- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Did Ronald Reagan win the Cold War? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer says such a view is “simplistic.” And Robert Kaiser of The Washington Post claimed Mr. Reagan changed, not the Soviet Union. In short, all American presidents startingwithHarry Trumancontributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Small policydifferenceswere eclipsed by common goals and strategies.

Let’s look at the record. During the 1970s, the proponents of detente urged “restraint”onU.S. weaponry deployment,aswewere assured it would be reciprocated by the Soviets. Sen. J. William Fulbright and then-President Carter were disciples of this creed. But as Mr. Carter’s SecretaryofDefense Harold Brown explained: “They build, we build. We don’t build. They build.”

Regarding the notion that all “experts” saw the Soviet Union collapsing in good order, again the facts are otherwise. George Kennan, the author of containment, saw little prospect of such an event. Arthur Schlesinger believed the Soviets could not be bankrupted, no matter the pace of U.S. military deployments. (A later CIA analysis also concluded the Soviets could withstand a U.S. military buildup.)

Mr. Carter admonished Americans for their fear of Communism. He gave away the Panama Canal, pushed for the Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran as a boost to “democratic reform,” foresaw the Sandinistas as “moderates,” cancelled the B-1 bomber and stopped improvements to our strategic nuclear Triad. He refused to sell Tridents to Great Britain even after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, saying “it would be an overreaction.”

The Committee on the Present Danger predicted these trends would spell disaster for the United States. Mr. Reagan shared their views. His election in 1980 kicked off a ferocious fight within the U.S. security community. The Soviet proposal for a nuclear freeze was adopted by most of the Democratic Party and its media and academic allies. It would have frozen a rapidly aging U.S. strategic force compared to a much-modernized Soviet missile force, including 1800 SS-20 Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) warheads in Europe and Asia.

The Reagan INF zero-zero option and START proposals for deep reductions were rejected out of hand by the Soviets, as well as by most of the U.S. media and Democrats. The Soviets said the proposals were “a joke,” a point echoed by John Kerry. When we pushed for a Conventional Forces in Europe agreement that would end the lopsided Soviet advantage in Central Europe, Mikhail Gorbachev countered with “naval arms control.”

These fights were not a debate over tactics. The disagreements were about outcomes. For example, Reps. Ed Markey, Thomas Downey, Henry Waxman and Barney Frank, and Sens. John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Joseph Biden and Edward Kennedy fought tooth-and-nail Mr. Reagan’s successful efforts to aid El Salvador and defeat theCommunistFMLN guerillas. Similarly, the Nicaraguan resistance was the one effective lever for open elections, but many openly advocated a victory for the Ortega brothers while simultaneously trying to strangle the contras. FMLN operatives were openly portrayed as “reformers.”

Mr. Reagan decontrolled the price of oil to pick the Soviets’foreign-exchange pocket, and the United States deliberately sabotagedtheirgas pipelines to Europe to do the same. He aided Poland’s Solidarity movement almost immediately upon taking office, using the great offices of the Vatican and its Catholic allies in Poland. Their emergence as the new leaders of Poland at the end of the decade led to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the roots of which were planted in those courageous actions of Mr. Reagan in 1981.

The reforms of perestroika and glasnost were to make Communism more efficient, not to end it. As Margaret Thatcher wrote, “Gorbachev remained a Communist to the end.” The claim that it was Mr. Reagan who changed gets everything backward. It was Mr. Gorbachev who accepted the INF deal in December 1987 just as Mr. Reagan had proposed it.

As we took some $50 billion annually in foreign exchange from the Soviets, they were forced to withdraw their support for Communistregimesin Nicaragua and Angola and Communist guerillas in El Salvador. Said Mr. Gorbachev to the Politburo: “They are on their own ? To save the USSR we have to give up Eastern Europe.” It was a strong, not weak, NATO that compelled the Soviets to refrainfrominvading Poland,unlike1968in Czechoslovakia and 1956 in Hungary. The Brezhnev Doctrinewasdefeatedin Grenada and Afghanistan, and by 1989 was in full retreat.

Mr. Reagan liberated the people of the former Soviet Union and of Eastern Europe. They adopted a policy of rollback, a policy explicitly denounced by the architect of containment, Mr. Kennan, and by liberals everywhere. But some Democrats supported Mr. Reagan. Two stand out. Les Aspin and Norm Dicks repeatedly supported the deployment of the Peacekeeper. For his courage, the Washington State Democratic Convention censored Mr. Dicks. Mr. Aspin was stripped of his HASC chairmanship, after which I asked Rep. Barney Frank whether the Democratic Party had decided to become “a carbon copy of the Chinese Politburo.”

Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.

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