Reagan, Obama, and Russia
A strong president understood his adversary; our current one hasn't a clue
At a rare time when Yankee manager Joe Torre was on a losing streak, he called his old friend Yogi Berra to ask his advice. Berra, in his inimitable way, said, “Win.”
That is the difference between Ronald Reagan’s approach to Russia and Barack Obama’s. The Russians have always respected winners and winning — even when they are losing — and have always held in contempt losers and losing, even when they are winning.
The Russians have since Day One been contemptuous of the weak and flaccid Obama. And no doubt, that’s exactly how Russian President Vladimir Putin felt when he met with Obama at the United Nations on Monday.
Ronald Reagan always knew he was opposing a communist ideology that kept people captive — including the Russian people — while Barack Obama is confused about what he is up against. It seems he’s not fan of Putin, but his distaste is less about geopolitics than personality. On a personal level, it makes sense that Obama, America’s first Facebook president, would view things personally and superficially.
Reagan studied communist ideology for decades and understood the Russian mindset. Obama, though, is clueless about what Russia is and how Putin is trying to resurrect Russia as a global, free-market power with a robust military, a centralized ruling system and a degree democratic governing system. And Reagan, perhaps adhering to Sun Tzu, studied his foe: Mikhail Gorbachev was impressed that Reagan knew his favorite soccer players. Barack wouldn’t deign to find out what makes Vladimir tick.
Reagan acted decisively when challenged in the U.S. backyard (Grenada, Nicaragua), while Putin’s Russia is acting in the same manner when challenged in its own backyard (Ukraine, Georgia). The Kremlin’s actions during the Reagan years and earlier were based on a dual-track strategy that included normal relations on the surface with the West on one side but a simultaneous, subversive undermining of the foundations of the West on the other.
And for more than 50 years, the West was a willing accomplice in all this, first through containment, later as accommodation, and finally with detente. All were various permutations of the slow-motion surrender of the West to the East. Reagan changed all this.
Obama, with his reset buttons, lacks the sophistication to see that Russia could be a valuable partner in this new war.
The Gipper understood that his main goal was bringing down communist ideology, and he got the ideological nature of the Cold War, while Obama doesn’t understand the main ideological battle of today — Islamic radicalism, which has nothing to do with battling Russia. Actually, Russia may be a valued ally in the fight against extreme Islam, but so far, Obama, with his reset buttons, lacks the sophistication to see that Russia could be a valuable partner in this new war.
Reagan did all that to the Evil Empire, while maintaining a genuine respect for the Russian people and Russian culture, which was suppressed under the USSR. He was battling inhuman dictatorship — a twin tyrannical order alongside national-socialism — not against a Christian nation trying to establish a free-market economy.
Reagan, the winner of the Cold War, had at least one main philosophical role model, one of whom is Russian (actually half-Ukrainian) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Obama’s philosophical role models are all progressivists and socialists (and perhaps community organizers).
Obama is dealing with a free-market Russia that doesn’t keep any nation captive and is not spreading any ideology anywhere.
Putin’s Russia is not the USSR that Reagan had to deal with. Reagan was dealing with a Soviet Union that was looking to spread communism to every corner of the planet, from Nicaragua and West Africa to Indochina and Afghanistan, while keeping half of Europe captive. Obama is dealing with a free-market Russia that doesn’t keep any nation captive and is not spreading any ideology anywhere, but that is refusing to allow its most immediate interests to get out of its control.
Ronald Reagan understood how to approach Russians (Soviets at the time) and how to make friends with them, have them work together and make good deals when it was in his interest. Obama doesn’t understand Russia, has no friends there, has made bad deals (i.e., the Iran nuclear deal) and antagonizes the Kremlin by supporting Kiev revolutionists instead of making them end war against pro-Russian regions.
The Russians respected Reagan for being clear about what he stood for, while Russians have zero respect for Obama and his policy debacles, including the Arab Spring failures, his progressive political victories at home, and especially for helping foster the mess in Ukraine. Did we mention the pathetic red line he drew in Syria and then failed to enforce?
Reagan, for his part, understood Soviet red lines and confronted them where and when he knew he’d win, like in Poland, and on the Berlin Wall. Obama is playing dangerous games with Ukrainian nationalists in East Ukraine, which means crossing Russia’s red line by playing war games on their borders.
Reagan was a good student of history and knew the historic mission and role of Russian people and respected it. He knew the difference between communism and traditional Russianism. Obama is obsessed with himself and his legacy and hardly understands repetitive historic patterns. His main goal is ideological — spreading his progressive ideas, while Reagan’s goal was to stop the spread of communism by promoting freedom.
He wanted to consign the Soviet system to the ash heap of history.
And he did.