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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Predicting the Unthinkable’

- - Monday, September 26, 2011

PREDICTING THE UNTHINKABLE, ANTICIPATING THE IMPOSSIBLE: FROM THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL TO AMERICA IN THE NEW CENTURY
By Georgie Anne Geyer
Transaction Publishers, $39.95, 345 pages

Prescience has been the hallmark of Georgie Anne Geyer's writing over the course of nearly 50 years as a foreign correspondent, syndicated columnist and author of 10 books. In "Predicting the Unthinkable," she has assembled her columns to show how the world keeps changing and that it will not soon run out of human folly. Mostly made up of interviews with the famous and notorious, her reporting took her to every continent except Antarctica and several dozen countries, most of which she visited multiple times.

During her travels, Ms. Geyer looked for the good in people she met even if they had odious leaders. In Caracas, Venezuela, for example, she interviewed a young, pre-autocratic Hugo Chavez and learned of his desire to create a "Bolivarian revolution."

Her first essay, "East Germany's Not at All Like Its Image, Ron," is an open letter to President Reagan telling him in 1982 that his strong rhetoric about East Germany overlooked some reforms that were emerging there. She was not, of course, privy to his strategy, which was to pressure the Soviet Union to the brink of bankruptcy in order to get the Kremlin to negotiate an end to the arms race. Nevertheless, she was one of the first reporters to write eloquently about the stirring of freedom among the East German people.

Shortly into Mikhail Gorbachev's leadership in Moscow, she wrote "The Soviet Empire Begins to Crack," noting, "The changes are deep - and they foresee a newly complicated era." Having traveled twice in recent years with Georgie Anne as part of small groups to Russia and Kazakhstan, I can testify that her quiet, cheerful but persistent manner is what landed her many choice interviews over the years.

She managed to obtain an interview with Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last communist leader of Poland, when he was very nervous about that country's growing democratic movement. Other interviews demonstrate her intrepid forays into countries where information usually was guarded.

In "Reagan Reforms: His View of Soviets," she interviewed the president during his December 1987 summit meetings with Mr. Gorbachev in Washington. They had signed the first nuclear arms reduction treaty the day before. Reagan said he was sure Mr. Gorbachev's actions meant an end to Soviet expansionism. His confidence stemmed from the fact that in Reykjavik, Iceland, the year before, Mr. Gorbachev had played his last card (i.e., keep your Strategic Defense Initiative on the shelf) and Reagan had trumped it by walking out. That was the climactic event of the Cold War, and Reagan knew it. Ms. Geyer was one of the first commentators to connect the dots.

In a 1996 column about foreign policy "utopians and realists," she identified what has become the ruling "utopian" theme of Democrat administrations. What she said of the Clinton "utopians" then might be said of the Obama people today: "Essentially, they hate to use force - or even more importantly - threaten force to accomplish foreign policy objectives."

She turned attention to George W. Bush in 1999 with a complimentary column, "Gov. George W. Bush is a Reasonable Reformer," followed in 2001 by "Bush's Faith-based Program Is Far Superior to Welfare State."

In the book, several themes resonate: The end of the Cold War unleashed drives for separatism in many parts of the world, a sort of longing to "go home" to times that had become mythical. Another: Large numbers of young men live in countries that offer them no personal hope for the future and instead substitute radicalism as an option.

The columns collected here are filled with ideas, insights and forward-looking observations. "Predicting the Unthinkable" offers a telling history and a compelling foreign policy road map.

Peter Hannaford is a member of the Committee on the Present Danger. He held senior positions in Ronald Reagan's presidential campaigns and in the California governor's office.