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This reflected Reagan’s singular desire to end mutually assured destruction. Like most of his other policies, this sprang from his well-honed intellect and his deep-seated faith in America’s abilities. He governed with focused self-confidence. As Reagan told his first National Security Council meeting on Feb. 6, 1981: “I will make the decisions.”

“People used to say, ‘Reagan was a nice guy. But who was handling all of this stuff for him?’ ” Mr. Anderson marvels. “We didn’t know. And now we do: He was.”

Deroy Murdock is a syndicated columnist and media fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution.