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Ronald Reagan represented a fundamental shift from the long bipartisan consensus on the Cold War. After Presidents Truman and Eisenhower oversaw the Korean “Conflict,” our strategic leadership and thinking turned pessimistic. We shifted from an assumption that our system had greater viability and resilience to a defensive crouch, hoping the horse might learn to sing before the bear and the dragon consumed the world. Reagan radically rejected that dark view. Today, we face a continuation of the same struggle in a new guise, and once again people who identify as conservative are mostly pessimistic, believing that the best we can hope for is a long delaying action, ending in leftist victory. Donald Trump represented a shift in the cultural war, the internalized Cold War between freedom and totalitarianism.
Korea and Nuclear War: doubting democracies’ durability
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, America stood alone as a superpower. We alone had achieved dominance on land AND air AND sea. America alone had the demonstrated ability to rain nuclear fire on its enemies. In this context, George Kennan’s famous 1946 “Long Telegram” expressed confidence that the United States could prevail, without open warfare, against the Soviet Union.* His conclusion is well worth our reading or re-reading in today’s context, so I reproduced it below.