A call for Democratic consistency on foreign policy

A new U.S. president "resets" relations with Russia. Later, while running for re-election, the president tells Dmitry Medvedev to reassure his boss Vladimir Putin that he will have the "flexibility" to give Mr. Putin what he wants post-election, once freed from political accountability. A hot microphone captures these presidential promises.

When a political opponent portrays Russia as America's chief strategic challenge, the president responds with ridicule: "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War's been over for 20 years."

After re-election, the self-same president declares that it would cross a "red line" if Russian client Syria used chemical weapons on its citizens. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad soon crosses that line, murdering 1,400 civilians. The president ignores allies like France, who want military strikes to uphold international laws against chemical warfare. Instead, the president responds with verbiage, followed by diplomacy to limit Mr. Assad's illegal chemical stockpiles.

The president again responds with rhetoric when Russia invades large sections of Ukraine. Formerly part of the old Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukraine voluntarily relinquished its large nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S. No nation will ever do that again.

As one of his last acts in office, sticking it to the U.S. intelligence community, the president commutes the sentence of a soldier whose massive leaks of classified materials, according to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endangered American soldiers and Afghan informants. This plays into Taliban propaganda that aiding Americans is dangerous. Also in his final months in office, after receiving intelligence reports that Russia is meddling in the U.S. presidential election, the president sits on the information until it is too late.

Of course, that president is Barack Obama. Save for the last item, I cannot recall Democrats having problems with any of these servile presidential actions toward Russia. I had problems with all of them, but then, I'm a Cold Warrior.

We Cold Warriors view history in ways schools no longer teach. In school, my son quite rightly studied America's shameful McCarthy and Palmer purges of suspected communists, where the U.S. erred. Yet teachers and texts failed to note that there actually were Soviet spies like Alger Hiss in sensitive government positions. Nor did schools cover what Harvard University Press' Black Book of Communism estimates as 94 million killed by Marxist regimes from East Germany to Cuba.

Cold Warriors like me acknowledge that America committed tactical blunders abroad in places like Vietnam and wrongheaded violations of civil liberties at home. Yet all things considered, the Cold War presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan succeeded. Over nearly a half century, America and its allies deterred and eventually defeated Marxist regimes, which killed tens of millions, oppressed minorities, destroyed economies and environments, and savaged press, religious, artistic, sexual and economic freedom.

We should teach the fall of Marxism as a national and international triumph of civilization over barbarism, like World War II and the end of Apartheid. Because schools do not cover this historical reality, public ignorance enabled President Donald Trump to deflect criticisms of former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin's human rights record by saying: "You think our country's so innocent?" Mr. Trump's defense of Mr. Putin is the sort of idiocy one would expect from a Marxist professor, not a "Republican" president.

Ironically, my friends on the left now obsess about President Trump and the Russians, much as a certain unhinged 1950s Cold Warrior, Joe McCarthy, fretted about President Truman. (To be clear, Mr. Trump is no Truman.) For Democrats, appeasing Mr. Putin was statesmanlike when Barack Obama did it; treasonous for Mr. Trump. Democrats overlook Mr. Trump's sensible foreign policy team (now that Gen. Michael Flynn is gone) and the administration's cruise missile strike punishing Syria for a new chemical weapons attack, something the objectively pro-Russian Obama would never do.

If Democrats oppose Russian and other dictators only when they help Mr. Trump, then reasonable moderates and conservatives like me cannot take them any more seriously than we do the current commander in chief.

On the other hand, if Democrats acknowledge that America was (mainly) right to fight the Cold War, and that American foreign policy should spread freedom rather than appease dictators, then let me be the first to say to my friends on the left: Welcome fellow Cold Warriors!

A Baltimore native, Robert Maranto (rmaranto@uark.edu) is the 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, and serves on his local school board.

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