The Magazine

Cold War II

America can win another protracted, high-stakes global struggle.

Oct 1, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 03 • By PETER D. FEAVER
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Second, domestic political support is crucial and cannot be assumed. Partisan politics will return, and the Bush administration will have to fight this war without the unanimous support we have seen temporarily on display. To be sure, during the immediate aftermath of extreme crisis, we can count on politicians and the public to rally to the flag. The Democrats did not offer the customary rebuttal speech to a presidential address to Congress. But if Cold War I taught us anything, it is that politics does not stop at the water’s edge, at least not in a campaign that lasts more than a few weeks. While there was a bipartisan consensus on the general need to stand up to communism, there was never a bipartisan consensus on how to stand up to communism. In the same way, there will be deep and probably bitter debates over how to conduct the Second Cold War.

This truth may be particularly hard to swallow, because in the last decade we have bought into a myth about the "good old days" when Americans—Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and leftists—were of one mind on foreign policy. On the contrary, successive administrations sustained political support for the First Cold War only with exceptional difficulty, and even then in fits and starts. Anyone with an e-mail connection to the American left can attest that the Second Cold War will be like the First in this regard, with loud clamoring from the blame-America-first crowd. Many of these debates will be specious, but not all will be. Indeed, the Second Cold War may be harder to fight than the last one, leaving ample room for responsible disagreements among reasonable people. We will have to nurture those debates, learn from them, and forge the best possible policy in an extraordinarily difficult political climate.

Third, like the First Cold War, this Cold War will test the uneasy balance between national security and individual liberty—in the president’s words, whether we can "fight for our principles" as well as "live by them." Harold Lasswell, the distinguished social scientist, warned that the dictates of national security in an age of total war could turn the United States into a "garrison state"—a militarized state where basic individual liberties were systematically sacrificed and an all-powerful central government tyrannized the population. Some considered his prophecies fulfilled in McCarthyism and the rise of the military-industrial complex.

But in fact, America did not become a garrison state during the Cold War. Rights and liberties actually expanded—remember the civil rights movement—and large defense expenditures precluded neither a vast expansion of the social safety net, nor a vigorous independent entrepreneurial base. But here the Second Cold War will pose more serious challenges. The Soviet espionage threat inside the United States was real, but it never came to the blowing up of skyscrapers and the wanton killing of thousands of American citizens. The fifth columnists of the First Cold War were largely misguided intellectuals, hoping to undermine American foreign policy with bombast in between gulps of wine and brie. The "sleepers" of the Second Cold War are of an entirely different nature, and the balance between security and liberty far more precarious.

The Second Cold War will require changes in the way we do business and organize ourselves for national security, all relics of the First Cold War. Already, the Bush administration has announced the most obvious change, a new cabinet-level Office of Homeland Security. Other measures will be debated soon, such as expansions in international economic espionage and law enforcement capabilities, and possibly a dramatic reorientation of NATO. But this Cold War will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of the American people, not in the fine print of policies and programs.

One of the most hopeful signs so far has been the clarity with which the Bush administration has understood that this war will be long and difficult, involving a careful, measured, but sustained application of American power. Only the most blinkered critics of America think the president is planning a quickie retaliation of blind vengeance, in which some innocent Afghans die and nothing else is accomplished. On the contrary, the administration has repeatedly drawn attention to the costs and the long-term focus.

Therein lies the worry. Will we sustain the fight? As President Bush reminded us, "Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass." Bush shows every indication of understanding that he is the first president of the Second Cold War. He recognizes the demands this war will place on the home front. Do the rest of us?

Peter D. Feaver is director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and associate professor of political science at Duke University. He is currently on sabbatical at Cambridge University.