Remember Containment? Coming to Grips With Russia’s New Nerve

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WE all must think anew about Russia. But this process will prove harder for some of us than for others. When I grew up in the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Soviet Union had already begun to look like the Ottoman Empire on its last legs; the face of Soviet Communism belonged to Leonid Brezhnev, with his drooping cheeks and beetle brows and thick, square glasses.

What was there to fear from this pitiful giant? In my left-wing, antiwar, social democratic hothouse world, anti-Communism seemed almost as absurd as Communism. John Kennedy’s call in 1961 to “bear any burden” in the struggle between two world systems was as remote to us as the sectarian debates of the 1930s between Trotskyites, Shachtmanites and so on.

We were, unlike an older generation of “cold war liberals,” anti-anti-Communists. Fear of the spread of Communism had gotten us into Vietnam, and rationalized American support for right-wing dictators across the third world. That fear, to us, was thus a far more dangerous force in the world than the thing that we as a country were afraid of — Soviet and Chinese expansionism.

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