Winning the Cold War While Losing the Peace Oct. 2011


Dr. Steven A. Leibo is the Sage Colleges’ Professor of International History & Politics

I must say I am not surprised the American people are frustrated with their government. What goes for public discourse these days is absolutely embarrassing. I mean, let’s be realistic here. What’s out there at the moment? Republicans who seem more concerned about defeating the president than improving the economy, all the while maintaining an obsession with the idea that if we just remove more regulations, regulations to protect the environment or stop the sort financial brinksmanship that brought on 2008’s financial meltdown the economy will somehow spring back magically.

While the Democrats struggle to protect the middle class from the ravages of a weak economy like buggy whip makers of an earlier era or the executives of Polaroid and Kodak, companies of more recent vintage that failed to recognize the emergence of a new century.

Such a choice! Republican obsessed with their efforts to protect the rich at all costs. Yes, ideologues, willing to ignore even their hero Ronald Reagan’s insistence that the rich pay their fair share while Obama offers one program after another, each worthwhile on its own but promoted by a leader who seems neither able to push past Republican resistance nor articulate a policy larger than band aid tactics to save what we seem to be losing rather than a strategic vision of how America can really move forward.

No, I am not surprised that so many Americans are disappointed in these challenging days when Americans appear convinced that while we have lost momentum — somehow China holds the key to the future. An attitude, ironically not all that different from say twenty years ago when in an earlier funk, we convinced ourselves that only Japan was “Number One.”

And while such historical perspective and can offer some insight it too fails to deal with the real issue. That we are not going to move forward until we look at where we have been and face squarely the simply reality that we won the Cold War but blew the victory. Until we fully appreciate that we basically failed the challenge of the Post Cold War World. Yes, the challenge of successfully integrating ourselves into the new globalized world economy that emerged with the collapse of the command economies and the emergence of the internet.

Sure America did wonderfully in that old pre-globalization cold war era of world economic competition. After all we all know that while our capitalist model might be lousy at addressing social equality and social justice it is crackerjack good at producing wealth and even more so when compared to the dysfunctional economic systems that strangled nations from Moscow to New Delhi and Beijing.

But that world of easy competition fell away with our Cold War victory. And our former weak sisters, gained the strength that we had so long enjoyed. Thus, releasing among their people capitalistic energies unimaginable only a few years earlier. But, complemented by the advantages gained when governments offer encouragement and incentives to fill in for capitalism’s weaknesses. Like the need to provide immediate profits a burden governments do not carry. Creating for themselves a series of international best practices regimes from New Delhi to Shanghai, while we sat on our buts forgetting that our long time economic advantages had come not from some natural order but economic and technological innovations that we’d largely released to the world.

And that whatever successes we might have had in the past were as nothing until we figured out how to be successful in this new globalized world largely of own making And until either the angry last century republicans and their tea party friends or our visionless democrats recognize the larger nature of our challenge,
until they take upon themselves a challenge truly worthy of a new century Like challenge of converting to greener cleaner energy sources none of us, not this generation, not those just moving into the job market we will never again have the opportunities that only a few years ago seemed our birthright

About Steven Leibo

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