Simon Jenkins: We Are Fighting Islamism From Ignorance, As We Did the Cold War

Roundup: Media's Take

Simon Jenkins is a journalist and author. He writes for the Guardian as well as broadcasting for the BBC. He has edited the Times and the London Evening Standard.

Were we wrong? I have lived through two global conflicts: the west against Russian communism and now the west against political Islam. The latter was caused by western leaders exaggerating a threat from a tiny group of terrorists to win popularity in war. But the former? Surely the cold war was a good war, a Manichean struggle between competing visions of how to order humanity. If not, then it must have been one of the great mistakes of all time, and a horrific waste of resources.
Andrew Alexander gazes down from his Daily Mail column like a stern and scholarly heron. No one could possibly call him leftwing, let alone a pacifist appeaser. He has no illusions about the evil of Stalin or Mao, any more than he has about Saddam and al-Qaida. But he combines cussedness towards conventional wisdom with historical scepticism. In a sensational but little-noticed book, America and the Imperialism of Ignorance, he marches to the conclusion that most recent foreign policy has been based on systematic ignorance. We were duped – and still are.
Alexander agrees with the now accepted thesis that after the second world war, Stalin and his successors never meant to invade western Europe and overthrow American capitalism. As the historian Sir Michael Howard has written, "No serious historian any longer argues that Stalin ever had any intention of moving his forces outside the area he occupied in eastern Europe".
Stalin's obsession, understandably, was with stopping any German renascence. He was a brutal psychopath, but, like most Russians, his fear was of encirclement. He sought buffer states and an iron curtain to guard his borders. His stance towards the west was not aggressive. He had neither the will nor the means to wider world dominance (while the US had both).
The conventional answer to this was that Nato could never be sure. Rearmament, including nuclear weapons, was a sensible precaution: hope for the best, prepare for the worse. This also suited the macho tradition in US politics...

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