The Post-Cold War Era now officially has birth and death dates: It was born on November 9, 1989, which is the day when the Berlin Wall fell, and it died on February 24, 2022, which is when Russia invaded Ukraine. Those 32 years, 3 months and 16 days were not all great (and I need to stress, this is putting it lightly). But within that era, the world was as open and to some degree unified as it had ever been, we were all connected through a global information network, for good and ill, and during that stretch of time, the prospect of being fried in nuclear annihilation was remote as it had been since the Soviets gained their own nuclear capability.
Today, tens of thousands of Belgians picked up iodine tablets from pharmacies, which is a pretty good sign that the Belgians, at least, think the halcyon days of not worrying that we’ll all be turned into silhouettes on the sidewalk are over. War is in Europe now, not for the first time since World War II, but on a scale that doesn’t leave much doubt that we’ve stepped through to a new and uncertain time, at least until the leadership of Russia is swapped out for something less twitchy and warlike. That might take a while.
There are some small things that are not bad, or should I say, slightly better, about this new era. The polite fiction that Russia (specifically the Putin government) is not a bad actor with regard to propaganda and purchasing conservative politicians and commenters in the west is now officially dead, and good fucking riddance to that. All but the most obtuse of conservative politicians and talking heads have gotten the memo in the last week; it’s been fun watching them denounce Putin with the same lips they’d been kissing his ass with days before. There’s also a vague look of confusion and panic in their eyes; they’ve been on the payroll for so long, or have benefitted from the Russian disinformation strategy of undermining Western democracy, that it’s clear they no longer know what to think or how to say it without direction. I don’t regret these terrible people being lost at sea, rhetorically speaking. I hope they drown there.
Beyond that, there’s not much to look forward to in the near future. The idea that Putin will not try to execute on his plan to subjugate Ukraine seems remote. He’d assumed the invasion would be quick and easy, and was embarrassed and humiliated when it wasn’t. Putin does not strike me as the sort of person to take embarrassment and humiliation in stride, and it’s pretty evident he doesn’t actually care about how many people he’ll kill, either his own side or among the Ukrainians, in order not to be humiliated more than he already is. The west has aligned itself with Ukraine and its government as it exists, and is strangling Russia economically. I am not to be relied upon as a competent observer of events here — I’m not an expert on Russia, Ukraine, or the west’s economic tactics — but with that caveat given, I’m not sure there is an easy way out here, or an “off-ramp” that can be given Putin that soothes his feelings while leaving Ukraine intact.
One thing that can be said is that the Biden administration, which warned us all for at least a few weeks that Putin and Russia would do what they did, and was widely mocked and derided on the right for it, got it right — and by all indications had conferred with key allies prior to events so as not to be caught entirely by surprise. It appears once Russian boots were on the ground in Ukraine, Europe moved faster than the US (in no small part thanks to an impassioned plea to European leaders by Volodymyr Zelensky), but everyone moved in more or less the same direction, and Biden’s people helped set the direction.
Bluntly: What a relief that is. Our fatuous windbag of a former president, speaking of right wing politicians who had been kissing Putin’s ass, likes to suggest that none of this would have happened had he been president. What a contemptable lie that is. If he were still president, Putin would have had an ardent ally in the White House, one more than happy to squash the brakes on a coherent western response to the invasion. The same man who had been impeached for trying to lean on Volodymyr Zelensky to smear Biden would have been perfectly happy to have the Russians hang him from a crane.
Instead, we have a president who saw Putin for what he was and what he intended to do. Biden, bless his heart, is not a perfect president, nor is his administration doing everything I want it to do at the rate I want it to be done. But on this, at least, he and it were where they needed to be, doing what they needed to be doing. If the post-cold war era is ending, the president overseeing it on our end understands the gravity of the change, and the messages the United States should be sending about it.
I’ll miss the post-cold war era, and the idea that our entire planet could be connected in ways it hadn’t been before. I don’t know where we go from here. I would like to think that at the end of it we’ll be someplace better than we are now. So much depends on the choices we make today, from the national level down to each of us in the voting booth. We’re living in history again, whether we like it or not.