Make Vladimir Putin Boring Again
“Politics stops at the water’s edge,” was the maxim of Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican sponsor of the 1948 Senate resolution that bore his name. The Vandenberg Resolution made possible Harry Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s vision of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was an example of bipartisan comity, enabled by the deliberate separation of America’s domestic politics from its foreign policy.
Yet within barely a year, as civil war in China tipped to the Communists and the Soviet Union tested nuclear weapons, Washington’s political furies were unleashed. For four years, between 1950 and 1954, Senator Joseph McCarthy implied that the United States was losing. The international situation could only be so bad, he tacitly argued, because of some internal American defect, some disloyalty metastasizing within the American body politic, a Communist sabotage of America’s natural vitality. McCarthy exploited disorienting international crises to terrorize Washington. As David Halberstam so brilliantly conveyed in The Best and the Brightest, his magisterial study of the Vietnam War, McCarthy’s evisceration of the State Department and his castigation of those he branded “soft” on Russia led to the diplomatic myopia and military overreach that eventually landed the U.S. in the Vietnam quagmire.