May 2, 2009


The Great Enigma: a review of THE REBELLION OF RONALD REAGAN: A History of the End of the Cold War By James Mann and THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America By William Kleinknecht (CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL

Reagan’s anti-Communism, Mann notes, was “personal and moralistic in nature, driven by his experiences with people he considered sophisticated and devious” — specifically the party members and sympathizers he met as president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and ’50s. He skipped the funeral of the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov in 1984, telling an adviser that he didn’t want to honor the man.

But Reagan was an idiosyncratic hawk. While he was cynical about peace as a means, he was devoted to it as an end. “My heart is with you,” he said during his visit to Bonn in 1982, referring to the 300,000 marchers who turned out to protest the NATO deployment of intermediate-range missiles. “I would be at the head of your parade if I believed marching alone could bring about a more secure world.” A part of Reagan also found nuclear weapons repugnant, in the way that, say, Jonathan Schell does. At Reykjavik in 1986, he would contemplate doing away with them altogether. Henry Kissinger complained that Reagan “stigmatized nuclear weapons with arguments all but indistinguishable from the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament.”

Reagan believed that the Soviet economy would eventually collapse of its own inefficiency and imperial overstretch. This analysis put him at odds with Nixon and Kissinger, the C.I.A., the right wing of his party and the Nixonians in his immediate circle, led by Brent Scowcroft, Alexander Haig and Vice President George H. W. Bush. It also led, Mann shows, to a divergence when Gorbachev came to power. “Anyone who reaches the top in the Soviet hierarchy is bound to be a dedicated Communist,” Nixon warned, and Bush was bothered by Reagan’s “sentimentality” about Gorbachev. But Reagan saw a man responding to a predictable economic emergency that Communism was predictably inadequate to handle. As Gorbachev reduced the constitutional say of the Communist Party, forced out the Soviet foreign-policy eminence Andrei Gromyko, ended much of the jamming of foreign radio broadcasts and renounced military intervention in Eastern Europe, it became obvious, Mann argues, that Reagan was right and the Nixonians were wrong.

Robert D. Kaplan put the case more succinctly in a parenthetical toss away in a profile of Henry Kissinger for The Atlantic: "In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan."

Andropov and his protege, Gorbachev, understood that it wasn't orderly, but didn't comprehend, as Reagan did, that the re-ordering would be terminal, not least because the state was illegitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 2, 2009 6:13 AM
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