Cold War Politicization as a Lasting Paradigm

During the early years of the Cold War a pattern was established that made thoughtful analysis of geopolitical events all but impossible for nearly three decades. We took the Soviets at their word, that they were intent on fomenting global socialist revolution. Additionally, we assumed they had the means to achieve such a worldwide movement. We also assumed that countries weakened by World War II, and those frail states emerging from the collapse of European colonialism were either ripe for the picking or eager to join the Soviet-led revolutionary movement. We resolved to fortify the non-Soviet world against this perceived collective aggression irrespective of the short-term and long-term costs, both monetary and political, of such fortification. We saw the world as bipolar and, to paraphrase our politicians of the era, you were either with us or against us. Every political aspiration fell on one side or the other of that line. Every indigenous movement was regarded through that bipolar lens. Even domestic political positions were measured against this global dichotomy. As it turned out, not surprisingly, such a simplistic world view was inadequate at best, and dangerous at worst. Smart people made bad decisions because the foundational assumptions upon which those decisions were based were badly flawed. Those assumptions drove a policy process that ignored nuance, complexity, and evidence that in any way diverged from the era's orthodoxy. It took in essence a military defeat for many to remove their blinders and finally regard the world for what it is: a maddeningly complex and dynamic puzzle whose pieces constantly refuse to assume the shapes our limited minds try to impose upon them. The bad news is that we seem condemned to repeat the mistakes of an era so fresh in the minds of so many of us.