How Truman's Cold War Leadership Should Inspire Biden's Plans for Russia

With America's Deepening Involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian War, It's Time to Revisit American Strength at Its Greatest.

Article written by Jett James Pruitt


With soaring energy prices, crippling inflation, and a national debt bullet-training its way past the 30 trillion-dollar mark, America is on a spending bender without a single guardrail in sight.


But is this the Biden administration's most pressing problem? Not exactly.


On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced the United States will take another step deeper into melting the Cold War with Russia and becoming directly involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War:


“Last week, I signed an $800 million package of security assistance to Ukraine that included new capabilities like artillery systems and armored personnel carriers,” Biden said during a White House press conference on April 21, 2022.


“Today, I’m announcing another $800 million to further augment Ukraine’s ability to fight in the Donbas region . . . We’ve sent thousands of anti-armor and anti-air missiles, helicopters, drones, grenade launchers, machine guns, rifles, and radar systems. More than 50 million rounds of ammunition had already been sent,” he added.


As most Americans know, the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have reverberated around the world, challenging and redefining geopolitical alliances. While the conflict is ongoing, one thing is clear:


The reputation of The United States of America is being tested.


Specifically, many fear the rise of autocracies and the reluctance of NATO-aligned nations to directly intervene in the Russo-Ukrainian War is eroding the credibility of democratic nations. The post-Cold War order, it appears, is shifting.


What should the United States do to protect its position on the world stage?

Has the Cold War transformed into a battle between Democracy and Autocracy, rather than Capitalism versus Communism?

More importantly, is the West even deterring Russia?


To answer these questions, we must look back in history to offer a blueprint as how to address these challenges.

History of The Cold War


On December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Millions of viewers watched on live broadcast as the USSR flag that had donned the streets of Moscow since 1917 was replaced by the flag of the Russian Federation.


Following the conclusion of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the world's two greatest powers. While both nations cooperated with each other in defeating the Axis Powers, the schism between American democracy and Soviet communism quickly became apparent in the aftermath of the war.


The relationship between American President Harry Truman and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was shaky at the July 1945 Potsdam Conference. During the conference, Stalin conveyed his intentions of establishing a Soviet sphere of influence within Eastern Europe.


Truman, distrustful of Stalin and his government, reminded the Soviet leader of America's atomic capabilities. While there was no direct confrontation between the two leaders, it was insinuated the United States would not tolerate Soviet expansion.


Suspicions materialized in 1946, when American diplomat George Kennan wrote his Long Telegram from Moscow. In the telegram, Kennan warned the United States government that the Soviet Union could not be treated like a normal government, claiming the Kremlin sought to expand communist influence around the world. Instead, the United States must embrace containment, or the doctrine that Soviet influence must be restricted whenever and wherever it could be.


Shortly thereafter, Winston Churchill declared in Fulton, Missouri that an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe, demarcating the Communist East from the free West.


One year later, American President Harry Truman delivered his Truman Doctrine speech before Congress, embracing containment as a necessary measure against the spread of global communism. The Cold War began.

U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)


For the following four decades, the United States remained an adversary of the Soviet Union.


The containment doctrine guided American foreign policy, committing subsequent administrations to ensuring security in sensitive regions around the world. As a result, the geopolitical schism between the two powers resulted in a series of military, economic, and political events that defined human history for the second half of the 20th Century.


Focusing on the early stages of the Cold War, the policy of containment was generally successful in warding off Soviet influence in Europe, Asia, and Latin America between the years 1945 and 1960.


To begin with, the United States used direct means to confront Soviet influence. During the Cold War, the United States engaged in numerous proxy conflicts to restrain communist advances.


In 1948, American, British, and French officials merged their occupation zones in the Western half of Germany to create the Federal Republic of Germany. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union occupied the German Democratic Republic in the Eastern half of the country.


Sensing the creation of the Federal Republic posed a threat to Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe, Moscow decided to respond forcefully. In June, Premier Stalin ordered Soviet soldiers to block roads leading into West Berlin, shutting off an easy escape route for individuals fleeing East Germany.


Undeterred, American and British planes flew into West Berlin, providing food and fuel to the city for over a year. In May 1949, Stalin finally withdrew Soviet forces from the area and ended the blockade. In short, the Berlin Airlift demonstrated the U.S. government's commitment in defending democratic nations against Soviet aggression.


To solidly this commitment, the United States helped facilitate the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Comprised of 10 original members, NATO was established as a collective security pact to counterweigh the influence of the USSR.


In short, NATO was (and continues to be) pivotal in promoting the national security of Western democratic nations.


