For those of us who grew up hearing every day how the Russians represented an existential threat to the United States, I guess it was too much to hope that those days were over. Between the near-unanimous opinion that the Russians interfered with our presidential election and the Trump administration’s questionable contacts with the Russians, they are a ubiquitous part of our daily lives — again.
The only thing that has changed is the reaction of the Republican Party.
At the height of the Cold War, many Americans would, in exasperation, quote the title of the 1966 movie “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” The movie was a comedy, but Americans made it a meme for coping with the threat that the Russians posed to our country.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet communists and their proxies quickly created a series of satellite states in Eastern Europe that included Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Hungary. Following on the terrible Nazi regime, tens of millions of people became enslaved again. In March 1946, Winston Churchill, speaking to 40,000 people at Westminster College in Missouri, declared that an “iron curtain has descended across the Continent” and the United States and Great Britain must once again be allies in a long struggle against tyranny.
Thus began the Cold War. It was the beginning of more than 40 years of bipartisan support in this country for a policy of deterrence and containment. Whether it was the Berlin Airlift in 1948, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 or President Reagan’s exhortation to President Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, The United States maintained a steely resolve to win this clash of cultures and civilization. The Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight in the late 1980s. Since the collapse happened during a Republican presidency, Republicans proudly highlighted their consistently hawkish policy toward Russia. In any case, it was a testimony to American resolve and our capitalist system.
After a decade of relative harmony between the United States and Russia, in 2000, Vladimir Putin was elected to succeed Boris Yeltsin as president of a free Russia. But Putin, democratically put in office, has reverted to criminal acts to crack down on internal opposition, including punishing journalists who oppose state policy. Former opposition leaders have turned up dead around the world. In 2014, he unilaterally annexed a free Crimea and provided military support to pro-Russian separatists in the Ukraine, a sovereign nation. In 2015, Putin authorized Russian military intervention in Syria on behalf of the oppressive Bashar Assad regime. It appears that after a brief two-decade interlude, the Russian people have once again turned to authoritative leadership.
Which brings us to Russia’s provocative and escalating actions against the United States, which includes the buzzing of an American destroyer and a Russian submarine off our coast.
Throughout the 20th century the Republican Party was stalwartly anti-Communist. When we negotiated mutually desired nuclear-arms reduction, it was a Republican president who reminded us to, “Trust, but verify.” Into this century, the Republicans cautioned against a newly expansionist modern Russia. Just recently, when President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia after the election, the uniform Republican reaction was he should have done it sooner and he should have acted stronger.
Now with President Trump in office, the Republicans seemingly have changed their tune. Even the twin hawks, Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, seem to have lost their righteous indignation of Russian provocation. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte have demurred on investigating ties between some Trump advisers and the Russians. This is the same Jason Chaffetz who spent so much time and energy investigating Secretary Clinton’s handling of Benghazi.
Congressional Republicans’ inaction betrays their proud history of opposition to oppressive regimes. It is also an abdication of their constitutional responsibility to provide a check on the questionable actions of the executive branch. This is not the same party of brave patriots that I remember growing up. Republicans need to wake up. The Russians are coming again, and they are not our friends.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, a former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.