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The World Has Changed. Boy, Has It Changed.

When you watch politics carefully and you have attained a certain age, you often misunderstand it—because you forget how many, many people are far younger than you and do not share the same memories. Some of us who live in New York City spent much of the last mayoral election warning about the consequences of turning back the clock on policing to the days before Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 election—but of course that meant nothing to the 50 percent of the electorate who had no idea what it was like in the city in those years. Now consider the fact that 18 year-olds who will vote for the first time in 2016 were three years old on 9/11 and 10 when Barack Obama was elected, and you have a sense of how the traditional conversation about foreign policy, for example, may make little or no sense of them.

I’ve been struck this morning by two signs of the colossal changes in the world and in the United States since I was in my mid-20s—one significant and one not so significant but telling nonetheless.

The first is that Barack Obama left the United States today to pay an official visit to Estonia. Estonia! It was one of the “captive nations” of Central Europe swallowed up by the Soviet Union—first as part of Stalin’s evil 1939 deal with Hitler, then taken by Germany when Stalin and Hitler turned on each other, then reoccupied by the Soviets in 1944. The United States never recognized the Soviet dominion over Estonia (or Latvia and Lithuania, its fellow “Baltics”), and throughout the Cold War Estonians living in the West maintained its independence through a government in exile. They had currency, they had consulates, they had representatives. I knew a few. They seemed both brave and silly, resolute in their pointless insistence that their country still existed as an independent entity. And then came the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and—just like that—there they were. Free and independent. And, eventually, members of NATO.

If you had told me, in 1986, that a president of the United States would pay a state visit to a free Estonia as a fellow member of NATO, I would have wondered at your sanity. It’s worth remembering, in these dark and depressing days, that some extraordinary things happened in the world a couple of decades ago.

The less significant but still dumbfounding development this morning is the news that Fred Ryan has become the new publisher of the Washington Post. I also knew Fred Ryan. When I was a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, he was the White House scheduler—the man responsible for setting the president’s daily and weekly calendar. He was not known as a “Reaganite”—he was more Nancy Reagan’s man than Ronald’s, and Nancy was considered an ideologically heterodox person by us conservatives—but he did occupy a senior position and then went to serve as Reagan’s chief of staff at the conclusion of the presidency. Anyway, if you had told me, in 1988, that a senior official of the Reagan White House would one day be running the Washington Post, even you would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea.

A quarter century is a long time.


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2 Responses to “The World Has Changed. Boy, Has It Changed.”

  1. MARC SALZBERGER says:

    One thing we tend to forget is that Estonia, as well as Latvia and Lithuania were Nazi collaborators during WWII. Many there fought the Red Army in the uniform of Waffen SS and served as concentration camp guards. That holds for Ukrainians no less.

    And even after 1945 some of those Balts fought the communist authorities for years as partisans.

    When the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR disgorged the captive nations, many there saw that as vindication for their pro Nazi performance. Monuments were built honoring the men who had served in the Waffen SS.

    A similar story applies to Ukraine where down to this day a substantial part of the population supports politicians with a distinct fascist complexion.

    That is the one issue where Putin is in the right. It is galling to him and to most Russians that many Ukrainians and Balts would like to think that their WWII performance was right and honorable and that they have now been vindicated and that that war’s outcome has been reversed.

    It would behoove President Obama, as he visits Estonia, to pointedly declare that the US continues to resolutely oppose and abhor fascist politics in any form, and that on that score the US fully supports Russia.

    Declaring our repugnance for their fascist parties and politicians would not only be right on principle, it would give us a much stronger hand in supporting Ukraine against Russia.

  2. STEPHEN PARKER says:

    A quarter century is a long time; a lot of change occurs.
    Twenty-five years ago, the Editor-in Chief of Commentary would have had the spine to inform the readers of Commentary of the true nature of Obama and the forces behind him, and the felony crimes Obama has committed before, during, and after his nominations. In fact, twenty-five years ago, Commentary’s Editor might have been only one of a great chorus of Conservative voices, working to derail such a nomination. Commentary, now, is a collection of selfish, cowardly writers who want to remain a part of the political elite, irrespective of the criminal, retrograde Islamic sympathizing Obama regime, which has implemented a ruinous agenda for this nation.




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