President Trump’s remarks on Afghanistan at his Cabinet meeting Wednesday were a notable event. They will be criticized heavily, and deservedly so. The full text is available on the White House website.
Mr. Trump ridiculed other nations’ commitment of troops to fight alongside America’s in Afghanistan. He said, “They tell me a hundred times, ‘Oh, we sent you soldiers. We sent you soldiers.’”
This mockery is a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died. The United Kingdom has had more than 450 killed fighting in Afghanistan.
As reprehensible was Mr. Trump’s utterly false narrative of the Soviet Union’s involvement there in the 1980s. He said: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”
Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.
The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.
A new book provides a window into Reagan’s transformative Cold War naval strategy.
Scholars have already debated for decades, and will debate for centuries, the role U.S. policies — military, diplomatic, economic — played in bringing the Cold War to endgame and the Soviet Union to extinction. One milestone was Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative proposal, a technological challenge that could not be met by a Soviet economy already buckling under the combined weight of military spending and socialism’s ignorance.
But before SDI there was Ocean Venture ’81, initiated by Reagan as president-elect.
.. By 1980, there was rough nuclear parity, and the Soviets, with 280 divisions, had superiority of land forces. Reagan campaigned on building the U.S. Navy to 600 ships and using it for purposes beyond merely keeping sea lanes open to deliver supplies for land forces.
.. in the autumn of Reagan’s first year, Ocean Venture ’81 surged U.S. naval power into what the Soviet Union had considered its maritime domain, especially the Norwegian and Barents Seas. (And eventually under the Arctic ice pack, where the Soviets had hoped to hide nuclear ballistic-missile submarines.) By dispersing Ocean Venture ’81 ships when Soviet satellites were overhead, the arrival of a large flotilla in northern waters was an unnerving surprise for Moscow.
This “transformative” operation, Lehman writes, “came as a thunderclap to the Soviets, who had never seen such a NATO exercise on their northern doorstep.”
.. “The Soviets were particularly fearful of being attacked under cover of a forward U.S. exercise. Why? Because their own doctrine was to use military exercises to mask surprise invasions,”
.. By the end of 1986, with the Soviets having learned that they could not interfere with U.S. aircraft carriers operating in Norwegian fjords, the Soviet general staff told Gorbachev that they could not defend the nation’s northern sector without tripling spending on naval and air forces there. Thus did the Cold War end because Reagan rejected the stale orthodoxy that the East–West military balance was solely about conventional land forces in central Europe, so NATO’s sea power advantage was of secondary importance... In the movie A Few Good Men, a furious Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) exclaimed to his courtroom tormentors — Navy officers — words that are actually true regarding almost all civilians in this age of complex professional military establishments configured for myriad and rapidly evolving threats: “You have no idea how to defend a nation.” Lehman’s book is a rare window on that world, and a validation of the axiom that if you want peace, prepare for war.
.. Third, this was classic “whataboutism,” a favorite Putin tactic in which he compares, for instance, the annexation of Crimea with something unrelated, like Kosovar independence. In Helsinki, however, Putin simply invented the comparable crime.
.. The Guardian deemed whataboutism, as used in Russia, “practically a national ideology”
.. The New Yorkerdescribed the technique as “a strategy of false moral equivalences”
.. the technique is used to avoid directly refuting or disproving the opponent’s initial argument. The tactic is an attempt at moral relativism, and a form of false moral equivalence
.. The Economist recommended two methods of properly countering whataboutism: to “use points made by Russian leaders themselves” so that they cannot be applied to the West, and for Western nations to engage in more self-criticism of their own media and governmen
.. By accusing critics of hypocrisy, the Soviet Union hoped to deflect attention away from the original criticism itself
.. Although the use of whataboutism was not restricted to any particular race or belief system, according to The Economist, Russians often overused the tactic. The Russian government’s use of whataboutism grew under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.
.. “Putin’s near-default response to criticism of how he runs Russia is whataboutism”
.. The philosopher Merold Westphal said that only people who know themselves to be guilty of something “can find comfort in finding others to be just as bad or worse.” Whataboutery, as practiced by both parties in The Troubles in Northern Ireland to highlight what the other side had done to them, was “one of the commonest forms of evasion of personal moral responsibility,”
.. it can also be used to discredit oneself while one refuses to critique an ally. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when The New York Times asked candidate Donald Trump about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s treatment of journalists, teachers, and dissidents, Trump replied with a criticism of U.S. history on civil liberties.[102
.. “The core problem is that this rhetorical device precludes discussion of issues (ex: civil rights) by one country (ex: the United States) if that state lacks a perfect record.”
.. Russia Today was “an institution that is dedicated solely to the task of whataboutism”, and concluded that whataboutism was a “sacred Russian tactic”
.. Garry Kasparov discussed the Soviet tactic in his book Winter Is Coming, calling it a form of “Soviet propaganda” and a way for Russian bureaucrats to “respond to criticism of Soviet massacres, forced deportations, and gulags”. Mark Adomanis commented for The Moscow Times in 2015 that “Whataboutism was employed by the Communist Party with such frequency and shamelessness that a sort of pseudo mythology grew up around it.” Adomanis observed, “Any student of Soviet history will recognize parts of the whataboutist canon.”
The German press nicknamed him “God’s machine gun” for his aggressive, staccato preaching, but the name also fit for deeper reasons. Mr. Graham described these trips as “crusades” and saw West Germany as ground zero in what he called “Battleground Europe,” a Cold War fight to redeem the “land of Luther” from its Nazi past and secure its future as a stronghold for American-style democracy, capitalism and evangelicalism.
.. Billy Graham’s culture wars are inseparable from his role as an international Cold Warrior. He wasn’t just America’s pastor; he was God’s Cold War machine gun.
.. “Berlin is prayed for in the world more than any other city,” he declared, calling the city “a battleground, a continent for conquest” — not for earthly power, as the world wars had been, but a new battle “for the hearts and minds of the people.”
.. he affirmed that West Germans were his “brothers in arms” literally as well as spiritually. To strengthen a Christian democratic West against a godless Soviet East, he cast his weight behind German rearmament.
.. Mr. Graham portended a similar Americanization of German religion with its emphasis on conversion and its use of modern communication technologies for evangelism.
.. Some Germans deemed Mr. Graham a Hollywood huckster who, as the German news media put it, “advertised the Bible like toothpaste and chewing gum.” Others sensed an unnerving parallel between his mass gatherings and Germany’s fascist past.
.. “Religion for Mass-Consumption,”
.. argued that Mr. Graham’s real goal was to steer souls away from Communism more than toward God
.. German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller and the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr .. protested Mr. Graham’s equation of Christianity with America, anti-Communism and free-market capitalism
.. After the Watergate scandal, Mr. Graham withdrew from political debates and returned to his early focus on simply “preaching the gospel.”