When Joseph Stalin died and Nikita Khrushchev became the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1953, an odd thing happened. The Soviet Union began to change. In 1956, Khrushchev delivered a report called On the Personality Cult and its Consequences to the 20th Party Congress. He discussed the report in a secret speech which was delivered after midnight. The contents of the speech were eventually obtained by Israel, and through them, by legendary CIA officer Jesus James Angleton. Among the things divulged in the report was the fact that during the Great Purge of 1937-38, Stalin had over one and a half million people arrested and over 600,000 people executed. This information became widely known in the late 1950’s and led many communist sympathizers in the West to reconsider or disavow their position.

Communism in America, which had already been under tremendous pressure during the McCarthy Era in the first half of the decade, was finished after Khrushchev’s revelations. Thereafter, the only signs of communist sympathies in the country came from worked-up college students who fetishized Che Guevera or thought it was amusingly anti-Establishment to wave Mao’s Little Red Book around. Communism became synonymous with totalitarianism and mass murder.

That’s why there was so much consensus about trying to overthrow Castro and preventing communists from taking over Saigon.

I am aware that this is a shorthand and simplistic retelling of history, but I detail it because there was a certain irony in the fact this country became much more alarmed about the threat of communism at a point in history when it actually became much less threatening.

To be clear, communism even in a benevolent regime is hostile to liberty and is rightly opposed by all who support freedom of religion and freedom of choice as basic human rights. But there is a difference between institutional repression and mass murder. Likewise, the threat posed by Joseph Stalin was completely different from the threat posed by Leonid Brezhnev.

I bring this up because terrorism seems to have replaced communism as the raison d’ĂȘtre of the national security state. More specifically, Islam-inspired terrorism has replaced communism as the “great threat” that justifies absolutely ridiculous spending on national defense, homeland security, and intelligence operations.

It’s hard to say that the threat of terrorism has diminished in the same way as the threat of communism diminished when Khrushchev took over for Stalin. We are still experiencing periodic attempts to bring down civilian aircraft. And we do have to worry about crude radiological, or biological, or chemical attacks. I think the biggest lesson we need to learn from the Cold War is how our exaggerated fears made us stupid and caused us make mistakes both moronic and evil.

There was no excuse for killing a million Vietnamese. We failed to understand the schism between China and the Soviet Union or the anti-Chinese attitude of the Vietnamese people. Seeing all Communists as the same and all of them as part of a seamless conspiracy against the West caused us to freak out unnecessarily, to misallocate resources, to wage war where no war needed to be waged, to make enemies of people who might have been neutral, if not friendly towards us, and to side with dictators against socialist reformers who shared our esteem for human rights.

All of this is relevant today, as we listen to people conflate the religious nuts in charge of Iran with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. A failure to understand the differences in Iraq between the Sunnis and Shiites, the secular and the religious, the Kurds and the Arabs, led our government to make horrible decisions at the outset of the occupation of Iraq. When you see someone like Glenn Beck warning us about the Islamic world uniting under some new Caliphate, you are seeing the kind of Stupid that marred our victory in the Cold War. Islam is not nearly as threatening as our leaders want us to believe. It is not, and never has been, a united movement.

We care what happens in Egypt because we don’t want any disruption of shipping through the Suez Canal, and because we don’t want war between Egypt and Israel, and because we would like to have a friendly government there that is happy to do business with us and who will share intelligence with us on the threats we face. But we don’t face a threat like we faced from Joseph Stalin.

We should also recognize that our support for the repressive regime in Egypt was the reason that Al-Qaeda co-leader Ayman al-Zawahiri wanted to fly airplanes into the Pentagon, World Trade Center, and Congress.

In 1981, Zawahiri was arrested and imprisoned [Ed. note: and tortured] , along with dozens of other radicals, for collaborating in the assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. Prison time only redoubled Zawahiri’s fervor. Not long after his release, he took over leadership of the terrorist organization Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which the United States believes helped to organize the August 7, 1998, bombings of U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. In 2001, according to widely accepted accounts, Zawahiri formally merged the Egyptian Islamic Jihad with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. The group is now officially named Qaeda al-Jihad.

One way to reduce the threat of terrorism is to facilitate a transition in Egypt to a government that doesn’t torture its dissidents. That’s a quite different strategy from Bush’s decision to use Egypt as our subcontractor for torture.

0 0 votes
Article Rating