In a great article at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, COMMENTARY contributor Sohrab Ahmari describes a fascinating episode in the intellectual history of the Cold War and an important COMMENTARY contribution to the shaming of America’s misguided Cold-War left.
The occasion for revisiting all this was a recent tweet by Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. Upon hearing that the Polish anti-communist hero Lech Walesa declined to meet with Barack Obama on his recent trip to Poland, vanden Heuvel went into attack mode.
“From Solidarity to hubristic individualism,” she tweeted. “Lech Walesa says he just doesn’t feel like meeting w/ Pres Obama.” Walesa, vanden Heuvel wrote, had gone from political dissent to “political descent.”
Successfully leading an international liberation movement is nice, but it doesn’t compare to the prospect of bowing to Barack the Resetter. That the reset involved reneging on a missile-defense system to protect Walesa’s own democratic homeland, well, no one said change was going to be easy.
As Sohrab details, attacking—indeed jeopardizing—dissidents is a longstanding habit among the Nation crowd.
In March 1988, the Nation published an article by vanden Heuvel and Kevin Coogan, accusing a number of important Soviet dissidents and émigrés of conspiring with neoconservatives to “advance the Reagan administration’s foreign policy objectives.” If this were true, it would have been a wonderfully ingenious tactical innovation. But that’s not how the Nation writers saw it, warning, “In this struggle for growing tolerance and openness [in the Soviet Union], any effort … to use Soviet citizens for ulterior purposes can only end badly all around…” Vanden Heuvel and Coogan took special aim at the Soviet journal of dissent Glasnost, for collaborating with “a program that more closely resembled intelligence-gathering than human rights work.” Ahmari describes the most egregious aspect of the Nation’s efforts: “A New York Times investigation conducted less than a month after the appearance of the Nation article revealed that Coogan had discussed their as yet unpublished piece with Iona Andronov, a Soviet journalist with the hard-line Literaturnaya Gazeta, and even provided him with an advance galley.”
In any event, vanden Heuvel and Coogan’s assertions were false. And that’s where COMMENTARY enters the picture. In a June , 1988 COMMENTARY article entitled, “‘Glasnost,’ the KGB, and the ‘Nation,’” Joshua Muravchik meticulously examined how the Nation authors systematically ignored all evidence that countered their outlandish claims. After the article was published, COMMENTARY ran letters in response from vanden Heuvel and Coogan, a counter-response from Muravchik and, most damning to the Nation’s case, a letter from Glasnost’s publisher Sergei Grigoryants. Here’s the last of these on the damage done by the Nation article: “If there were once 200 copies of the journal circulating in Moscow, today the situation is such that Glasnost is practically the only publication in Moscow which people are afraid to copy and distribute, so great is the threat of persecution and arrest.”