[FoRK] Reagan's Popularity Overstated

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Thu Jun 10 10:15:28 PDT 2004


Just look beyond your borders (while you still can):

Owen

> Gorby had the lead role, not Gipper
>
>
> By LAWRENCE MARTIN
>
> UPDATED AT 1:13 PM EDT 	Thursday, Jun 10, 2004
>
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>
>
> Fiction has its place -- especially at the time of one's passing. And 
> so, the American airwaves glisten these days with tales about how it 
> was Ronald Reagan who engineered the defeat of communism and the end 
> of the Cold War.
>
> It was his arms buildup, Republican admirers say, and his menacing 
> rhetoric that brought the Soviets to their knees and changed the world 
> forever. He was a pleasant man, the 40th president, which makes this 
> fairy tale easier to swallow than some of history's other canards. 
> Truth be known, however, the Iron Curtain's collapse was hardly Ronald 
> Reagan's doing.
>
> It was Mikhail Gorbachev, who with a sweeping democratic revolution at 
> home and one peace initiative after another abroad, backed the Gipper 
> into a corner, leaving him little choice -- actors don't like to be 
> upstaged -- but to concede there was a whole new world opening up over 
> there.
>
> As a journalist based first in Washington, then in Moscow, I was 
> fortunate to witness the intriguing drama from both ends.
>
> In R.R., the Soviet leader knew he was dealing with an archetype Cold 
> Warrior. To bring him around to "new thinking" would require a rather 
> wondrous set of works. And so the Gorbachev charm offensive began. The 
> first offering, in 1985, was the Kremlin's unilateral moratorium on 
> nuclear tests. "Propaganda!" the White House declared.
>
> Then Mr. Gorbachev announced a grandiose plan to rid the world of 
> nuclear weapons by 2000. Just another hoax, the Reagan men cried. More 
> Commie flim-flam.
>
> Then came another concession -- Kremlin permission for on-site arms 
> inspections on Soviet land -- and then the Reykjavik summit. In 
> Iceland, Mr. Gorbachev put his far-reaching arms-reduction package on 
> the table and Mr. Reagan, to global condemnation, walked away, 
> offering nothing in return.
>
> /Glasnost/ and/ perestroika/ became the new vernacular. For those in 
> the White House like Richard Perle, the prince of darkness who still 
> thought it was all a sham, Gorby now began a withdrawal of forces from 
> Afghanistan. He released the dissident icon Andrei Sakharov and 
> hundreds of other political prisoners. He made big strides on freedom 
> of the press, immigration and religion. He told East European leaders 
> that the massive Soviet military machine would no longer prop up their 
> creaking dictatorships. He began the process of something unheard of 
> in Soviet history -- democratic elections.
>
> By now, the U.S. administration was reeling. Polls were beginning to 
> show that, of all things unimaginable, a Soviet leader was the 
> greatest force for world peace. An embarrassed Mr. Reagan finally 
> responded in kind. Nearing the end of his presidency, he came to 
> Moscow and he signed a major arms-control agreement and warmly 
> embraced Mr. Gorbachev. A journalist asked the president if he still 
> thought it was the evil empire. "No," he replied, "I was talking about 
> another time, another era."
>
> The recasting of the story now suggests that President Reagan's 
> defence-spending hikes -- as if there hadn't been American military 
> buildups before -- somehow intimidated the Kremlin into its vast 
> reform campaign. Or that America's economic strength -- as if the 
> Soviets hadn't always been witheringly weak by comparison -- made the 
> Soviet leader do it.
>
> In fact, Mr. Gorbachev could have well perpetuated the old 
> totalitarian system. He still had the giant Soviet armies, the 
> daunting nuclear might and the chilling KGB apparatus at his disposal.
>
> But he had decided that the continuing clash of East-West ideologies 
> was senseless, that his sick and obsolescent society was desperate for 
> democratic air. His historic campaign that followed wasn't about 
> Ronald Reagan. It would have happened with or without this president. 
> Rather, it was about him, Mikhail Gorbachev: his will, his inner 
> strength, his human spirit. As for the Gipper, he was bold and wise 
> enough, to shed his long-held preconceptions and become the Russian's 
> admirable companion in the process.
>
> In the collapse of communism he deserves credit not as an instigator, 
> but an abettor. Best Supporting Actor.
>
> /lawrencemartin9 at hotmail.com <mailto:lawrencemartin9 at hotmail.com> /
>
>
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