For much of a half century, the U.S. and the Soviet Union glared at one another across barriers of ideology and competing interests, with suspicion and, at times, with justified anxiety.
We were, by all odds, the two most powerful, best-armed and most dangerous nations on the planet. The concern was that some event or some miscalculation on one part or the other might precipitate a catastrophe.
The Cuban missile crisis, in October of 1962, was the Cold War’s moment of maximum peril.
Disagreements between our two countries remain, but the texture of our relations has dramatically changed, beginning with the rise to Kremlin leadership by Mikhail Gorbachev and continuing after the 1991 end of communist rule and collapse of the Soviet empire.
The recent bilateral agreement on further reduction of U.S. and Russian strategic armaments is powerful confirmation of that change. Another can be seen in the U.S. response to the tragic bombing at Moscow’s largest international airport this past Monday.
The attack is thought to have been the work of terrorists based in the Muslim-dominated north Caucusus region. They’ve been responsible for other outrages in Russia in recent years, including a train bombing and murderous occupations of a theater and a school that cost hundreds of lives.
President Obama expressed immediate American condolences and offered help in meeting the common threat, as did the British prime minister and other European heads of state. The U.S., Europe and the United Kingdom have been terrorists’ targets of choice, though they have struck in Africa, India, the Mideast and the Pacific as well.
But while they have caused much pain, they have failed in their declared aim: to break the will of societies they see as hostile to their violent ambitions.
In fact, what they’ve managed to do, apart from dishonoring the faith they profess to serve, is inspire civilized nations to look past occasional lesser differences and join in a concerted global effort to turn back the barbarians at the gate.
In the process, they have created undeserved discomfort for blameless Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries. Airline security is edging inexorably toward a greater reliance on profiling. And it was the terrorists who provided the profile.