The Good Old Days

THE GOOD OLD DAYS….Niall Ferguson writes that he thinks the good old days of the Cold War look pretty good compared to today’s complex and multipolar world:

What makes me nostalgic is that Soviet wickedness made politics so much simpler in my youth. All you had to do was to go to the Eastern Bloc to see what a real military-industrial complex looked like ? and to feel for yourself what the absence of freedom really meant.

….The other key difference between the Cold War era and the present is, of course, the role of Islamic fundamentalism on the global stage. With the benefit of hindsight, 1989 was not the decisive turning point of the late 20th century. That came 10 years earlier, in 1979 ? the year of the Iranian Revolution. And militant Islamism is now as big a headache for Russia as it is for Western Europe.

Ferguson carefully notes that he’s kidding ? sort of ? but I’ve read this kind of thing too often not to believe that he means it. An awful lot of people who should know better make the mistake of believing that the past was simple just because we now know how things turned out. But we didn’t at the time. The Depression, World War II, “losing” China, Stalin getting the bomb, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the counterculture revolution of the 60s, Watergate, stagflation and the twin oil shocks, the Iranian hostages, Afghanistan ? at the time, all those things seemed plenty dangerous and disorienting. A historian like Ferguson should know better than to pretend otherwise, even in a casual op-ed.

There was another thing that struck me about his op-ed too. I realize that you can’t make every single relevant point in an 800-word column, but in a piece comparing the Cold War era to the world of today, surely it’s at least worth noting that the modern geopolitical makeup of the Middle East is almost entirely a result of Cold War geopolitics of the 50s and 60s? Ferguson is right that militant Islamism is equally a problem for both Russia and the West, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because Russia and the West treated the Middle East as a proxy in their ideological war for decades, and the Iranian revolution was largely a reaction to that. It’s a cliche, but we really are reaping what we’ve sown. Today’s hawks might want to keep that in mind.