The magazine Commentary once published an article titled, “Has There Ever Been Anything Like the Soviet Union?” The piece appeared during the last decades of the Cold War, and the title was meant to convey the message that in the long and sordid annals of despotism, the USSR was unique—in the completeness of its totalitarian scheme, in the staying power of its mechanisms of control, in its global reach, and in its determination to assemble a terrifying arsenal even as its domestic economy lay in ruins. Eventually, of course, the Soviet Union succumbed, but for over 70 years it survived and even thrived as a model of anti-freedom that inspired regimes ranging from East Germany to North Korea.
Back in the 1980s, a Washington attorney named Paul Reichler generated some controversy when he signed on to represent the Sandinistas in various legal conflicts with the American government. Having led a successful guerrilla war against the longtime dictator, Anastasio Somoza, the Sandinistas had quickly moved to consolidate a system akin to a Marxist one-party state. From day one, the Sandinistas embraced an anti-Yankee rhetoric and committed themselves to the anti-imperialist struggle in the Americas. The United States responded by working to undermine Sandinista rule through, among other things, supporting the insurgent movement known as the contras.