Mr. Rumsfeld's Wars

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has compared America’s war on terrorism with the Cold War, saying that such a comparison “… might be a more appropriate way to think about what we’re up against here, than would be any major conflict.” Truer words were never spoken, but not for the reasons Rumsfeld intended.

The Cold War was a fabrication – albeit a brilliant construct – created from whole cloth by the architects of the welfare-warfare state as a less destructive alternative to open warfare, which, with the advent of nuclear warheads, had actually become difficult to sustain on a large scale. So the “health of the state” had to be nourished through small scale conflicts – carefully controlled to prevent escalation – and large scale saber-rattling, sufficiently frightening in potential to assure that defense budgets could sustain at Rooseveltian levels of scope and intensity.

Rumsfeld asserts that the Cold War “…did not involve major battles, it involved continuous pressure, it involved cooperation by a host of nations, it involved the willingness of populations in many countries to invest in it and to sustain it.”

Here is one notion on which Reaganites, neocons, and the laughably pugnacious left1 manage to agree: that the US government actively brought about the demise of the former Soviet Union through political means. Such an argument requires willful ignorance of the economic forces that had been at work since 1917, inexorably eating away at the political structure of Soviet communism.

Says Rumsfeld, “… when it ended, it ended not with a bang, but through internal collapse, and the support for that way of life and that threat to the world just disintegrated from inside.” True enough, but linking that internal collapse to actions by the US and its allies is wishful thinking at best.

Most revealing of all in the linkage between the war on terrorism and the war on communism is the unintentional presumption that the former will require the same level of commitment from the American economy as did the latter. During the Cold War years, even the most pacifist administrations persisted in rattling very expensive sabers all over the world, engaging in “force projection”, “showing the flag”, and intervening in far-away sovereignties to capture the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations away from the dreaded specter of communism. The real dollar costs to the economy were staggering, and the effects are still being felt today.

Even more disastrous were the “intangible” costs of the Cold War: the loss of life, the loss of liberty, the loss of trust and faith in the “American system” being notable among them. And ultimately, the war on terrorism itself has the Cold War as a primary cause. For it was our anti-Soviet interventions that made the Saudi (not Afghani) Osama bin Laden the authority figure that he is in the Islamic world.

Now all we have to do is define our strategy for prolonging our “Cold Jihad”, and we’re in business for the next half-century.


  1. Whose bellicosity in this case surely must stem from its ingrained hatred of all fundamentalist religious movements.

October 6, 2001