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Wishing Reagan Away

Washington Times 3.20.01
Balint Vazsonyi

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 Cold War.

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."

How so?

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.