Christopher Hitchens

Last, Best Hope

The Making of the Second Cold War

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A few weeks ago, in Washington, I heard the President make a long and turgid statement justifying his war on the Sandinistas. He returned, so often that it must have been scripted for him, to the theme of Nicaragua as a ‘revolution betrayed’. I don’t think I’m being conceited when I say that most of the White House press corps did not appreciate the irony of Ronald Reagan quoting Leon Trotsky. Isaac Deutscher would have grimaced; shrugged even. In the great Kulturkampf of the twentieth century, both combatants are regimes which have betrayed their founding revolutionary charters. There’s not much Tom Paine in Ronald Reagan, and even less Karl Marx in Yuri Andropov. But that does not mean that the Cold War is not about ideas. Even in its most demagogic and hysterical forms, it pits the idea of liberty against the idea of totalitarianism; the idea of emancipation against the idea of exploitation. The very insults levelled by either side contain oblique compliments; America is accused of a fixation on ‘bourgeois freedoms’ while the Soviets are denounced for aiding ‘ liberation’ movements. No two intelligent people from either country could meet for a drink and leave the argument as cretinously underdeveloped as that. But both governments do – there has probably never been such hot rivalry between two powers so ignorant of one another – and nobody needs reminding that they play for very high stakes.

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