Matt and Ezra cite this wonderful Rick Perlstein post, with Ezra adding the following:
Remember here that the Soviet Union wasn’t just a mean country. It was the epicenter of an expansionistic ideology that believed its historical triumph to be pre-assured. It was as religious as any religion. And it actually had a basis for this belief, as communism was a superficially attractive ideology that was attracting adherents in major countries — the US included. And yet we not only dealt with the Soviets, but spoke to their leaders and welcomed them on our soil. Because we were the superpower, and we believed in our country.
Elements of that are debatable; I for one think that, ideology aside, the Soviet Union was pretty much a status quo state during the bulk of the Cold War. What’s interesting, though, is that while the common conservative rejoinder to the Iran-USSR comparison is now “Yeah, but those Iranians are crazy!”, back in the Cold War, the Founding Fathers of neoconservatism went out of their way to argue that the Soviet Union couldn’t be deterred, either. The motivating logic of Team B was not, officially, to wildly overstate Soviet military power (although it succeeded in doing that), but rather to argue that the Soviet Union was developing an offensive nuclear doctrine and capability and would make deterrence irrelevant.
In other words, it’s the same argument, over and over again. The difference is that today, the nutjobs have been allowed to take over the asylum. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan were smart enough to understand the distinction between rhetoric and action, and how to prevent the former from overtaking the latter. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be the case with the current crop…