Reagan, Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War

I feel that someone in this space needs to comment in some way on the Reagan legacy, so I guess I will.
The two biggest things that will linger in memory are clearly the end of the cold war (good) and Iran-Contra (not good). The Cold War ended on his watch, and he certainly deserves some credit for it. Though his bluster concerned many liberals and skeptics, the fact is that he continued the reasonable policy of containment and diplomacy and eventually won the war of attrition. And possibly the bluster helped soften up the enemy, if you will.
But the main reason the Cold War ended was that Mikhael Gorbachev came to power on the other side, a forward-thinking man who was ready and willing to make a change. He represented a new generation of Russians who cared more about personal liberty than holding together an empire, and dared to begin the shift away from the command economy and back into the free market. Reagan was smart enough to realize this, work with him, and wait it out. For that, and his charm and aura that, like it or not, he had, I give the man credit.
On a personal note, I was in the Soviet Union on a student study program when Chernenko (Andropov? I keep forgetting which forgettable term came last) died and Gorbachev came to power. The fact that they didn’t prop up another old cold warrior really generated some positive feelings. It was also one of the rare times in my life I found myself defending Reagan, over the “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” fiasco. I fielded a number of questions from concerned Russians and other European students, and my take was basically, no, I’m sure he isn’t a Nazi sympathizer – it must have just been a public relations blunder. Can’t say I ever learned for sure what happened there.
So here’s to President Reagan, a man who helped end the cold war. Iran-Contra … nah, don’t feel like going there right now.






2 responses to “Reagan, Gorbachev and the End of the Cold War”

  1. xian Avatar

    Excellent reportage and insight!
    I would also be tempted to imagine that Bitburg was a fiasco, if Reagan hadn’t kicked his campaign for the ’80 race in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
    But, yes, let’s be gracious to a man at his end.
    I would rather say nothing than carp. And liberals and leftists have to learn how not to alienate the people who don’t always agree with them, so I don’t think the real sharp stuff you see out there on some blogs is doing much good, but hey – it’s a free country.
    When I was in Czechoslovakia the people I met there felt very warmly about Reagan. Then again, they got Havel. Where’s our Havel?

  2. sofla Avatar

    Reagan took us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviets, and was only forced back from the precipice by the world-wide Green and Nuclear Freeze movements putting millions on the street, and making it a political issue.
    We came within a few hours of nuclear holocaust, according to noted peace activist Helen Caldicott. She had been told by a close aide to Margaret Thatcher that on the eve of a gigantic NATO joint exercise named Able Archer, Thatcher received an urgent call in the early hours of the morning, to the effect that the Soviets were convinced the exercise mobilization was a cover for an intended first strike. If it was not immediately cancelled, and instead went forward, they were going to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike of their own, which would have led to a general exchange. The exercise was cancelled, just hours from triggering WW III.
    Later, Robert Gates, deputy DCI to Casey, and later DCI himself iirc (although having his nomination withdrawn the first time it came up), wrote in his memoir that he and the intel community had no idea how seriously the Soviets considered the likelihood that we were planning to nuke them.
    Nuclear brinksmanship was a dangerous game, even if the parties were fully aware of what they were doing. When they didn’t know what they were doing, the fate of the world rested in the hands of Providence, which is to say, dumb luck.