- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

In the years immediately following Ronald Reagan's presidency a number of books were published, written for the most part by American liberals, with the primary purpose of disparaging his intellect and ability and belittling his accomplishments. Even Lou Cannon, whose book, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," was the most objective and most in-depth, felt called upon to conclude that "Reagan took his role too lightly. In the end it proved too big for his talents."
In recent years, however, the tide has begun to turn in Mr. Reagan's favor. Books are being published that not only recognize his strengths and accomplishments as president but also destroy the argument pushed by his political enemies that he was, in the words of Clark Clifford, nothing but "an amiable dunce."
Like all his predecessors since World War II, Mr. Reagan as president found himself embroiled in foreign affairs. This meant involvement in the Cold War and dealing with the Soviet Union and the ambitions its leaders had, not only to continue the advance of communism throughout the world but also to supercede the United States as the world's preeminent military power.
In "Reagan's War," Peter Schweizer relates how Mr. Reagan not only foiled those ambitions but also ended President Richard Nixon's twin Soviet policies of detente and Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Detente was predicated on maintaining an equality of military might between the United States and the Soviet Union. The other, MAD, was based on the belief that neither side would dare start a hot war as long as either side was capable of destroying the other, regardless of who struck first.
In contrast, from the time he became president Mr. Reagan was determined to stop the spread of communism, reestablish the United States as the world's sole superpower and end American dependence on the aptly named MAD. Mr. Schweizer quotes Mr. Reagan's secretary of state, George Shultz, giving the reason why Mr. Reagan opposed MAD. He thought "it was quite simply immoral."
To replace MAD Mr. Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative which, when developed and Mr. Reagan was confident it could be would protect the United States from missile attack. "Wouldn't it be better to save lives than to avenge them?" he asked. In Mr. Schweizer's opinion SDI, because the Soviet Union did not have the resources to counter it and Mr. Reagan refused to bargain it away, was the straw that finally broke the Soviets' economic back and led to the crumbling of the "evil empire."
Mr. Schweizer waits until his last chapter to point out a fact that future historians should find especially significant. It is that "No American throughout the history of the Cold War, up until Reagan, had been willing to make rolling back and defeating communism a primary goal."
Other presidents, he notes, believed that a strong and healthy Soviet Union was essential for long-term peace. On the contrary, Mr. Reagan believed that the cold war must end with its defeat. His goal, Mr. Schweizer says, was to transform the Soviet Union, not for the United States co-exist with it as one of two equal superpowers.
Coincidental with Mr. Reagan's view of the Soviet Union as an evil empire was his opposite view of the United States. As early as 1974 he said he believed "that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage." "America was, he said "the last best hope of men on earth."
Largely, because he felt so strongly regarding the role America should play in the world, after Mr. Reagan was shot and nearly died from an assassin's bullet he came to believe that God had spared his life so that he could carry on and win the cold war against "godless communism."
These pages tell how Mr. Reagan went about that task.
Mr. Schweizer is not a polished writer. His book often reads as if it were written for high-school students and sometimes the author tries too hard to bring personalities and incidents to life.
Nevertheless, "Reagan's War" is a book that should be read not only by Mr. Reagan's admirers, but also by anyone interested in how the Cold War ended and why the Soviet Union crumbled.
Reagan haters and Reagan critics, of whom there are more than a few, should also read it, if only to see if they can refute Mr. Schweizer's thesis that Mr. Reagan was the key figure in ending the Cold War with a victory for the West and in replacing the Soviet empire with a series of free, non-communist Eastern European countries as well as the current mishmash of independent nation states that made up the former USSR.
Mr. Schweizer refuses to concede what liberals are determined to have the world believe, that it was Mikhail Gorbachev who ended the Cold War. He contends that by the time Mr. Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party the Soviet Union was already reeling under the pressures Reagan was imposing on it. "In a very real sense," Mr. Schweizer asserts, Mr. Gorbachev even owed his election as general secretary to the pressures Mr. Reagan was exerting at that time.
