Wishing Reagan Away
I had no plans to continue the Reagan theme after reporting on
the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan, but two items changed
my mind. Last Thursday, on CBS/TV's "Late Show," Cokie
Roberts made a sour reference to it ("Don't you get the feeling
we are about to name the whole country after Reagan?"), and
on Saturday the Washington Post published an article by former U.S.
senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Although his topic appears to be
criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency, the piece turns out
to strip President Reagan, again, of his magnum opus - winning the
Cokie Roberts' tasteless remark followed her bursts of adolescent
giggles at replays of President George W. Bush bumping his head
as he boarded a helicopter. But Senator Moynihan is a national icon,
a history scholar, and one whose service as permanent U.S. representative
at the United Nations during rocky times was legendary.
Senator Moynihan's article recalls his resignation as vice chairman
of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when in 1984 the
CIA concealed mining of harbors in Nicaragua and then accused the
protesting chairman, the late Barry Goldwater, of failing memory.
The new president's men, pleads the senator, are not to keep anything
from the commander in chief.
That, for sure, is sound advice. But as for rationale, Senator
Moynihan cites his criticism of the CIA made in the early 1990s
that "a more timely appreciation of Gorbachev would have been
greatly to America's advantage." He then claims: "Actually,
this critique began in the 1970s, when I became convinced the days
of the Soviet Union were numbered."
Gorbachev did not even rise to power until 1985. And in the 1970s,
America was reeling from a virtual war by OPEC on its energy supply,
from a tumbling currency suddenly off its fixed parity with gold,
from attacks on traditional institutions by a generation that cut
its teeth on protest movements, and from a collapsed presidency.
If any country looked as if its days were numbered, it was the United
States. Its airliners were hijacked with impunity; its military
seemed unable to land a few helicopters on sand.
President Carter told us to accept $2-a-gallon gas (if we could
stay in line at the pump long enough), demonstrated that American
power was now limited to a boycott of the Moscow Olympics, and watched
helplessly as soaring interest rates relegated the American dream
of home ownership to tales of yore. America and Americans were held
hostage in Iran by a medieval apparition, without an end in sight.
By contrast, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as 40th president,
"the Soviet Block was triumphant everywhere...having even established
beachheads in the Western Hemisphere in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Grenada
and threatening the Persian Gulf and its energy resources from Afghanistan.
The Western Alliance was in retreat everywhere... Meanwhile the
U.S.S.R. was rapidly closing in on what had once been a large Western
lead in nuclear and missile technology," writes Norman A. Bailey
in "The Strategic Plan that won the Cold War," published
by the Potomac Foundation.
The plan was officially designated "National Security Decision
Directive [NSDD] No. 75," and was signed by President Reagan
on January 17, 1983. Its unassuming title, "U.S. Relations
with the USSR," appears at the head of a comprehensive prescription
for winning a real war without firing a shot.
Such strategic thinking - incorporating diplomacy, propaganda,
economics, subversion, and military display - had few precedents
in U.S. history. Achieving victory without sending troops to their
death made it unique. No wonder such accomplishment by a "B-movie
actor reciting script" is hard for intellectuals to stomach.
And, since notions of an "unavoidable, automatic implosion"
of the Soviet Union are equally unacceptable for anyone with a brain
who claims any knowledge of the U.S.S.R., it was necessary to designate
a person who brought it about. Hence the appointment of Mikhail
Sergeyevich Gorbachev as Savior of the World.
What did Mr. Gorbachev actually do? According to Senator Moynihan,
he said he wanted to "free international relations from ideology
and seek unity through diversity." He also said the Soviet
Union "no longer aspired to be the bearer of the ultimate truth."
He uttered both these earth-shaking pronouncements more than two
years after Ronald Reagan was tarred and feathered by the world
- and by plenty of Americans - for refusing to yield on the Strategic
Defense Initiative at Reykjavik. Indeed, by the time Mr. Gorbachev
spoke peace, the Soviet Union was no longer capable of war.
Yet for Senator Moynihan, a couple of sentences by Gorbachev had
done it all. "It was over," he writes. "The Berlin
Wall came down, the Soviet Union dissolved."
Just like that?
Unless I am mistaken, President Reagan had the idea to call upon
Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, and Secretary Gorbachev
would have none of it. Had he responded to Reagan's call, his many
admirers would be justified as they experience episodes of what
Rush Limbaugh calls "Gorbasm."
But it was Hungary's and Austria's collaboration in letting thousands
of East German "tourists" escape to West Germany that
led to the spontaneous dismantling of the Wall. And it was the monumental
humiliation of Soviet military advisors and equipment before a global
audience watching Desert Storm on CNN that brought about the collapse
of the Russian Empire, of which the Soviet Union had been an extension.
Why the need for clarity in viewing the past? Because once again
we are debating missile defense, and the Russians once again are
protesting America's desire to be safe. Because while NSDD 75 succeeded
in denying technology and U.S. economic support for Soviet strategic
goals, just the opposite has happened under Clinton's watch in the
case of China. That's cause for more worry than the senator has
about the CIA.
Apologies to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a great American. But Ronald
Reagan's accomplishment dwarfs everyone else's in recent memory;
it cannot be wished away.