Winston Churchill called Russia a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Sir Winston wasn’t just whistling Dixie.
The late John Kelley, one of the smartest men I have ever known, told me several years ago, that neither Iran nor China nor North Korea would ever be more threatening to our nation’s security than the Russian Bear. He agreed with John McCain’s evaluation about Russian president Vladimir Putin— “When I look into his eyes I see KGB.”
John, who was once the Deputy Secretary of State — which is pretty high cotton, in case you didn’t realize that — told me a marvelous story about a state dinner he once attended in Moscow. He told me that a small group of dignitaries was seated in a cavernous dining room, adorned with all the trappings of wealth that one could imagine, and each person was given a leather-bound menu book. The edges of the pages were gilded in gold. There was page after page of delectable dishes featured in the book.
After the guests were given a reasonable time to examine the menu and make their selections, servers started coming around to take the orders. President George H.W. Bush was the first to address the server. He pointed to a page in the menu, placing his order, and the server leaned over and whispered something in his ear. The President simply smiled and nodded.
Next he approached the Secretary of State, which was Jim Baker at the time. Secretary Baker pointed to his selection. The server whispered something in his ear and he nodded.
Finally it was Deputy Secretary Kelley’s turn to order and he was very anxious to find out what clandestine message he would be given after doing so. He didn’t have to wonder long. After pointing to the elaborate dish he had chosen from the menu, the waiter leaned over and whispered in his ear, “We have chicken and potatoes.”
“So,” John said, “I’ll have the chicken and potatoes.”
But they had lots of vodka to go along with it.
One of my favorite World War II movies is “Patton.” One of my favorite scenes from that movie comes toward the end of the war when Patton called Eisenhower on the phone and said something to the effect of, “Listen, Ike. We’ve been fighting the wrong people all along. The Soviets are our real enemy. We’re going to have to fight those SOBs sooner or later anyway, so let’s go ahead and do it now while we’ve got the army over here. Give me a few days and I can start a war with the Soviets and make it look like it was their fault. You give me the gas for my tanks and I’ll kick their asses back to Moscow and …”
Well, you get the picture. The world never has been able to trust the Russians — not politically, and I am not speaking of the downtrodden citizens of that country.
Give ‘em hell Harry Truman knew you couldn’t trust them. He was so suspicious of Joseph Stalin at Potsdam that Patton almost got his wish. Many historians insist that one of the reasons Truman went ahead and used the atomic bomb was to let the Soviet Union know that they should heed the slogan, “Don’t tread on me.”
Of course Truman’s suspicions were warranted. Russia bought our atomic secrets from turncoats — people were executed because of it — and they built their own bomb a decade before they could have figured it out on their own.
During the Cold War, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, implemented his plan — massive retaliation — to keep the Commies from messing with us. He said if the Soviet Union attacks us with one bomb then we’d retaliate with a dozen. If they attacked us with a dozen, we would attack them with a hundred, and so forth. This would lead, of course, to Mutually Assured Destruction, and it ain’t a coincidence that the acronym for that policy is M.A.D. Where did you think the magazine name came from?
In 1962 the Dulles Brinksmanship of the ’50s almost led to nuclear war, but JFK backed Khrushchev down — along with making a secret deal to get our missiles out of Turkey — and we survived the moment.
Later in the 60s we fought against Soviet-made weapons in Vietnam, and in the ’70s, Nixon and Kissinger worked hard at easing tensions between the nations. You’ve heard of glasnost and détente. Then Jimmy Carter became president.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan spent so much money re-building the military that the Soviet Union basically went broke trying to keep up with us. He didn’t even have to do all the stuff — like the Star Wars Defense System — he just had to make the Commies think he was doing it. They spent themselves into oblivion and their little satellite system collapsed.
It stayed collapsed, too, for about 20 years.
But now the United States is in a weakened state, militarily and otherwise. We can’t even get an astronaut home from the International Space Station unless they catch a ride with the Russians. The world has come to Russia for the Winter Games and Putin is up to age-old Soviet tricks, and I can’t help but think of another famous quote from history.
“2012 will be my last election, and I will have a lot more flexibility after it is over.”
Bob Hope was right. Crimea doesn’t pay.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at darrellhuckaby.net.