This commitment would be tested again in June 1950, when communist North Korea launched a full-scale offensive against anti-Communist South Korea.


After the United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion and authorized military action, the United States directly intervened on behalf of South Korea. Meanwhile, North Korea was militarily supported by the Soviet Union and Communist China.


In short, the Korean War was a long and bloody conflict that eventually resulted in an armistice between North and South Korea in July 1953. Both nations were divided along pre-war boundaries. Overall, while the United States was unable to unify the Peninsula, it was successful in defending the South against the Soviet-aligned North.


As such, the Korean War serves as a prime example of how the U.S. government was successful in containing Soviet influence in Asia.


Meanwhile, the United States was also a key player in warding off Communist influence in Latin America. Notably, the United States facilitated the creation of the Rio Pact in 1947.


Mirroring NATO, the pact served as a collective security agreement, with each nation pledging to provide mutual support in the case of an attack. Signed by most nations in the Western Hemisphere, it was moderately successful in preventing communist influence in South and Central America.


For example, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was successful in deposing a president in Guatemala who seized lands from the United Fruit Company in 1954. While the Pact was unsuccessful in preventing the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba, historians credit it for preventing the spread of communism in Latin America between 1945 and 1960.

Of course, the United States was not always successful in preventing the spread of communism during this time. Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union wielded tremendous influence over the domestic affairs of less powerful nations — especially in Eastern Europe.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union installed pro-communist satellite states in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria. This sphere of influence was expanded in 1955, when the USSR facilitated the creation of the Warsaw Pact in response to NATO.


In short, while the United States mobilized a common defense against the Soviet Union via NATO and the Berlin Airlift, it was generally unsuccessful in preventing the spread of communism to Eastern European Nations. As such, the division of Europe between NATO-aligned countries and Soviet-aligned countries would last until 1991.


Eastern Europe was not the only place subject to the spread of communism. After the end of World War II, China was embroiled in a civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), led by Mao Zedong, and the Kuomintang (Nationalists), led by Chiang Kai-shek.


Throughout the conflict, the United States provided weapons and fuel to the Nationalists. Despite this, the communists eventually emerged victorious, capturing Beijing and declaring the formation of the People's Republic of China in October 1949.


Chiang and remnants of Nationalist armies fled to the Formosa Island (Taiwan), establishing the Republic of China. Back at home, President Truman received criticism from members of the Republican Party for supposedly 'losing' mainland China to communism.


In a broad sense, the CCP's victory on the mainland was a major shortfall of American containment policy; many were alarmed to see the most populous nation on Earth fell to communism within a few short years.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (L) with U.S. President John F. Kennedy (R)


Yet, perhaps the most consequential event on American foreign policy between 1945 and 1960 was the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba.


In 1959, Castro staged a coup against Fulgencio Batista, a pro-American dictator. When Castro began nationalizing American landholding and established cordial relations with the Soviet Union, the Eisenhower administration severed diplomatic relations and imposed a trade embargo against the island nation.


In short, this event exacerbated tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, eventually culminating into the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. To make matters worse, President John F. Kennedy's attempt to launch an invasion of Cuba in April 1961 proved to be totally unsuccessful, and only strengthened the relationship between Havana and Moscow.


In fact, most historians agree that Castro's rise to power was another shortfall of the U.S. Policy of Containment and posed a direct threat against the United States.

Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev (L) with U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R)


Aside from these events, the U.S. policy of containment helped protect most of the free, democratic world from Soviet influence.


NATO served as a bulwark against communist governments in Eastern Europe, maintaining balance in the international order. American intervention in South Korea saved an entire population from the despotic nature of the communist North. And, while it failed to prevent communism from spreading to Cuba, the United States was generally successful in maintaining stability in South and Central America.


Regarding nations where communists seized power, the United States was successful in preventing communism from spreading to surrounding areas. Notably, the United States continued to diplomatically recognize the Kuomintang and successfully deterred China from launching an invasion of Taiwan.


Beyond this time frame, many events would continue to influence the Cold War in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. However, the early stages of U.S. containment policy were arguably the most pivotal in securing the Western world from communist ideology.


So, how does this relate to the events of today?

Ukrainan President Volodymyr Zelensky


The Cold War of the 20th Century has evolved from a quest to stop the global spread of Communism into a struggle between American-led Democracy and Russian-fueled Autocracy.


Just how and where this situation ends, is clearly up to the world leaders on center stage as only time will tell how long we can stave off yet another world war that will cost our nations more than we have to give — particularly in light of insurmountable global challenges such as climate change.


For this reason, Biden needs to look to former Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan for the playbook on what American Strength looks like to stop this conflict from escalating into global catastrophe.


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