Nyet Again! Americans See Cold War Back

Late night comedians had a field day late in 2012 when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Russia is the United States’ biggest threat. Even President Obama in the final debate turned to him and quipped: “the eighties called – they want their foreign policy back.”

But after Russian leader Vladimir Putin invaded and seized Crimea, Romney’s remark doesn’t seem all that funny anymore.

In fact, a recent Gallup Poll revealed that half of Americans think the U.S. and Russia are headed back to Cold War.

In fact, the real sentiment is even higher than that, as a closer look at the numbers will indicate. Seven percent had “no opinion” to that topic, which means that more Americans – by a margin of 50 to 43 percent – think that a return to Cold War is likely.

That belief gets even stronger when looking at poll respondents’ age groups.

Keeping in mind that the Cold War essentially ended in 1991, and that it much of perception of a Soviet threat did not begin to dissipate until about ten years earlier than that, the minimum age of someone who really lived through a bona fide Cold War threat is 50. And 50-somethings weren’t even born – or were far too young to remember – the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, let alone the Red Scare of the 1950s.

Those who are 65 and older are the ones who grew up with bomb shelters, nuclear drills, and with thought of Armageddon everpresent in their minds. And they are the ones that, by a wide margin, 65 to 26 percent, think we are heading back to Cold War. The only age group that doesn’t envision another Cold War more likely than not is the one that didn’t live through the first one or was too young to remember it: the 18-to-29 year-olds.

Even more telling is how little this seems to have to do with politics. Predictably (because they are the “colder” Cold Warriors), more Republicans think another Cold War is looming than Democrats or Independents do. But the numbers are not that far off: Responding yes by party affiliation: Republicans (67%), Independents (47%) and Democrats (44%). Granted the Republican-to Democrat gap seems wide, but the more significant number might be that even among Democrats, almost half of them think Cold War is on the way.
All of this is particularly significant considering that no major Democratic or Republican leader has hinted as such – most insisting that we are in fact not heading down that road.

Of course, much of this may be an overreaction to the current Ukraine situation. In a few weeks, if there is a pleasantly surprising outcome, the looming Cold War threat in Americans’ minds might dissipate. Maybe even sooner than that. “America is a 10-day country,” former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis used to say, meaning that after 10-days, Americans seem to forget what it was that had been troubling them.

Whether the latest Cold War concerns are knee-jerk reactions or bona fide prognostications remain to be seen.


Ambassador Dimitrios Tsikouris (JD, MA) has a 36-year-long career in the Greek Diplomatic Service with assignments in Germany, the United Nations, New Orleans, Washington, DC, NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy, Iran, Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia, and ASEAN.

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