The United States today is fighting an adversary at least as menacing as the one it confronted during the cold war, and bearing some of the same traits. Like the Soviet Union, al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its imitators are in the thrall of a totalizing ideology, are implacably hostile to liberal democracy, and are determined to overthrow and replace it wherever they can. As in the cold war, too, America's conduct in countering this adversary has occasioned fierce debate here at home, pitting hawks against doves and so-called realists against neoconservatives, along with many other lines of political division.
Of course, the differences between the cold war and the current struggle are enormous. The Soviet Union was a superpower with a continental empire at its disposal and a huge arsenal of intercontinental missiles tipped with nuclear weapons to deter the U.S. from action. With notable exceptions like Iran, our adversaries today are not even countries but shadowy and constantly evolving sub-national groups, some of them autonomous cells, that neither hold state power nor, for the time being, have access to sophisticated weaponry.
Still, even with the marked contrast between the two conflicts in mind, it is useful to look back at cold-war America for lessons, whether heartening or cautionary, about the foreign-policy challenges we face today. Among the twists and turns of that earlier conflict, the Hungarian revolution of 1956 - an event that occurred exactly 50 years ago - sheds its own special light on our present situation. The appearance of a new and well-researched book by the historian Charles Gati aids in reassessing this highly controversial and still-pertinent chapter of the past.
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