He was a youthful leader with a law degree elected on the promise of reforms that would revitalize a world power trapped in the economic doldrums by its bureaucracy and huge debt. His approach of international engagement attempted to break through his country's global isolation by forging new ties and treaties with old enemies. And faced with a troubled war in Afghanistan, he authorized a temporary troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy, followed by a phased withdrawal shortly thereafter. Who was he?
The answer of course is Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. The man with the red spot on his head. Also the leader who presided over the dismantling of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. On June 22nd, Obama delivered his final phase of the Gorbachev Afghanistan strategy, the reversal of the surge followed by a handover of responsibility to the Afghan national forces. The numbers are different. Gorbachev's surge took place in 1985. Obama's in 2009. But both Gorbachev and Obama approved the surge in the same year that they took office. The Russian surge took their troop numbers to 140,000. Our surge took them to 100,000. The Soviet's Afghan allies also had much higher troop numbers than our Afghan allies do, but similar rates of desertion and non-performance. The Russian counterinsurgency strategy was more aggressive than ours, but it came with a much higher casualty rate. Almost five times higher. But beneath the numbers, the trajectory was nearly the same. The similarities however go beyond this. Obama has been chosen to play a similar historical role. That of dismantling a world power. Obama won his election by 53 percent. Gorbachev won his by 59 percent. Both men ran virtually unopposed. Except that Gorbachev actually ran unopposed without the need for a popular election. Obama was forced to contend with the electorate and an opponent, whom his own Pravda media buried in an endless torrent of propaganda. To many liberals, America looks like the Soviet Union did to conservatives back then, an empire built on a discredited economic and political philosophy that is standing in the way of history. And they see themselves as reformers guiding it into a new era. Post-Communism for the USSR and Post-Capitalism and Post-Nationalism for the US and Europe. While Gorbachev was introducing a certain amount of private enterprise into a socialist system, Obama is tearing out the last remains of free enterprise and replacing it with socialism and crony capitalism. These reforms differ radically in direction, but not in nature. Both men were and are slowly dismantling a system that their backers did not believe in anymore. Rather than reform it through revolution, they avoided confrontation with a process of slow reforms that would let them keep their power while slowly turning the system into something fundamentally different, while preserving their own wealth and power. The end result of that approach in Russia, after some twists and turns, is a crony capitalist oligarchy run by the former KGB. What it will look like in the United States isn't as obvious, but the EU provides a likely road map. If Russia went from a Communist oligarchy with no democracy to a crony capitalist oligarchy with very limited democracy-- the United States is going from a federalized democracy to a socialist oligarchy with no democracy. There will still be people at the top and at the bottom, but far fewer people in the middle who are not members of the 'Party'. And there will be no legal way to change the system. The people behind this think of themselves as being on the right side of history. The United States, as well as any nation state based on free elections, free enterprise and common national identities, is to them a historical aberration being set right by global unions, open borders and progressive government. As far back as the late 19th century, they chose the path of peaceful transition over violent revolution, confident that the forces of historical momentum and the growing conversion of entire professions and the entire apparatus of government to their way of thinking under the influence of their educational and cultural programming would make active violence unnecessary. There would be no abrupt shift, only a gradual transition. Ten thousand slow pricks, rather than an axe to the head. Every new Democratic administration in the 20th century served as a transition point, turning radical ideas into actual policy. From FDR to JFK to Carter and Clinton, the radicals made their revolutions, and then the conservatives made them seem socially acceptable, stripping away the most objectionable parts, but keeping the basic structure intact. The Obama Administration has followed a similar pattern, while meeting unprecedented resistance because it tried to do too many things, too fast. FDR was the precedent for radical action, and indeed his administration carried out even more radical change with an even greater contempt for the Constitution and the laws, than the present occupants of the White House. But FDR's avuncular patrician persona was calculated to make Americans feel safe with his policies. Obama lacks such cover. His administration was meant to transition the very idea of what American leadership is, but that very transition undermined the margin of political safety that he needed. If Clinton's sleazy hippie antics at least seemed part of American life, there is no precedent for Obama's behavior outside the EU. And even the EU did not move someone so foreign so close to the top.
If Obama was meant to be the American Gorbachev, then he was an unwise choice. Attempting a cultural assault together with a political assault was overambitious, an overestimation of both media influence and the tolerance of the nation for radical change. That is not to say that the left has lost. Despite the 2010 setbacks, the Obama Administration and its allies have kept on track, ramming their agenda through by executive order, coming in through the window when the door was shut and through the chimney when the the window was barred. And the Republican congress has shown no real ability to confront him on his own terms. Which they can't do, because like most of the political class, their beliefs differ in detail, not in substance. What most fail to understand is that the left's political victories are a product of its cultural victories. By the time that the left scores a political victory, it has long since secured the cultural battlefield, and even its opponents in the political and media classes lack a secure vision of their own. They are no longer conservatives, rather they are conservative liberals. The liberal beliefs of yesterday have become the conservative beliefs of tomorrow. The front line gets moved further and further away in the name of a greater appeal. There are victories from year to year, but look from the vantage point of generations, and the conservative side has racked up a profound and comprehensive defeat. Why does the left think that the momentum of history is on their side, that the United States is doomed to collapse, that free enterprise will be replaced by socialism, that nationalism will give way to a global political authority, that the mores and values of the American family will be replaced identity politics? Because it can look back 50 or 75 years and celebrate victory after victory. What conservative can do that? Instead conservative politicians can look back with faint nostalgia, while being forced to admit that the liberals turned out to be right about most things. They don't really want to go back 50 or 75 years. What they want is a kinder and gentler liberalism. 25 years from now will they want to go back to a time before gay marriage was universally legal, industry wasn't controlled by international treaties, cheap energy contributed to global warming, guns were widely available, free speech meant that people could say anything, and border controls made it difficult for people to travel from one country to another? No they won't. These things will become unquestionable outside of a small extremist fringe. Instead the battles will be fought over One Child policies, the internationalization of the military, domestic peacekeeping operations, Spanish only requirements in some states, and as usual, taxes. It doesn't have to happen this way. But if things keep going as they are, then it will. And keep in mind these are conservative estimates. The reality in 25 years will probably be worse. Far worse.
Right now there aren't two visions for this country. There is one vision and then critiques of that vision. Many of these critiques are incisive, witty and on point, but they are a reaction. A reaction to liberalism. The Reagan era came closest to setting out a different vision for the country and occasionally even trying to implement to it. It took the left some time to recover from the political and cultural defeats they were dealt, but they did it a while back. The same can't be said for our side. As things stand now the left doesn't need to win every fight. It just has to stay in the game. And the dismantling of America will still continue. If Obama does not get the chance to play Gorbachev, then someone else will. And if the current patterns continue, it may well be a Republican who plays Yeltsin, bringing down the United States with the force of his misplaced moral convictions. Doing on faith what even the left is too pragmatic to do in the name of politics. A nation cannot exist without direction. And a world power cannot survive without a sense of destiny. To the left, the United States is on the same path as the USSR. And the time frame in which this is averted continues to shrink. America is not static, its population is being transformed and its values are being dramatically altered. When the time comes for it to fall, the population and its values will have changed so much that there will be few who will even care if it lives or dies. That is the long term goal of the left. A long term goal now temptingly within their reach.