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Head-to-head flirtation

Underestimating one's enemy is no virtue

Head-to-head flirtation

(Alfonso Ocando/Miraflores Press Office/AP)

"If you only knew how the youngest of the officials in Moscow's Old Square roar with laughter at your political wizards. And Fidel Castro, he openly scorns the United States, boldly sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours" (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, June 8, 1978).

The Harvard graduating class booed, but the Soviet Union's most famous refugee was well aware that contempt is part of the job description of a prophet. What would he say today, as Pakistan rolls over before the Taliban tide as before a fleet of encroaching Panzers? What would he say as, 31 years after his remarks, Fidel Castro still "openly scorns the United States," making our president look like a junior-high debater for having "misinterpreted" his brother Raul's conciliatory words in Trinidad as a "thaw"?

All of this as speechwriters at the Pentagon are busily whiting out from official speeches any mention of "terrorists" and "terrorism." (By contrast, a Homeland Security memo titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," disseminated nationally to law enforcement agencies, liberally employs the words in connection with "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.")

How embarrassing does it seem now, those photos of an ear-to-ear grinning commander in chief as he shakes hands with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas. How he was played when he said during opening ceremonies: "The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba. I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust. . . ."

It is precisely here, in the metaphor of a journey, that is crystallized the difference in worldviews between our president and the Russian. What President Obama sees as a matter of steady footsteps over a woodland path, the survivor of the Gulag sees as a fixed gulf. What Obama imagines to be a world coming together-if we but strike the right diplomatic notes-Solzhenitsyn warns is a world careening farther and farther apart by the centrifugal force of irreconcilable ideologies. He cries out against "the illusion according to which danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations. . . . It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all evolving toward each other and that neither one can be transformed into the other without violence."

Underestimating one's enemy is no virtue, though superficially it seems kind and generous. This past hundred days' back-and-forth flirtations between the United States and South American Communists resembled nothing so much as a vacation tryst that ends when the man goes back home to his wife, slipping his wedding ring on again as he exits the hotel. He is married to Marxism, but he had a good time at your expense. No wonder Fidel Castro sneered after the affair that Obama exhibits signs of "superficiality."

About 2,600 years ago Ben-hadad, king of Syria, was soundly defeated by Israel, on God's express orders. But King Ahab, loving to be loved by foreign powers, squandered victory by allowing himself to be duped by the craftiness of the defeated head of state:

"So [Ben-hadad's servants] tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, 'Your servant Ben-hadad says, "Please, let me live.'" And he said, 'Does he still live? He is my brother.' Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, 'Yes, your brother Ben-hadad . . .'" (1 Kings 20:32-33).

One thing alone is strong enough to prevail against the ancient alchemies of artifice, warns Solzhenitsyn. Decrying the late political advisor George Kennan's advice that "we cannot apply moral criteria to politics," he laments that "thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute evil in the world. Only moral criteria can help the West against communism's well-planned world strategy."

A word to the wise when schmoozing with communists and terrorists. Beware of handshakes with men bearing agendas: "And Joab said to Amasa, 'Is it well with you, my brother?' And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab's hand . . ." (2 Samuel 20: 9-10).

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