A Time to Tell the Truth

The World & I

by John Lenczowski  |  June 1988  |  ARTICLES
Source : The World & I  

       When the president is in Moscow for his summit meeting with Gorbachev, he will be staying at the U.S. ambassador's residence, Spaso House, a mansion not far from several islands in the Gulag Archipelago. As he enters its portals, he will come face to face with an imposing rendering of the American eagle, underneath which is an inscription: "Live and Let Live." One wonders if he will ask any questions about this new "national motto" and how it came to be there. 
        
        "Live and Let Live" encapsulates much of what is endearing about our national character and what is wrong with American foreign policy. This is a motto of tolerance and recognition of the dignity and worth of other peoples, nations, cultures, and ideas. It is an expression of peaceful intentions and an exhortation for reciprocal tolerance. It is also a symbol of moral confusion and spiritual fatigue.
       
        It would be interesting to know whether our diplomats of 1940 would have hung this motto in our embassy in Berlin if Hitler had possessed nuclear weapons. Such weapons in the hands of totalitarians may make Americans of any era more tolerant of such regimes. But given the current zeitgeist, it may be reasonable to suspect that today's foreign policy elites are more likely to signal such tolerance than their predecessors were.
       
        "Live and Let Live" is a formula for policy toward regimes, ideas, and behavior that are nonthreatening and therefore deserve tolerance. To fail to make the distinctions over what is or is not so deserving is to succumb to a moral/political dereliction that may have enormous strategic consequences. Yet such a failure is indeed the disquieting reality of current U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. Unless this fundamental moral and conceptual failure is addressed, recommendations for improvement of individual elements of policy can only serve as a band-aid approach to curing a deeper malady.
       
        The policy of containment
       
        With the exception of a few rhetorical flourishes favoring a rollback of communism, the foreign policies of the entire postwar period in effect have presupposed that Soviet communism is tolerable enough that we need not concern ourselves with trying to eliminate it. Although successive administrations have protested Soviet behavior both international and domestic, they have remained content to "let it live."
       
        But how can any partisan of democracy find Soviet communism tolerable--especially when there is no evidence that the Soviet objective of world ... (3100 of 24199 Characters)
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