July 2, 2023


Reagan as Peacemaking Cold Warrior: a review of The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink by William Inboden (Jason C. Phillips, Jul 2, 2023, University Bookman)

The Peacemaker begins with Reagan's June 8, 1982, Westminster Speech in London--the famous "ash-heap of history" speech. As Reagan took the stage, his popularity was low due to continued economic turmoil and a lack of foreign policy success. Yet, as Inboden noted of the speech, "his words begin to echo not just through the hall but into the coming decades . . . To those with ears to hear, he distills what the next six and a half years of his foreign policy will entail."

The Westminster Speech is still quite stirring. One of its more memorable lines comes from Reagan's description of the Berlin Wall: "Well, from here I will go to Bonn and then Berlin, where there stands a grim symbol of power untamed. The Berlin Wall, that dreadful gray gash across the city, is in its third decade. It is a fitting signature of the regime that built it." It is apt that the Berlin Wall, against which Reagan's anti-communism would become synonymous, should lend itself to one of the Westminster Speech's greatest lines. Other key episodes from Reagan's handling of the Cold War find their way into the speech, including multiple mentions of El Salvador, arms reduction, and the eventual triumph of democracy over tyranny. Reagan noted of the moment, 

We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention--totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order, because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not-at-all-fragile flower . . . the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than 30 years to establish their legitimacy. But none--not one regime--has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root."

This contrast between freedom and totalitarianism would guide not only Reagan's Westminster Speech, but also his larger view of the Cold War. As Reagan further illustrated, "the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people." Inboden's take on the Westminster Speech is fairly straightforward: "[Reagan's] Westminster oration unveils a new offensive that in seven short years will bring the Cold War to a victorious, peaceful end." Over the course of nearly 500 pages, Inboden explains in painstaking detail how Reagan's Cold War strategy was formulated, implemented, and laid the foundation for the end of the Cold War.

...when we finally elected a president who understood how feeble the USSR was.   Once Yuri Andropov, who knew the same, became their leader, the rest was easy.

Posted by at July 2, 2023 7:22 AM