. For once the Soviets looked over matched, but the U.S. looked timid and weak in response. Advantage: Standoff.
“Korean Airlines Flight 007” – On September 1, 1983 the Russian military shot down a commercial airliner killing all 269 people on board, including U.S. Congressman Larry McDonald (D-GA). Yes, the pilots strayed into Soviet airspace, but clearly the Boeing 747’s unique design made it identifiable as a passenger jet. President Reagan strongly condemned the Soviet Union in a televised address, and the world community was clearly in support of the United States and Korea. It was another public relations disaster for Moscow. Advantage: USA.
“Down Comes the Wall!” – In 1989 the forces of freedom, bolstered by the forces of a failed communist economy, were too much for the Berlin Wall to bear. Years earlier, President Reagan stood at Brandenburg Gate and shouted, “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!” It was one of the most electrifying moments in the history of U.S. Presidents and foreign policy. Advantage: USA
“Why All This Matters?” – In so many of the instances of Russian - and later - Soviet aggression, the Cold War enemy was met face-to-face with the steely resolve of an angry U.S. leader, whether it was a Democrat in Kennedy, or a Republican in Reagan. There were also major breakthroughs in diplomatic efforts, most notably by President Nixon on the U.S. side, and Mikhail Gorbachev for the Soviets. There were moments of weakness, too, such as President Carter’s response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Cancelling U.S. participation in the Olympics was a failure. It’s early in this latest crisis and many are wondering how stern a response President Obama and our European allies will send to Vladimir Putin, perhaps the most aggressive and steely (translate mean) Russian leader since Khrushchev. The world watches and waits! Advantage: Standoff, so far.
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