Last weekend, I had the unique privilege of again meeting with John Bolton, who was United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush.
John is one of Washington's brightest minds, a man with equally sharp wit and insight. I always enjoy his company, but much of what he said this time scared the hell out of me.
He spoke in detail about China challenging its neighbors and America, the dangerous turmoil sweeping the Middle East, the failure of U.S. diplomacy across the world, the loss of U.S. credibility among our enemies and allies alike, and many other concerns.
One concern stood out to me, however.
As a boy in the 1930s and for much of my adult life, I considered the Soviet Union the gravest threat to America and the world. It starved, imprisoned and executed millions of its people, enslaved its neighbors, toppled democratic governments around the globe and infamously threatened to “bury” us.
After four decades of Cold War, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thanks largely to the resoluteness of President Ronald Reagan. Most people thought it would never rise again.
Yet the unthinkable has happened: Russia under Vladimir Putin is challenging us today — checking us in Iran and the Middle East, snatching pawns off the chessboard in Eastern Europe.
As John affirmed, Russia has more nuclear weapons than any nation on Earth, most of them aimed at U.S. targets; it is ruled by men like Putin, a former KGB spy, who care only about controlling the world and filling their own pockets.
It cannot be ignored or dismissed as a threat, even if some in American politics and universities sneer at the suggestion – just as they have since the 1930s.
In March 2012, President Obama met with Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia's president, at a nuclear-security summit in South Korea. He asked Medvedev to deliver a message to Putin, the real power in Moscow: “(It's) important for him to give me space. … This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
“I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev replied.
Obama didn't realize open microphones picked up his words; he was talking, we were told afterward, about Russia's objection to a U.S. missile shield in Europe. But a much broader message undoubtedly came across, loud and clear, to “Vladimir.”
If we've learned anything in the Obama years, and with every president in my lifetime, it is that trying to appease our enemies does not succeed.
Appeasement killed 60 million people in World War II; millions more have died or suffered terribly because of it in the decades since.
I hope the next president we elect understands the threats that John Bolton laid out so clearly during our visit, and responds as resolutely as Ronald Reagan did.
And I hope the next president realizes that appeasement — particularly of a nation like Russia, or a leader like Putin — is one of the gravest threats of all.
My newspapers will continue to follow this and other international developments with the focus and tenacity they demand.
(This is the second in a series of articles by Tribune-Review publisher Dick Scaife, who announced in a May 18 column that he has inoperable cancer. In these, he will share with readers some current issues or concerns, recollections, and personal interests that he considers important.)