Should we have invaded Hungary in 1956?
The decision to remove missile defense systems from Eastern Europe has provoked a lot of unusually silly commentary, but the latest from Townhall deserves special recognition:
It is all too reminiscent of the Hungarian spring, when the US stood by and let the USSR crush the Hungarian freedom movement. This appeasement will do nothing but embolden the most militaristic and dangerous elements of the Russian ruling class. Message: America has retreated.
On the merits, this is just terribly confused. No one – not even pro-missile defense analysts – thinks that interceptor sites in Eastern Europe will have any practical impact on the effectiveness of Russia’s nukes. Their arsenal is too massive, their ICBMs are programmed to fly over the North Pole, not Poland, and if the Russians were to invade Eastern Europe, I doubt they’d be stupid enough to nuke the same territory they plan on occupying. Arguing that we’re appeasing Iran at least has the virtue of making sense, but even that doesn’t hold up because we’re developing another program designed to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles in the Middle East.
It’s the analogy between Hungary, 1956 and Poland, 2009 that really confuses me, however. I mean, how should we have responded to the Soviet crackdown? Should we have invaded Hungary and ignited another world war? It seems to me that a devastating conflict fought primarily in Eastern Europe would have been far more detrimental to Hungarian interests than a diplomatic approach that actually helped bring about the fall of the Soviet Union decades later. Obviously, this required some unpleasant compromises with a very repressive regime. Similarly, I’m not thrilled that Putin and Medvedev approve of our decision to remove the missile defense system. This doesn’t mean the decision is wrong on the merits (quite the opposite); it just means that basing foreign policy on the principle that antagonizing unpleasant regimes is always a good thing, while viscerally satisfying, doesn’t produce the best substantive outcomes.