As a teenager growing up in the 1980s, I was keenly aware that the world was divided into two halves — Democracy and Communism. Russia and the Eastern Bloc nations they controlled were our mortal enemies, the evil empire that evoked visions of Darth Vader with his red-light saber in hand. Then in 1989, the wall that divided Berlin fell and it was as if Luke Skywalker really had used the force to defeat our foe. There was Luke, aiming his fighter jet so that it miraculously hit the Achilles heel of the Death Star, destroying a weapon that could blow up an entire planet in minutes.
In reality, ever since the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, it is an idea that the entire world has had to live with. A weapon that annihilates planets isn’t science fiction anymore. Then along came John F. Kennedy, our Luke Skywalker of the 1960s, who avoided international nuclear war through a cool head and a firm hand. Next came my generation, a decade remembered for power ballads and bad hair, the 1980s is also a decade remembered for strong leaders who set aside their political differences for the overall good of mankind. Love them or hate them, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher knew that strength meant humility and compromise. These leaders had already survived WWII and one holocaust, and they were wise enough to avoid another. Together, their actions averted a nuclear holocaust and brought democracy to old and fledgling nations alike that were strangled behind the iron curtain of the United Soviet Socialist Republic.
Initially, Russia gained a strong foothold in Europe because its leaders, Stalin and later Khrushchev, bullied an exhausted post-war Europe into bowing to their territorial whims. The result was a so-called cold war that lasted for decades. Now another bully has taken over the Russian political pulpit and he has no intention of truly backing down. Vladimir Putin has neither the foresight nor the wisdom that Gorbachev had. He is a man who thrives on the appearance of machismo and has the nuclear weapons and oil reserves to back it up. Putin spits on the idea of terrorism while shaking hands with the countries that support it. Putin has censored the free press, suppressed religious freedom, and obliterated voter rights while we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that when the wall fell, communist ideals fell with it.
The world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for the moment when Putin’s pretense of democracy would culminate into a Grandmaster chess move to acquire the splintered parts of a once-mighty Soviet empire. Now the moment has come: Russia threatens to invade Ukraine and the Western leaders we need are nowhere to be found.
Rather than the fatherly confidence Reagan instilled in this nation or the irascible Kennedy charm, the American people and our allies are forced to rely on an American president who is viewed as weak and ineffective. For a man like Putin, President Obama inspires little respect and even less admiration. Obama’s positions on oil drilling, the Keystone Pipeline and fracking have left the West dependent on Russia for energy — a fact which Putin happily exploits. And while the Democrats systematically drain resources from America’s armed forces, Putin’s primary goal is the revitalizing of Russia’s military. While Russia has cut its debt by over half in under a decade, America is drowning in debt without a life boat to save us. Even more frightening, China, the country that Putin calls his nation’s “natural partner,” owns that debt and owns the ability to fund our federal government in the process.
In the meantime, President Obama deals with Putin’s growing aggression in the same way he’s dealt with everything — just kick it down the road a few years and let another president deal with the consequences.
So where have all the American political heroes gone? We can look to the 2012 presidential debates for our answer. When asked about international threats, Mitt Romney stated that he believed Russia “is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” President Obama quipped back at him like a surly adolescent, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the cold war has been over for 20 years.”
Well I grew up in the 1980s, Mr. President, and I believe that Russia is more menacing now than it ever was because America’s guard has been down for 20 years.
Tiffany Miller is a Tahoe resident and mother. Visit her website at http://mycrayonbox.org.