The Off Year Elections
A whirling dervish may be the best way to describe the spin being put on the outcome of
elections which were held across the country in the early days of November of 1999.
Democrats succeed in winning municipal elections in a couple of big cities and it is touted
as proof that the conservative trend has begun to ebb, even though for the first time in
these heavily Democrat cities, that parties candidates won by narrow margins over
Republican opponents, and then only on the heels of great investment of financial and
political capital to do it. Heavy spending and heavy weight politicos were necessary
to achieve it. At the same time, such turnabouts as the first Republican control of
Virginia state government since Reconstruction are dismissed or actually ignored in
such analysis. The liberal tide turns out to be the last gasps of a fading progressivism
in the waning years of the progressive century.
Marking the Tenth Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall:
November 10, 1999
Imagine for a moment that it did not happen in 1989. We have just marked the Tenth
Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, with great celebration in the German Republic,
and deservedly so. But what if it had not taken place ten years ago? What if instead,
exigencies had dictated that it had not taken place until after the elections of 1992, say 1994,
and that the Clinton Administration had been in power at that juncture instead of the
Bush Presidency. How might history have recorded these events differently? It is not
difficult to envisage Clinton rushing to take credit for it. Or would he have done that? Indeed,
one might well wonder how it happened that Bill Clinton somehow did not take advantage
of the photo op windfall potential of participating in the marking of the fall of the wall?
Few are aware at all of some things that were seething just out of sight and just below the
surface at the instant that the wall was being torn down. Even as Germans were celebrating
and tearing down the wall, thousands of Russian and East German troops were massed
not far from the wall, on standby status. That the situation in the Soviet Union was tenuous
may have something to do with why they did not move, but that might also be a rationale
for activating them, on Machiavellian principles. We may never know just how close the
world came to bloodshed. Had they marched, they could have swept through east Germany
in no time at all, and there was little to keep them from going beyond that, except fear of
reprisal by US forces. With Bush in the White Hosue, that would have been inevitable and
a deterent to even moving at all. But with a Clinton Presidency, would they have had the
same qualms about such action?
Some may suggest that it was Gorbachev in power rather than Brezhnev that made 1989
different than 1968. A more accurate assessment would be that Gorbachev was not in
power the way Brezhnev was, but the responiveness of the US in each of the situations
is also a factor. LBJ could not have and would not have and did not act in response to
Czechoslovakia, but it is quite likely that a President Bush might have.
Still, it is quite plausible that Bush would not and could not have acted to stop any effort
to slap force down on the eastern sector, and that a limited such effort could have worked.
But it would have been extremely costly in human terms to have attempted to execute such
action -- to Russians and Germans alike. It would have had high political capital costs as well
that were not at risk in 1968.
Hungary in 1956 is an altogether different case if only because it occured in conjunction with
another major crisis involving world powers, in Suez, the existence of which may have precluded
any counteraction by western forces. But there are also the Berlin crises of 1948, 1959, and
1962, during which we just did not act to resist Soviet aggression. And when we did act --
in Southeast Asia -- the situation was totally different and did not involve any direct
confrontation with Soviet forces per se. We were in effect the 'outside' force in Vietnam,
whereas the Soviets were the occupation force in the other instances. That does not suggest
that we were an 'aggressor' in Vietnam or that the communists were not, but the strategic
exercise was effectively to put us in a militarily similiar posture.
But at this juncture of the tenth anniversary of the fall of the wall, Russian troops are engaged
in the Cheznia secession. Cheznia is not Eastern Europe, but it is also true that there is a
different administration in Washington, and US forces are in much less tenable position now
as opposed to 1989. Actually, however, Clinton has given tacit approbation to the Russian
attacks on the breakaway nation.
The world strategic position is considerably different in the various such actions -- 1956,
1968, 1989, and 1999. A key difference was of course the position of the Soviet Union
in 1989. Still, there is Cheznia. Ostensibly, of course, 'communism' is no longer an issue
since the Cold War is over. But in truth, the issue during the Cold War was not simply
'communism,' but the Soviet Empire. And the issue is very much the Russian empire today.
Yet, Clinton supposedly bombed Iraq for what Saddam did, and Sudan too, for whatever
reason. But we do not seem to have a problem with Cheznia. It is a curious manner for
Clinton to mark the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially given the fact that
it would probably not have required our military intervention to stop Russian actions in 1999,
especially given their experience in Afghanistan, where we did incidentally render assistance
during the Reagan administration to the rebellion.
To be completely fair, though, the Russian military action in Cheznia may not in fact be
anything like Mr. Yeltzin's war at all. The regime there may be so tenuous that Yeltzin
has little command over what the military does in Cheznia. And for him to seek to contain
it might topple him, for who knows what? There may also be another Machiavellian
principle involved. If the Russian military is involved in Cheznia, they cannot pose as much
of a threat to the feeble regime in Moscow. But that is a risky question. The impact of
the fiasco in Afghanistan on the Soviet regime is exemplary of that risk, but there are ample
other such instances in 20th century Russia, dating back to the chaos that brought the
Bolsheviks to power in the first place, from the Japanese defeat to that of the debacle of
Russian involvement in World War I.
But it remains curious that on the 10th anniversary of the fall of the wall, we seem to have
retrenched in our posture toward Russian imperial power. And the question of just why
1989 was so different is one that needs to be considered. The real answer to that question
may be quite simply Ronald Reagan.
Return to beginning of this issue
Return to beginning of ejps