The pressures were both economic and military. And they resulted in the eventual retreat of the Soviets from Afghanistan, the cutting loose of the Soviet satellites, including Poland, behind the Iron Curtain, the ending of aid to communists in Central America, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
"Reagan's War" does not pretend to be biographical or even a detailed look at the Reagan presidency. It is simply the story of how Mr. Reagan came into contact with domestic communism in Hollywood in the years immediately after the end of World War II, how he came to recognize it for the evil that it was and how as president he determined to put an end to it, in spite of opposition from fearful allies and American liberals.
Mr. Schweizer tells how domestic communists, working under orders from Moscow, set out to infiltrate and eventually take over the movie industry. Mr. Reagan's role in fighting and defeating them is the stuff of movies. During a communist-led strike, instead of sneaking into the studio through a hidden back way, he insisted in crossing the picket line. For part of that period he carried a gun because of threats on his life.
An old Hollywod friend, Laurence Beilenson, is credited in the book with being the godfather of President Reagan's foreign policy. Mr. Beilenson wrote two books, in one of which he proposed that "the United States should give to dissidents against all communist governments protracted sustained aid," including supplies and arms when conditions warranted.
The books, Mr. Schweizer asserts, had a "profound influence" on Mr. Reagan who turned the ideas they contained into what became known as "The Reagan Doctrine." Under that doctrine Mr. Reagan put into effect a plan drawn up by a Harvard professor, Richard Pipes. The plan called for the administration to move "to contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism" and "within the narrow limits available to us" to work to move the Soviet Union "toward a more pluralistic political and economic system," i.e. democracy.
Mr. Schweizer ticks off the ways in which Mr. Reagan went about implementing the plan, both economically and militarily. These included pursuading Saudi Arabia to lower the world price of oil, thus hurting the Soviet economy which depended heavily on its own oil exports, and providing major supplies of arms for Afghan liberation fighters in their war against the Soviet invaders, thus forcing them to increase their own spending on the war. At the same time Mr. Reagan refused to give them any way to retreat from Afghanistan without losing face.
These and other steps Mr. Reagan took severely damaged not only the Soviet economy but, perhaps more importantly, their belief that they could supercede the United States as the world's most powerful nation. Indeed, Mr. Schweizer contends, after only four years of Mr. Reagan there were no longer communist gains throughout the world, only defeats. Everywhere, he says, "Soviet allies were under siege from American-backed insurgents."
And it didn't end there. There was also Mr. Reagan's unswerving determination to build SDI and not, as President Nixon and others recommended, merely use it as a bargaining chip. There was his support of Solidarity in Poland and his continued support of the freedom fighters the Contras - in Nicaragua.
And yes, Mr. Schweizer does mention the Iran-Contra scandal and correctly labels it for what it was, Mr. Reagan's greatest failure. But he does not linger on it. This after all is a book about how Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. Other writers have taken and will continue to delight in taking him to task over that monumental snafu.
Mr. Reagan was inherently a modest man. Rather than boast of his accomplishments as a governor and as president he preferred to yarn about his days in Hollywood. Even in his autobiography there is little to indicate that he saw himself as a special or superior person. He was who he was and he worked with the intellect and instincts God had given him and the principles he had developed long before he ran for office. On his desk, from the time he was governor was a small sign that read (Mr. Schweizer quotes it incorrectly). "There is no limit to what a man can do or how far he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." It was a motto that he took to heart.
He came into politics late in life and during his 22 years as a candidate and a public servant he never failed to look back and define acting as his career. He was proud to have been an actor. He ran for public office almost reluctantly and never because he felt a need to accrue importance or power, but always because he thought he had a duty to serve his state and nation.
And after leaving office he never complained publicly about the rash of books that appeared, belittling his accomplishments and his abilities. But I suspect, if today he were able to read and understand the later books such as "Reagan's War," it would give him a large measure of satisfaction to know that the American people at last are being presented with his side of the story.

Lyn Nofziger, a Washington writer, was a political adviser to Ronald Reagan.



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