IT WAS FUNNY, in a grim sort of way. Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates responded to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s polemical attack on the United States by remembering the 50-year Cold War as a “less complex time” and saying he was “almost nostalgic” for its return.
Gates should know. He himself is the quintessential Cold Warrior, having served nearly 27 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (facing off against the likes of Putin, who was for 17 years an agent in the foreign intelligence branch of the Soviet KGB). So we should take him seriously when he suggests that the problems of 20 or 30 years ago were in some ways more manageable than our current global predicament.
Nor is he alone. There is a palpable sense of nostalgia these days for the familiar contours of that bygone conflict, which has been replaced by a much more murky, elusive and confusing age.
Palpable among whom, exactly? Certainly not Gates, who actually said this:
Speaking of issues going back many years, as an old Cold Warrior, one of yesterday’s speeches almost filled me with nostalgia for a less complex time. Almost.
Many of you have backgrounds in diplomacy or politics. I have, like your second speaker yesterday, a starkly different background … a career in the spy business. And, I guess, old spies have a habit of blunt speaking.
However, I have been to re-education camp, spending four and half years as a university president and dealing with faculty. And, as more than a few university presidents have learned in recent years, when it comes to faculty it is either “be nice” or “be gone.”
The real world we inhabit is a different and a much more complex world than that of 20 or 30 years ago. We all face many common problems and challenges that must be addressed in partnership with other countries, including Russia.
For this reason, I have this week accepted the invitation of both President Putin and Minister of Defense Ivanov to visit Russia. One Cold War was quite enough.
So what the hell? The “One Cold War was quite enough” quote got wide play in the news at the time. Someone explain this to me? And as someone who reads a lot of foreign policy news and no little number of articles, who, exactly in the foreign policy commentariat is nostalgic for a cold war?