- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

It is certainly appropriate, as the USS Ronald Reagan is launched this weekend in Norfolk, Va., to recall how President Reagan, in Margaret Thatcher's famous formulation, "won the Cold War without firing a shot." But his term in office also offers us profound lessons in presidential leadership lessons that can help President George W. Bush in the months ahead.

Presidential historian Richard Neustadt once defined presidential power as the power to persuade people that the policy you are proposing is in their best interest. In Mr. Neustadt's opinion, both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan knew how to use this power and well. But the Harvard professor didn't go far enough.

A president also needs vision, tenacity and the ability to improvise. Mr. Reagan had these traits in abundance, and they made possible the remarkable success of what came to be called the Reagan Doctrine.

Mr. Reagan and his aides implemented the president's vision through a series of top-secret national security decision directives (NSDDs). NSDD-32, for example, declared that the United States would seek to "neutralize" Soviet control over Eastern and Central Europe and authorized the use of covert action and other means to support anti-Soviet groups in the region (such as Poland's Solidarity trade union).

There also was the policy of proxy warfare in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and Cambodia. This was probably the most cost-effective of all the Cold War doctrines, costing the United States only an estimated half-billion dollars a year, yet forcing the cash-strapped Soviets to spend several times that amount to deflect their impact. The results: a Soviet pull-out from Afghanistan, the election of a democratic government in Nicaragua, and the removal of 40,000 Cuban troops from Angola (as well as the holding of U.N.-monitored elections).

For President Reagan, 1983 was a pivotal year in his offensive against Moscow. In March, he stated without apology that the West should recognize the Soviets as "the focus of evil in this modern world" and the masters of "an evil empire." Mr. Reagan's "evil empire" speech was a compelling example of what Czech President Vaclav Havel called "the power of words to change history."

In October of that year, Mr. Reagan dispatched about 2,000 American troops, along with units from six Caribbean states, to the island nation of Grenada to oust a Marxist regime that had recently seized power. It was the first time in nearly 40 years of the Cold War that the United States had acted to restore democracy to a communist country.

And then there was the most important initiative of all, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which the president said would render "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." Much ridiculed by liberals then and now, SDI convinced the Kremlin it could not win an arms race and led Mr. Gorbachev and his communist colleagues to sue for peace. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn remarked, Mr. Gorbachev "had no choice but to disarm."

Four years later, President Reagan personally took his freedom offensive into the heart of the disintegrating Soviet empire. Standing before Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, President Reagan directly challenged the Soviet leadership: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Barely two years after these bold words were uttered, the wall came tumbling down.

Yes, it is appropriate, as the USS Reagan is launched, to recall its namesake's Cold War victory. It is an occasion for champagne and tears, for looking not only back but forward, and for Mr. Reagan's most adamant supporters to remember with pride the roles they played.

But it is also a time for a new administration to consider carefully the lessons of presidential leadership. Fortunately, President George W. Bush seems to have already learned from his predecessor. Like Mr. Reagan, he is acting like the proverbial hedgehog, concentrating not on everything but on the important things. And he seems to understand that a leader must lead, especially in matters of war and peace.

This accounts, I believe, for his steady promotion of a national missile defense and for the rather sudden shift in European attitudes from one of firm opposition (the reaction when Bill Clinton suggested the idea) to a willingness to listen and even approve.

Whether President Bush will someday join former Presidents Reagan and Roosevelt in Professor Neustadt's estimation remains to be seen. But there's no denying that he's off to a promising start.

Lee Edwards, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation is the author of "Ronald Reagan: A Political Biography."

Lee Edwards, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation is the author of "Ronald Reagan: A Political Biography."

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