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Cold War Lessons for George W. Bush

President Bush recently drew an analogy between the current struggle against violent jihadi terrorism and the Cold War. He is right in one respect: waves of terrorism tend to be generational. Unfortunately, like the Cold War, the current “war on terror” is likely to be a matter of decades, not years.

But Bush missed another lesson implicit in his analogy: the importance of using the soft power of culture. The Cold War was won by a combination of military power, which deterred Soviet aggression, and the attractive power of Western culture and ideas. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, hammers and bulldozers, not artillery, brought it down. Unfortunately, Bush has not learned this lesson.

Academic and scientific exchanges during the Cold War played a significant role in enhancing American soft power. While some American skeptics feared that Soviet scientists and KGB agents would steal American technology, they failed to notice that the visitors vacuumed up political ideas alongside scientific secrets. Many of these scientists became leading proponents of human rights and liberalization inside the USSR.

Some 50,000 Soviets – writers, journalists, officials, musicians, dancers, athletes, and academics – visited the United States between 1958 and 1988. Aleksandr Yakovlev was strongly influenced by his studies at Columbia University in 1958. Yakovlev went on to become a Politburo member and key liberalizing influence on Mikhail Gorbachev.