What lessons can we learn for a new age of Russian imperialism?
First, when the aggression comes, it’s too late. President Reagan was mortified, when the Soviets demanded a crackdown on the Solidarity movement in 1981, that there was so little America could do about it, given the decline of our military power in the backlash against the Vietnam War. Barack Obama finds himself in in the same situation, given the decline of American military power that he has presided over in the backlash against the Iraq War.
But Reagan found plenty to do in Poland without using our military power. We imposed sanctions against the Polish regime and the Soviet Union, and throughout the 80s we gave Solidarity everything from moral support, to money, equipment, and training…
If President Reagan could see what Russia is doing today, he would cock his head and say, “Well, there they go again.” And then he would deploy the whole panoply of resistance we used against Moscow in his day. He might start with the fact that Poland has strong ties to Ukraine’s pro-European majority and a direct interest in opposing Russia, making the Poles an obvious conduit for support to the new government in Kiev—both open and covert, and both economic and military. The Baltic states are also freaking out, given their own vulnerability to Russian aggression, and they can be counted on for extensive support. The urgent priority is to rapidly convert Western Ukraine into a “porcupine state”—one that may not be able to win a war with Russia outright, but can make such a war too painful to be appealing.