Obama’s useful idiocy: A look back

In the closing hours of his second term, President Obama has emerged as a sort of anti-Russian Cold Warrior. He presents such a bizarre spectacle it’s enough to make one wonder whether something else is going on. Is the Emperor fully clothed? The mischievous Victor Davis Hanson says aloud:

In its remaining days in power, the Obama administration suddenly punished Vladimir Putin’s Russia for allegedly interfering in the U.S. presidential election. It claimed that Russian or Russian-hired hackers tapped into the records of the Democratic National Committee as well as the correspondence of John Podesta, a Clinton advisor.

But what the Obama administration did not say was that such cyber-crimes are by now old hat. Both the Russian and Chinese governments have been hacking into far more important U.S. records and government archives for years without earning retaliation

The administration also did not mention that the election hacking occurred largely because of Podesta’s own carelessness in using his security password. Moreover, it failed to acknowledge that the Republican National Committee was likewise targeted, but apparently had enough safeguards to prevent successful entry into its records. Finally, the administration refused to mention that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange went on the record saying that he did not receive the email trove from the Russians.

The truth is that Obama, throughout his presidency, has appeased Putin. As president, Obama ended the previously agreed-on Eastern European missile defense; he made open-mic promises to be more flexible with Putin after his reelection; he barely responded to Russia’s aggression toward Crimea and Ukraine; and he constantly criticized both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney for being inordinately tough on Russia.

Until now, he saw no reason to stop enabling Russia. Had Hillary Clinton won the election, Putin’s alleged hacking would not have earned any administration attention. But this time around, an emboldened Putin allegedly went too far and crossed the only red line that Obama might have enforced by supposedly enabling the release of information that might have turned off some voters on Clinton. Blaming Putin for Clinton’s loss was a more convenient narrative than admitting that Obama’s own policies have turned off even traditional Democratic constituencies and for now reduced the Democratic Party to a minority coastal party.

I accord no credit to any assertion of fact by Julian Assange, but Professor Hanson usefully recalls that open-mic moment leading up to the 2012 campaign. Obama’s private conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was not intended for public consumption. It carried a secret that Obama wanted to keep from the American people — before the election. He did not want to let them in on it until after he had won his “last election” and had the “flexibility” that comes from not having to submit himself for the approval of the American people.

At Politico, Jennifer Epstein reported Obama’s “explanation” of his comments to Medvedev, but they didn’t explain much. The man was spinning in the style to which we have grown accustomed. The story should have come with an admonition: Quiet: BS artist at work. Obama “explained” that the remarks reflected his publicly stated desire to reduce nuclear weapons. Epstein doesn’t note that Obama’s comments to Medvedev singled out missile defense.

What did Obama have in mind regarding missile defense in his second term? That was the question raised by Bill Gertz’s Washington Free Beacon article. The Washington Times quoted Obama placing his comments in the context of his commitment to nuclear disarmament:

“I think everybody understands — if they don’t, they haven’t been listening to my speeches — that I want to reduce nuclear stockpiles,” Mr. Obama said. “And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues. I’m on record, I made a speech about it to a whole bunch of Korean university students [Monday]. I want to see us over time, gradually, systematically reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.”

Quiet: BS artist at work.

Nuclear weapons had been on Obama’s mind a long time, and his thinking did not appear to have evolved much over the years. Let’s revisit Obama’s thoughts on the American nuclear arsenal during the Cold War. They add a certain context to the hysteria of the moment.

When Ronald Reagan set out to bring down the Soviet Union, he built up America’s nuclear arsenal while deploying short-range nuclear warheads in Europe and undertaking a widely derided missile defense program. Reagan’s build-up took place over the massive worldwide opposition of the left, much of it orchestrated by the Soviet Union under the auspices of one or another of its “peace offensives.”

Reagan’s efforts induced a now familiar kind of mass hysteria. ABC brought us The Day After, the documentary-style film portraying a fictional nuclear war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalated into a full-scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The film graphically displayed the effects of the war on Lawrence, Kansas. Nuclear war was a bitch, of course, and the film served as a timely warning against the nightmare toward which Reagan’s policies would deliver us.

In Useful Idiots Mona Charen also recalled that public television brought us Testament (1983), “a moving film about a family in Washington State slowly dying of radiation poisoning after a nuclear war.” Not to be outdone, Charen added, NBC “broadcast its own scaremongering documentary called Facing Up To the Bomb (1982).” (The title of Charen’s book comes from a phrase attributed to Lenin describing Western left-liberals and Social Democrats.)

In 1983 protesters formed a 14-mile anti-nuclear “human chain” in Berkshire, England. When Reagan visited London for an economic summit the following year, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament turned out somewhere between 80,000 (police count) and 200,000 (CND count) protesters marching from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to greet him. Reagan modestly allowed that he didn’t “take credit for all of the demonstrators being there for me…”

Nowhere was the hysteria greater than on college campuses. It manifested itself in intense hostility to the military, to national defense and security, and to every aspect of the Reagan defense build-up. The college crowd hated Reagan’s opposition to Communism, wherever applied.

The New York Times reported that in 1983, as a Columbia undergraduate, Barack Obama was among the “useful idiots” expressing high-minded disparagement of Reagan’s defense policies. That’s not exactly how the Times put it, because Times reporters William Broad and David Sanger failed to supply the missing historical context that Charen’s book provides, and because the Times itself figures prominently among the “useful idiots” chronicled by Charen.

The Times article reported on Obama’s March 1983 article “Breaking the war mentality.” The Times noted that in the article Obama railed against discussions of “first-versus second-strike capabilities” that “suit the military-industrial interests” with their “billion-dollar erector sets,” and agitated for the elimination of global arsenals holding tens of thousands of deadly warheads.

Obama praised the nuclear freeze movement and celebrated the work of two groups: Arms Race Alternatives and Students Against Militarism. By Obama’s description of them, the groups were among the “useful idiots” promoting the Soviet line on Reagan’s build-up: “These groups, visualizing the possibilities of destruction and grasping the tendencies of distorted national priorities, are shifting their weight into throwing America off the dead-end track.”

Obama expressed and dismissed a possible reservation regarding the “narrow focus” of the groups, citing the deep wisdom of Peter Tosh that “everybody’s asking for peace, but nobody’s asking for justice.” Times have changed but the song remains the same.

Obama also decried “the most pervasive tendency of the collegiate system specifically, and the American experience generally.” Obama described this “tendency” as the disembodiment of “elaborate patterns of knowledge and theory from individual choices and government policy.” According to Obama, Arms Race Alternatives and Students Against Militarism had come “to save us from the twisted logic of which we are today a part.”

The Times chose to portray Obama’s 1983 article as the early expression of his continuing pursuit of “a nuclear free world.” Obama was in any event a foot soldier in the Soviet Union’s peace offensive.

As for us, we supported the United States against the Soviet Union in the Cold War. We supported Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Indeed, we supported him against President Ford in 1976. We yield to no one in our opposition to Vladimir Putin and an old KGB man’s revanchism. We nevertheless resist the current hysteria about Russian interference in the election of 2016 now stirred up by an old dupe of the Soviet Union.